GCDD - Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities

2015 Disability Day: Fulfilling the Promise of the ADA

disability-day-schedule217th Annual Disability Day at the Capitol
This year's theme celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act! Be a part of the state's largest, disability advocacy event by gathering to promote access, opportunity and meaningful community living for all Georgians in a new location! This year's event will be on Liberty Plaza, the Capitol's new "front door." It's an outdoor area adjacent to the state Capitol that provides a safe space for crowds to gather for rallies and events including the 17th Annual Disability Day at the Capitol.

Don't miss out on what is set to be an exciting year for disability rights! Register online by February 27 or download the form and we look forward to seeing you at Liberty Plaza at the Georgia State Capitol on March 5, 2015!


2015 Advocacy Days at the Capitol!
Location: Central Presbyterian Church, 201 Washington Street SW, Atlanta, 30303

Leading up to the 17th annual Disability Day at the Capitol, GCDD is hosting Advocacy Days at the Capitol and workshops to advocate for waivers and more support for the disability community! Check out the schedule below and sign up for the workshops and Disability Day!

We Need Waivers Day
Wed., Jan. 21, 9 AM-12 PM
Did you know over 7,000 Georgians are on the waiting list for a NOW or COMP waiver? Join us as we advocate to get more waivers!

ICWP Raise the Rate Day
Thurs., Jan. 29, 9 AM-12 PM
Georgia families are in crisis because they cannot find caregivers who will work for as little as $8 an hour. Join us as we advocate to raise this impossibly low rate!

Kids NeedReal Homes, Not Nursing Homes Day
Wed., Feb. 4, 9 AM-12 PM
Right now, 39 school-aged children in Georgia live in nursing homes or facilities for people with disabilities. Join us as we advocate for 39 COMP waivers to bring these children home!

Employment First Day
Wed., Feb. 11, 9 AM-12 PM
Working age Georgians with disabilities want real jobs in their communities. Join us as we advocate for real jobs with Employment First!

Youth Day
Thurs., Feb. 19, 9 AM-12 PM
Calling all youth with disabilities! Come advocate for yourself and your friends and enjoy the excitement of the legislature in action! We will start the day with a fun, interactive advocacy training to teach you all you need to know about speaking to your legislators. Then, we’ll go over to the Capitol together to educate our legislators about what they can do to support individuals with disabilities and their families.

17th Annual Disability Day at the Capitol
Thurs., March 5, 9 AM-2 PM
Be a part of Georgia’s largest, disability advocacy event by gathering to promote access, opportunity and meaningful community living for all Georgians. Disability Day will be held at Liberty Plaza, across from the Capitol. All are welcome but due to limited space, you must register in advance.

Disability Day Sponsorship!
Your sponsorship will support one of the largest statewide events that provide an opportunity for advocates to unite in support of legislation that will promote the independence, inclusion, productivity and self-determination of people with disabilities. Each year, thousands gather at the Capitol to meet with lawmakers, celebrate growth in community and reignite the bonds of friendship. The success of the event depends on sponsors like you. Please let us know of your commitment no later than February 11, so that you may receive full recognition of your support as a Disability Day 2015 sponsor.

Download the form or register online to become a Disability Day 2015 sponsor.


2016 Disability Day at the Capitol

The Disability VOTE – Feel the Power!

18th Annual GCDD Disability Day at the Capitol, Feb 18, 2016, 9 AM to 2 PM, Liberty Plaza2016

Register now to participate in GCDD’s 18th Annual Disability Day at the Capitol. More than one million Georgians have some type of disability and approximately 652,000 are voting-age. Exercise your right to vote this election year. Your vote, and your voice, are critical to the political decision-making process. Come to LIBERTY PLAZA and join advocates, meet with state legislators, make your voice heard and your VOTE COUNT.Don't miss out on what is set to be an exciting year for disability rights!

Register Online
Register online by February 5
or download the form. If you need assistance with registration or encounter technical difficulties, please call 404.657.2121. A staff member will assist you. Groups of 20 or more MUST register online.

We look forward to seeing you at Liberty Plaza at the Georgia State Capitol on February 18, 2016!

Schedule Overview
9 AM - 11 AM: T-Shirt distribution, activities and exhibits at the Georgia Freight Depot before the rally - first come, first served.
11 AM - 12:30 PM: Rally program in Liberty Plaza, Capitol Avenue & MLK, Jr. Dr.
12:30 PM - 2 PM: Box lunch and exhibits at the Georgia Freight Depot - first come, first served.

Disability Day Sponsorship!

Your sponsorship will support one of the largest statewide events that provide an opportunity for advocates to unite in support of legislation that will promote the independence, inclusion, productivity and self-determination of people with disabilities. Each year, thousands gather at the Capitol to meet with lawmakers, celebrate growth in community and reignite the bonds of friendship. The success of the event depends on sponsors like you. Please let us know of your commitment no later than February 5, so that you may receive full recognition of your support. (Information received after this date does not guarantee your organization’s placement on any printed materials.) For more information, contact Kim Person at GCDD, 404.657.2130 or email

Download the form to become a Disability Day 2016 sponsor.

2016 Advocacy Days

During the 2016 Legislative Session, GCDD is hosting Advocacy Days at the Capitol and workshops to advocate for waivers and more support for the disability community! Check out the schedule below. Registration here for Advocacy Days: http://gcdd.org/advocacy/

We Need More DD (NOW/COMP) Waivers Day
Wednesday, Jan. 20
(sponsored by Unlock, formerly “Unlock the Waiting Lists”)

Independent Care Waiver Program (ICPW) Raise the Rate Day
Wednesday, Jan. 27
(sponsored by Unlock, formerly “Unlock the Waiting Lists”)

Inclusive Post-Secondary Education (IPSE) Day
Tuesday, Feb. 2
(sponsored by GCDD)

Intellectual Disability and the Death Penalty
Tuesday, February 9
(sponsored by the PAPE Coalition and GFADP)

Employment First Day
Thursday, February 11
(sponsored by GCDD)

ABLE (Achieving a Better Life) Act Coalition Day
WednesdayFebruary 24
(sponsored by AADD and Georgia ABLE Coalition)

Wildcard Day! End-of-Session Advocacy
Tusday, March 1
(sponsored by GCDD)

2018 Advocacy Days

2018 GCDD AdvocacyDays - Register Now!REGISTRATION NOW OPEN for the 2018 Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities' Advocacy Days!

Join GCDD at the Capitol this 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 important to our community, like the DD Waiver Waiting List, Employment, Inclusive Post-Secondary Education, the UNLOCK! Coalition and Medicaid.

Register early to secure your spot at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2018-gcdd-advocacy-days-registration-40146345801

GCDD's First Advocacy Day was held on January 23rd and we'd like to share a video from that event.

Our first video features GCDD Council Member Parker Glick and GCDD Public Policy Director Dawn Alford discussing NOW/COMP waivers and the waiting list. Click on the video above to view a short segment, or watch the entire video at: https://youtu.be/KvGl0RoGL_k

Watch for more videos coming soon!

Continue to read for more information about Advocacy Days.

2018 GCDD Advocacy Day Themes

  • Advocacy Day #1 DD Waivers (January 23) - If you are on the waiting list for a NOW/COMP waiver OR you are currently enjoying the benefits of the waiver, then this is the day for you.
  • Advocacy Day #2 Employment (January 31) - Let’s talk Jobs. Come educate your legislator about your integrated & paid community job, or the barriers standing in your way!
  • Advocacy Day #3 Medicaid (February 14) - Medicaid is the lifeline for people with disabilities to live in their community. Come join us in educating our legislators about the importance of Medicaid in our lives. Remember in GA, Medicaid goes by many names: NOW/COMP Waiver, ICWP, CCSP, SOURCE, Katie Beckett, and GAPP just to name a few.
  • Advocacy Day #4 Inclusive Post-Secondary Education Programs (February 22) - If you attend, graduated from, or hope to one day attend one of GA’s Inclusive Post-Secondary Education Programs, then this is your day!
  • Advocacy Day #5 UNLOCK Coalition (February 28) - Join the UNLOCK Coalition down at the Capitol to educate on the many importance of community integration.
  • Advocacy Day #6 Medicaid (March 15) - Medicaid is the lifeline for people with disabilities to live in their community. Come join us in educating our legislators about the importance of Medicaid in our lives. Remember in GA, Medicaid goes by many names: NOW/COMP Waiver, ICWP, CCSP, SOURCE, Katie Beckett, and GAPP just to name a few.

2018 Advocacy Day Agenda

8:30 AM – 9:00 AM Arrival & Registration
9:00 AM – 9:20 AM Welcome & Understand the Legislative Ask
9:20 AM – 9:40 AM Demonstration of a visit with a Legislator
9:40 AM – 10:10 AM Break into teams to practice the Legislative Visit
10:10 AM – 12:30 PM Go to the Capitol in teams to call legislators to the ropes


Are there ID requirements to enter the event?
Bring photo identification. You will need it to pass through security in the Capitol.

What are my transportation/parking options for getting to and from the event?

MARTA: Take Blue line to Georgia State MARTA Transit station and use the MLK Jr. Drive exit. Head right on MLK Jr. Drive for 1.5 blocks. Central Presbyterian Church will be on the corner of MLK Jr. Drive and Washington Street.

Parking options:
Steve Polk Plaza

65 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, Atlanta, GA
Located near Underground Atlanta & Georgia Railroad Freight Depot.

Capitol Lot Daily
218 Capitol Avenue, Atlanta, GA
Located on Capitol Avenue near the State Capitol.

Pete Hackney
162 Jesse Hill Jr., Drive, Atlanta, GA
Located at the corner of Jesse Hill Jr. Drive and Decatur Street.

Archives Surface Lot/Fraser Street Surface Lot
359 Fraser Street, Atlanta, GA

What can I not bring into the event?
Weapons are not allowed in the State Capitol. Please leave all knives, guns and other such items at home.

What if I don't know who my State Senator or State Representative is? You can find out at https://openstates.org

Who can I contact the with any questions?
Contact Hanna Rosenfeld at or 404.657.2124


2019 Advocacy Days

GCDD Advocacy Days Logo 2019FREGISTER NOW for the 2019 Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities' Advocacy Days!

Join GCDD at the Capitol this 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 important to our community, like the DD Waiver Waiting List, Employment, Inclusive Post-Secondary Education, Direct Support Professionals and Home and Community Based Services.


  • HCBS Advocacy Day – February 12 – Home & Community Based Services (HCBS) Waivers Day – Join us to advocate for the protection of and increase of more funding to reduce waiting lists for HCBS services like NOW, COMP, ICWP, CCSP and SOURCE waivers. Read the HCBS Infographic – (PDF)(Large Print Word Doc)

  • Everyone Out! Advocacy Day – February 14 – Everyone Out! Day – Let’s advocate for all those with disabilities stuck in institutional settings here in Georgia! Read the Everybody Out! Infographic – (PDF)(Large Print Word Doc)

  • NEW DATE! IPSE Advocacy Day – February 22 Inclusive Post-Secondary Education (IPSE) Day – Join current students, future enrollees and alumni of Inclusive Post-Secondary Education programs here in Georgia as we educate our legislators about the increased employment opportunities these programs provide. Read the IPSE Infographic – (PDF)

  • DSP Advocacy Day – February 27 – Direct Support Professional (DSP) Day – Come speak with your legislators about the workforce shortage of DSPs here in Georgia as well as the importance of a caregiver registry open to all HCBS waivers. Read the DSP Infographic – (PDF)(Large Print Word Doc)

  • NEW DATE! SDM Advocacy Day – March 5 – Supported Decision-Making (SDM) Day –Join us to educate our law makers on Supported Decision-Making as an alternative to guardianship for adults with disabilities. Read the SDM Infographic – (PDF)(Large Print Word Doc)

Be a Volunteer for the day or a Team Leader!
Volunteers help out with activities during advocacy days. Team Leaders attend training to take leadership roles in supporting attendees in speaking with their legislators. If you are interested in either, email us at .

