Making a Difference - Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities
“Each year, I’m inspired by the crowd that gathers for Disability Day at the Capitol, a crowd that’s as diverse as the State they call home,” said Governor Nathan Deal to Making a Difference. “This level of support demonstrates that disabilities affect us all. I hope that all Georgians will take the time to listen to and advocate for all citizens with disabilities in our State.”
Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) opened March by hosting the popular 17th annual Disability Day at the Capitol, on March 5th at Liberty Plaza. March is also Disability Awareness Month.
Even with low temperatures and steady rain, the event was met with excitement from advocates, people with disabilities and supporters. To show the power of the collective voice and advocacy, GCDD’s Disability Day theme commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by titling this year’s event, “Fulfilling the Promise of the ADA.”
In front of the crowd, Deal proudly proclaimed that March would officially be Disability Awareness Month and recognized July 26th as the 25th anniversary of the ADA.
“We must preserve the past by remembering those who fought for your rights. We must also celebrate our present by commemorating the 25th anniversary of the ADA, and we must continue to educate others about accomplishments and barriers that still exist for people with disabilities,” said Governor Deal, who has spoken at Disability Day for the past five years.
The Governor’s proclamation was presented to GCDD at the event that brought together advocates from across the State to promote access, opportunity and meaningful community living for Georgians with disabilities and their families.
A variety of groups brought their enthusiasm to the annual kick-off at the Georgia Freight Depot to raise awareness about the rights and concerns of people with disabilities. At the gathering, attendees made posters advocating for equal opportunities in education and the workplace knowing that the contributions of people with disabilities are important to the community.
GCDD Executive Director Eric E. Jacobson kicked off the event with a rousing speech highlighting the importance of how the ADA and the civil rights efforts of the 1960s were tied together.
“There wouldn’t be an ADA if Americans had not fought for civil rights in the 1960s. While Dr. [Martin Luther] King and Rosa Parks fought in Montgomery to get a seat on the bus, there are many people here who couldn’t even get on the bus, and especially here in Atlanta where they fought to make sure that people who use wheelchairs could get on the bus,” said Jacobson.
Jacobson also announced GCDD’s continued support for closing all institutions in Georgia, and the Council’s goals for the following year. “Kids and people don’t belong in institutions. They belong in communities with the rest of us. They belong by having a job, going to school, living in their own homes with their own keys to their own doors. They belong as a part of being able to build a church or synagogue or temple or mosque or wherever they want to pray,” said Jacobson. “They belong in our communities and it’s time that Georgia closed those doors to make sure that nobody ever again is locked up somewhere for no crime at all.”
GCDD will be working over the next year to create a report card on how well Georgia is doing as it relates to employment, community living, students graduating from high school and transitioning into adult life, healthy living and early childhood. The report card will be based on national goals established by Six by ’15.
Six by ’15 is a national campaign celebrating the 40 years of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and 25 years of the ADA. The initiative is building a new future by joining efforts to achieve six national goals in the following areas by the end of 2015:
• Community Living
• Healthy Living
• Early Childhood
As this year marks the anniversary of the ADA, it is also an important milestone in the civil rights movement. 2015 celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery march that took place in Alabama in 1965. Tying in the ADA anniversary’s message of “Disability Rights are Civil Rights,” this year’s Disability Day received a special message from a civil rights activist and leader who has paved his own history along the way, and was present on that historic day in Selma.
US Representative John Lewis (D-GA 5th District) sent a message of support to the crowd at Disability Day remarking on the importance of continuing the fight and causing “good trouble, necessary trouble.”
“None of us, not one of us, not any of us must be left out or left behind. I will continue to stand and fight for what is right and fair and just,” said Lewis in a recorded statement. (Read his complete statement on page 11 or watch the video at gcdd.org.)
The event also saw the talents of Joey Stuckey, an award-winning guitarist and vocalist who is blind and advocates for accessible music education for everyone. Stuckey sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “Georgia On My Mind,” the official state song of Georgia and “This Little Light of Mine.” Stuckey is also the official music ambassador of Macon, GA.
Reverend Susannah Davis, pastor at Kirkwood United Church of Christ, inspired the crowd by reminding them although the ADA has brought the community a long way, there is still much to be done.
“ADA was a beginning – a strong and safe way for everyone to be able to attend, to participate, to create, to contribute, to live fully and faithfully, but we’ve still got a long way to go,” she said. “We’ve got more ramps to build, more elevators to purchase, more lifts to put in place, and that’s not all. We need more accessible ways to belong to the workforce and service organizations, to be leaders in government, to blaze the trail for public policy, to shine our light in arts and entertainment, to make a way in whatever it is you dream about, a way for you to be you fully and wholly.”
Disability Day at the Capitol is an opportunity for the disability community and their supporters to connect with each other and their elected officials. This year’s focus on the ADA coincides with GCDD’s mission and legislative agenda that concentrates on achieving inclusive communities, voting rights and access to education and jobs.
In Making a Difference’s Winter 2015 issue, GCDD outlined areas such as education, employment and Unlock The Waiting Lists! where they would be advocating for more services and supports during the legislative session.
At the time of this writing, some advocacy successes included the Georgia House of Representatives funding 75 new NOW/ COMP waiver slots and a 50-cent-per-hour increase for personal support services in ICWP Waivers.
Employment First had a big achievement as Georgia House Resolution 642 created the Joint Study Committee on Postsecondary Education and Employment Options for Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. (For complete coverage on the legislative session, read the Legislative Recap on page 18.)
Furthermore, continuing advocacy for inclusive post-secondary programs has resulted in the growth of programs across the State. In addition to the program at Kennesaw State University, post-secondary programs are now at Georgia State University, East Georgia State College and Columbus State University.
Frequent Disability Day guest Senator John Albers (R-District 56) brought cheer to the crowd to remind them of the importance of Disability Day.
“You have got our commitment to help you to just give sunshine to this cause,” said Albers. “We have lots of good things happening, and I tell you this every year that if the world saw everything through the lens of somebody with special needs, it would be a better place to live.”
GCDD Chair Mitzi Proffitt called for a recommitment to the ADA in the remaining months of the 25th anniversary celebration. “Across the country people are signing
the pledge with the goal of getting 2,500 signatures by July 26th recommitting to the legislation,” said Proffitt.
