Eric and Elinor Burns have long been
trailblazers in service for people with disabilities.

When it comes to providing services for those with disabilities, Elinor Burns has found herself as a trailblazer more than once.

“I was one of the original parents who met in a church basement in Palo Alto to plan the creation of what was to become Abilities United,” says Elinor, whose son Eric was born in 1951 with Down Syndrome. “There were no service options back then; there was nothing at all for Eric.”

Building on the efforts of Elinor and other families, what is now Abilities United was formed in 1963. In the 1980s, Elinor served on the staff as Director of the Home Companion Program. “The parents knew the value of respite,” says Elinor. “They welcomed the opportunity for their child to have a relationship with someone other than a family member. It was also an important outlet for the parents themselves, to spend time with their other children and with their family in general.”

A wonderful highlight of Eric’s life was his time working at Stanford University. “He got the job through Abilities United Employment Services,” says Elinor. “They trained him and he was hired at Stanford where he worked in the dining room at one of the dorms. He made wonderful friends and for a decade he enjoyed working there. Each paycheck was a day of celebration; he was so proud to save his own money and to use his savings for a camp he attended each year.”

Eric has had a full life as an artist and a gold-medal winner in Special Olympics, and enjoys camping, bowling, and other sports. All of these are things he does with his friends from Abilities United.
With the tremendous advances in health care in recent years, life expectancies have increased for those with disabilities, and this is bringing new challenges. “Now I find myself a trailblazer again,” says Elinor. “I’m working with Abilities United to explore perhaps developing a program to help seniors with disabilities – like Eric – avoid feeling alone and isolated from their peers. We’re very grateful to Abilities United for allowing Eric to explore new paths here in his senior years.”

Those of us at Abilities United are very grateful to Elinor for her wonderful efforts in establishing our organization, and for continually working to improve services for people with disabilities.
Based on a story submitted by Elinor Burns, edited by Bob Thomas and Wendy Kuehnl