By Dusty Dutton

My favorite song from “The Little Mermaid” is “I like to be where the people are… I want to be part of your world.”

My name is Dusty Dutton. I am 32 and have Down syndrome, which means I need help doing some things. I am legally blind, which means I need thick glasses. I also have diabetes, which means I have to do blood tests, take shots and watch what I eat to stay healthy. And I have a great life.

I love going out to dinner and movies, concerts, and plays. I volunteer at the Ross Valley Players every month, and I have made lots of friends there. I also love to travel.

I live in a house in Terra Linda, Calif., with my housemate Angela and her daughter Lexie, who is 6. Angela works at Casa Allegra Community Services, an organization that provides me with supported living services. Together, we have fun times. I like to do puppet shows at Lexie’s birthday parties.

I have always loved puppets. I remember doing shows in first grade and for my neighbors on the 4th of July. Now I am a professional puppeteer. At the College of Marin, I took many classes, but one of my favorites was a children’s theater class where we performed a Christmas play for children using puppets. I also took a class on how to start your own business. In 2006, I started a microenterprise called Dusty’s Puppets.

I have more than 20 different shows I perform at Head Start, the YMCA daycare, birthday parties, farmers’ markets, daycare centers and preschools and special events. My little fans are ages 1 to 4. I sell puppets on my Web site (www.dustyspuppets.com) and at fairs and festivals. I also make presentations about my life and starting my own business.

I have a great team that helps me. First, I have my circle of support, and we think about my business and my future. Then, there are people who work for Casa Allegra Community Services, like my housemate Angela who is also my business manager and Monica who drives me and helps me at my shows. Renee is my banker. Kelly is my bookkeeper. Dusty’s Puppets pays her to help me with my computer and with the money my business earns.

I really like my life. I like making money and having fun doing the things I really like to do.

Reflections from Dusty’s Parents (Donna and Dale Dutton): 

Dusty’s successes in life are the result of an inclusive education and being a full participating member of our community. Although the law proclaimed that all children should be educated in the “least restrictive environment,” inclusion was certainly not the norm when Dusty was born in 1975. In fact, the term inclusion wasn’t even used. Early on, we met forward-looking educators, advocates, and friends, namely California chapter of TASH (Cal-TASH) pioneers, who helped us move in the right direction in those early years. They educated us as parents and equipped us to be strong advocates for our daughter.

Of course, we were quick to notice that Dusty learned more, was more involved with other kids and was much happier while in inclusive environments. We especially remember when Dusty was invited to the prom as a freshman, and the homecoming queen, who was a neighbor, came over and told Dusty all about going to the prom. It was so cool.

I also remember the music appreciation teacher who just “got it.” He modified his materials and tests for Dusty in such a clever way that she was involved – at some level – in the same work as everyone else. To this day, Dusty claims Mozart as her favorite composer.

The most important “event” that reflected TASH’s influence occurred during Dusty’s school years. The event was her first person-centered planning meeting at age 16. Longtime friends and supporters were there, and the meeting lit the way for Dusty to become a “real” adult with a mission in life. She still talks about it.

Today, Dusty is a strong self-advocate. She sits on the Board of CalTASH and eagerly awaits each meeting and conference. She has presented at several conferences and is a recipient of the Cal- TASH “Outstanding Young Person” Award. Dusty’s achievements are evidence that TASH’s work can empower them to live full lives and follow their dreams.

This article originally appeared in a document published by TASH in 2008 called When Everyone Is Included. For more information on the important work TASH does please visit their website and follow them on Twitter. This is the second article in a series. The first article can be found here.