Team Lead Volunteer Training:Finally, GCDD is excited to announce three upcoming Team Lead Volunteer trainings on December 13, January 15 and February 4. Geared at preparing advocates to take a leadership role at GCDD’s Advocacy Days, 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 supporting others to raise their voice! To sign up, email us at .

2019 Advocacy Day Agenda

8:15 AM – 8:30 AM Arrival & Registration at Central Presbyterian Church
8:30 AM – Breakfast is served!
9:00 AM – 10:00 AM Advocacy Day Orientation
10:00 AM – 10:15 AM Walk over from the church to the Gold Dome
10:15 AM – 12:15 PM Visit with Legislators “at the Ropes”


Are there ID requirements to enter the event?
Bring photo identification. You will need it to pass through security in the Capitol.

What are my transportation/parking options for getting to and from the event?

Take Blue line to Georgia State MARTA Transit station and use the MLK Jr. Drive exit. Head right on MLK Jr. Drive for 1.5 blocks. Central Presbyterian Church will be on the corner of MLK Jr. Drive and Washington Street.

Parking options:
The cost of parking varies depending on the lot but is at minimum $10 and can be up to approximately $20. To pay, you must have either the exact change or a credit/ debit card. Go to the link below to find the available parking options for the general public near the Gold Dome and the Central Presbyterian Church. There is not available parking at the church itself. https://gba.georgia.gov/general-public-parking

Steve Polk Plaza
65 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, Atlanta, GA
Located near Underground Atlanta & Georgia Railroad Freight Depot.

Capitol Lot Daily
218 Capitol Avenue, Atlanta, GA
Located on Capitol Avenue near the State Capitol.

Pete Hackney
162 Jesse Hill Jr., Drive, Atlanta, GA
Located at the corner of Jesse Hill Jr. Drive and Decatur Street.

Archives Surface Lot/Fraser Street Surface Lot
359 Fraser Street, Atlanta, GA

Where can I find a map of the area around the Gold Dome and Central Presbyterian Church?

What can I not bring into the event?
Weapons are not allowed in the State Capitol. Please leave all knives, guns and other such items at home.

What if I don't know who my State Senator or State Representative is?

During Advocacy Day the State Capitol is full of people and energy. Imagine the hustle and bustle of a mall during the holidays. There are lots of crowds, noise and tight places to navigate. Don’t worry though because we can help you while you are there. We simply want to make you aware of the environment ahead of time. If this environment feels like it might be untenable for you, consider requesting a one-on-one meeting with your legislator in his or her office.

To find your state legislators, you may visit the following website and enter your home street address at https://openstates.org/

Once you know who your state representative is, you can look up their picture, office location, phone number, assistant’s name, short biography, and contact information here by searching for their last name in the alphabetical listing provided http://www.house.ga.gov/Representatives/en-US/HouseMembersList.aspx

You can find the same information for your state senator by searching for their last name in the alphabetical listing at http://www.senate.ga.gov/senators/en-US/SenateMembersList.asp

2020 Legislative Preview – Getting Ready to Advocate

public policy icon2Starting on Monday, January 13, 2020, the Georgia General Assembly will begin its race towards the finish line. The Georgia Constitution only grants the assembly 40 days to complete all its work. While the days do not have to be continuous, the assembly’s traditional deadline of late March or early April does not allow for much dawdling. 

With that in mind, it is never too early to double check who your elected officials are at Open States. Make sure to enter your entire home address, as multiple elected officials can represent the same ZIP code. You can also confirm their contact details and committee assignments at the official Georgia General Assembly website.

Remember, your elected officials cannot represent your opinions if you have never taken the time to educate them on issues of importance to you. Whether you have new folks or old folks, be sure to take some time to re-introduce yourself. Your elected officials work for you, so put them to work for your interests! A government of the people and for the people only works if the people raise their voice. We at the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) are counting on you to do just that.

For a quick recap on how a bill becomes a law in Georgia, be sure to check out Georgia Public Broadcasting’s short video on the legislative process.

2020 Session Theme: Budget, Budget, Budget

As the Georgia General Assembly’s only required task, the passage of our state’s balanced budget is always a highlight of each year’s session. However, this year is sure to be one for the books as Governor Kemp, in early August, directed state agencies to propose massively impactful, 6 percent cuts to their fiscal year 2021 budget. To put that into perspective, the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) alone was tasked with finding areas to cut, totaling approximately $56 million. Agencies submitted proposals in September, which provided us all with a preview of what to monitor during the upcoming session.

Although many of the cuts come from state agencies’ administrative and operational budgets, there are service areas that will likely be impacted. For example, DBHDD has proposed cutting approximately $1 million from each of the following developmental disability service areas: Marcus Autism Center, family support services and assistive technology and research.

Also impacted by the governor’s directive will be DBHDD’s yearly proposal for new Medicaid NOW/COMP waiver slots. Typically, DBHDD requests additional funds for approximately 125 new waivers each year. In addition, they request funds to annualize approximately 250 waivers from the previous fiscal year. For the upcoming fiscal year, DBHDD only requested to annualize 125 waivers, and they are not requesting funds for any new NOW/COMP waivers. Given the waitlist of over 6,000 people in Georgia for NOW/COMP waivers, GCDD is very concerned by this change.

Finally, although GCDD receives primarily federal funding to continue the great work being done around the state, GCDD does receive state funding for our fantastic IPSE programs. GCDD is particularly concerned that the 6 percent budget cut will mean that IPSE funding is scheduled for a $50,000 cut for fiscal year 2021!

It is important to note that the changes are only proposed changes as of now, and cuts could be reorganized as the session progresses. Due to the possibility of additional cuts to services we care about, GCDD will be relying on your strong advocacy skills throughout session. Following Governor Kemp’s State of the State address in mid-January, the Governor’s Office of Planning & Budget will officially release Kemp’s budget recommendations. While ultimately the House of Representatives and the Senate decide what is included in the budget, the governor’s recommendations usually serve as guiding light. Be on the lookout for many updates on the budget, including what you can do about the proposed changes. We will also be including budget updates in our public policy calls and newsletter.

GCDD’s 2020 Public Policy Direction: Disability in ALL Policy!

The Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities is governed by a 27-member board, appointed by the governor and comprised of at least 60 percent individuals with developmental disabilities and family members. Other members include policymakers that represent various agencies and organizations having a vested interested in persons with developmental disabilities.

Each year, the council comes together in the fall to formulate a legislative agenda to bring about social and policy changes that promote opportunities for persons with developmental disabilities and their families to live, learn, work, play and worship in Georgia communities. This year our council approved changes to our public policy department, which will allow GCDD to engage with legislators to ensure people with developmental disabilities are considered in ALL policy. Our 2020 legislative priorities are as follows:


We are committed to advancing sound policies that improve the overall health (physical, mental, emotional and sexual) of people with developmental disabilities and their loved ones. The following topics will be highlighted in our health and wellness policy initiative:

We will always include eliminating the waiting list for NOW and COMP waivers in our policy initiatives until the waitlist in Georgia is ZERO. These waivers allow individuals with developmental disabilities who qualify for an institutional level of care to receive the supports they need to live healthy lives in the community. As of August 2019, 6,048 Georgians with developmental disabilities were on the waiting list for a NOW or COMP waiver. Our advocacy around this very important issue remains as crucial as ever.

  • The Shortage of DSPs: Workforce Crisis
    We believe that a competent, well-trained and caring workforce of direct support professionals (DSPs) is essential to the health and wellbeing of individuals with disabilities who utilize home and community-based services. We support strategies to address this crisis so people with disabilities can have the care they need.
  • Gracie’s Law (Organ Transplant Discrimination)

We support the Nobles family and Representative Williams in their efforts to ensure that people with developmental disabilities are not denied an organ transplant simply because of their disability status.


Inclusive education policies, starting with early childcare settings and continuing through postsecondary education, are necessary to assist Georgians with developmental disabilities in reaching their full potential. Currently, our education focus includes:

  • IPSE Programs

We believe that all students, regardless of ability, should have access to postsecondary education programs in the state of Georgia. Inclusive postsecondary education (IPSE) programs provide students with intellectual and developmental disabilities access to education not otherwise available. Currently there are nine IPSE programs in Georgia serving approximately 139 students. They are Kennesaw State University’s Academy for Inclusive Learning and Social Growth, University of Georgia’s Destination Dawgs, Georgia Institute of Technology’s EXCEL, Georgia State University’s IDEAL, Columbus State University’s GOALS, East Georgia State College’s CHOICE, Georgia Southern’s Eagle Academy, Albany Technical College’s LEAP and the University of West Georgia’s Project WOLVES.

GCDD is committed to the growth and support of IPSE programs because we recognize their value in preparing students to live increasingly independent lives within their communities.

GCDD works to address the targeted disparity of African American and other minority students who are disproportionately identified in special education. They often end up in the Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support (GNETS) system or expelled from school, which leads to a higher probability of incarceration. We support policy initiatives aimed at reducing the number of students being placed in the school-to-prison pipeline and look forward to the recommendations of the Senate Study Committee on Educational Development of African American Children in Georgia.


GCDD supports Georgia’s vision for a public system that funds employment supports first. We will work to advance policies that improve competitive, integrated employment options for Georgians with developmental disabilities. Some policy proposals include:

  • Phasing out 14(c) certificates that currently allow people with disabilities to be paid subminimum wage
  • Increasing the budgets of DBHDD and the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency (GVRA) to assist the organizations in increasing the hourly rate of Georgia’s supported employment services
  • Reallocating funds from day habilitation program rates, which continue to be well above the national average, to supported employment rates, which continue to be well below the national average


Reliable transportation options are critical to ensure people with developmental disabilities are truly included in all aspects of their communities. GCDD supports policies that improve current transportation options, including House Bill 511 (HB 511), which aims to create a state agency focused on transit. HB 511 also includes a committee whose purpose is to ensure vulnerable populations, including people with low income, people with disabilities and people who are aging, have access to appropriate transit options. We believe this legislation will improve transportation for people with disabilities, particularly in the rural parts of our state.


GCDD supports policy solutions that provide the infrastructure and funding necessary to address the shortage of accessible, affordable housing options for people with developmental disabilities.


We believe Georgia’s budget highlights our state’s priorities, and GCDD strives to educate lawmakers on the importance on maintaining/increasing budget line items that impact Georgians with developmental disabilities. As described in our budget highlight, we believe it will be critical during 2020’s session to be vigilant of any changes to budget line items that might impact the supports and services on which people with developmental disabilities and their families rely. We will strive to keep each one of you updated on changes, and we know that you all will be ready to advocate when the time comes!

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q   How do I find out when legislative committees are meeting?

A   You can find the schedule for the House of Representative online at the State House calendar portal and the schedule for the Senate at the Senate calendar portal. If you plan to attend a committee meeting in person, plan to be flexible, as meeting times often change suddenly. Additionally, you can often watch committee meetings online. View State House meetings here. View State Senate meetings here.

Q   How do I find the status of a bill?

A   If you know the bill number, you can track it by visiting the official Georgia General Assembly website. Or you can read GCDD’s Public Policy for the People e-newsletter and participate in our public policy calls.

Q   How can I help my school-aged child learn about the legislative process?

A   Consider signing them up to be a page. Pages deliver messages to the senators and representatives when they are meeting in the legislative chambers. It is such an important job that there is even a Georgia law, O.C.G.A. §20-2-692, that states “children who serve as pages of the General Assembly during the school year, either at regular or special sessions, shall be credited as present by the school in which enrolled in the same manner as an educational field trip, and such participation as a page shall not be counted as an absence, either excused or unexcused.” To learn more about becoming a page, visit the Senate page program site and the House page program site.

