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Nonotuck Hosts Disability Rights Activist Chan

Nonotuck was honored to recently host Disability Rights Activist Cheryl Ryan Chan as part of our celebration of Women’s History Month this March. Cheryl, mother to Nicky a 31-year-old man who lives with profound autism, has spent 25 years in Massachusetts, spearheading community building initiatives. In that time, she’s become a well-known leader in community organization, legislative activism, mentoring and public speaking. 

Cheryl’s presentation focused on her life journey as a woman, particularly highlighting the obstacles she has encountered and overcome. She spoke eloquently about the challenges she has faced in a world that often presents barriers to women, as well as the strategies and resilience that propelled her forward.

She began her presentation by contemplating a popular bumper sticker. “There's a bumper sticker that I love, one I wish someone had passed onto me when I was young. It says, ‘Well behaved women rarely make history.’ Now that I look at that bumper sticker, I ask myself, who decided the definition of well-behaved?” she said. “Women have been defined in the context of a male-dominated culture for as long as history. Expectations of behavior have been based on women being subservient to men; therefore, any woman who has a personality like mine is often labeled as poorly behaved. In my typically unsolicited opinion that I offer up, it's threatening. It's threatening to the people in charge, often men, and it's threatening to the norms that pervade our societal structure.”

"Cheryl’s visit to Nonotuck was truly inspiring. Her dedication to advocating for people with disabilities resonates deeply with our mission of empowerment and inclusivity,” says Nonotuck President & CEO George H. Fleischner. “Cheryl's courage in confronting societal norms and her tireless efforts in fostering supportive communities exemplify the spirit of resilience we strive to embody at Nonotuck. We are honored to have hosted such a remarkable advocate for change."


Cheryl's enduring dedication to the autism and intellectual disability community in New England has earned her national recognition as a leading advocate and voice in the field. She has presented at regional, state, national and international conferences; she is best known for tackling the "tough topics" of caregiving and living in a system-centered world.

Her advocacy efforts were instrumental in the creation of "Nicky's Law" in Massachusetts, a pivotal legislation that established an abuser registry to safeguard vulnerable citizens from potential abusers in caregiving roles.

Describing herself as a "Change Agent and Positive Agitator," Cheryl embodies these roles through her dedication to building supportive communities for individuals and caregivers. She champions inclusive practices throughout all stages of life, always prioritizing the humanity of the person first.

Looking ahead, Cheryl is focused on establishing a federal abuser registry to extend protections to all vulnerable populations who depend on caregivers for their health and life's dignity.

Cheryl invites engagement and connection through social media or her website, CherylRyanChan.com, welcoming anyone interested in her work or seeking collaboration.


“(Through shared living) people with a disability experience a real transformation and discover confidence in themselves; they discover their capacity to make choices, and also find a certain liberty and above all their dignity as human beings.”

Caregiving with Love:
Guide for Shared Living Providers

Learn how Nonotuck developed a love-based ideology of care. We started our shared living program as an alternative to group homes for people with disabilities. Instead, Shared Living creates genuine life transformation for people with disabilities, as well as families and communities. The true power of caregiving is found through hospitality, authenticity, and love.

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