Listening Tour - Gainesville

Listening Tour
37 in attendance, not including Council members and staff

This listening tour was held in conjunction with the GCDD's quarterly meeting.  We had met all day long at Lanier Charter Career Academy side by side with a leadership development event hosted by our Partnerships for Success project.  Throughout the meeting, the students in the Hospitality Career program at the Academy prepared our meals, served and cleaned up, and saw after our every comfort in a very professional manner.  The other highlight of the day was having lunch with the youth from a number of high schools who host Partners Clubs throughout the state.  We mingled with them and had great conversations about our work and their work and activities.  Rep. Carl Rogers had lunch with the students also.  Talking with kids from all backgrounds, ages and experiences, seeing them interact with each other regardless of ability or disability was a great experience for us, and later we found out that they had indicated on their evaluations of their day that lunching with us was the high point and they wanted to do it again next year.  Ditto!

In the evening, we greeted our guests from the community, and thanked them for their hospitality. We began by introducing the work of GCDD, its funding, relationship to State Government, how Council members are appointed, etc. There is always a misunderstanding about the role of GCDD -- folks that think we are responsible for service provision, monitoring, or funding services.  The comparison I've been using is that the GCDD is like the chemical company BASF we don't make the tires, we make the things that make the tires better so we create and develop new products, new project designs, training and materials and resources that help families, communities and professionals do things in a new, different and hopefully better way.

Senator Butch Miller had stopped by, so he spent a few minutes addressing the group and confirming the importance of the GCDD's work and the need for information sharing and working together to make lives better.  We then offered an opportunity for individuals to address the public forum in the conventional way, at the podium for 3 minutes on a topic of concern.  A group of advocates presented concerns about positive behavioral supports and its use with individuals with behavioral challenges, particularly autism. A few personal stories and some research were shared.  Another individual rose to ask some questions which allowed us to clarify GCDD's role and he mentioned Olmstead and the Department of Justice Settlement Agreement that actually was a good transition for me to address the group.

After a review of the budget situation and some other aspects of GCDD's legislative agenda, we opened it up for dialogue.  Concerns were expressed about the process of transitioning individuals from the state hospitals, particularly those with more significant and complex disabilities.  There seemed to be a rather two-sided approach to this discussion.  The individual expressing his concerns didn't necessarily disagree that people could live outside the state hospitals, but that the system's assumptions that the people he was representing weren't capable of working, communicating their desires, and that there were ridiculous notions that people could volunteer, etc., when there weren't even providers in the area who would take them.  And then, a bit later, complaints from this same individual and another in the room that everyone was not a round peg fitted into a round hole, one solution didn't work for all.

Exactly!  That's the point!  Just like we can't expect everyone moving out into the community could be placed in the same setting or the same employment, or daily activity, etc, it would be wrong for us to expect that the hospital is the right setting for everyone with significant disabilities.  Round holes are round holes, no matter where they are located.

There are challenges remaining to be sure.  There is a lack of good quality providers throughout the state, but using that as an excuse to keep people in a particular setting is not the answer.  I'm glad people in the community are concerned about this, and I was glad someone from the Division of Developmental Disabilities was there to hear these concerns. But the effort needs to be on provider development and creativity and sharing what we are learning with each person with the next individual's situation and not maintaining the status quo. Transitioning any institutionalized persons to the community, teens from high school to the real world, foster kids from foster care to adult services, pre-schoolers to kindergarten, all transitions are unsettling.  But we know how to do it well, if we take our time, and thoughtfully and individually consider the size, shape, depth of the spaces, and what fits best for each.

Another contribution from the public in this particular forum was welcome, and that was comments about the resource situation.  When a citizen mentions that there are not enough resources to fund things, it gives me an opportunity to talk about this -- that we have decreased the size of state budget by nearly $5 billion over the past 4 years, even while the population grew.  That means more kids in school, more older people, more newborns, more kids in college and less and less money overall to support them.  We have decreased the per student funding in K-12 and post-secondary by a significant degree.  At what point will we have crossed the point of diminishing returns, past the point of recovering capacity when the economy improves?  Some think we have crossed that line already.  And yet this week, agencies are, under direction from OPB, working on cutting their budgets yet again.

The citizens I have talked to in the past 3 weeks do understand the connection between taxes, revenue and services.  The conversation could be had about what taxes mean.  It could be income tax on wealthier individuals, it could be a revision of the tax code to tax purchases made over the internet, or taxing services, or removing tax exemptions that do not result in economic development, or raising cigarette or gasoline or alcohol taxes or actually passing a comprehensive revision of the tax code that does not result in the middle or lower middle class paying a disproportionate share of the burden.  We need a balanced approach to our budget and development.  I think citizens are open to that conversation.

Patricia D. Nobbie, Ph
DDeputy Director
Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities

Tour Dates:
September 26th, 2011: Bleckley/Cochran area from 6-8 pm

September 27th, 2011: Lyons/Toombs area from 6-8 pm

October 3rd, 2011: Quitman/Brooks County from 6-8 pm
Quitman / Brooks Flyer

October 4th, 2011: Ocilla/Fitzgerald from 6-8 pm
Ocilla / Fitzgerald Flyer

October 6th, 2011: Macon from 6-8 pm
Macon Flyer

October 18th, 2011: Summerville/Rome area from 6-8 pm

Summerville / Rome Flyer

October 28th, 2011: Athens area from 6-8 pm
.  More details and location to be determined!  Please check back for more information.

Please view the above pdf flyers for more details.  You may also visit the Unlock the Waiting Lists website for more info.To rsvp, please call   404-657-2126   or  email .