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GCDD e-news - December 2019

GCDD E news 1705

A Digital Newsletter from the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities    •   December 2019


In This Issue:

Eric Jacobson photo

A Message from the Executive Director

It seems like everywhere we turn, politically themed images are staring us in the face. They’re on TV, social media and billboards. We can’t escape them. We are in the middle of a presidential campaign, and in Georgia, the beginning of a campaign to elect every member of the Georgia General Assembly and members of US Congress. Regardless of party affiliation, politics are indeed everywhere.

GCDD has also been everywhere this fall. In fact, there has been a lot going on in our community since my last column. First, we helped get the word out about a series of family forums hosted by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) across the state. During the forums, DBHDD heard from the constituents about services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Next, hundreds gathered in Athens for the Georgia APSE 2019 Training Conference to discuss increasing employment opportunities for people with disabilities in Georgia.

Finally, GCDD has been hard at work planning for the 2020 legislative session and subsequent elections. Since politics is slated to be at the forefront of the national and statewide stages in 2020, we are preparing for a big year. One of the ways in which we are preparing includes the return of Advocacy Days. Be sure to read more below about how to get involved at the Capitol, starting in January.

As another way to gear up for elections, GCDD was recently invited to participate in a discussion about people with disabilities and the ability to vote. Many are concerned that moving to strictly paper ballots will make voting inaccessible to many people with disabilities. For example, if you can’t see what’s on the paper, reach the paper or write on the paper, then how can you vote?

The introduction of electronic ballot machines years ago meant that many people with disabilities could vote for the very first time without assistance. Still, others say that these machines are not secure and vulnerable to cybersecurity threats such as hacking. I am not adequately convinced of a solution, but I do know that we must continue the work of making sure that anyone, including individuals with disabilities who want to vote, are able to do so. We must also be mindful that many people with disabilities want to do this independently and not with the assistance of someone else. 

This is an important time for all of us to make our voices heard. Make sure you are registered and prepared to vote, regardless of how difficult it may seem. This is your chance to have your voice heard. (Tip: Check your voter registration status, apply for mail-in voting, find your polling location and more via the Georgia Secretary of State’s My Voter Page.)

Check out GCDD’s website and join our advocacy network so that you can stay informed. We hope you enjoy reading this newsletter. Let us know your thoughts and comments about the magazine by writing to Managing Editor, Hillary Hibben, at .


Public Policy for the People: 2020 Advocacy Days are Here!

GCDD Advocacy Days LogoPublic Policy for the People provides public policy updates as it pertains to people with disabilities here in Georgia.

MARK YOUR CALENDARS for 2020 Advocacy Days: January 29, February 6, February 19, February 27 and March 11!

Join GCDD at the Capitol during the 2020 legislative session to learn about policies affecting people with disabilities, and join advocates from across the state in speaking with elected officials about these very important issues. We need your help to educate Georgia’s lawmakers about topics that affect our community.

What to expect at each Advocacy Day: Each day kicks off at 8 a.m. at the Central Presbyterian Church, across from the Gold Dome, where leaders from GCDD and other organizations will train and teach advocates how to approach legislators, make connections and discuss the topics that are important to you. After the interactive training, advocates and leaders will head over to the Gold Dome to meet with legislators.

Register for 2020 Advocacy Days.

Become an Advocacy Day Team Lead!Become a Team Lead for Advocacy Days

GCDD is seeking team leads for its 2020 Advocacy Days! Geared at preparing advocates to take a leadership role at the annual advocacy event, team lead volunteers will learn how to navigate the Georgia State Capitol and support attendees in speaking with their legislators. This is a great opportunity for anyone interested in honing their advocacy skills and leading others to raise their voices!

Team leads will earn $100 per each Advocacy Day for which they volunteer. Each individual must complete one training and fulfill all the responsibilities as determined by GCDD's public policy team.


Kayla Rodriguez PhotoKayla Rodriguez

Meet Our New Intern, Kayla Rodriguez

GCDD is thrilled to welcome Kayla Rodriguez to our team! As an intern in our communications and public policy departments, Kayla assists leadership on such initiatives as content creation, administrative support and more.

Earlier in 2019, Kayla participated in GCDD’s 2019 Advocacy Days where she learned about public policy issues, as well as how to identify and build relationships with her legislators. It is during this experience that she also learned more about problems facing the disability community and how people can advocate to solve them.