The goal of the pledge is to reaffirm the principles of equality and inclusion and recommit efforts to reach full ADA compliance. Organizations and faith communities are being encouraged to sign the ADA proclamation.
Closing the rally was Mark Johnson, director of advocacy at the Shepherd Center and chair of The ADA Legacy Project. He organized the crowd as they marched back to the Georgia Freight Depot, and reminded them of the 2003 Free Our People March from Philadelphia to Washington, DC and the historic Selma-to-Montgomery march.
As the crowd gathered to go back to the Depot, Johnson reminded everyone that, “We need to go forward. Let’s quit saying, and let’s start doing.”
To sign the Americans with Disabilities Act pledge, visit www.adaanniversary.org/pledgeon.
When Employment First becomes the culture in Georgia, will it provide enough help for people with disabilities to have the good life? The life that everyone strives for, regardless of disability, without want for basic necessities? Employment First Georgia advocates suggest a call to action for more. The joy of having a job or developing a career is diminished without financial stability. A successful Employment First culture in Georgia will embrace employment in an integrated setting, at a living wage as the expectation, not the exception. What does it mean to earn a living wage, not just minimum wage? It means that when you are working, you have enough money to live comfortably and to save some as well. It means that you can save for vacations, better technology or furniture. It means that you can use a credit card and have the satisfaction of paying the balance (or learn the lesson of what happens when you do not).
But, sometimes, we make assumptions that these things will not be part of the life of a person with a disability.
When people earn a living wage, they make enough to meet their expenses. In the disability service system, there is a belief that people should not be bothered with their living expenses or what their cost of daily living is. However, it is vital for everyone to know what it takes to shop, to cook, to obtain medical care and to enjoy entertainment to achieve financial stability. We must raise the expectation of what someone's monthly expenses are. Monthly expenses include utilities, room and board and the things that the majority of society chooses to have a good life within our means.
When we visit people with disabilities throughout Georgia who are not working, we are astounded by how few people are given access to their own savings accounts. According to the Corporation for Enterprise Development, 69% of individuals with disabilities reported they have no checking account and 54% reported no savings account. People who receive public benefits have money left over monthly, even if it is a small amount. But, without the knowledge of how much is saved and what it can buy, people are in no better condition to increase their standard of living.
Compound the mystery of savings with the minimum or subminimum wage a person with a disability can expect to earn. People with disabilities earning a minimum wage for a few hours each week rarely enjoy the fruits of their labor. Seven dollars and 25 cents an hour for a few hours rarely gets a person beyond trips to the discount stores and meals at fast food restaurants. Moreover, the incentive for working harder, increasing job skills and achieving promotions is diminished when the financial incentive remains the same.
So, when Employment First is the culture in Georgia and people with disabilities are offered effective employment supports without the expectation that they should make a living wage, people with disabilities will not rise out of the poverty that they have been segregated into for generations. "Because tax dollars support the services of public rehabilitation [and other employment support services impacted by an Employment First policy], it is reasonable to demand that the employment secured lays the foundation for financial stability," as written in Why Financial Stability Matters in Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling by Abby Lindman Cooper.
In an Employment First culture, a person with a disability is offered the opportunity to work before being offered other services. They are given the chance to work and earn money. However, there is an assumption that after the employment support provider helps someone
find a job, the goal has been reached. We tell ourselves that everyone starts out making minimum wage and that public benefits will pay for what minimum wage does not. There is a myth that people with disabilities do not have the same wants and needs as everyone else, such as owning nice material goods or experiencing a rich social life. We must break this assumption. Instead, we must model raised expectations so that a person with a disability who strives to earn a living wage can choose to buy concert tickets, go to a sporting event and frequent a nice restaurant.
In a successful Employment First culture, a person with a disability will be presented with employment in an integrated setting within the community as the first and priority service option. Equally important, they will be presented with what to expect in wages, hours, benefits, taxes and the impact on a credit score, the opportunity for saving, work incentives and plans to become more financially independent.
The most important thing is supporting individuals with disabilities to make the critical connection that financial resources are a means to an end, and to know that they can and should take ownership of their own financial lives. We have an obligation to support families and people with disabilities who expect financial stability. By the time a person is old enough to go to work, regardless of disability, the expectation will have been set from a young age that he or she will make a living wage, not just "get a job."
We will support families to seek and obtain support and information. For example, families can contact the Work Incentives Planning and Assistance Projects to learn how any wage will affect public benefits. Each county in the State is served by the Shepherd Center or Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency. Families can go to www.benefitsnavigator.org/gpage2.html to learn which agency serves them, and call to talk about the special rules that help job seekers work and still receive monthly payments and Medicaid or Medicare.
An ideal Employment First culture can create incentives for providers of employment support services when they help a person work for a living wage instead of minimum wage. An ideal Employment First culture can also create incentives for providers of employment support services when people with disabilities earn promotions, raises and employment-related benefits. Employment supports do not end when someone earns his or her first paycheck. Employment supports continue to assist people with disabilities to earn a living wage and live the good life!
CRYSTAL RASA, JD, is the program accountability director and employment director at the Georgia Advocacy Office.
As this article goes to print, there are still two legislative days left until the cries of “Sine Die,” the official end of the legislative session. This is the first time in a few years that the final day did not occur before April Fool’s Day. In fact, the 2015 session will end almost two weeks after last year’s session. Although only two days remain, there are still several issues that are unresolved, including the final outcome of the FY 2016 budget.
Please continue reading to learn some highlights of what happened in the 2015 General Assembly and what advocates are working toward. Note that the information is current as of this issue’s print deadline, so please be sure to go to www.gcdd.org and click on “Public Policy” to read the final legislative wrap-up edition (Issue 8) of GCDD’s newsletter Public Policy for the People for the final outcome of the budget and other highlights.
FY 2016 Budget
A quick overview: This is the second year since the recession hit that state agencies were not asked to reduce their budgets. For the fourth year in a row, Georgia’s economy has shown modest growth. The total budget for FY 2016 is $21.8 billion state dollars, and since Georgia operates with a balanced budget approach, any funds that are added in one area must be taken away from somewhere else. Major funding priorities of this budget were education and transportation. Two of the many controversial issues heavily debated were whether or not non-certified, part-time Georgia school employees, such as school bus drivers, can remain eligible for the State Health Benefit Plan as well as a proposed excise tax (for transportation).