How to get involved

Quick Facts:

  • Governor: Brian Kemp (Republican)
  • Lieutenant Governor: Geoff Duncan (Republican)
  • Secretary of State: Brad Raffensperger (Republican)
  • 56 State Senators: (35 Republicans / 21 Democrats)
  • 180 State House: (106 Republicans / 74 Democrats)

by Alyssa Lee, PsyD, GCDD Public Policy Research & Development Director

Albany Tech takes a L.E.A.P. for Students with Disabilities

When Regina Watts arrived in 2008, Albany Technical College didn’t have an inclusive post-secondary education (IPSE) program. Watts had worked in the disability space for over a decade prior, and she wrote the idea for an inclusive program down on an initial list of goals. “I wanted to create a program for those students that would possibly not have the opportunity to go to college.”

Six years later, Watts still had the piece of paper, and she began to connect with other administrators across the state as other programs got their start. Eventually she received money through a federally funded grant to gauge interest. With help from the Georgia Inclusive Postsecondary Education Consortium (GAIPSEC), as well as many other people, grants, agencies and institutions, Watts created the Leveraging Education for Advancement Program (LEAP), which is entering its fifth academic year.

“Everything just fell in place with the grant, where we were able to see if there was a need, and most definitely there was a need,” Watts said. “It’s been a wonderful process of getting the program sustained and established.”

15 new certificatesWatts is now the special needs/disability services coordinator at Albany Tech and the director of LEAP. There are nine IPSE programs in the state of Georgia, but LEAP is the only one hosted by a technical school, where extra emphasis is given to hands-on education and practical experience.

At LEAP, students with disabilities take courses with peers and receive support through mentorship. Students can enter the program at the start of the fall, spring or summer semesters, and they typically take one course per semester. After two years, students earn a certificate and graduate with their class.

Students enrolled in the program typically complete a Business Office Assistant certificate, a credential approved by the Technical College System of Georgia and made up of six courses also available to Albany Tech’s larger student population. Watts says taking classes with peers and working with the program’s mentor-tutors allows for a holistic college experience built on education and socialization. “They are truly exposed to a lot,” said Watts.

Recently, the school’s board approved for Watts to offer 15 other certificates that students had expressed interest in. The fall 2020 semester is the first time a student has registered for a certification other than Business Office Assistant. The student registered for an Infant/Toddler Child Care Specialist certificate, and her ultimate goal is to work at a daycare.

“Students that probably would not have had an opportunity to go to college can come to the LEAP program and get what they need academically, socially and mentally as well — get the tools that [will] help them go into the world of independent living,” Watts said.

Despite the disruptions of COVID-19, there are currently seven students enrolled in LEAP. One of the students is currently completing his last course, and the program welcomed two new students this semester, one of whom is a dual-enrolled high school student.

Watts personally called each student entering the program on the phone ahead of the semester to present their family with options. Three of the students in LEAP are attending virtually, and four students are taking classes on campus.

Under normal circumstances, students in LEAP take classes on campus in Albany. Students in the program are exposed to a variety of experiences, including conferences, internships, volunteering and job-shadowing. They also work closely with the Career Services Office, where they create resumes and complete mock interviews. COVID-19 has disrupted many of these opportunities, but the work hasn’t stopped by any means.

The program currently has two mentor-tutors available to students for personalized assistance, one on campus and one virtual. Watts says that virtual learning is as inclusive as it can be, but she’s currently working out ways to create a more fulfilling and effective digital experience with virtual tours and workshops.

Under Watts’ direction, the program has been able to leverage its position at a small, technical college to best accommodate those it serves. She hopes to keep it small and flexible, so the program can continue providing students with thoughtful, personalized services.

“I want to give an example of my very first student,” said Watts.

“We started the program with one student, and that was very wise. He is the innovator in the video on my webpage. He blossomed into the person that was able to create a video, to be a part of the video that introduces what the LEAP program is all about. I am just so happy to be able to help someone to achieve their dreams.”

Since then, Watts has used her passion to continually improve the program and adapt to new challenges. “It is definitely a rewarding experience for me as well. To be a vehicle that can help an individual to better their lives,” she said.

by Clay Voytek

Read the entire Making a Difference - Fall 2020 

Area disabled residents want better services

People with disabilities in the Gainesville area expressed a desire for better quality services and support at a meeting Thursday with the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities. The meeting was one of several statewide stops on the council's "listening tour" leading up to the 2015 General Assembly. Council leaders asked questions and provided information for a small group gathered at the Lanier Charter Career Academy.

"We are an independent state agency and our mission is, in the informal way I always say it, we're trying to kick the can or move the ball further for folks with disabilities and their families," said D'Arcy Robb, GCDD public policy director. Robb said she typically poses questions to the public at the listening tour meetings to stimulate discussion.

Her first question asked, "What's working in this community for people with disabilities and their families?"

Dr. Irma Alvarado, Brenau University professor and co-owner of Essential Therapy Services Inc. in Cumming, said she thinks what works for people with disabilities in Gainesville is "variable." "It depends on what you know, what's in your community," Alvarado said. "... There are some people out there looking for opportunities, but they have to look."

The second question Robb posed asked what the audience believes is not working.

Jennifer Allison, clinical instructor at Brenau University, said most people don't know what services are available locally. Others expressed concerns over the quality of services, educational opportunities, transportation to and from services and job opportunities.

"The thing we hear a lot of is jobs," Robb said. "People with disabilities want to work real jobs in the community and they just aren't getting the support they need to do that." Robb said she often hears people express a general desire to change the way the community views people with disabilities.

"One thing we hear a lot is essentially changing the culture," Robb said. "Not looking at people with a disability as first and foremost that disability.... So just being more supportive and embracing as a society, seeing people as a whole package for who they are and not just stigmatizing them for this disability or that diagnosis."

Robb said the most important part of the meeting is listening to the public. She said not only does it help give the council an idea of what Georgians with disabilities are looking for, but it lets people know they are being heard. "People have said that they appreciate, No. 1, being listened to, and us coming out in person," Robb said. "I think people appreciate that opportunity to have a community forum and have a voice."

Dawn Alford, advocate and GCDD policy development specialist, encouraged local residents to join the council's advocacy network at www.gcdd.org. "Our team focuses on advocacy, trying to push the system's change," Alford said. "In order to do that, we need the help of grass-roots advocates, people in their communities reaching out to their own legislators."

By Kristen Oliver

The original article appeared in The Gainesville Times on September 5, 2014.

Call for GCDD Council Members

The Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) is currently recruiting individuals with developmental disabilities and family members who are interested in becoming members of the GCDD. There are two membership categories: (1) Members appointed by the Governor are considered the "official members" and can serve two terms of four years each, and (2) advisory members selected by Council members, have no voting rights, and serve one two-year term. GCDD is currently recruiting for both categories of membership.

The purpose of the GCDD is to engage in advocacy, capacity building, and systemic change activities that are consistent with the purpose of Public Law 106.402 and Section 30-8-1 of Code of Georgia. These activities shall contribute to a coordinated, consumer and family centered and directed comprehensive system of community services, individualized supports, and other forms of assistance that enable individuals with developmental disabilities to exercise self-determination and be independent, productive, and integrated into all facets of community life The mission of the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities is to bring about social and policy changes that promote opportunities for persons with developmental disabilities and their families to live, learn, work, play and worship in Georgia communities.

GCDD members serve as the link between people with developmental disabilities, their families and the organization. Members represent un-conflicted loyalty to the interests of people with developmental disabilities and their families. Members are committed to ethical, businesslike, and lawful conduct including proper use of authority and appropriate decorum when acting as a member and will abide by laws concerning sexual discrimination, harassment, and equal opportunity. Members are expected to take an active part in the programs of the Council and to follow the designated policies and procedures of the organization. They should become thoroughly acquainted with the issues related to Georgian's with developmental disabilities and the way in which GCDD is organized to address those issues.

Members are expected to attend each quarterly meeting of the full Council and to serve on any established committees. Full Council meetings are used to set policies, based on the vote of a majority of members present. Recognizing the diversity of the Council membership, it is understood that unanimity will not be possible on all decisions of the Council. Council members are urged to be advocates at all times for people with developmental disabilities and their families. They should represent the policies and procedures of the Council when appearing in public as representatives of the Council. When presenting views and opinions contrary to the Council policies, or for which the Council has no official opinion, members should make clear that such views are expressions of personal opinion.

Applications for membership should be returned to Eric Jacobson by August 15, 2014 either by e-mail at or by USPS mail at: 

Eric Jacobson
2 Peachtree Street, Suite 26.240
Atlanta, GA 30303

Application: GCDD Council Member Application

Centenary UMC

Centenary United Methodist Church

Who We Are: Located in Macon, the Centenary United Methodist Church was founded in 1884. Once a vibrant congregation, changes in the neighborhood overtime dwindled the the congregation's numbers. It became clear that both the church and neighborhood would not survive unless major changes were made. In 2005, the church began to work actively to reach out to and engage the surrounding neighborhood. The neighborhood reached back and the church was saved. The congregation is now extremely diverse and dedicated to addressing the concerns of the community in long-term and sustainable ways. The diversity of the congregation, both racially and socioeconomically, is something Centenary not only embraces, but is proud of.

centenary umc image1 Community member poses with his best friend in Macon
centenary umc image2 Macon Roving Listeners Green Team heads to their next interview
centenary umc image3 One of this summer's Macon Roving Listeners at work

What We Do: Centenary has participated in Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) Real Communities by seeking ways to welcome people with disabilities and their families into the congregation, and offering opportunities for them to contribute. In the past, Centenary started a community garden and a transitional housing program for men. Centenary founded the Bicycle Program, which has adults with and without disabilities as paid employees who repair donated bicycles and give them to people without transportation.

Since 2012, Centenary has organized an annual summer Roving Listeners program with the goal of finding intentional ways to meet and make connections among people with and without disabilities to make the City of Macon a better place to live for everyone. Roving Listeners pays youth and adult supporters with and without disabilities to go into their community, meet their neighbors,  and  learn more about people’s individual gifts and talents. They aim to discover what they love about their neighborhoods; what their dreams are for the future; and how to connect them to others who may share common interests, gifts or dreams. The Roving Listeners host regular community dinners designed to bring neighbors together and support these connections. They also employ a Roving Connector who seeks opportunities to connect neighbors to one another.

In Summer 2014, listeners focused on revisiting neighbors they met over the past two to find ways to connect their gifts and passions to others in the community. They hosted four community dinners, two community clean-up events, expanded their relationship with Star Choices – a local disability support organization that is seeking to be a better part of the community – and provided six mini-grants to community members to teach a class or support a small community building project. As a requirement of these mini-grants, a person with a disability had to be a part of the project team. Additionally, two Roving Connectors were hired to work five hours per week to support the project, deepening connections that were formed over the past year.  

In Summer 2015, the Roving Listeners project expanded and was asked to come to East Macon to be in partnership with the Mill Hill Project. Mill Hill is an artist residency and community revitalization area, spearheaded by the Macon Arts Alliance and the Urban Development Authority. The Roving Listeners are working with the residents of Mill Hill to listen for their hopes, dreams, identify their gifts and make sure the voices and talents of existing residents are a part of the planning and implementation of revitalizing their neighborhoods. This has involved genuine dialogue and empathetic listening to arrive at a true understanding of the community’s hopes for their neighborhoods. The listeners approached every household in the area and recorded the interviews done so that radio quality audio was captured. Professional photographers also worked with the Roving Listeners to capture portraits and candid shots of neighborhood residents.  Their relationship with Star Choices continued and they added a new partner, Woodfield Academy, with two students and a teacher from the school working with them.