“My experience during Advocacy Days really helped lay the foundation of what I’d be doing in my internship,” Kayla said. “I left that experience feeling equipped and prepared to advocate for change.”

Overall, Kayla has worked professionally in disability advocacy for three years. She became familiar with the world of disability advocacy through the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN) and hopes to work toward improving the lives of future generations.

Prior to joining GCDD, Kayla collaborated with some of Georgia’s most prominent leaders in the disability community. After high school, she joined the Bobby Dodd Institute’s Ambassador Program where she trained under disability advocate Kylie Moore. Through this program, Kayla met Mark Crenshaw, a director at the Center for Leadership in Disability at Georgia State University. She worked alongside Mark as a participant in the Georgia Leadership Education of Neurodevelopmental Disabilities Program (GaLEND). Through GaLEND, Kayla was introduced to My Voice. My Participation. My Board, a leadership and advocacy program, where she trained under training and advocacy specialist Molly Tucker.

Kayla continues to hone her leadership skills as the vice president and chief ambassador of Autistic Self-Advocacy Atlanta, an affiliate group of ASAN. She is also involved with the Atlanta Autism Consortium and co-created the Emory Patient-Centered Outcome Research Institute on Young Women on the Autism Spectrum Group with Dr. Susan Brasher from Emory University.

Originally from New York, Kayla lived in Florida and Virginia before settling in Georgia nearly seven years ago. Outside the office, Kayla enjoys video games, animation, rock/indie music, YouTube and hanging out with friends.

“My favorite part of being at GCDD is how kind and understanding everyone is and how calm the work environment is,” said Kayla. “I’m excited to be an intern here and look forward to making a difference!”


National Federation of the Blind Georgia logo

GCDD Honored by BELL Academy

In a hotel conference room sprinkled with a selection of non-visual toys and adapted board games, Raveena Alli typed out her name on a braille typewriter. Alli, a 13-year-old student mentor, started attending the BELL Academy to practice braille literacy skills when she was four years old. She was wearing a Ruth Bader Ginsberg shirt at the National Federation of the Blind of Georgia’s (NFBGA) 2019 state convention.

“There are things you do differently as a blind person,” Alli said while she demonstrated. “Things you wouldn’t even think about as a sighted person.”

On Oct. 5, the NFBGA honored the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) as a platinum-level sponsor and consistent supporter of the BELL Academy at its 2019 state convention in Augusta. BELL stands for “braille enrichment for literacy and learning,” and the academy is a week-long, immersive summer program that offers blind and low-vision young people a social and educational environment to learn fundamental literacy skills.

Olmstead Mark JohnsonMonopoly Board adapted for use by the blind.Seventeen students attended the NFBGA’s 2019 BELL Academy, which took place at Columbus State University this summer. Braille literacy and other non-visual skills have a profound effect on blind people’s abilities to learn, work and live fully. The residential camp includes a rigorous academic program, but organizers also make time for field trips, socialization and fun — all meant to build self-confidence and self-determination.

GCDD is involved with the funding and coordination of efforts like BELL across the state. Students get to keep most everything they are provided with during the program, including games and tactile sketch pads that help students conceptualize and learn by drawing. While recognizing GCDD at the convention with a speech and plaque, Jackie Anderson, an instructor of blind students at the NFBGA who created the first BELL Academy in Maryland, stressed the work and funding that makes the program possible. Anderson called the council a friend who answers calls for help in a big way.

“Thank you for helping us provide our students with the skills they need so they can live the lives that they want,” Anderson said.

Cheers and applause for the students, donors and organizers filled the room, and the small audience briefly seemed much larger. Community partnership is crucial to the BELL program’s continued existence, level of service and growth.

The crowd applauded as NFBGA honored the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) at its 2019 state convention in Augusta.The crowd applauded as NFBGA honored the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) as a platinum-level sponsor and consistent supporter of the BELL Academy at its 2019 state convention in Augusta.Alli is too old for BELL now, but she continues with the program through BELLX, a local extension of the program where students continue their education and mentor their peers. Alli says that many blind kids don’t get access to the same level of resources and individualized instruction during the school year, and she appreciates BELLX for the chance to be with her peers and make a difference in younger kids’ lives.