Governor Nathan Deal also added to the state’s “Rainy Day” fund because the actual revenue was greater than what had been anticipated. Just as in recent years’ budgets, the 2016 budget essentially provides small measures of relief.
GCDD Advocacy Days
The FY 2015 budget was the final year in which the Georgia state budget had a prescribed number of waivers required by the Department of Justice Settlement Agreement, which largely focused on individuals leaving institutional settings. Further, since the Governor did not include any of the Unlock the Waiting Lists! asks that focus on addressing needs of individuals with disabilities needing services in their communities within his budget recommendations, this made our legislative advocacy, alongside our grassroots advocates, all the more critical. And advocate we did!
GCDD held five separate advocacy days leading up to our annual Disability Day at the Capitol: We Need Waivers; ICWP Raise the Rate Day; Kids Need Real Homes, Not Nursing Homes Day; Employment First Day; and Youth Day. These advocacy days were a huge success! Almost 200 attendees participated in our advocacy days, and many spoke of being able to find their voice for the first time. Furthermore, legislators learned about issues facing Georgians with disabilities. Keep reading to see the fruits of our labor.
Unlock the Waiting Lists! Campaign
The Unlock the Waiting Lists! Campaign focused on a small number of key additions to the budget. One of these key issues was to address the impossibly low Medicaid reimbursement rate of the Independent Care Waiver Program (ICWP). ICWP, allows young and middle-aged adults with significant physical disabilities or Traumatic Brain Injuries to live in the community instead of nursing facilities. Currently, the state Medicaid reimbursement rate for ICWP Personal Support is between $11 and $15 an hour, making it by far the lowest reimbursed Medicaid waiver in Georgia. After a home health agency takes their cut, working caregivers can get as little as $8 an hour. This low rate makes it almost impossible to find qualified caregivers. Further, it endangers the lives of Georgians who receive ICWP and increases the likelihood that they will suffer abuse at the hands of poor caregivers. Likewise, it causes waiver recipients or their family members to miss valuable work time due to caregiver issues.
The House put in a $.50/hour increase for Personal Support Services for ICWP, and the Senate put in an additional $.50/ hour for a total increase of $1/hour with language that the increase must be directed toward the direct support professionals (those working caregivers providing the direct care to individuals with disabilities). We hope that we keep the full $1 per hour increase in the final budget, but the final outcome is not known as of print time.
Another major issue that Unlock tackled was the enormous waiting list of over 7,500 for the NOW/COMP waivers. If you are a Georgian with significant developmental disabilities, you have three choices. One is to spend your life in a facility, like a private intermediate care facility or a nursing home, and your second choice is to get a NOW or COMP waiver. These waivers are only available to people whose disabilities are significant enough to qualify for ongoing care in a facility, and provide services and supports that allow people with developmental disabilities to live in real homes in their own communities. Virtually everyone would choose a life with a waiver rather than be stuck in a facility.
But there’s a problem – just because you qualify for a waiver doesn’t mean that you get one. And that’s the third choice … to hang on as best you can, wait, hope and pray for a waiver. The House put in 75 new NOW/COMP waivers, and the Senate agreed. This agreement lets us be hopeful that these slots will remain in the final budget, but as stated before, the final outcome is not yet known as of print time.
Below is a summary of these Unlock the Waiting Lists! requests and what happened in the Georgia General Assembly:
Employment First Policy
The Employment First Advocacy Day had the largest number of attendees of all the advocacy days. We are so excited about the momentum that the Employment First advocacy has gained and have received so many positive comments from legislators.
“Employment First” means that employment should be the first and preferred option for all people, regardless of their disability. Under an Employment First policy, employment in the general workforce at or above minimum wage is the first and preferred option for all working age citizens with disabilities. Not only would it benefit Georgians with disabilities who could realize their goals, but also family members of people with disabilities who would have peace of mind for their loved ones, Georgia employers who would gain excellent employees, and Georgia taxpayers who would gain more taxpaying citizens.
GCDD wishes to thank Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-District 13) for her leadership on Employment First. We thank her and all her co-sponsors for House Resolution 642, which will initiate a study committee on the benefits of an Employment First policy and Post-Secondary Education options for Georgians with disabilities. HR 642 PASSED and we anticipate a study committee will be appointed sometime after session ends. We are exploring ways for members of the Georgia State Senate to be involved as well.
Inclusive Post-Secondary Employment
On Monday, March 9, the Georgia Inclusive Post-Secondary Education Consortium (www.gaipsec.org) along with students and staff from various inclusive post-secondary education (IPSE) programs in Georgia gathered at the State Capitol to thank the Georgia General Assembly for its appropriations support in the Georgia state budget over the past two years. Senator Butch Miller (R-District 49) and several co-sponsors introduced
Senate Resolution 276 to commend the Georgia Inclusive Post-Secondary Education Consortium for its work to create opportunities for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Georgia who have historically not had access to postsecondary education opportunities.
In order to pass, a piece of legislation must have passed both chambers in identical form by midnight on Sine Die. Governor Deal has 40 days to sign or veto bills that were passed. If he does not act on a bill within this time period, the bill becomes law. Since the 2015 session is the first year of a two-year cycle of the Georgia General Assembly, bills that do not make it this year will still be alive for consideration in 2016.
Haleigh’s Hope Act (medical cannabis)/House Bill 1 – PASSED
This legislation sponsored by Rep. Allen Peake (R-District 141) allows the limited use of medical cannabis oil (no more than 5% or possess no more than 20 fluid oz. of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), an active ingredient) to treat eight disorders: cancer, Crohn’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), mitochondrial disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, seizure disorders and sickle cell disease. Before Georgians can begin using CBD oil the state will still have to set up the Low THC Oil Patient Registry. The Department of Public Health is charged with establishing procedures, rules and regulations to assist doctors in making the certifications that a patient has a qualifying condition.
