New state law passed protecting disabled people from abusers named after Mass. native

BOSTON — It took patience, persistence and a conviction that something had to be done. Now, an Auburn couple can claim victory on Beacon Hill after the House passed a bill protecting disabled people from abusers on Wednesday.

Cheryl and Alex Chan were optimistic Nicky's Law would pass on Wednesday, but they felt that way last year, too when it ended up not passing after last-minute objections.

So Wednesday’s decision brought the duo a huge sense of relief – both short and long-term – because the bill will protect loved ones who can't protect themselves.

“We're all going to sleep a little better,” said Cheryl Chan.

Nicky’s Law was named after Cheryl and Alex’s developmentally-disabled adult son. After six years on inquiry, advocacy and going back to the drawing board, the law finally passed at the Massachusetts State House.

“This was an effort by a community who live with and work with and love and are disabled,” Cheryl said.

The law establishes a registry to keep track of employees found to have abused people in their care. It's named after Nicky Chan, who endured, unbeknownst to his parents, beatings at the hands of his caregiver.

The Chans set out alone, at first, to make things safer for disabled people.

“When we first started on this journey, just reaching out to the legislator, I had no experience,” Cheryl said. “Neither of us had any experience in this process.”

But over the years they picked up supporters – both individuals and advocacy groups – who stayed the course.

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“We know that there are people who just shouldn't work with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” said Maura Sullivan of ARC of Massachusetts.

The biggest disappointment came last year when Nicky's Law passed the Senate but stalled at the 11th hour in the House over concerns accused abusers would be denied due process.

Before Wednesday’s vote, House Speaker Robert DeLeo addressed those concerns.

“The bill I think today does provide that protection,” he said.

Under the new law, those accused of abuse would have two avenues of appeal as well as an opportunity for rehabilitation.

In the end, all 154 members present on the floor of the house voted in favor of Nicky's Law.

“When my husband hugged me in the gallery just now, he said, ‘if Nicky were right here, he would be very proud,’” Cheryl said. “And so, this is for Nicky and for all of those like him.”