“You need to have empathy, confidence and advocacy skills because the expectations for blind people right now are so low,” said Alli. “This gives us a chance to not only be proficient ourselves but take those things that we’re learning and use them for the greater good — to help younger kids who still have to learn braille.”


Family Forum photo A total of 384 people attended the DBHDD Forums.

Feeling Heard: Georgia Family Forums Achieve Their Goal

With the goal of gathering feedback from residents about the services they or their family members with intellectual or developmental disabilities (I/DD) receive, the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD), Division of Developmental Disabilities organized five public forums in September and October. 

A total of 384 people attended the forums held in Marietta, Lawrenceville, Macon, Savannah and online.

Family Forum photoDBHDD received insight directly from forum attendees which they will use to guide future decisions.The idea behind the forums was to increase collaboration with community stakeholders. DBHDD believes it is essential for families to have not only the opportunity to learn about the resources available but also have a voice, ask questions and share concerns. Rita Young and Associates organized the forums in collaboration with DBHDD.

Forum discussions covered the New Options Waiver Program (NOW) and the Comprehensive Supports (COMP) Waiver Programs, as well as the new Individualized Service Plan (ISP) and the I/DD Connects Portal for Family Access, both of which went live on August 19, 2019. Other topics included crisis services; competitive, integrated employment; electronic visit verification; and Georgia STABLE accounts.

The forums focused on the direction of services for individuals with I/DD in Georgia and provided attendees an opportunity to meet the DBHDD division director, Ron Wakefield, and his staff, including Amy Riedesel, Director of Community Services, and Ashleigh Henneberger, Director of Waiver Services.

Olmstead Mark JohnsonAttendees were glad to get the opportunity to be heard.

With an additional forum goal of increasing collaboration with community stakeholders, “The family forums created a space that allowed everyone to have a seat at the table. I’m honored to have the opportunity to listen and learn from individuals and their families all over the great state of Georgia,” said Wakefield. 

DBHDD explained the insight received directly from families was very valuable and will help guide future decisions within the Division of DD. In addition, the agency learned about system barriers and suggestions on how to address those barriers. The goal of hearing directly from families about what’s working for them and recommendations for areas for improvement was met. One key insight DBHDD heard was individuals value the services they have and want to continue to have both access and choice regarding their services. One Lawrenceville attendee’s evaluation of the forum was, “It was wonderful to ‘feel heard’.”

Plans by the DBHDD for the future include:

  • Having a clinical contributor for correspondence, informing providers and families of the services and trends related to I/DD services and supports. 
  • Providing a developer of content that promotes skills of health advocacy, targeting members of support systems of individuals with I/DD.
  • Developing clinical partner participation in initiatives, promoting access to clinical resources.

For more information about what was presented at the family forums, the PowerPoint, as well as frequently asked questions (FAQs), is posted on the DBHDD website.


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GCDD e-news - June 2020

GCDD E news 1705

A Digital Newsletter from the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities    •   June 2020


In This Issue:

Eric Jacobson photo

A Message from the Executive Director

The times that we live in are different from any that we have witnessed in our lifetime.

For many people with disabilities, COVID-19 has meant isolation, lack of supports, sickness and even death. However, there may be new opportunities during this time that many of us have enjoyed, such as getting to know the people in our neighborhoods during evening walks or picking up groceries for each other when we go to the store. I think we should be asking ourselves, “What have we learned during this time that we did not have the time to do before?” Answers may include, “I learned to make sourdough bread,” or “I took an exercise class on Zoom.”  We can let COVID-19 get us down – or we can use this time to make our lives better.

In addition, many of us may be asking, “What happened to the Georgia legislature when COVID-19 forced us all to stay in our homes?” The legislature did not complete its work before the pandemic began. Now, members of the Georgia General Assembly will be coming back to finish the work they began. This includes creating and passing a budget for the state year that begins July 1.

Because of the economic chaos caused by COVID-19, state agencies are being asked to cut their budgets by 14 percent. Agencies such as the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities will submit to Governor Kemp how they will cut 14 percent out of their budgets. But what does that mean? Does it mean no new dollars to address the waiting list? Less money for waiver services? Cuts to inclusive post-secondary education programs?

We are counting on YOU to let your legislators know that even with an economy in trouble, people with disabilities will not accept cuts to their services and supports. You can also send the governor and legislature a clear message when you vote on June 9. Make sure to complete your absentee or mail-in ballot, so that your vote can be counted.

