A Vision for 2021: GCDD’s Five Year Plan Begins

Last fall, the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) set out across the State to hear what people with developmental disabilities, families, caregivers and other stakeholders had to say about the issues most important to them when it comes to services and supports. Through an online survey and 11 forums held in nine cities throughout the State, GCDD heard from over 1,000 people.

“People told us about the need for work. They told us about the need for school systems that are more responsive. This population of kids coming out of school today is not the same population that came out in previous years. The expectations are higher therefore the systems have to be better in place,” said Eric Jacobson, executive director of GCDD. “And we heard there are too many people on the waiting lists. Those three things drove a lot of what you see in the plan.”

The Council members and staff used that information to create five goals that GCDD will work on over the next five years. They include:

1. Education
2. Employment
3. Formal and Informal Supports
4. Real Communities
5. Self-Advocacy

The goals then laid the framework for the Council’s work from 2017-2021 that will address services and supports across the State. Charged with creating systems change for individuals with developmental disabilities and family members through advocacy and capacity building activities, the outcomes for all GCDD efforts aim to ensure that the disability community is more interdependent, has greater economic self-sufficiency, is integrated and included in respective communities, and allows for self-determination.

As a part of its Five Year Plan, GCDD will focus on education to increase children with disabilities to be fully included in the classrooms and actively involved in their local school community.

One focus will be to reduce the number of African American students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) in the state’s controversial Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support (GNETS) program.

This goal came from the federal Department of Education that “identified African American males as well as part of this kind of underserved population that is being disproportionately represented. They have collected data from every school district in the country on the number of black males in schools and special education,” said Jacobson.
In a 2016 investigation done by the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, it was found that 54% of students in Georgia’s psychoeducational programs are African American, compared to 37% in all public schools statewide. In half of the 24 [GNETS] programs, black enrollment exceeds 60%. In one, nine of every 10 students are African American.

This objective, like many of those outlined under the new Five Year Plan, will call for collaboration with organizations such as the NAACP, Urban League, My Brothers Keeper and more. Another objective for education will be to “eliminate the special education certificate and other barriers for students who want to attend post-secondary educational institutions.”

“One of the things that we’ve known for a long time is that the special education certificate has been a barrier once kids leave the elementary and high school system,” states Jacobson. The certificate is not equivalent to a high school diploma, hence creating barriers to attend university or college programs, get a job or join the military.

“Getting rid of the certificate and making sure every kid gets a high school diploma will allow them to be on college campuses, to be able to access the Hope Scholarship, to not only get credit but actually get a grade in their class,” said Jacobson. “It really opens up the world in terms of what they are allowed to do and what they’re not allowed to do.”

Additionally, the new Five Year Plan will also seek to expand the successful inclusive post-secondary educational programs that are currently at nine universities and colleges to 15 by 2021.

Competitive, supported employment has long been a point of advocacy for GCDD. Under its new Five Year Plan, GCDD will strengthen opportunities that result in people having meaningful employment based on unique skills, interests and talents while earning a livable wage with career advancement opportunities.

Under this goal, GCDD hopes to expand the highly successful Project SEARCH program from 18 to 30 sites across the State. (Read more about Project SEARCH on page 6.) Additionally, the goal would also include continued advocacy efforts to make Georgia an Employment First state, meaning that employment would be the first option for people with disabilities.

A significant focus of GCDD’s employment goal will also be to educate businesses about the diverse workforce. By educating the human resource managers and other professionals, it would seek to transform from offering isolating, segregated workplaces to offering supported and customized employment. One of its employment objectives will also be to strengthen financial inclusion and asset development efforts for individuals with I/DD.

“When people go to work and they start earning money, what do they do with it? There needs to be financial literacy around what it means to have money, earn money and what you do with that money,” said Jacobson. “In the case of people with disabilities, how do you make sure you protect your healthcare services, while you’re earning a paycheck?”

In May 2016, the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act became law in Georgia and the process to bring ABLE accounts is currently underway. Governor Nathan Deal created the ABLE Board, that will start to work on ABLE accounts being opened in the State of Georgia to help people set aside money to meet disability-related needs.

The financial literacy component of GCDD’s Five Year Plan goal intends to help people understand what it means to earn money, and how to protect, save and spend it.

Formal and Informal Supports
Continuing its work and advocacy, GCDD will advocate for public policies that support universal access to quality long-term supports and services that will be integrated into typical formal and informal support systems.

This includes the GCDD’s continued work and support of the Children’s Freedom Initiative, a statewide policy that aims to move all children living in a nursing facility or private Intermediate Care Facility for the Developmentally Disabled (ICF/DD) into a loving, stable home. This work will continue through the DD Network that includes: GCDD, Georgia Advocacy Office, Center for Leadership and Disability at Georgia State University and the Institute for Human Development and Disability at the University of Georgia.

GCDD will also focus its advocacy on improved wages and skills for direct support professionals, address the waiting list for home and community-based services and support efforts of families and individuals who self-direct services.

Real Communities
GCDD’s award-winning initiative brought together conversations of social and disability justice by connecting communities of people with and without disabilities with a thoughtful, action-based learning approach. This equips community members at the local, grassroots level to work together toward common goals to improve their community using person-centered supports, community-centered connections and persistent and reflective learning.

In the next five years, GCDD will continue to strengthen and support local projects planned and implemented by a network of partners with and without disabilities in hopes to expand it to 10 communities. Currently, there are seven Real Communities.

“I think that we are looking at a variety of potential models and places to go. We’re looking the four corners of the State to figure out what communities might be ready for this kind of work,” added Jacobson. “We’re looking at a variety of different issues or models that might come up from a restorative discipline in the educational systems to how we create increased economic equitability through participatory budgeting and more local democracy activities that would have people more involved in local decisions about taxpayer supported events.”

Possible new sites for Real Communities expansion could include health-focused projects, youth organizing, micro financing and associated efforts such as faith-based programs.

As a part of its framework, all Councils have to include a self-advocacy component in their Five Year Plans as required by the federal agency, Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AIDD).
Through its successful Advocacy Days – held during the legislative session – to funding the People First Georgia Conference every summer, and continuation of funding grants to help families, self-advocates and advocates attend disability-related conferences, GCDD looks to increase the self-advocacy representation in Georgia.

“Our hope is that more and more people with disabilities will show up for events like Advocacy Days because it’s a lot more impactful and we want them talking to their legislators. From that standpoint, the success of the events that affect systems change should be dependent on the role of people with disabilities in advocating for those changes,” added Jacobson.

The Five Year Plan
In August, the Five Year Plan was submitted to AIDD for approval, and the plan officially kicked off on October 1, 2016. It embraced the idea that addressing complex problems requires a collective impact approach involving many actors from different sectors committing to a common agenda, a common vision, a common understanding of the problem and agreed upon rules of engagement to make the disability community across Georgia inclusive, integrated and successful.

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