Family Care Act (HB 92 and SB 242)
This legislation would allow individuals whose employers provide sick days the option of using up to five sick days to care for family members. The lobbying efforts for this are led by the Georgia Job Family Collaborative
(www.gaworkingfamilies.org). HB 92, sponsored by Rep. Tommy Benton (R-District 31) stalled in the House Industry & Labor Committee. Within days of the end of session, a new bill, SB 242, was dropped by lead sponsor Senator Mike Williams (R-District 27). We will follow this bill closely in the 2016 legislative session to see what happens.
HB 86 – PASSED
This legislation transfers the Division of Aging Services (DAS) from the Department of Human Services (DHS) to the Georgia Adult and Aging Services Agency.
Ava’s Law (SB 1 to be attached to HB 429)
It was announced in a press conference within days of the end of session that SB 1, the autism insurance bill known as Ava’s Law, sponsored by Senator Charlie Bethel (R-District 54), would be attached to HB 429 with some modifications. Prior to attaching the autism bill language, HB 429, sponsored by Rep. Ron Stephens (R-District 164), prevents health benefit plans from restricting coverage for prescribed treatment based upon an insured’s diagnosis with a terminal condition.
This announcement comes after an agreement was reached between the chairmen of the House and Senate insurance committees that will allow some children with autism to be covered by insurance. Both chairmen expect that the combined bill will easily pass the Senate, and the modified bill should be accepted by the House.
Many disability advocates are passionate supporters of Ava’s Law and the therapies it would cover, but there are some advocates who object to the bill, particularly its inclusion of Applied Behavior Analysis therapy.
While we remain incredibly grateful for the strides we made, we have only begun to scratch the surface of the real work that needs to be done in Georgia to improve the lives of people with disabilities. So please join our advocacy network to see how you can be involved!
GCDD Needs YOU –Join our Advocacy Network TODAY! Go to www.gcdd.org, scroll down to the bottom, and click on the green button “Join our Advocacy Network” and follow the instructions.
Making a Difference will feature five guest columns by Mark Johnson on the legacy of the ADA and how national and state groups are commemorating the anniversary. This is the third installment.
By the time you read this version of my ADA25 series, much will have happened around the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Georgians with disabilities, advocates and supporters will have marched in the MLK Jr. Parade in Downtown Atlanta representing ADA25, and The ADA Legacy Tour will have kicked off in TX. We will have rallied at the 17th annual Disability Day at the Capitol despite the wet, windy and cold weather. Many will have attended Presence is Power and people would have represented ADA25 at the 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery march.
At the same time, the ADA25 Faith and Disability initiative will have kicked off. The Collaborative on Faith and Disability is partnering with the Interfaith Disability Advocacy Coalition (IDAC) and The ADA Legacy Project on this initiative. IDAC is planning a celebrative interfaith service in Washington, DC on July 26, 2015. It has also passed a Pledge to Recommit to Full Implementation of the ADA and is urging its member religious organizations to do the same.
The Georgia legislative session will have ended and hopefully attendants will get a pay raise, more waivers will be available and Georgia will have become a Employment First State.
And finally, your plans for the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act will be firmed up, and The ADA Legacy Project has made it very easy for you to engage in the 25th anniversary. On the website (www.adalegacy.com), you can find resources like:
• A guide on How to Celebrate ADA25
• T-shirts to order
• The ADA Pledge for individuals and groups to recommit to the landmark legislation.
Throughout the celebration, we reminded everyone to preserve, educate and celebrate the law that has allowed people with disabilities to have equal rights and become a part of the community as a whole. We have a lot to be proud of, but we must not forget what we fought for. During the celebrations, The ADA Legacy Project is seeking a recommitment from the community in regards to the full implementation of the ADA.
Join us in helping get 2,500 signatures on the recommitment of the ADA. Sign the ADA Pledge, adaanniversary.org/pledgeon
Pledge to Recommit to Full Implementation of the ADA
On July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to ensure the civil rights of people with disabilities. This legislation established a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities.
On July 26, 2015, we will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the signing of the ADA. The ADA has expanded opportunities for Americans with disabilities by reducing barriers and changing perceptions, and increasing full participation in community life. However, the full promise of the ADA will only be reached if we remain committed to continue our efforts to fully implement the ADA.
On the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, I will celebrate and recognize the progress that has been made by reaffirming the principles of equality and inclusion and recommitting my efforts to reach full ADA compliance.
NOW THEREFORE, I (name), ___________________
______________________________ do hereby reaffirm that I will continue to work toward full ADA compliance.
You Get Proud by Practicing
by Laura Hershey
If you are not proud
For who you are, for what you say, for how you look;
If every time you stop
To think of yourself, you do not see yourself glowing
With golden light; do not, therefore, give up on yourself.
You can get proud.
You do not need
A better body, a purer spirit, or a Ph.D.
To be proud.
You do not need
A lot of money, a handsome boyfriend, or a nice car.
You do not need
To be able to walk, or see, or hear,
Or use big, complicated words,
Or do any of those things that you just can’t do
To be proud. A caseworker
Cannot make you proud,
Or a doctor.
You only need more practice.
You get proud by practicing.
There are many many ways to get proud.
You can try riding a horse, or skiing on one leg,
Or playing guitar,
And do well or not so well,
And be glad you tried
You can show
Something you’ve made
To someone you respect
And be happy with it no matter
What they say.
You can say
What you think, though you know
Other people do not think the same way, and you can
keep saying it, even if they tell you
You are crazy.
You can add your voice
All night to the voices
Of a hundred and fifty others
In a circle
Around a jailhouse
Where your brothers and sisters are being held
For blocking buses with no lifts,
Or you can be one of the ones
Inside the jailhouse,
Knowing of the circle outside.
You can speak your love
To a friend without fear.
You can find someone who will listen to you
Without judging you or doubting you or being
Afraid of you
And let you hear yourself perhaps
For the very first time.
These are all ways
Of getting proud.
None of them
Are easy, but all of them
Are possible. You can do all of these things,
Or just one of them again and again.
You get proud
Power makes you proud, and power
Comes in many fine forms
Supple and rich as butterfly wings.