Finally, a couple of pieces of news from GCDD. First, GCDD will soon begin its five-year, strategic planning process. This is required by the Developmental Disabilities Bill of Rights and Assistance Act. We will be coming to you and asking about what is working in your communities and where the system is falling short. Second, we have a new executive committee that you can read about in this newsletter. We are excited to begin this planning year with new leadership focused on what the future can look like for Georgians with developmental disabilities.

We hope you enjoy reading this newsletter, and we want to hear from you. Let us know your thoughts and comments about by writing to Managing Editor Hillary Hibben at .


Public Policy for the People: What's Happening

State of Georgia Graphic with Capitol reversed insidePublic Policy for the People provides public policy updates as it pertains to people with disabilities here in Georgia.

Advocates, thank you for taking the time to read GCDD’s public policy updates about state and federal happenings. Regarding Georgia’s legislative session, we left off rather abruptly due to COVID-19, and the state session was suspended after day 29. For a recap on what advocacy took place during the first 29 days, please review the legislative recap in the April edition of our Making a Difference Magazine.

As promised, we want to make sure you know the goings-on under the gold dome. We received word from Speaker of the House David Ralston that session will officially resume Thursday, June 11. Committees can begin meeting in-person on Tuesday, June 2, but only to begin reviewing legislation and hearing testimony. No official votes can take place until June 11. Right now, we are not sure what session might look like regarding in-person versus virtual advocacy, but you can guarantee that we will let you know as soon as we find out!

GA House of Rep logoClick to view GA House of Representatives meetingsState Policy Updates

Pull QuoteCurrently, members of both Georgia’s House of Representatives and Senate are conducting virtual meetings that are available for public viewing, focusing on our state’s budget. Some of you might recall that Georgia’s General Assembly is only required to pass one piece of legislation, and that is the state budget. The state budget for fiscal year 2021 (which starts on July 1, 2020) made it through the House prior to the suspension of session, but it is likely that that version will have significant changes because the governor is asking for 14-percent budget cuts from state agencies.GA Senate logoClick to view GA Senate meetings.

These significant budget cuts may be required due to the impact of COVID-19 on our state’s economy. To put that percentage into perspective, total cuts across all state agencies could be more than $3.5 billion, including $172.3 million in cuts to the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD). As of now, we do not have any proposals to better understand where those cuts might come from, but we are expecting to get more information in the coming weeks.

Federal Policy Updates

Regarding federal updates, the U.S. House of Representatives released the HEROES Act on May 12, 2020, which would provide an additional $3 trillion in COVID-19 relief funds. The House voted and approved the HEROES Act on Friday, May 15. We were relieved to see some of our disability priorities included in the proposed legislation, including $100 million to the Administration for Community Living, which provides supports and services to seniors and people with disabilities and their loved ones.

Although the inclusion of these funds is encouraging news, they are not guaranteed in the final version, which means your federal senators need to hear from you! Remember,GCDD is here to help if you need any assistance locating the contact information for your representative and senator and/or drafting your message. (Tip: Try using this My COVID-19 Story template to get started on your story.)

email iconEmail us for more information:
Public Policy Research & Development Director Dr. Alyssa Lee:
Legislative Advocacy Director Charlie Miller:  

Election Day is June 9!

On June 9, Georgians will cast votes for in the primary election to choose the candidate for each party's nomination by voting through secret ballot, as in a general election.

With many shelter-in-place orders in effect, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced that all ballots will be mailed to registered voters.

While early voting is already underway, the primary election features the presidential candidates, as well as the local and legislative primary races. The candidates who are selected by voters will be on the ballot for the November general election.

Find out who is seeking election/re-election in Georgia.Find out who is seeking election/re-election in Georgia.

Who is up for election?

  • 14 Georgia representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives
  • 2 senators in the U.S. Senate

Also, many state senators and representatives, commissioners, judges, councilpersons and other regional and local seats impact how people with disabilities work, live and play in their communities.

Two ways to vote:

Due to COVID-19, Georgia has allowed registered voters to submit absentee ballots instead of heading to the polls for early voting or on election day. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Absentee ballot – If you received your ballot and have not submitted it, be sure to mail it in to have your vote counted by June 9. Check out the Secretary of State’s Guide to Absentee Voting for how to complete and submit your ballot.
  • Going to the polls – To find out where you vote, go to the My Voter Page through the Secretary of State’s website. There, complete your information to find out your polling place for early voting and day-of voting. Please note that lines and wait times might be longer due to COVID-19 precautions, and practice physical distancing and other safety measures while out in public.