In 2016, the Roving Listeners will return to East Macon and work with artists to continue to hear and tell the stories there. Construction has already begun on the Mill Hill Arts Village and it is crucial that neighbors have input into the design and function of the public spaces.

For more information on the Centenary United Methodist Church or how to get involved, contact the Community Builder, Stacey Harwell, at .

In the News: The Centenary United Methodist Church Real Communities project was featured in an article from the Emory Candler School of Technology Click here to read the article.

Columbus NAACP Hosts Vigil in Protest of Execution

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - A convicted murderer who lawyers claimed was intellectually disabled has been put to death at a prison in Jackson Georgia. On the streets of Columbus, demonstrators held a vigil to protest the death of Warren Lee Hill. Hill was executed by lethal injection Tuesday, January 27 at 7:55 PM. He was convicted of murdering a fellow prisoner in 1990. This is his 2nd murder conviction.

The vigil was organized by the Columbus NAACP and held at the organization's headquarters on 1st Avenue. Organizers say the state of Georgia should be ashamed for executing a man who medical experts say was mentally ill. Today, the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles denied clemency for Hill after reviewing his criminal record and life history.

WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather

Community & Relationship Building Group of Clarkston

Community & Relationship Building Group of Clarkston

Who We Are: Over the past few years, the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabiliites (GCDD) has supported Basmat Ahmed to explore the development of community projects in Clarkston, GA that are consistent with the Real Communities’ Four Commitments. Ahmed held the role of the Community Builder for The Clarkston International Garden at 40 Oaks Nature Preserve, a partnership with the Global Growers Network that supported the development of a Community Garden in the City of Clarkston. Currently, Basmat works with the Al-Tamyoz Community Building Group to build deeper relationships and finds ways to leverage these relationships to make change in Clarkston.

clarkston relationship building group image1 Clarkston READY School was launched through connections with Basmat Ahmed
clarkston relationship building group image2The Clarkston InternationalGarden ribbon cutting ceremony
clarkston relationship building group image3 Global Growers Network group

What we Do: The Clarkston Relationship-Building Group began their work by planning regular leaning conversations of their day-to-day responsibilities and built the relationships necessary to do effective community building work. The group regularly hosts a Community Relationship Lunch every other month where community leaders and members connect and discover partnerships and opportunities. This group also successfully co-organized the second annual Black History Month in the City of Clarkston, which was a result of a relationship founded among different organizations. Combined, they hosted this event, as well as supported and sponsored the 2015 Georgia World Refugee Day, organized by Refugees.

In 2016, they created new programs that provided equal opportunities for people with and without disabilities such as a monthly radio show that engaged community members, announced events and services, invited local guest speakers and broke cultural barriers in the City of Clarkston. They are also implementing a mini grant program, which was purposely designed to be a direct opportunity for all, and, specifically, to fund programs and projects within the Clarkston community.

Throughout her organizing work, Ahmed has actively sought to engage people within the disability community. As of now, there are four more adult and six more youth Community Builders with and without disabilities, who are implementing different projects within Clarkston. The adult and youth Community Builders have been focusing on building relationships through the Community Learning and Connecting Conversation program that involves meeting with individuals, organizations, groups and others to discover people’s gifts and goals for the future.

In addition, the youth Community Builders have taken more leadership roles, as they formed the Clarkston Youth Assembly, the first Clarkston event to be entirely organized by youth. Thirty youth attended and made action plans to develop the community. The Community Builders are also working inclusively to develop community engagement in partnership with different local entities and local organizations.

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For additional info: Racial Justice Action Center

Affiliated Sites:

Clarkston International Garden (Global Growers)
CDF Action

In the News: The Clarkston International Garden was featured in an article by the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Click here to read the article now.

Contact Your Senator, Make Your Voice Count

Over 1,000 people from across the country are meeting at the Grand Hyatt Hotel to hear about the policy issues important to people with developmental disabilities and their families. For two days we are hearing about the issues in preparation for visits to Capitol Hill on Wednesday. There are two important themes to this gathering. The first is about how to support a bipartisan atmosphere. This may seem like an altruistic idea given the current political climate where on many issues Democrats and Republicans cannot agree. However there are many people who think that we can get disability related legislation passed because it is a bipartisan issue. We have argued for years that disability does not care if you are Republican or Democrat.

GCDD Executive Committee Member Josette Arkhas, GCDD Chair Mitzi Profitt, and Eric Jacobson advocate at the nation's capital for disability rights.GCDD Executive Committee Member Josette Arkhas, GCDD Chair Mitzi Profitt, and Eric Jacobson advocate at the nation's capital for disability rights.Yet, there are several significant pieces of legislation that have not passed and many argue it is simply because of the current climate. The United States still remains one of the only developed countries to not ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. Senator Tom Harkin, one of the authors of the ADA has pleaded for this to take place during the week of July 21 as his outgoing legacy before he retires. The Senate is just six votes shy of having enough votes to pass the legislation and both Senators Chambliss and Isakson have indicated they will vote against this Bill. Our job, my fellow Georgians is to convince them that they should vote in favor. Please call their offices and encourage them to vote for the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. the ABLE Act, and Employment First.

Many of you will remember that Ambassador Gallegos spoke at Disability day at the Capitol a few years ago. He was one of the primary authors of the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. The Senate is six votes shy of passing this Treaty. Neither Senator Isakson or Chambliss have signed on as a supporter. They tell us they have not heard from people in Georgia who support the Treaty. We need you to call their offices today and ask them to vote in favor of giving people with disabilities the same rights as those in the US.

The second theme was about thanking our champions who are retiring and trying to identify our next champions. Senators Harkin and Rockefeller have both fought hard for the rights of people with disabilities and both will leave the Senate in January. We have several representatives who are running for the Senate seat being vacated by the retirement of Senator Chambliss. We thank Senator Chambliss for his many years of service to our State. Now is the time to ask Rep Brown, Kingston, and Gingrey where they stand on issues related to disabilities. How has their voting record supported people with disabilities?

This is a critical time for many ideas that will improve the lives of people with disabilities and their families. I am sure that we can have a positive impact.

Eric Jacobson
GCDD Executive Director

Dalton State Participates In Project SEARCH

DaltonNewsFor some disabled adults, gaining work experience and training is a challenge.

But with Project SEARCH, several participants have found it easier at Dalton State College. Dalton State has partnered with Cross Plains Community Partner, Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency, and the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities for an employment training program for young adults with disabilities.

"Because the program provides real-life work experience combined with classroom instruction and career exploration, it equips the participants to make a seamless transition into competitive employment and adult life," said Elizabeth Hunter, Cross Plains Community Partner Supported employment manager. Taking place over a nine-month period, Project SEARCH places students in various jobs throughout Dalton State, where they can learn work skills such as customer service, data entry, maintenance, money skills, and public speaking.

"Project SEARCH is a great post-secondary option for young disabled adults to acquire the skills needed to enter the work force," Ms. Hunter said. Potential candidates must go through an interview and assessment process before entering the program, according to Ms. Hunter.

Participants must be between the ages of 18 and 30, must have completed high school credits necessary for graduation, and must meet the eligibility requirements for Vocational Rehabilitation, among other requirements. Candidates do not have to be enrolled as a Dalton State student to participate in the project. After meeting the criteria for the program, participants complete three 10-week rotations to work towards their individual professional goals.

For more information about Project SEARCH or about the application process, contact Elizabeth Hunter at 706-278-8143 ext. 105, or at .

By Misty Wheeler, Dalton State College

The original article and picture appeared on October 22, 2014 in The Chattanoogan.com

Photo: Pictured from left are Scarlett Brooks, Aime Goolsby, Janusz Adamzcyk, Tomeka Carter, and Brandon Keener. They are Project SEARCH interns at Dalton State College.

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.

Disability Day 2014: Thousands Gather to Advocate for Meaningful Living

By Devika Rao

On February 20, 2014, in front of nearly 2,500 people, Governor Nathan Deal stood proudly on the Georgia State Capitol steps to announce that the day would be officially proclaimed, "Disability Awareness Day."

The Governor's proclamation was presented to the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) at its 16th annual Disability Day rally held at the Capitol to bring together thousands of advocates from across the State to promote access, opportunity and meaningful community living for Georgians with disabilities and their families.

Various groups brought their enthusiasm to the annual kick off at the Georgia Freight Depot to raise awareness about the rights and concerns of persons with disabilities. Gathering at the depot, attendees made posters advocating for equal opportunities in education and the workplace knowing that the contributions of people with disabilities in the community is not only wanted, but also needed.

This day also had an additional, and equally, important tone as it celebrated the 15th anniversary of the US Supreme Court landmark decision upheld in 1999, Olmstead versus L.C. The Supreme Court case, which found its roots in Georgia, states that people with disabilities have the right to live in the community rather than institutions or nursing homes.

Lois Curtis, the surviving plaintiff in the Olmstead case joined the Disability Day Rally and celebration. Her story of victory was not only a victory for herself; it is, to this day, a victory for all. To show the power of the collective voice and have people share personal stories of freedom and independence was the objective of GCDD's Disability Day theme, "We All Have a Story...What's Yours?"

GCDD Executive Director Eric E. Jacobson kicked off the event with a rousing speech highlighting the many efforts that GCDD is throwing its support behind in the new legislative session. One of the most important policy objectives he drew attention to was that of employment.

"We are talking about people going to work," he said. "Jobs are the most important thing that any individual can have. A job allows you to have a home. A job allows you to go out and have a good time. Because, it is about having a job, and it makes you a valuable

The statement rang true as Jacobson announced that GCDD would work with the advocacy community to push for passage of legislation to make "employment the first option for all people in the State of Georgia."

Employment opportunities for people with disabilities is why Josette Akhras from Putnam County was at her fourth Disability Day event. Advocating for her son Riad, Akhras, a GCDD executive committee member, came to the Capitol to stand up for people who, like her son, want to expand their horizons.

"My son is capable," she said. Her son was working with a close family friend, but otherwise, Riad had no options after he completed high school.

In his address to the crowd, Greg Schmeig, executive director of Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency (GVRA), emphasized the importance of employers hiring persons with disabilities and their valuable contribution to businesses. As the State continues to grow economically, Schmeig highlighted that the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is way too high across both the country and Georgia.

Today, approximately 70 to 80 percent of working-age Americans with disabilities are unemployed, according to Schmeig. Schmeig noted that Georgia's economic recovery and growth needs to include employment for citizens with disabilities. "For every one dollar that a state spends on helping a person with a disability get a job, the return for that state is anywhere from three to 16 dollars," added Schmeig. "Hiring someone with a disability is not only good for business, but it's good for Georgia."

Support for more job opportunities also came from inside the Capitol. Governor Nathan Deal, in a keynote address, spoke of his commitment to employment for all Georgians, including people with disabilities. In order to address the employment barriers for people with disabilities, Deal informed everyone that, "we have a working group in the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities whom I have asked how we can move forward with an Employment First initiative in Georgia."

According to its website, Employment First Georgia (EFG) is a statewide resource promoting innovative, customized employment practices. Each individual will be supported to pursue his or her own unique path to work, a career, or his or her contribution to participation in community life. EFG provides technical assistance and consultation to individuals and their "team" (family, job coach, etc).

GCDD is part of a coalition of organizations that support EFG. Dawn Alford, GCDD's planning and public policy development specialist, highlighted the progress made for employment during this legislative session. The Georgia House of Representatives had included $250,000 for 64 people to access supported employment, which was increased to $500,000 by the Senate.