It is music
when you practice opening your mouth
And liking what you hear
Because it is the sound of your own
It is sunlight
When you practice seeing
Strength and beauty in everyone,
It is dance
when you practice knowing
That what you do
And the way you do it
Is the right way for you
And cannot be called wrong.
All these hold
More power than weapons or money
All these practices bring power, and power
Makes you proud.
You get proud
Remember, you weren’t the one
Who made you ashamed,
But you are the one
Who can make you proud.
Practice until you get proud,
and once you are proud,
Keep practicing so you won’t forget.
You get proud
Mark Johnson is the director of advocacy for the Shepherd Center, the top spinal cord & brain injury rehabilitation hospital in the nation. Johnson also serves as the council chair for The ADA Legacy Project.
GCDD Welcomes Six New Advisory Council Members
Marcia Singson, Parent Advocate
Singson is the founding president of the Georgia Aspergers Organization and an employment specialist with Project SEARCH.
Brenda Munoz, Parent Advocate
Munoz is a 2014-2015 GaLEND Family Fellow at the Center for Leadership in Disability at Georgia State University.
Rickie Jodie Wren, Parent Advocate
Wren has worked with children and adults with developmental disabilities for eight years and is an active volunteer within her community.
Eren Kyle Denberg, Self-Advocate
Denberg is an ambassador for All About Developmental Disabilities as an advocacy speaker about autism.
Pam Hunter Dempsey, Parent Advocate
Dempsey sits on the Georgia State Department of Education Advisory Panel for Special Education.
Trace Haythorn, Parent Advocate
Haythorn serves on the Atlanta Rotary's Education and Youth Foundations, which provide support to literacy and youth employment initiatives. He also served as an advisory member of the Real Communities Initiative.
GCDD Welcomes New Grants Manager, Lisa Eaves
Eaves joined GCDD as Grants Manager in Fall 2014 to coordinate all aspects of contracts and grants procedures between staff and GCDD partners, under the direction of Chief Financial Officer Gary Childers. Those interested in applying for GCDD Partnership Funds or Conference Sponsorships can contact Eaves at or visit www.gcdd.org and select the Funding Opportunities tab for details.
Making a Difference's Fall 2014 issue covered a story in the Real Communities Initiative section (page 27) about Basmat Ahmed, the community builder who helped found the Clarkston Relationship Builders Group. Ms. Ahmed's picture was misidentified and her correct photo is printed above. The young woman was not Ms. Ahmed, and the magazine apologizes for the error. The picture has been also been replaced on the website edition with the correct photo of Ms. Ahmed.
GCDD added two new members to its staff to help the organization continue its mission 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.
Gabrielle Melnick joined as the community organizing assistant to the Real Communities initiative this past summer. The University of Georgia graduate will provide administrative and logistical support to communities within the Real Communities initiative, and she will report to Real Communities Organizing Director Caitlin Childs. Her past experience includes serving as an art specialist at a summer camp in Georgia where she helped support campers with and without disabilities – of all ages – to express themselves through various artistic mediums.
A former GCDD public policy intern, Nick Perry joined the staff in June 2015 as the public policy specialist and sibling coordinator. In his role, Perry will provide assistance in managing key stakeholder relationships, creating outreach and advocacy tools and materials and conducting a wide range of policy-related research. Perry will report to Public Policy Director Dawn Alford. As the brother of a young man with cerebral palsy, Perry hopes to help create a Georgia in which individuals of all abilities can be fully involved in all aspects of community living and shed light on the challenges of siblings of individuals with disabilities.
Welcome to the Georgia State Capitol and our new Liberty Plaza! It’s a privilege to take part once again in Disability Day with all of you. I would like first to thank the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities for sponsoring this event and bringing us all together today.
Twenty-five years ago, then-President George H.W. Bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to ensure the civil rights of those citizens with disabilities. This legislation established a clear message throughout the nation and in Georgia that discrimination based on disability must end. President Bush remarked upon signing the bill, “Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down." Like those who participated in the Civil Rights movement, many people with disabilities were willing to protest and sacrifice to end the segregation of people with disabilities.
This year, Georgia will be at the center of the national celebration of the ADA. At the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, there is an exhibit celebrating disability rights. The National ADA Symposium and the international Society for Disability Studies will hold their conferences in Atlanta. And, there will be several opportunities to see the ADA Legacy Bus during these events.
In Georgia, we are committed to improving facilities managed by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities and creating opportunities for those with disabilities to return to their respective communities as active citizens. In addition, we strive to make sure that no children under the age of 22 are living in nursing facilities, but rather reside with loving and stable families. We continue to make progress by opening new programs on college campuses, like those at Kennesaw State University, Georgia State University, East Georgia State College and Columbus State University.
Next year, programs will begin at Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Georgia. I am also proud to say that we have made progress toward increasing the number of work opportunities for people with disabilities throughout our state.
As your exhibit inside the Capitol reads, we must preserve the past by remembering those who fought for your rights. We must also celebrate our present by commemorating the 25th Anniversary of the ADA, and we must continue to educate others about the accomplishments and barriers that still exist for people with disabilities.
With all of this in mind, I was happy to proclaim March as Disability Awareness Month in Georgia and recognize July 26th as the anniversary of the ADA.
Technology is a way of life now. The evolution of the Internet and proliferation of devices have vastly changed the way we interact and communicate over the past decade. Groundbreaking technological advancements that assist people with disabilities with daily living and work are finally keeping up with the mainstream.
Assistive Technology Industry Association, is any item, piece of equipment, software or product system that is used to increase, maintain or improve the functional capabilities of people with disabilities. Liz Persaud works for Tools for Life, an initiative that is part of Georgia's Assistive Technology Act Program. It is dedicated to increasing access to and acquisition of AT devices and services for Georgians of all ages and disabilities so they can live, learn, work and play independently and with greater freedom in communities of their choice.
The purpose of the initiative is to provide technical assistance and develop webinars, in-person training, partnerships and collaborations for the State of Georgia. It includes an AT evaluation service called TechMatch which helps individuals find the right technology for their situation. "It varies from low tech to high tech devices – anything that can make acccess to everyday items and information easier," said Persaud, who lives with muscular dystrophy.