GCDD Welcomes New Chair and Executive Committee

New GCDD Chair Parker Glick New GCDD Chair
Parker Glick
The Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) welcomes five new executive committee members who will lead the council and its work to bring about social and policy changes for people with developmental disabilities and their families throughout the state.

Parker Glick, from Decatur, was appointed to GCDD in 2015 and will now serve as the chair of the council. Born with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita (AMC), Glick works as the employment coordinator for the Statewide Independent Living Council of Georgia. An accomplished self-advocate, Glick was also appointed by former Governor Nathan Deal to the Employment First Council. As one of the younger members on the council, he leads by example so young adults with disabilities learn to develop and employ their own self-advocacy skills to affect change for Georgians with disabilities and the policies that impact them.

Heidi J. Moore is a parent advocate for individuals with disabilities and pediatric cancer research with Unite Our Voices, a place for families, providers, politicians and concerned citizens to find information and learn how to advocate for children and adults with disabilities and pediatric cancer. Moore has a 20-year-old son, Jacob, who has Down syndrome and autism and is also a cancer survivor. Appointed to the council in 2016, Moore continues to further her grassroots advocacy efforts to make a difference in the services families of children and adults with disabilities receive in Georgia. She lives in Alpharetta.

Mark Crenshaw was appointed to the council in 2019 and is working to positively influence policy and model services in Georgia. He works as the director of interdisciplinary training at the Center for Leadership in Disability at Georgia State University. As a council member, Crenshaw strives to help people understand that Georgians with and without disabilities benefit when they are welcomed together as valued members of their communities.

Evan Nodvin, a self-advocate, has been a GCDD council member since 2013. Nodvin has participated in My Voice, My Participation, My Board with the Center for Leadership in Disability as well as Partners in Policy Making with GCDD. He works with the council to advocate for the end to the Medicaid waiver waiting list. Nodvin is a resident of Dunwoody.

Dorothy Harris,a self-advocate, serves as secretary of People First of Fitzgerald, where she lives. An active advocate, Harris has participated in Disability Day at the Capitol; advocated for a local library to stay open; and fought for public transportation in the Fitzgerald community that can serve everyone. She currently serves on the board of Jessamine Place Human Rights Committee and is an advisory member for GCDD.

GCDD works to create systems change for people with developmental disabilities and their families by increasing opportunities for independence and inclusion. By collaborating with, supporting and funding projects across Georgia, the council promotes innovative programs and activities to develop opportunities to enhance the quality of life for Georgians living with developmental disabilities. Since its inception in 1971, GCDD has advocated for more than 1.7 million Georgians with developmental disabilities and their families. 

Parties interested in more information about GCDD, or who would like to apply for the council, may find additional details and application guidelines on the GCDD website.


Georgia Developmental Disabilities Network Brings Together Resources for Disability Community

GDDN logoThe Georgia Developmental Disabilities Network (GDDN) is a consortium of 10 Georgia-based, disability-focused organizations that are committed to connecting people with resources during the COVID-19 pandemic. GDDN hosts weekly phone calls to support individuals with disabilities, parents and family members, caregivers and other stakeholders to share COVID-19 challenges.

The weekly webinars provide resources for Georgians with disabilities and other stakeholders that offer guidance on navigating various topics such as Medicaid waivers, employment, Appendix K and more.

The resources are available on GCDD’s website. Click the category of interest below and access various links, recordings and information.

To see all documents, visit the main “Georgia Resources” folder via Google Drive.

GDDN partners include: The Arc Georgia, Center for Leadership in Disability at Georgia State University, Down Syndrome Association of Atlanta, The Fragile X Association of Georgia, Georgia Advocacy Office, Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities, Institute on Human Development and Disability at the University of Georgia, Parent to Parent of Georgia, Spectrum Autism Support, Education and Resources and Uniting for Change.


Calendar Spotlight

The Disability Vote Counts 2020
Remember to vote on Tuesday, June 9th!
 