Deal also touched on another important initiative and advocacy movement that is garnering support from GCDD and advocates alike. Post-secondary education made waves in 2013 as Kennesaw State University kicked off its Academy for Inclusive Learning and Social Growth, which is the only program in Georgia that provides a two-year college experience for individuals with intellectual disabilities.

In addition to the program at Kennesaw State University, post-secondary programs are expanding and in fall 2014, a new one will open its doors at East Georgia State College in Swainsboro, GA. Advocates are also seeking progress on accessibility. Working closely with advocacy groups, Representative Keisha Waites (D-Dist 60) announced that the groups are teaming up to increase accessibility to electronic textbooks for the visually impaired. Access to tangible and attainable postsecondary opportunities proves beneficial for future successful access to employment opportunities for all people, with or without disabilities.

That is what disability advocate and leader Jennifer Lazlo Mizrahi brought to Disability Day...to be a voice that inspires engagement and moving forward for equal rights.

Mizrahi launched RespectAbility USA in July 2013 and has broken great ground in her selfadvocacy for disability rights. Its mission is to "reshape the attitudes of American society so that people with disabilities can more fully participate in and contribute to society, and empower people with disabilities to achieve as much of the American dream as their abilities and efforts permit."

The same rights, Mizrahi emphasized, need to be present in pushing for post-secondary and workplace opportunities for people with disabilities. The Emory University alumna noted that local employers such as The Georgia Aquarium have at least 10 employees with disabilities and her own alma mater employs 35 people with disabilities who work in the nursing, anesthesia, administration and other various departments.

"They are models of inclusive employers," she said as she listed The Atlanta Braves, The Home Depot, Publix and many more who embrace equal opportunity amidst all groups for hiring.

As she spoke about landmark social justice movements and leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. that have shaped social policies in the country, Mizrahi recognized Lois Curtis in the audience and acknowledged the value of Curtis' activism and Olmstead triumph as the crowd responded with a warm round of applause.

Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Dist. 13) referenced Olmstead and encouraged the crowd to tell their story to legislators. "We all have a story, you're right. Your personal story is what you need to share with each and every person in that building behind you," she said in reference to the Capitol.

To help document the upcoming 15th anniversary celebration of Olmstead and the impact this landmark Supreme Court ruling has had on thousands of individuals living in Georgia and across the nation, NPR's StoryCorps was onsite to record and collect more "I am Olmstead " Stories of Freedom narratives from people who are living full lives in the ommunity rather than institutions.

Among the six storytellers was Andrew Furey, a self-advocate, artist and Eagle Scout from Lula who fought a long, frustrating battle to receive nursing supports in his home. "I didn't want to be in a nursing home; I wanted the right to stay in
my own home."

"I am Andrew Furey and I am Olmstead ," he declared.

Mizrahi also brought attention to the current federal legislation in Congress that is close to passage with the need of five more votes, at the time of this writing.

The ABLE Act uses tax cuts to help provide for savings for people with disabilities and noted US Senator Johnny Isakson's support behind the legislation. She encouraged people to reach out to the senators to have their voices heard on this bill to make a difference in the lives of people with disabilities.

Like Mizrahi, Jacobson and Deal, many state representatives and senators took the podium to encourage civic engagement by letting the voice of the people be heard.

Representative Alisha Thomas Moore (D-Dist 39) reminded the crowd that, "whether it comes to housing or employment or whatever your issues, it is important that policymakers know the issues that are important to you."

In addition to post-secondary education and employment rights, the Unlock the Waiting Lists! Campaign is a cause that is garnering much attention to open more waiver slots for services for people with disabilities.

"This is your State, my State, and we deserve these services," said Representative Winfred Duke (D-Dist 154).

As legislative leaders such as Senator John Albers (R-Dist 56) and Representative E. Culver "Rusty" Kidd (I-Dist. 145) spoke to the gathered crowd, their message was in the same spirit.

"You don't have disabilities. We do," said Albers, who is chairman of the State Institutions and Property committee. "If we can see life the way you do, the world would be a better place."

Kidd reminded the crowd gathered that advocacy doesn't stop at Disability Day. He emphasized that the fight forges on for equal rights in education and employment as well as the Unlock the Waiting Lists!
Campaign. "One phone call makes a difference!" Kidd said.

The rally gatherers adjourned to the Georgia Freight Depot for lunch, legislator visits, exhibits and other activities including the Disability Day banner signing, an accessible voting machine demonstration, and a special listening station set-up presenting the "I Am Olmstead – Stories of Freedom," organized by the Atlanta Legal Aid Society.

During this time, self-advocate Andrew Furey shared his Olmstead story of freedom and the Tumlin family presented Ralph "Robbie" Breshears from Augusta the Georgia Outstanding Self-Advocate of the Year Award--In Loving Memory of Natalie Norwood Tumlin. Breshears is a certified work incentives coordinator and after a battle with leukemia, he now advocates and fights for medical gaps in insurance.

With substantial support from Georgia legislators and the community, GCDD's 16th annual Disability Day at the Capitol proved the old adage of "strength in numbers."

Disability Day: 2,500 Advocate for Jobs at 16th Annual GCDD Disability Day at the Capitol

Gov. Deal Commits to Jobs, Higher Education, Community Life, Freedom from Institutions GA Legislators, RespectAbility USA Hail Opportunities, Supports for People With Disabilities

ATLANTA (February 27, 2014) – More job opportunities and employment supports for people with disabilities was the overarching message of GCDD's 16th Annual Disability Day at the Capitol on Thursday, February 20. Governor Nathan Deal pledged continued support, GCDD announced re-energized focus for Employment First initiatives, and keynote speaker Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, President and CEO of RespectAbility USA called for the necessary votes to push the ABLE Act through the U.S. Senate (Achieving a Better Life Experience Act: H.R. 647).

"Today, more than two decades after the ADA was passed, 47% of working age Americans with disabilities are outside of the workplace compared to 28% of those without disabilities," Mizrahi said. "But we are not statistics, we are human beings with power, with education, and with value. And we know that together we can make changes a reality." RespectAbility USA is a new national, non-profit, non-partisan organization with a mission to correct and prevent the current disparity of justice for people with disabilities.

Governor Deal said, "A job serves as the launching point for independence, financial stability and...my desire for people to have access to these benefits of employment certainly extends to those in our state with disabilities. To address the barriers to employment confronting people with disabilities, we have a work group in the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities looking into these issues. I am asking them to recommend 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," Deal added.

"Governor Deal has been a friend to the disability community but today, I am proud to announce that GCDD has undertaken a process that, regardless of who is governor, we'll be talking about the passage of legislation to ensure that employment is the first option for all people of the state of Georgia," Eric Jacobson, GCDD Executive Director, said.

Rep. Keisha Waites (D-Dist 60) said to the swelling crowd, "I stand with you... to increase accessibility for every individual that may be disabled throughout the state of Georgia. I want to pull out two pieces of legislation that I have been working on with many of you in the audience...that will increase accessibility to electronic textbooks for the visually impaired and... will provide increased accessibility to your capitol, as well as the legislative office buildings next door."

Other legislators who attended the Rally included Sen. John Albers (R-Dist 56), Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Dist 13), Rep. Winfred Dukes (D-Dist 154), Rep. Michele Henson (D-86), Rep. E. Culver Rusty Kidd (Ind-Dist 145), Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan (D-Dist 39), Rep. Jimmy Pruett (R-149), Rep. Carl Rogers (R-Dist 29) and Rep. Dexter Sharper (D-Dist 177). They thanked the crowd for attending the Rally and encouraged people to contact their legislators about their needs and desires.

Rep. Dempsey, said, "We all have a story, you're right. Your personal story is what you need to share with each and every person in that building behind you."

"Know that it is time to unlock the waiting list. This is your state, my state and we deserve these services. Make no mistake about it, the people on the third floor and the second floor know that you are here," Rep. Dukes said.

2,500 community leaders and disability advocates gathered near the Capitol Steps and , in a collective voice, rallied for jobs, support for post-secondary education and release from institutions for people with disabilities. Governor Deal and Jacobson each praised the expansion of Georgia's post-secondary inclusive education program sponsored by GCDD, the Academy for Inclusive Learning and Social Growth at Kennesaw State University and noted the expansion of similar programs to four campuses in Georgia with the newest one slated to open this fall at East Georgia State College.

This year's Disability Day Rally also recognized the 15th anniversary of the landmark 1999 Olmstead Decision in which the US Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional for two Georgia women with developmental disabilities, Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson, to be institutionalized against their wishes. Curtis, the sole surviving Olmstead plaintiff, was in attendance at last Thursday's Rally. In the spirit of the Olmstead Decision, the Atlanta Legal Aid Society (ALAS) and GCDD facilitated an opportunity for six individuals who have achieved freedom from institutional life to tell their stories at a dedicated StoryCorps recording booth created on-site especially for Disability Day.

Among the six storytellers was Andrew Furey, a self-advocate, artist and Eagle Scout from Lula who fought a long, frustrating battle to receive nursing supports in his home. "I didn't want to be in a nursing home; I wanted the right to stay in my own home." "I am Andrew Furey and I am Olmstead," he declared.

ALAS and GCDD presented "I Am Olmstead – Stories of Freedom" in conjunction with StoryCorps to recognize the triumph of individuals like Andrew and provide an opportunity for others in attendance to sign up to record their own stories in the future. StoryCorps partners with the Atlanta History Center and Georgia Public Broadcasting to record, preserve, and share the stories of communities in Atlanta. Selected StoryCorps recordings air weekly on National Public Radio's Morning Edition and every recording is archived in the American Folklife Center in Washington DC. The GCDD Disability Day 2014 theme, "We All Have A Story, What's Yours?" was echoed throughout the day and could be seen on the hundreds of t-shirts that covered the State Capitol grounds in a sea of blue.

Dawn Alford, GCDD's Planning and Policy Development Specialist, gave an overview of GCDD's 2014 Legislative Agenda and noted the house approved $250,000 to be used for supportive employment for 64 individuals with disabilities.

"Georgia's economic recovery and growth must include employment for citizens with disabilities. For every single dollar that a state spends on helping a person with a disability get a job, the return is anywhere from $3 to $16," Greg Schmieg, executive director of the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency (GVRA), said. "Hiring someone with a disability is not only good for business, it's good for Georgia."

Reverend Susannah Davis, pastor of Kirkwood United Church of Christ, led a prayer and a moment of silence to recognize and honor the memory of 10 Fallen Soldiers, Georgia's disability advocates recently deceased. After the rally small groups as well as groups of more than 250 from all over Georgia, adjourned to the Georgia Freight Depot for lunch, legislator visits, exhibits and other activities including banner signing, an accessible voting machine demonstration and the "I Am Olmstead – Stories of Freedom" listening station.

During this time, GCDD awarded Ralph "Robbie" Breshears from Augusta the Georgia Outstanding Self-Advocate of the Year Award - In Loving Memory of Natalie Norwood Tumlin. Disability Day at the Capitol is made possible by a host of partnering organizations and volunteers from Georgia's disability community. For a list of sponsors, visit www.GCDD.org.

GCDD, a federally funded independent state agency, works to bring about social and policy changes that promote opportunities for persons with developmental disabilities and their families to live, learn, work, play and worship in Georgia communities. A developmental disability is a chronic mental and/or physical disability that occurs before age 22 and is expected to last a lifetime. Visit www.gcdd.org for more information.

Valerie Meadows Suber, Public Information Director 
Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities 
404-657-2122 (office); 404-226-0343 (mobile) 
www.gcdd.org2014 Disability Day Photos: http://on.fb.me/MBngkY

Disability Day: Over 2,000 at Rally Speak Up for More Jobs and Education

On February 20, over 2,000 people rallied at the Georgia State Capitol steps to speak up for more jobs and access to post-seconday education for people with disabilities. The rally, which started at the Georgia Freight Depot, received motivation and inspiration from keynote speakers Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, founder, CEO and president of RespectAbility and Governor Nathan Deal, who also declared the day as Disability Awareness Day.

