Deal Emphasizes Jobs, Higher Access for Post-Secondary Education for People with Disabilities

The following is an edited transcript of Governor Nathan Deal's Disability Day speech from February 20, 2014.

It's privilege to once again take part in Disability Day with all of you, and I want to extend a warm thank you to the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities for sponsoring this event.

My main goal has been to create job opportunities for Georgians, and there's a reason for that. A job serves as the launching point for independence, financial stability and,
in many instances, a sense of purpose. My desire for people to have access to these benefits of employment certainly extends to those in our State with disabilities.

But it's not just jobs we're focused on. We long to give Georgians, with or without disabilities, the chance to live in real homes in real communities and to have access to quality learning that leads to meaningful careers.

This is why we have included in our budget new waivers and support services for an additional 500 families through the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD). We have also added 125 new elderly and disabled waiver slots through the Department of Community Health. These waivers provide crucial services and support to those individuals in Georgia who are leaving institutional living to enjoy the benefits of community living.

Yet, true self-sufficiency does start with a job. While the unemployment rate has dropped significantly since I took office, we know that it is still too high for people with disabilities. The majority of high school students with disabilities graduate without work, and end up sitting at home during what should be the most active and productive part of their lives.

To help those with disabilities get the skills needed to find employment, we took an important step last year. We provided funds for post-secondary inclusive education to expand the existing program at Kennesaw State University while also funding a new one in South Georgia's East Georgia State College starting in the fall. Access to higher learning offers Georgians with disabilities the opportunity to pursue competitive employment, which all individuals in our State should be afforded.

As such, we must continue to make sure our education, training and support systems have the policies and resources needed to prepare individuals with disabilities to enter the workforce and become contributing members of society.

To address the barriers to employment confronting people with disabilities, we have
a work group in the DBHDD looking into these issues and working on how we can move
forward with an Employment First Initiative in Georgia. It is in this way that I hope to see more individuals able to pursue their own path to a job, a career or another form of participation in community life.

This year marks the 15th Anniversary of the US Supreme Court Olmstead Decision. Already, we have made great strides in moving more individuals from institutional care to community-based care, and we're not done yet. It is for this reason and for the benefit of Georgians that I am committed to finding ways to make an independent life a more attainable life.

Tags: Disability Day, GCDD, Making a Difference