The range of low technology to high technology devices includes magnifiers; manual wheelchairs; calculators with audio outputs; computer software with screen readers and spell-check; and text-to-speech applications; and power wheelchairs that elevate, tilt and recline. At the Center for the Visually Impaired's VisAbility Store, many low to middle tech items such as reading machines and color identifiers are available to people with disabilities that assist people with everyday routines.
Under the Georgia Department of Education, the Georgia Project for Assistive Technology (GPAT) supports local school systems, colleges and universities to provide AT devices and services to students with disabilities. GPAT was not only working on adaptive and AT in hardware or software, but also equipment. And then, the program expanded to include colleges and universities in 2005.
"It started as a distributive training for colleges and universities, but then expanded to conversion of supplementary materials and textbooks to become more accessible for students with disabilities," said Christopher Lee, PhD, director of AMAC Accessibility Solutions and Research Center at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Formerly the Alternative Media Access Center, AMAC came out of the University System of Georgia in 2005 to help post-secondary disability services offices provide complete, timely and efficient accommodations to students with print disabilities. AMAC has since grown to include development of technology along with training and technical assistance. It also includes AccessGA, formerly the Access IT, a joint initiative of the Georgia State ADA Coordinator's Office, AMAC and the Georgia Technology Authority. Its purpose is to support Georgia state agencies with Information and Communication Technology accessibility, promoting equal and timely access for employees and customers with a wide range of disabilities.
Development and Affordability
Development of voice-recognition software and predictable text in smartphones has revolutionized mainstream technology, and in turn, assistive technology as well. High tech devices and technology development such as voiceover and augmentative communication devices enable people with disabilities to communicate effectively.
Persaud utilizes 25 to 30 pieces of assistive technology in her daily life. Ranging from low tech to high tech, the ability of adaptive technology has allowed Persaud to live and maintain an independent life. "I use my voice for everything," added Persaud.
Muscular dystrophy causes a drastic drop in energy, and as these devices help Persaud navigate her daily life, they also minimize her use of energy. TextHelp is a predictive text software that allows Persaud to minimize keystrokes thus saving her energy. Accessible features like voiceovers and spellcheck applications like Ginger, a software that removes language barriers between people, prides itself in "reducing the stress associated with writing by ensuring grammatically perfect, typo-free text bursting with expression and meaning," according to Ginger's website.
"These are integrated and robust, and although they were created with the mainstream market, they are inadvertently becoming learning aids and useful for people with disabilities," added Lee.
However, technology, of any kind, can be financially daunting. The more innovative it is, the more it costs until it's demanded enough in mainstream markets to lower costs. About 10 years ago, when Rebecca Brightwell entered the AT field, she was shocked at how expensive this technology was and how monetarily inaccessible it was to families, children, students and adults who rely on it.
"There is definitely a need for assistive technology, but it is financially straining," said Brightwell, associate director of the Institute on Human Development and Disability at University of Georgia. She focuses on the area of AT.
Dragon, the most popular speech-recognition software, was developed over 20 years ago. When it first came into the market, it had an exorbitant cost of $25,000. Years later, the rising demand finally brought the prices to a reasonable $150-$700. The software is also available as a mobile application for smartphones. Brightwell also focuses on making assistive technology at a low cost.
"I realized that people wanted to learn and by finding simple ways to empower people to think creatively, we can make accessible, universal designs that can help people," she added. Brightwell engaged students to develop basic switches that could help a person who hadn't developed motor skills and who found it hard to turn a doorknob. Utilizing items like a CD case, stereo wire and some tape, she can make a switch in 30 minutes and enhance someone's way of life.
"These cost you $80, at most, and there are many small and simple ways that can lead someone towards independent living," Brightwell said.
As today's world becomes more technology driven, there is a growing segment of technology companies that are recognizing AT as a viable market. Ongoing development will result in greater accessibility and lower costs.
It's not just technology devices that are becoming prevalent in our modern society. In addition to technology devices, there is greater focus on making the Internet more accessible. According to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the provision requires that Federal agencies' electronic and information technology is accessible to people with disabilities. The Information Technology Accessibility & Workforce Division, in the US General Services Administration's Office of Governmentwide Policy, has been charged with the task of educating federal employees and building the infrastructure necessary to support Section 508 implementation.
Although it works at the federal level, "the rule for the private sector lies within the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Department of Justice issued a ruling that it does apply to the states as well," said Arthur Murphy, PhD, and special project consultant with AMAC. Murphy specializes in user experience design and also served as a member of the committee responsible for drafting the US Section 508 Standards.
The Future of Technology
As we become more comfortable with voice recognition devices, speech-to-text applications and software, Lee talks about the future of technology.
"Robotics is the next step to help make everyone's life easier," said Lee. "The things you see on TV are now doable, and a couple of years ago they might have been a big deal. But as technology develops, robots will also become the norm and serve as an extension to the technology we already use. Over time, they are going to be more affordable as well."
Persaud agrees. "Robotics is exploding in the assistive technology field," she adds. At AMAC, she works with VGo, a tele-presence robot that allows Persaud to be present in the AMAC offices if she were to work from home.
From her Alpharetta home, she is able to connect with VGo and work at her offices at Georgia Tech. "This isn't like teleconferencing," she clarifies. "I, or anyone, can control the robot via telecommuting and be able to function and be productive at work as if I were physically there. I can go 'visit' my coworkers, sit-in on meetings and still be engaged in the office."
Ideas that were once out of the norm such as virtual reality and telepathy are also starting to be utilized to advance technology. For people who aren't verbal, "technology is advancing to be able to use brain waves to control objects or eye-gazes can be used to determine a selection," Brightwell adds.
Persaud also notes that recreational activities are getting the benefit of AT. Something as simple as a fishing rod that can be mounted to a wheelchair or bucket seats for those wanting to ski are just other ways that AT is allowing everyone to work, play and live in an inclusive community. These forms of technology are in prototype phases, but are being used to purposefully do something and are showing a lot of promise in terms of assistive technology. AMAC and similar groups are also focusing on technology that will benefit aging and wounded veterans.
By continuing to develop technology that focuses on large electronic print, speech-to-text, voiceover and now, robotics, the goal remains to promote independent living and inclusion in the community for people with and without disabilities.
To learn more about assistive technology and available resources, visit www.amacusg.org.