CBS Atlanta was on site for Disability Day and spread the message that people with disabilties should receive the same opportunities as everyone else.

CBS Atlanta News

Disability Day: We All Have a Story

In its 16th year, Georgia Council for Developmental Disabilities and its advocates will gather at the Georgia State Capitol building on February 20 at 8 a.m.

Disability Day at the Capitol features a community rally, sponsored by GCDD to promote access, opportunity and meaningful community living for all Georgians, including people with disabilities and their families. Citizens with and without disabilities gather on the steps of the State Capitol to join advocates and meet with State legislators to make their voices heard.'

We hope you are able to join us for the 16th Annual Disability Day at the Capitol on Thursday February 20, 2014! This year's theme is "We all have a Story... What's Yours?" Plus, GCDD and the Atlanta Legal Aid Society celebrate the Olmstead Decision's 15th anniversary with individual "I Am Olmstead" Stories of Freedom," recorded on-site by StoryCorps.

To register for the 16th annual Disability Day, visit http://www.ciclt.net/sn/events/e_signup.aspx?ClientCode=gcdd&E_ID=500049&RegType=ATT

Eric Jacobson Interviews on Transfers of People with Disabilities

GCDD prides itself on advocating for an inclusive community, and support moving people with developmental disabilities from institutions into the community. However, in March report, two deaths that occurred after individuals with developmental disabilities were placed into community settings shortly after a state hospital closed in Thomasville.

Eric Jacobson, executive director of GCDD, shares his thoughts with 90.1 WABE's Michelle Wirth on the moves and why its is still important that people with developmental disabilities become a part of the community.

Click here for more on the story and to hear Jacobsen's thoughts.

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Eric Jacobson Interviews with CBS Atlanta

On Tuesday, Feb. 4, the case against former special needs teacher Melanie Pickens received a final say from Judge Henry Newkirk. The Fulton County judge granted immunity to the former Fulton County teacher accused of abusing students with disabilities at Hopewell Middle School in Milton.

Upon the judge's decision, Executive Director Eric Jacobson was featured on CBS Atlanta in an interview giving his insight on the judge's decision and his hopes for the disability community.  

Watch his interview here:


CBS Atlanta News (This link is no longer active.)

Expert Update: Creating the Gold Standard of Disability Hiring

This is an excerpt from Randy Lewis’ talk at the Impact Business Speaker Series at Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business.

My son, Austin, has autism. He didn’t speak until he was age 10. He’s trying to make up for lost time if you ever get a chance to talk to him. He was the first student with autism to go to his school. He drives. He’s sometimes my chauffeur to the airport. He has a great sense of humor.

He has no friends. He has never been invited to a party and never received an email. He probably reads at about a fifthgrade level. I’ve never played a game with my own son. Not even a game of catch. And most people like him would never be offered a job.

Randy Lewis with his son, AustinRandy Lewis, former Sr. Vice President of Walgreens, Peace Corps volunteer, Fortune 50 executive and accidental advocate, led Walgreens’ logistics division for sixteen years as the chain grew from 1,500 to 8,000 stores. Lewis introduced an inclusive model in Walgreens distribution centers that resulted in 10% of its workforce consisting of people with disabilities who are held to the same standards as those without disabilities. Its success has changed the lives of thousands with and without disabilities and is serving as a model for other employers in the US and abroad. He is pictured above with his son, Austin.A job can mean the difference in life. Security, friendships, possibilities. But when it comes to getting a job – what I do know as a parent and as an employer – is that people with disabilities die the death of 1,000 cuts. The unkindest of which is a belief by most people that people with disabilities really can’t do the job. It’s a great thing to do if you can afford it, but otherwise it’s a charity thing to do and that’s what I knew [Walgreens] was facing.

We started out trying to hire some people with disabilities. We hired some groups who were bringing in people with disabilities and we gave them certain tasks to do. We were getting them team member T-shirts, name badges just like everyone else. I remember this woman comes up to me, in our Dallas center, and she shows me a picture. Now, I didn’t know if she worked for us or was part of the group, but she must have seen the confusion on my face because she followed with, “Oh, I’m not one of them. I’m their sponsor.”


It struck me like a slap in the face. Those folks were not doing traditional jobs, they weren’t earning the same pay, and they weren’t with “us.” So, I knew we had to do better.

So, we said, let’s ask for volunteers who would like to work with some of the folks in that group, let’s hire them and give them a chance.

One of the people that we hired was a man named Chuck. Chuck is on the [autism] spectrum. He had graduated from college with a degree in accounting. He had never been able to get a job, but we hired him. We learned that Chuck’s favorite color was purple because every time a purple token would pass through his area, Chuck would stop, let out a yell of joy, and start dancing. Something we had never seen.

So maybe this is something we can tolerate in a work environment? Which would we prefer from our employees? Dancing or complaining? Easy choice – dancing.

Perhaps there’s a group of people out there like us who could do the job, but would never be allowed to because of these invisible walls we have around ourselves.

So, we decided that if we’re going to hire people with disabilities, we’re going to start with jobs. And we want a big number, because if this works, we want to be able to demonstrate to the world that people with disabilities can perform as well as anybody else.

If we hire one or two, people can say, “That’s great, Walgreens. You’re a big company. You can afford that.” We wanted to demonstrate that beyond a reasonable doubt, people with disabilities can do the job – and not just jobs for people with disabilities.

Business is not a charity. We have shareholders that are just as demanding as any other company. People with disabilities had to do the same job, receive the same pay and be evaluated on the same performance scale. We needed to measure it, so that’s why we said one-third of the workforce had to be people with disabilities. We said we’re going to change the way people view people with disabilities.

We changed our hiring process. Traditionally, we would put an application out there, and we’d screen them using a computer. We’d pre-screen them, call them up on the phone, have a little pre-interview, and you get called in for a final interview. That’s the process. But we knew people with disabilities, people like Austin, would never be able to get through that process. We needed an alternative.

Now, my son, Austin, exposed me to all the challenges, but he also exposed me to all the possibilities and opened up my thinking. That’s how we knew what we had to do. We needed a way for people with disabilities who can demonstrate their ability to do the job in nontraditional ways.

We found an expert on people with disabilities. We asked them to find 200 people for our Anderson, South Carolina center – 75 on day one and 10 a month thereafter. They understood our jobs, went out and then did the pre-screening. They found the people that they thought would be successful in our environment. Then, we would bring them in, provide the job coaches, and Walgreens would provide supervision and let them do the work on a trial basis. We’d pay them during this period and when they’re successful, we hire them.

One of the people who heard about this was Desiree, who lived in San Diego. Desiree has a rare muscle condition that requires she use a walker every once in a while. She packed up her bags, moved her family across the country a year – a year – before we opened, just for the chance to be in line. She’s a manager at that building today. A person who we would have never hired, because we would have assumed that it would be too difficult for her to get to all the parts of the building, is now a manager of the center in South Carolina.

People ask, “How did this turn out?” This turned out to be the most productive center in the 100-year history of our company. What we had hoped to achieve worked. People with disabilities perform the same work safer and have less workers compensation costs. That’s a big concern among employers.

We also heard, “It’s going to cost more,” or “This is more dangerous, so there are going to be more accidents,” or “Their health costs are going to go up.” Again, these are things that are claimed, but have no evidence in data. We did not find that. Our healthcare costs did not go up, it was the same. Our retention was better and our absenteeism was less.

The center is the most productive in the company’s history. Over 30% of the workforce has a disability. Most had never been able to secure a steady job before. Within four years, over 1,000 people with disabilities were working in centers across the country.

This is a group that shows up. This is all that we hoped for.

To read more in Making a Difference magazine, see below:

Download pdf version of Making a Difference Fall 2017    Download Large Print Version of Making a Difference Summer 2017





Expert Update: Inclusive Post-secondary Education for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities

By Gregory Blalock

Over the last 40 years, we have seen tremendous gains in opportunities for individuals with disabilities. In the K-12 education system, federal and state laws mandate schools provide an appropriate education to students in the least restrictive environment. Although a lot of work remains to assure social justice for those with developmental disabilities, it's important to note how past progress continues to open new doors for such individuals.

Access to Higher Education

We are seeing a new generation of young adults with disabilities who have the skills and motivation to benefit from higher education. Although it may have been unthinkable just a couple of decades ago, today there are many students with disabilities who are succeeding on major college campuses throughout the country. This is due, in no small part, to the recognition that those students have the potential to become working, tax-paying and civically engaged citizens if given the opportunity to further develop their academic and personal selves through education.

As a result of this recognition, over the last decade there has been a great expansion of opportunities in higher education for persons with developmental disabilities, particularly those with intellectual disabilities. The first of these programs emerged in the 1970s, yet there were relatively few and exclusive of typical college programs. Today, there are over 200 programs at major college and universities throughout the country that actively support the engagement of students with disabilities on campus. 

Many of these target inclusive opportunities for coursework, student life and career development. Although multiple reasons exist for the relatively  recent increase in the existence of such programs, among the more salient are the following three:
1) Post-secondary education provides a valuable educational avenue for many individuals with intellectual disabilities who traditionally have had no educational options beyond high school. University campuses provide fertile ground for those seeking to develop a broader understanding of what it means to be an independent, actively engaged adult within the community.
2) Just as the inclusion of students with developmental disabilities into the K-12 general education classroom provides important social and academic benefits to all students, such inclusion on college campuses provides the opportunity to extend diversity to all college students. Because many of today's college students will be tomorrow's employers, those who graduate from universities that ground them in a better understanding of diversity in the real world will be in a much better position to compete in a global market.
3) The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 explicitly provides support for individuals with disabilties who are seeking post-secondary education opportunities at qualifying institutions of higher education. This means, among other things, that such students are now eligible for federal financial aid including Pell Grants and student loans to cover the cost of higher education. Given that individuals with disabilities come from disproportionately lower income backgrounds, this is an important support.

This last point represents the federal government's overt recognition that higher education should be an option for a greater diversity of citizens as we continue to focus on assuring a globally competitive workforce within our nation. It is, after all, higher education that continues to have a profound effect on the innovation and employability of our communities. Statistics show the unemployment rate for college graduates with a bachelor's degree or higher is half that of their peers with no post-secondary education. In June 2012, unemployment rate of those with only a high school education was 8.4%; it was only 7.5% for those who had completed at least two years of college (United States Department of Labor, 2012). Thus, a college education has an important effect on the employability of an individual today.

The unemployment rate for people with intellectual disabilities is particularly problematic. One need not look far to realize how much more difficult it is for individuals with intellectual disabilities to find stable, competitive employment within their community. Although this challenge requires a multi-dimensional solution, one important solution is to expand access to college for people with intellectual disabilities. Just as with typical adults, college access for adults with intellectual disabilities not only provides valuable career-related knowledge and skills, but it also provides authentic, multi-dimensional social relationships crucial to widening one's circle of support and connections within the community. In this way, college attendance can make a profound difference in the employment outcomes for youth with intellectual disabilities.

Unfortunately, in many states there are few colleges that offer the opportunity for attendance to people with intellectual disability. For example, to date, out of the University System of Georgia's 31 four-year institutions, only one, Kennesaw State University, provides an avenue for people with intellectual disabilities to meaningfully participate as a student. KSU's innovative two-year program, has matriculated talented students who have travelled back and forth from home to school, up to two-to-three hours each way, to attend classes. Just as their students have dedicated themselves to overcoming great obstacles to obtaining a higher education, KSU has dedicated itself to seeing that such students can sit in their classrooms and learn alongside other university students.