GCDD e-news - March 2020

GCDD E news 1705

A Digital Newsletter from the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities    •   March 2020


In This Issue:

Eric Jacobson photo

A Message from the Executive Director

Though we are still in the first quarter of 2020, it has already proven to be a year full of political intrigue. Here is what we know so far: we know this is an election year, and we will elect a US president, every member of the Georgia US Congressional delegation and every member of the Georgia General Assembly. We know that the Georgia General Assembly passed an amended fiscal year 2020 (AFY 2020) budget that reduced many of the cuts that Governor Brian Kemp attempted to implement in his AFY 2020 budget recommendations. We also know that the governor’s budget recommendations for fiscal year 2021 (FY 2021) did not include any new money for NOW/COMP Medicaid waivers. This means that the 6,000-plus people on the waiting list will remain there throughout FY 2021, and the list will only continue to grow. 

In the coming weeks, we will hear much discussion over the need for more people to go to work and for people to be more independent and tax-producing citizens. However, much of this is impossible for Georgians with developmental disabilities without a NOW or COMP Medicaid waiver. In truth, rather than moving forward, we are falling further behind. 

It is your voice that we need NOW. Call your Georgia senator and representative! Call the governor’s office and let them know about you or your loved one and why we need additional waivers. Tell them that you vote, and as a Georgia citizen, you recognize the need for more waivers – and you hope they do, too. After all, with NOW/COMP waivers, people can be independent, productive, included and integrated in their communities and self-determined in their lives. (Note: If you don’t know who your Georgia senator and representative are, visit Open States and enter your home address to find out.)

After you have let your elected officials know about the waiver situation, the next step is to make sure you are registered to vote. The primary elections in Georgia are March 24, and the general election is November 3. People with disabilities are the largest minority voting bloc in the country, so let’s make sure we have an impact on the election. Make sure you are registered to vote and find your polling place so you can participate on March 24 and November 3. 

Finally, join us for our final Advocacy Days on March 9 and March 18. This will be your opportunity to let your legislators know about the important issues including competitive, integrated employment and the school-to-prison pipeline. Read the articles below to learn more about Advocacy Days. Also, check out how you can celebrate Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, visit the latest blog from our intern, Kayla, and more.

We hope you enjoy reading this newsletter, and we want to hear from you! Let us know your thoughts and comments by writing to Managing Editor Hillary Hibben at


Public Policy for the People: Hello, DD Awareness Month!

DDAM-logo-Schofield-768x626Public Policy for the People provides public policy updates as it pertains to people with disabilities here in Georgia.

The Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) is proud to recognize March as Developmental Disabilities (DD) Awareness Month. The goal for this month is to create awareness about developmental disabilities, teach the importance of inclusion within every aspect of life and to share the stories of individuals with a disability to show that a successful life is possible.

We at GCDD are proud to celebrate DD Awareness Month in March and all year long! Through its many partnerships, the Council works to build a Georgia that is more inclusive and integrated for people. The partnerships focus on working with local groups to build welcoming communities; expanding and leveraging the existing grassroots, community-based coalition to develop and implement a plan to reduce the number of African American males in special education classes who are at risk of being pushed out of school and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems – a trend known as the "school-to-prison pipeline" (STPP); and developing a collection of stories from across the state that give a glimpse into everyday lives of everyday people with developmental disabilities, among many other projects underway.

The campaign is designed to raise awareness about the inclusion of people with developmental disabilities in all facets of community life, as well as awareness of the barriers that people with disabilities still face at times in connecting to the communities in which they live.

How can you raise #DDAwareness? Join us at the Capitol for our last two Advocacy Days – March 9 and March 18 – to educate and inform our lawmakers about Employment and SToPP. 

Share your support of National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month on social media with the hashtag #DDAwareness2020 & #GCDDAdvocates.

GCDD Advocacy Days LogoGreat Start to Advocacy Days!

Georgia’s advocacy community has been hard at work! At GCDD’s first three Advocacy Days, the Council welcomed over 400 advocates and over 50 team leads who collaborated to build relationships and educate lawmakers about home and community-based services, Gracie’s Law and post-secondary education!

Check out some of our photos from advocates from the past three Advocacy Days!

Two More Advocacy Days Left!

Advocates, GCDD will host its final Advocacy Days on March 9 and March 18, wrapping up a great advocacy season! 

  1. March 9 - Competitive, Integrated Employment– Advocate for policies that improve competitive, integrated employment options for Georgians with developmental disabilities. 
  2. March 18 – School-to-Prison Pipeline (SToPP) – Advocate to keep African American males in special education classes from being pushed out of school and into the criminal justice system.

