Patti Saylor & Erica Wheeler
Patti Saylor is the proud mother of three young adult children, Emma, Adam and the late Ethan Saylor. She has been an advocate in the disability world for most of her life but her focus changed to criminal justice reform in 2013 after the death of her son Ethan, who had Down syndrome. Ethan lost his life at the hands of three off-duty sheriff deputies while being physically forced to leave his seat in a movie theater for simply wanting to watch the movie a second time.
Following his tragic death, Patti dedicated herself to advocating for justice for Ethan and changing the flawed system that allowed her beloved son to be taken from this world too soon. Patti continues to fight fearlessly at the federal and state levels of government to ensure that what happened to Ethan never happens to another member of the Down syndrome or disability community.
Patti and her family inspired a powerful grassroots advocacy effort. A Change.org petition garnered over 370,000 signatures from across the country demanding action. This work led Governor O’Malley of Maryland to issue an executive order establishing the Commission for Effective Community Inclusion of People with Intellectual Disabilities. Additionally, last year Maryland passed a bill creating the “Ethan Saylor Alliance for Self-Advocates”. Without Patti’s dedication and steadfast vision, none of this would have been possible.
Patti shares this award with Erica Wheeler who stood with her and served as a leader in the grassroots movement created by her family from the very beginning. It was her advocacy and connections that opened doors and helped make strides in the right direction. In Patti’s words, “Nothing that has been accomplished in Maryland would have been done without Erica’s involvement and legislative advocacy.” Erica is the Co-Chairman of the Ethan Saylor Alliance for Self-Advocates, member of the Commission For the Effective Community Inclusion for Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, law enforcement trainer, and Board Member of the Carroll County Arc.