Higher Education Expands in Georgia

The expansion of inclusive post-secondary educational opportunities for Georgians with developmental disability is growing. Through the tireless efforts of many people at the national, state and local levels, the foundation exists on which other public and private universities are able to develop their own programs to meet the needs of thousands of motivated and talented Georgians who are currently unable to access post-secondary education.  The Georgia Inclusive Post-secondary Education Consortium, (GAIPSEC), supported by Georgia State University's Center for Leadership in Disability, is instrumental in working with stakeholders throughout the state to collaboratively address the dearth of post-secondary options for people with developmental disability.

The impact of GAIPSEC's work is evidenced by the fact that within the last few years, inclusive higher education programs for individuals with developmental disabilities are being developed on several campuses throughout Georgia. At the university level, developing such programs is a daunting task. Developing a new program at an Institution of Higher Education (IHE) is so much more than recognizing the need. Every IHE has a multilevel process for developing and gaining approval for new programs that ensures such programs are both rigorous and founded upon sound academic principles. University program development requires the adherence to standards set by a university's governing board (i.e., a Board of Regents), the state legislature, and accrediting agencies--all of which are in place to assure that every program provides an effective education and operates efficiently in a manner that is conducive to sustainability in the long-term.

This process requires the commitment of university administration, and that of the faculty and staff who are instrumental in supporting each student's university experience from application to college life to graduation to career life. This way, students are assured that university programs provide a high level of academic and personal enrichment to support their educational and career goals.

As such, the development of higher education programs for individuals with disabilities can be particularly challenging. There still exists little experience on campuses with establishing the relatively few, but key, supports that must be in place in order to make such programs successful. For example, most four-year institutions' general admission standards require a regular high school diploma. The fact that most potential students with disabilities have earned an alternate high school diploma means that a university's admissions system must be slightly altered to allow otherwise qualified applicants who earned an alternate high school diploma to matriculate as regular college students within the inclusive post-secondary program. For many universities, such changes are difficult to make without clear precedent.
Fortunately, there are a growing number of universities who are doing just that. That is building flexibility into their systems to allow a greater diversity of students on campus.

Building Diversity

Because of outdated stereotypes and unfamiliarity with the social construction known as intellectual disability, few university personnel understand how successful many individuals with disabilities can be with university coursework. Yet, over the last decade there is an emerging literature that shows how students who have disabilities can benefit from, as well as contribute to, both college classes and the university campus. An increasing number of university faculty members are vocal proponents of students with disabilities being on college campuses and how such students positively affect the level of discourse both inside and outside the classroom.

The GAIPSEC has been instrumental in pulling universities and community agencies together to increase the higher education opportunities for all people.

At Columbus State University (CSU), faculty and administration are working to establish an inclusive post-secondary program for individuals with intellectual disabilities. Dubbed the COUGARS program (Comprehensive Opportunities to Provide University Guidance, Academics and Relationships), it seeks to provide qualified adults with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to attend college and complete a rigorous university program alongside typical university students. The development of a post-secondary program for those with intellectual disabilities directly addresses CSU's mission to prepare students though academics and community engagement. Although this program is still in development, it's important to note that it is one of several around the State working to open its doors in
the near future.

While we continue working to expand educational opportunities to children within our K-12 buildings, we are seeing a new generation of high school graduates with developmental disabilities push open the doors of opportunity to the hallowed halls of higher education.

Fall 2020 - WHAT’S HAPPENING IN WASHINGTON? Federal Disability Policy Updates

These past few months have seen a number of starts and stops in negotiations on a new Congressional COVID-19 relief package, and we expect a busy fall ahead as this Congress wraps up.   

COVID-19 Response:

Congressional Response: Congress passed three COVID-19 relief bills and an interim bill early this spring. In May, the House passed a new relief package, the HEROES Act, which included many disability priorities, most importantly, additional funding for the home and community-based services (HCBS) on which many people with disabilities rely. However, the Senate declined to consider the HEROES Act and instead, Senate Republicans released their own proposals, the HEALS Act in July and the “skinny bill” in early September. 

Read more about disability-related provisions included in the COVID-19 relief packages passed by Congress.

Both proposals fail to include disability priorities, like HCBS funding. They also contain “liability shields” that would give any business, nonprofit, school or medical provider immunity from liability for significant harm related to COVID-19 in many cases. This would threaten the safety of people with disabilities and older adults in congregate settings; make it easier for employers to escape liability for discrimination and safety violations in the workplace; and allow businesses to refuse to accommodate people with disabilities.

The Senate failed to pass the “skinny bill” in a vote in late September and negotiations appeared dead. But on October 1, the House passed a revised version of the HEROES Act. The bill includes increased funding for Medicaid and HCBS, as well as enhanced unemployment insurance; another round of recovery rebates; and funding for education, housing and food assistance. Negotiations between House leadership and the White House are continuing, but it remains unclear if or when the Senate will take up any new bill. For the latest updates and what you can do to ensure any future coronavirus relief bill includes disability priorities, check out our advocacy page.

Find more updates and details on the legislative proposals for COVID-19 relief package here.

Medical Rationing: We’ve previously discussed efforts to address disability discrimination in access to medical care during COVID-19, including complaints CPR and partners have filed with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In August, OCR announced a resolution in response to a complaint filed by CPR and partners alleging that Utah’s Crisis Standard of Care Guidelines illegally excluded certain people with disabilities from accessing life-saving treatment like ventilators and deprioritized others based on their disabilities.

The resolution for the first time makes clear that hospitals must provide information on the full scope of available treatment alternatives and cannot steer people towards or condition treatment on “do not resuscitate” (DNR) policies. It also weighs in on the discriminatory impact of a number of other provisions common in many states’ rationing plans.

Find more on the Utah resolution.

Check out our medical rationing page for resources on federal and state advocacy.

Updates on Health Care Policies with Impacts for Georgia:

1332 Waiver: Georgia recently resubmitted an application for a waiver that would allow it to change how many Georgians purchase health insurance. The waiver would allow Georgia to stop using the federal marketplace to enroll Georgians in health insurance without replacing it with a state-based marketplace. Instead, Georgians would enroll in health insurance through insurers themselves or web brokers, which is likely to lead to confusion and coverage losses. GCDD and CPR submitted comments in opposition to the proposal, and we will keep you updated as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) considers Georgia’s application.

For more about  the 1332 waiver, check here and here.

Litigation Updates:

United States v. Georgia: The Independent Reviewer of the Olmsteadsettlement agreement between Georgia and the Department of Justice (DOJ) recently issued a compliance report. While the scope of the report was limited due to COVID-19, the report discusses areas of progress and concerns in the adult developmental disabilities (DD) and mental health systems. Concerns regarding the DD system include the impact of recent budget cuts; ongoing issues with support coordination; lack of clinical supports for people with DD and complex medical or behavioral needs; and failure to implement provider corrective action plans.

GAO v. Georgia (GNETS): This spring, both of the judges overseeing the two lawsuits challenging the Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Supports (GNETS) – one brought by DOJ and the other by private advocates including the Georgia Advocacy Office and CPR – denied motions from Georgia attempting to dismiss the cases. Both cases are now in the “discovery” phase, where the parties formally gather information to use in a trial. We are interested in continuing to hear from families and other stakeholders about their experiences with GNETS. 

More information on the GNETS case can be found here.

You can contact the Georgia Advocacy Office by phone at (404) 885-1234 (or toll-free in Georgia at 1-800-537-2329) or by email at if you have information to share or questions about GNETS.

On the Fall Horizon:

Money Follows the Person: After the coronavirus pandemic hit, the Money Follows the Person (MFP) program, which helps people with disabilities and older adults move out of institutions and into the community, was given another short-term extension until November 30. On October 1, a larger government funding bill needed to avoid a government shutdown was signed into law to extend current government funding until December 11, including for MFP. This means that any discussion of a long-term or permanent extension, which we had been advocating for throughout this Congress, is unlikely until a new Congress begins in January 2021. Also, in September, CMS announced that states with operational MFP programs, including Georgia, can apply for additional funding that had been allocated by Congress.

Supreme Court Vacancy: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the author of the majority opinion in Olmstead v. L.C. affirming the rights of people with disabilities to live, work and participate in their communities, passed away on September 18. President Trump has nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals to replace Justice Ginsburg, and the Senate is expected to quickly consider her nomination.

As with all Supreme Court nominations, the disability community is examining her record on issues important to people with disabilities. Of note, Judge Barrett has publicly expressed opposition to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), raising concerns about how she might rule when the Supreme Court hears argument in November.

These updates represent only a small portion of what we’re working on. For more on our work, visit our website and connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

Note: information current as of 10/5/20

By Alison Barkoff and Erin Shea, Center for Public Representation

Read the entire Making a Difference - Fall 2020 

First Thursday: DC Gathering

Beginning Sunday, people with developmental disabilities, family members, and advocates from across the country will converge on Washington, DC for the Disability Policy Seminar. This is an opportunity for people to learn more about the national issues that are impacting people with developmental disabilities and then get an opportunity to tell our elected officials to Congress what we want them to do. Support for the ABLE Act and the Convention for the Rights of People with Disabilities are two of the major legislative issues. The ABLE Act, or Achieving a Better Life Experience, would create tax-free savings accounts for individuals with disabilities. People could set aside money in tax fee savings accounts to cover expenses such as paying for college, renting or owning a home and buying a modified van. It's kind of hard to save for some of these things when any assets you have impact the supports you need to remain independent and productive.

As GCDD works to expand post-secondary options, families have had to start thinking about how to save for college just like parents of children without disabilities.

The United Nations Convention for the Rights of People of Disabilities has become a very hot political potato. People with disabilities and their advocates argue that this is about helping other nations achieve the promise of their own Americans with Disabilities Act – a no brainer. But this bill to ratify the Convention has already gone down to defeat, as Senators walked past former Senator Bob Dole ( a staunch supporter and former Republican presidential candidate) and voted against it. The opponents claim that people who home school their children would have to adhere to United Nations rules or that "men in blue helmets would be telling us what to do".  It is the paranoia that the United Nations will take over the governance of our great country. Instead, this treaty is about making sure that when people with disabilities travel to other countries they can access buildings and be free from discrimination. All we need is a few more votes. Georgia's own Senators Isackson and Chambliss could be the keys to passing this very important treaty.

While this gathering this week is a great event, I wonder about its power. If only we could find a DAY when everyone connected to disability could gather on Capitol Hill and show our real power. I know of three or four other gatherings that take place.

So I put this to our leaders – find a way to bring disability and developmental disability, mental health, aging and all the cross sections of these people together for one day, one gathering. We would have the one million person disability march/roll on the Capitol demanding closure of all institutions, more job opportunities, better education, passage of the CRPD treaty. How about next year on the 25th anniversary of the ADA? Everyone who loves someone with a disability will gather at the Washington Mall and we will show that we are a powerful group that must be reckoned with. See you there!

Eric Jacobson
GCDD Executive Director

First Thursday: Time to Show Our Rage and Demand Leadership

In an April 9, 2014 op-ed in The New York Times, Charles Blow wrote about the rage that we should have concerning the current status of many people in the United States. He writes about how, for most families, the cost of living in almost every areas has sky rocketed over the last 20 years and that many people are not earning enough to pay the bills and keep food on the table.

For people with disabilities, these concerns are the same. We should be in rage that too many people with disabilities earn sub-minimum wages and Medicaid Waivers do not cover the cost of all that is needed. We should be in rage that some individuals and families get much more than they need, while others get nothing or barely enough for a family caregiver to be able to work.

We should be in rage that people with disabilities have a 70% unemployment rate and that providers of segregated prevocational and non-work get $17,000, while providers who support people to go to work get barely $10,000. Isn't it time that we put the incentive on what people want and that is to go to work?
We should be in rage that leaders and politicians talk about economic development and growth but fail to include people with disabilities as part of that discussion. All should mean all and people with disabilities should be part of the benefits of a pro-business state and its policies.