Join advocates from across the state in speaking with elected officials about these very important issues.

Register for Advocacy Days


Kayla Rodriguez PhotoKayla Rodriguez

Rodriguez Pens Blog Series, Kayla’s Corner

GCDD’s Public Policy and Communications intern Kayla Rodriguez has worked at GCDD for the past four months learning all the ins and outs of disability policy and communications. To document her experience, Kayla started her own blog series, Kayla’s Corner, to share about her experience in her first job out of college, her own personal and professional growth and what she’d like other young adults with disabilities like her to know about employment. 

Read her blogs: Welcome to My Blog, It’s Time To Advocate, What Issues Matter to Me


Updates on Competitive, Integrated Employment for Georgians with Disabilities

— Written by GCDD Executive Director Eric E. Jacobson

In 2018, the Georgia General Assembly, along with the governor, approved the passage of House Bill 831, Georgia’s Employment First Act. Georgia’s Employment First Act was signed into law by Governor Nathan Deal on May 8, 2018, and declared Georgia a state in which competitive, integrated employment is the first and preferred option for citizens with disabilities, regardless of the severity of the disability. To promote and implement this mission, Georgia’s Employment First Council (Council) was created and charged to:

“Advise the Governor, General Assembly, and state agencies as to the adoption and integration of a policy that recognizes that competitive integrated employment, including self-employment, is the first and preferred option of all state funded services provided to working age individuals with disabilities…known as the ‘Employment First Policy’.” (49-4-52)

Furthermore, the Council is tasked with the following actions:Matthew Roush with Rep Sheila Jones

  1. Developing an Employment First training plan for providers;
  2. Coordinating and conducting educational activities with other agencies to increase awareness of Employment First;
  3. Evaluating the funding mechanism for inclusive post-secondary education (IPSE) programs in the state; and

Governor Deal appointed members to the Employment First Council, and over the last two years, quarterly meetings have been held. The Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency (GVRA) has been the host to the Employment First Council, and its Executive Director, Shawn Ryan, is the chairperson.

To date, it has held five meetings and established three committees to get its work completed: 

  • Communication: The Communications Committee is charged with disseminating information regarding the initiatives of the Employment First Council to community partners.
  • Data: The Data Committee is charged with collecting all relevant data within the community.
  • Training: The Employment First Council will be creating training for its statewide partners regarding the process of changing the employment outlook with the community and assisting organizations to transition into competitive integrated employment.

As a member of the Council, I have taken it as my duty to be the voice of people with disabilities who want to go to work and earn a living wage so they can be independent, productive taxpayers in our society. Also, it is my responsibility to remind members that a lot of work has been done or is in place, like the Advancing Employment Technical Assistance Center at the Institute for Human Development and Disability at the University of Georgia. We are simply waiting for the opportunity to move Georgia ahead in the area of supported and competitive employment. However, this has not been an easy task because of the many changes being implemented at agencies like GVRA. 

A parallel effort has been taken up by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD). This effort has already announced that its goal is to increase by three times the number of people with developmental disabilities who are in competitive, integrated employment over the next four years. The organization plans to host a summit later this month to talk about its progress. 

In the meantime, the Employment First Council has produced, but not yet submitted to Governor Brian Kemp’s office  and General Assembly, its second report. In the report, members debate the policies that are currently barriers for people to go to work and the remedies for these barriers. The Employment First Council has promoted the following recommendations:

Communication

  1. Develop a marketing plan for Employment First consumers, employers and providers. The plan could emphasize why Employment First practices, including competitive, integrated employment, are important to Georgia through stories of supported employment experiences and outcomes.
  2. Develop unique Employment First branding that will ensure uniform branding and consistent messaging. Consider partnering with other Georgia employment initiatives to adopt a coordinated branding approach.

Data

  1. Develop a coordinated website or information delivery system to provide potential and current clients with “one-stop shopping” of available agencies and services (both private and public). The website would house all employment initiatives in Georgia. A possible website option that currently exists is the “Advancing Employment” website.
  2. Develop and maintain a comprehensive data collection and reporting system that incorporates consistent, standardized data points across all relevant agencies.