To learn more about AccessGA and its work in the State of Georgia, visit www.accessga.org.
by Devika Rao
By Adrianne Murchison
Anticipation and butterflies around the first day of school are not exclusive to students. Parents can be anxious about how the day will unfold, as well.
Before the first day back, parents of children with developmental disabilities have already been tenacious researchers of resources, discovering the best potential outcomes for their child.
The path to high school graduation and employment for children with developmental disabilities starts as early as three years old. Under the federal act that allows Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for Students With Disabilities, an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is designed for each child. The website, understood.org, will show you how to seek special education services for your child.
An IEP team gathers annually, and sometimes more often, to consider the child’s personal needs and strengths, as well as school curriculum and structure. The team assesses how the student will participate in educational milestones, and the most conducive classroom environment, said Zelphine Smith-Dixon, state director for Special Education Services and Supports with the Georgia Dept of Education.
“Although it’s called an IEP, it’s really about the right services and support for that particular child,” Smith-Dixon said. “Federal guidance requires the roles that are represented. So, the [IEP] team is the parent, a regular education teacher, someone with a grade level curriculum, a special education teacher, and someone who can commit [financial] resources for the district and say, ‘Yes, we can do that.’ ”
With an IEP, students can be in a setting with typical students or solely with classmates who have developmental disabilities.
IEPs are required from age three to 21. At age 22, FAPE is no longer required. However, some school districts can decide if they want to continue to provide FAPE for the balance of the school year after the student reaches 22, Smith-Dixon said.
Parent support can be essential in navigating IEP programs for your child, explains Anne Ladd, a family engagement specialist for the Georgia Parent Mentor Partnership, which helps improve outcomes for students.
“As a family engagement initiative,” Ladd said, “we want to empower and educate families to play a role in decision-making in school and in the community. Regardless of how much knowledge you have when you sit at that IEP meeting, everything changes when it’s your own child.”
Mentors are parents of children with disabilities. They are employed by the Department of Education and work in participating school districts to bring sensitivity to administrators and educators from the perspective of students and their families. This is particularly helpful during district discussions and stakeholder meetings, Ladd said.
“In the beginning of the year, parent mentors can come in to explain to teacher groups why a parent might be angry or under stress,” Ladd said. “Sometimes people are overwhelmed and there is a reason they are behaving badly.”
Mentors also help parents establish positive, lasting communication with teachers. Family engagement is the key to best outcomes for children, according to the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth. Improved confidence, reading and math skills, graduation rates and more successful employment occurred when there was a continuous flow of communication between parents and teachers.
Mentors are matched with families through Parent to Parent, an entity of Georgia’s Parent Training Information Center. They assist parents setting goals and success towards grade levels and graduation, communicate with teachers, keep track of student progress in class, and provide supportive activities.
A Parent’s Journey
Every family has its own set of circumstances that brings complexity to their intended plans, and Jess Goldberg’s clan is no different.
Her sons each have disabilities that require careful thought. Goldberg’s 12-year-old son is on the autism spectrum and will be a student at a middle school in Gwinnett.
Her 11-year-old has an IEP but has not yet been diagnosed with a disability. He completed elementary school last spring and will attend a private school for children with disabilities in the fall.
Goldberg says her younger son has always been an engaged and happy child, but she had a heightened awareness of his subtle behavior as a result of her older son’s diagnosis. A county evaluation of the younger son at age two showed he was not exactly where he needed to be.
“There was this X factor,” Goldberg recalled. “He was struggling emotionally and also with focus and executive functioning.
I think they eventually gave him an IEP just on my persistence. The team would consult with his teachers. Every year things got a little more challenging for him.”
Goldberg and her husband have college goals for their boys and are already contemplating what dormitory life would look like. The Gwinnett mom is a fierce protector of her sons, but also a realist with their educational needs.
“The IEP meeting is very formal and a legally binding document,” Goldberg said. “It’s intense and can be intimidating. I try to go in with an open mind and know I am there for one reason – to make sure my kid is getting everything he needs to be successful. It’s a big negotiation. But I have found there are a lot of wonderful resources in Gwinnett.”
From Goldberg’s perspective, each person on the IEP team, which she meets with a few times a year, has his or her own objective, and some will inevitably conflict. Her greatest concern, beyond grades, is whether her boys understand the tasks that help them manage daily life.
In lower grades, her older son was in an autism level three program that required substantial support. He progressed to level four by sixth grade and has been able to attend classes with students without disabilities. The classes allowed for support staff, if necessary, to escort her son out of the classroom for a brief change of atmosphere.
However, the Goldbergs accomplished this by transferring their son to another public school district for the sixth grade only. He returns to his home district this year.
“Our district didn’t offer that [service],” Goldberg said. “I’ve always wanted him in a general education setting as early as he could handle it. He has had some co-classes with general education and special education teachers.
He doesn’t want to be known as a kid with autism. He wants to play basketball in middle school and be known as the tall kid who loves basketball. And then, he wants to go to Norcross High School.”
Goldberg has accessed many community resources, such as Parent to Parent, to find the right answers for her sons’ educational paths.
Among them, the Blonder Family Department for Special Needs at the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta supports families with IEP recommendations, public school resources and parent networking.
“We work with DeKalb County,” said director Jennifer Lieb. “But some parents choose private school, and we help them navigate that.”
A significant part of Blonder also guides parents seeking an early diagnosis of a disability for their infant or toddler.
“Until you are in a place of needing support, you are not going to look for those services,” Lieb said. “Parents might see that their children are not reaching certain milestones, and they get nervous. We help guide them to what steps they can take if they need support.”
Such resources include Babies Can’t Wait, a program with the Georgia Department of Public Health, where professionals assess a child’s present level of development from birth to age three. If a child is eligible, Babies Can’t Wait will connect families with community resources and develop a service plan that includes desired goals for the child.
With supportive resources, from Pre-K through secondary education, children with developmental disabilities can graduate from high school feeling independent and empowered with fulfilling employment.
Project SEARCH has been especially successful in its high school-to-work transition program for children with developmental disabilities. Students who have finished high school credits but have not completed their IEP, work as interns at Project SEARCH sites, such as hospitals.
