Diana Braun’s disability was
obvious when she was born. Her physical appearance cried out “Down’s Syndrome,” and a lifetime of prejudgment and miscalculation of her potential began. Her mother could not accept her. Even today, after Diana has accomplished more than many “normal” people do, her mother is unable to see what a gifted individual she is.
Diana met Kathy Conour, who had cerebral palsy, in a program for persons with disabilities. They became friends. Both of them wanted to live independently. Kathy’s family and people who had gotten to know them in their program helped Diana and Kathy develop the skills they needed. Diana surprised Kathy by learning how to drive and getting her driver’s license without Kathy’s knowledge. They were then free to travel, to shop, to obtain medical care and to attend meetings and conferences. Acquiring a home of their own was another goal that they accomplished. They had assistance in learning to budget and to manage their checking account.
Diana also became skilled in providing physical assistance with all aspects of daily living that Kathy needed. Kathy communicated verbally to some extent with people who knew her well, but used an electronic voice machine mounted on her wheelchair to express more complex questions and answers.
Diana and Kathy began advocating for persons with disabilities in the 1980s. They worked with many groups that strived to meet the needs and preserve the rights of persons with disabilities; among them were Arc (for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities), United Cerebral Palsy (UCP), Coalition
of Citizens with Disabilities in
Illinois (CCDI) and the Victorious Missionaries (VMs). This dynamic duo was awarded the Illinois Human Rights Award in 2005. They were the first people with disabilities to receive this acknowledgment.
New York filmmaker, Alice Elliott, produced a forty-minute film about Diana and Kathy’s life entitled, “Body and Soul: Diana and Kathy.” The three of them traveled to many states to introduce the film. Diana and Kathy presented it in even more places on their own. Since Kathy’s death, Diana shows the film and/or tells their story and offers suggestions about what others can do to gain more control over their own lives. Diana is happy to share what she thinks might be of
interest or assistance with anyone she meets. Her advocacy work has found an international audience which necessitates her traveling overseas for various conferences.
Diana has been to retreats and
conferences sponsored by the Victorious Missionaries’ National Office. VMs have commented that she is dedicated to people with disabilities; a willing servant who works for justice. Diana is a
compassionate caregiver and friend. She is not afraid to speak the truth. She overcame a lot of discrimination and has tirelessly advocated for the disabled.
Diana works part-time for the state government. She receives help when she needs it. Her passion propels her to continue traveling, showing the film, making presentations to groups and at conferences—as long as her health and travel funds hold out. Diana Braun is well-deserving of The Fr. John Maronic,OMI Outstanding Achievement Award!