Training

  1. Form a group represented by GVRA/Department of Education(Ga DOE)/DBHDD to work on identifying, organizing and streamlining communication, services and training resources, with a focus on assisting organizations to phase out their use of subminimum wage certificates.
    a. Create certification standards and training programs that are uniform across agencies and inclusive of organizations of all sizes.
    b. Include review of disability etiquette and appropriate terminology.
  2. Support training and other efforts to create a network of providers who are dually eligible to serve individuals who receive services through GVRA and DBHDD.
  3. Incorporate a business consultant role within DOE and DBHDD whose role would be to provide support and services directly to a business engaged in disability hiring initiatives. GVRA currently employs multiple individuals in this role. 

Policy

  1. State agencies responsible for providing support to individuals with disabilities should coordinate policies in order to create a more efficient and effective system of services. 
  2. Because the United States Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) has adopted the Home and Community Based Settings (HCBS) Rule that all states must be in compliance with by March 2022, the State of Georgia should pass legislation that phases out 14(c) certificates that currently allow people with disabilities to be paid subminimum wage. [1]
  3. Ensure alignment regarding the definition of “disability” across agencies and providers, particularly as it relates to appropriate application of training, services and employment opportunities

Financial Priorities

  1. Recommend an equalization in funding between Supported Employment Services, Community Access Groups and Pre-Vocational Services to assist the organization in increasing the hourly rate of Georgia’s supported employment services to national averages so that providers can cover costs for supported employment.
  2. DBHDD currently pays through its Medicaid Waivers $17,856 a year for facility based non-employment services (community access group) and the rate for most people served in supported employment services is $7,069.  Capped rates of $10,760 and $17,856 exist for supported employment. These rates are based on an hourly rate of $29.64 which is below documented provider costs, so these higher caps are almost never reached [2].  A cost-saving solution would be to revise the rates to indicate that employment is a priority.
  3. Assistive technology is an opportunity to support people with disabilities to be more independent and economically self-sufficient. Recommend that DBHDD fund assistive technology through the Medicaid waivers or state grant-in-aid.
  4. Assistive technology is any device, software or equipment that helps people work around their challenges. Some examples of assistive technology are text-to-speech and word prediction. Assistive technology includes low-tech tools and is more commonly found in workplaces thus reducing the stigma of having a disability and being able to work in a competitive, integrated job setting in the community with people without disabilities. It is often more cost-effective long term than on-the-job, in-person support. 

We expect that these recommendations will be submitted very soon to the governor and General Assembly. Our next steps are to develop implementation plans for each of these recommendations.  You can follow the work of the Employment First initiative online.
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[1] Note: The 14(c) Section of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is known as the Subminimum Wage Certificate Program (14(c) certificates) and allows organizations to pay people with disabilities subminimum wage. Although the US Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division has released guidance stating the 14(c) program should not be the first or only choice of employment for people with disabilities, the program continues to be overused.
[2] Note:  This comes from the DBHDD Employment Leadership Committee, Funding Committee document “Barriers and Initial Actions” 11.22.2019


Enrollment Open for Cooperative Academy

The Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities, Synergies Work and Green Worker Cooperatives have launched a co-op academy to empower and educate entrepreneurs with developmental disabilities to build successful businesses.

The first of its kind, the virtual co-op academy will guide entrepreneurs to turn their ideas into successful cooperative businesses. 

The Co-Op Academy will be a five-month worker cooperative development program that will run twice a year, and is free for participants. It will support 10 entrepreneurs. 

The organizations will be hosting two information sessions on:Co-Op Academy Program

  • Wednesday, March 11, 1-2 pm
  • Wednesday, March 19, 1-2 pm (if required) 

Recruitment Process: March
Application deadline Monday, March 23rd
Interview dates: March 16 - 27

Start Date: April 7, 2020 - Orientation/first session
End Date: May 28, 2020
Program: Tuesdays & Thursdays, 3:00-5:00 PM

A cooperative is an entity (business) owned by and operated for the benefit of those using its services. Profits and earnings generated by the cooperative are distributed among the members, also known as user-owners or worker owners.

For more information, reach out to GCDD at  

To learn more and review the requirements to participate, visit Green Workers Cooperative, or download the flyer.

To apply, complete the application.


Calendar Spotlight

Two More Advocacy Days Left!
Monday, March 9, 2020 – Competitive, Integrated Employment (CIE)
Wednesday, March 18, 2020 – School-to-Prison Pipeline (STPP)

REGISTER HERE.