However, to achieve these things, Mr. Blow writes, "when will we demand the country we deserve? Reflective of its people, protective of its people, simply of its people? When will the young and the poor and the aggrieved and the forsaken walk abreast to the polls and then to the public squares?"

Again, the same arguments can be made in relation to people with disabilities. Why is it that people with disabilities get the services offered by the provider? The American way is for people to take their dollars and shop for the goods and services they want. We have created a self-direction effort, but too many people are still only able to access what the provider is willing to offer.

As Mr. Blow suggests, if we want to change what is happening and address this rage, it is time for people to go to the polls and vote. To elect those people who are willing to fight the rage and put in place the kinds of policies that are needed to make sure that people with disabilities can go to work and earn a living wage that allows them to purchase goods and services. It is the American way and the last time I checked people with disabilities that live in the United States are Americans and deserve the same opportunities as all other Americans.

It is time to show our rage and demand the kind of leadership, resources and policies necessary for people with disabilities to live independent, productive, included and integrated in communities and self-determine lives.

Eric Jacobson
Executive Director, GCDD

First Thursdays: Join us at Disability Day!

The following is the fourth installment of the GCDD First Thursdays blog series, a monthly blog that will share the thoughts and ideas of GCDD staff members. 

February 20, 2014. Mark this date on your calendar because it is the 16th annual Disability Day at the Georgia State Capitoland you do not want to miss it. We expect over 2,000 people with disabilities, family members, providers, and advocates to attend. We also have a great line up including a keynote address by Governor Nathan Deal and Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi from RespectabilityUSA will be another dynamic keynote speaker.

RespectabilityUSA was formed last July to become a national voice for increasing employment for people with developmental disabilities. They have been working with governors across the country to become Employment First states, which means that employment should be the first option for people with developmental disabilities. Also, Atlanta Legal Aid's Director of the Disability Integration Project Talley Wells will speak about the new "I am Olmstead" campaign that is working to get people to tell their stories. StoryCorps will have a booth inside the Capitol to capture stories from people with disabilities.

And of course, there will be the annual camaraderie of thousands of people from across our state coming together, dressed in the Disability Day at the Capitol T-shirts, waving signs and cheering making this one of the most important aspects of the annual event. The relationships that are built by people who come from the mountains of North Georgia to the southern coasts; from the peanut and cotton farms of south Georgia to the metro Atlanta area come together to say we are all Georgians. We all care about people with disabilities, and we think that our elected officials should make meeting the needs of people with disabilities a priority.

I know you are saying, Eric, I would love to come, but what about the weather? I am not a weatherman but I have looked at several forecasts and most of them have predicted we will have a pretty nice day with temperatures in the upper 50's and at this point, no chance of rain or SNOW. Now I know we just had SNOWJAM 2014, so I will not guarantee anything, but even if the forecast is wrong, you can expect to have a great day!

So, register for Disability Day at the Capitol and I look forward to seeing you on February 20th: Click here to register for Disability Day

Eric Jacobson

Executive Director, GCDD

First Thursdays: Let's Come Together

The following is the sixth installment of the GCDD First Thursdays blog series, a monthly blog that will share the thoughts and ideas of GCDD staff members.

I moved from the Midwest to Georgia in 1987. Not more than a week after I arrived it began to snow. You know, the kind of snow that we get here—just a few flurries, but enough that everyone runs to store and buys every gallon of milk and carton of eggs available? I had moved in with my girlfriend, now my wife of almost 25 years, and I remember her mother calling and pleading with me to pick her daughter up from work. I kept contending that I had just left four feet of snow and this was not snow. I knew how to drive on snow and this would not be a problem.

Fast-forward 27 years, to SNOWJAM 2014. Where were you in either of the snow storms we had this year? My friends from back in the Midwest laughed at the picture of Atlanta shut down by two inches of ice and asked why I was stuck – I grew up driving in this kind of weather. I was in Columbus for a few extra days with others who attended the Georgia Winter Institute. I think one of the incredible things that happens when people are snowed in or can't get home is that real community emerges. We know about the many wonderful stories of how people helped each other when they were stranded in their cars. For those of us in Columbus, we were warm in the hotel but we still managed to create some very wonderful community building opportunities. Throughout those two extra days, people played games, joined each other for lunch or dinner, had wine and conversation with people they did not know. It was really about the community that we all want to live in. Too bad it takes a storm to bring us together.

Why does it take a catastrophe to bring us together? Can you imagine opening your home to strangers when there isn't a storm? Yet, people throughout the area did just that – they sent word through Facebook that if you need a place to stay – my home is open. "I will feed you, keep you warm and when you can get to your car, you can leave. " Already, there have been stories of people brought together by the storm who have had reunions. It shows the very beautiful side of being human. It shows that relationships are what it is all about and the way we build those relationships are through our stories. Can you imagine all the stories and new relationships built out of those few days? We will be telling them for the next 20 years.

I think it is up to each of us to learn this from SNOWJAM 2014 and focus on how we build relationships with others. Take the time to listen to their story and share your own. Sit down in your favorite restaurant or bar and ask the person next to you how they spent those two days. Or just ask them to tell their story. I know it seems awkward, but once you try it you will have a new friend and be able to add to your own story.

In the years when you have grandchildren, you can sit them on your lap and say "Let me tell you about the great snow blizzard of 2014 . . ."

Eric Jacobson

Executive Director, GCDD

Forsyth Farmers' Market is the place for fresh food and fresh air

 Helen Fields of Joseph Fields Farm has a welcome smile for everyone who visits her display of organic produce at Forsyth Farmers' Market.      Helen Fields of Joseph Fields Farm has a welcome smile for everyone who visits her display of organic produce at Forsyth Farmers' Market.Spend Saturdays in the park with your favorite farmers

Visit the south end of Forsyth Park on a Saturday morning – yes, even in the winter – and you’ll find an array of tents, booths, and stands with eye-popping displays that include vegetables, greens, pastured meats, honey, breads, and many other healthy and delicious ingredients for any meal.

Forsyth Farmers’ Market (FFM), a 501c3 nonprofit, organizes the weekly event.

Located at the south end of Forsyth Park, the Market is open Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. SNAP dollars are doubled at the market. The FFM Bring It Home initiative combines activity at the park with cooking demonstrations and information about how to use nutritious food as a way to prevent chronic disease. Learn more by contacting .

We spoke to Teri Schell, executive director FFM and one of its founders, to find out more about the market and the people who make it happen.

CRISP: What makes FFM important to Savannah?

Teri: FFM is a community effort to help people understand firsthand where their food comes from, how it was grown, who did the growing, and why it is healthy. At FFM, you can actually talk to the person who harvested the lettuce you're going to eat. We know that straightforward connection matters to people. It matters to us, too.

CRISP: FFM goes beyond the market to reach the community with programs such as Mixed Greens and its Little Green Wagon project and The Forsyth Farmers' Almanac. Tell us more.

Teri: You can think of Mixed Greens as our outreach group. The group works together to support FFM with projects and learning opportunities. Mixed Greens is supported by the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities Real Communities initiative and provides connection and collaboration for people with and without disabilities.

On second Saturdays at FFM, the Mixed Greens team members invite kids to plant seeds in the Little Green Wagon at the main FFM booth. The Mixed Greens care for the plants during the week, and on Saturdays, the young planters can visit their plants and check on them.

The Forsyth Farmers’ Almanac is one of my favorite projects. We originally thought it would be a one-time effort to collect stories and photos about people’s experiences growing up and growing food. During the collection process, we discovered there are so many wonderful and inspiring stories, that we’re already working on a second book. We’re happy to accept stories and volunteers for this project.

CRISP: What would you like more people to know about FFM?

Teri: We'd like to get the word out to more people that FFM is a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) redemption site and that we double SNAP dollars thanks to our partnership with Wholesome Wave Georgia. Two for one is a great way to stretch the family food budget.

Another FFM activity that we’re particularly proud of is the health screenings provided by Mercer University School of Medicine. Those take place nine months of the year and provide our customers with baseline health data and nutritional advice.

CRISP: Why aren't there more types of items for sale at FFM?

Teri: We only accept food vendors at FFM because our mission is to support a local healthy food system. That means giving all our time and attention to the farmers who bring their food to FFM. Many have been participating since we started the market in 2009. They're not just our farmers, they're our friends, and we hope Savannah residents and visitors will get to know them, too.

CRISP: Friendly people. Quality food. Fun! Visit the Forsyth Farmers Market soon for a fresh taste of Savannah!

Teri Schell is executive director of Forsyth Farmers' Market and one of its founders. She also serves as a community builder for the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities and is on the executive committee of the Savannah Chatham Food Policy Council. Communication professional Jan McIntire is CRI Senior Advisor for Outreach and a self-proclaimed evangelist for healthy living.

The original article and picture appeared on January 7, 2015 in Connect Savannah.com

Photo: Helen Fields of Joseph Fields Farm has a welcome smile for everyone who visits her display of organic produce at Forsyth Farmers' Market.


Fulfilling the Promise of the ADA – 2015 Disability Day

 Mitzi Profitt and Eric Jacobson Disability dayLet's Continue the Fight – 17th Annual Disability Day at the Capitol

On a cold and wet March 5th morning, hundreds of people with developmental disabilities, family members and advocates gathered at the Liberty Plaza for the 17th annual Disability Day at the Capitol. While we were cold and wet, our enthusiasm was not dampened. Those in the crowd cheered, sang, clapped and marched as speakers presented news about what is happening in Georgia and what the future might look like.

The theme this year was “Fulfilling the Promise of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)” and celebrating the 25th anniversary of this civil rights legislation for people with disabilities. Much progress has been made and yet we still come up short when it comes to equal rights for people with disabilities. Many are still warehoused in institutions and nursing homes. Many still do not have jobs and many are still isolated in communities with only paid staff as friends. Yet as Governor Nathan Deal commented, we are making progress in getting more students on college campuses. We are working to get children out of nursing homes and the possibilities seem endless.Advocates brave the rain for the 2015 Disability Day at the Capitol.

But we must continue to fight. As US Rep. John Lewis said in his video message to the crowd, “We must continue to get in the way and cause good trouble.” That is our role and must be central to the strategies that we use to continue creating a better place for everyone. We must continue to fight for more funds and Medicaid waivers. GCDD fought successfully with others for passage of medical marijuana legislation to help children and others live normal lives. We must make sure that staff is paid a living wage so that the threat of poverty is removed not only from people with disabilities but all Georgians. This is the kind of trouble we must make and we must get in the way of those who keep us from achieving this effort.

Over the next few months, Atlanta will host several national and international conferences related to disability in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the ADA and the opening of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. Let’s show the world once more why Atlanta is such a great and welcoming city.

Eric Jacobson, GCDD Executive Director

 US Representative John Lewis spoke to the crowd at Disability Day at the Capitol on March 5, 2015 to commemorate the the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Click here to read the text of his speech.

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal spoke to the crowd at Disability Day at the Capitol on March 5, 2015 to commemorate the the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Click here to read the text of his speech.


Thanks to Our Disability Day Sponsors!

  • AlbanyARC
    The ARC of
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    Beacon Health Options
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  • Diversified
    Fulton County Government Georgia Chambers
    Resource Center
    GA Adv Office Georgia Association of
    People Supporting
    Employment First (GAPSE)
  • Ga Assoc of Community Svc Boards GSFIC ADA Coordinators OfficeR Healthcare Georgia Foundation  Jewish Family &
    Career Services

    Nobis Works

  • Omni Visions SILCGA Logo Web Medium Unison
    Behavioral Health
     United Cerebral Palsy of GA
    View Point Health