Project SEARCH interns at North Fulton Hospital
Internships can last up to 10 weeks. Part of the goal is to become permanently employed, said Bonnie Seery, the Project SEARCH coordinator for Georgia. “Usually, there are specific jobs that students want or are interested in. With the internships, they can see what their own talents are,” she said.
Will Crain of Gainesville worked three 10-week hospital rotations through Project SEARCH. He worked in the mailroom, helped mud walls, paint and more. “Will is one of those kids who wants to work,” his father Scott said. “He is so excited about the possibilities.”
After working a Project SEARCH position in the cafeteria at Lanier College and Career Academy, Will secured permanent employment.
“He is a joy,” his supervisor Kellie Hoffman said. “I love coming in and knowing he will be there. I just love him. He makes my day better. He is just an awesome person.”
Hoffman gives Will a list of duties each day such as sorting, clearing and cleaning that he works through expeditiously, she said. “He would try to beat his time every day. First it took about an hour. Now, it’s down to 23 minutes.”
Project SEARCH was started in Cincinnati Children’s Medical Center in 1996. The goal was to hire and train people with developmental disabilities to fill entry-level positions in the emergency department.
Georgia has been successful in placing interns at each of its nine sites, mostly hospitals including Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Emory University Hospital Midtown Atlanta. Total Systems Services, a credit card service company in Columbus, GA, also serves as a site.
“Some of what I see – and it still gives me goosebumps – is [interns] come in apprehensive and scared, and by the middle of the year, you just see their confidence change dramatically,” Seery said. “Students know their way around the entire hospital [Archbold Medical Center in Thomasville, GA]. They speak to everyone and know them by name. It’s such growth.”
Interns organize files, order supplies, greet and escort patients to waiting areas, clean spaces and more.
College and Career Goal Planning
As early as age 14, parents can contact the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency (GVRA) to start planning for their child’s college life or professional career.
“We start working with children with disabilities early,” said Robin Folsom, GVRA director of communications and marketing. “We work with people of all disabilities and believe everyone who wants to work should have a right to work. It’s our job to make that happen.”
Counselors guide children in identifying goals for college or careers, then coordinate with schools to establish a plan of support. Every plan is individualized with varying details such as training or devices to assist in hearing or seeing.
Other helpful resources for services and supports are the Georgia Department of Labor or Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities.
Some local colleges and universities offer higher education for students with disabilities, who would not meet typical enrollment requirements, through the Georgia Inclusive Postsecondary Education Consortium (GAIPSEC). The consortium is located at the Center for Leadership in Disability (CLD) at Georgia State University (GSU).
In 2015, the CLD within the School of Public Health at GSU received a $2.5 million, five-year grant for the consortium’s Inclusive Postsecondary Education (IPSE) Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities. The university has been meeting quarterly with state agencies and other stakeholders since 2012, said Susanna Miller-Raines, coordinator of the consortium and grant.
“There is a leadership team,” said Miller-Raines. “Members are interested stakeholders who want to be part of this movement. We have trainings for parents, school districts, colleges and universities to help them learn to prepare students for postsecondary education.”
The growing list of participants includes Kennesaw State University’s Academy for Inclusive Learning and Social Growth. In this two-year program, students audit courses and study to earn a Certificate of Social Growth and Development.
Admission requirements for Kennesaw State’s non-accredited programs include a third-grade reading level, basic math abilities and skills sets that are cultivated through successful, goal-oriented IEPs.
In East Georgia State College’s CHOICE Program for Inclusive Learning, students audit academic classes on a schedule that is tailored for them. They have opportunities for job shadowing and internships.
Like Kennesaw State, students at East Georgia receive a certificate upon completion of the program. “Inclusive college programs prepare [students] for adult life,” Miller-Raines said.
Though the journey of a child from birth to adulthood can seem daunting for any parent, there is support for children with disabilities the entire way. Babies Can’t Wait, IEPs, vocational rehabilitation and postsecondary education are some of the major guideposts.
“I tell parents, always remember teachers and administrators want the best for your child,” Goldberg says. “Also find a network of parents for support. Find your tribe, your village, through your church, synagogue or social media. That’s how you learn about options.”
Back to School – Roadmap to Success*
- Elementary School: Guidance should be given to parents to look toward the future and desired outcomes.
- Entry to Middle School: Share and discuss transition information.
- Middle School: Begin transition portfolio with references, descriptions of acquired skills, work/experience and assessments.
- High School
- Discuss whether the student will work during school and the potential impact.
- Initial transition planning meeting Referral to appropriate agency
- Update transition portfolio with references, descriptions of acquired skills, work/experience and assessments.
- Guidance should be given for career development activities.
- Annual transition meeting
- Discuss student development and need for independent living skills.
- Determine what is necessary for successful graduation with regular education diploma.
- Recommendations of IEP team for career evaluation, graduation date, employment, independent living.
- Age 18: Register to vote. Males register for Draft.
- Last Year in HS: Transition year - choose Employment option or Post-secondary education option.
*Download the roadmap graphic here.
To read more in Making a Difference magazine, see below:
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.
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."
There is a rich history behind the power of voting and why people with disabilities are important to the political conversation. Landmark legislation such as the 1990 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the 1999 Olmstead Decision were prominent achievements in the disability rights movement. Voting is one way all citizens, with or without disabilities, can have their voices heard. The right to vote, when exercised, is a powerful tool that makes great progress in how our counties, cities, states and nation operate. As a voter, being well-equipped with voting histories, background information and a candidate's stance on issues that are important to you is not just about casting a ballot. It's a form of political involvement and advocacy.
The lives of people with disabilities have dramatically improved since the passage of laws like ADA, IDEA and more. Moreso, the right to vote has been protected through the progress and implementation of new accessibility standards, assistive technologies and continued advocacy for disability rights.
According to the US Census Bureau, 10 to 20% of eligible voters with disabilities are left out of the voting process, whether due to accessibility issues or finding informational sources. By being a part of the community as a whole, your voice is an important one.
To bridge this gap, there are limitless resources available for voters with and without disabilities. At the US Election Assistance Commission (EAC) website, www.eac.gov, voters can find out basic, yet important information on early voting, absentee ballots, local polling places and voter registration. In addition, Georgia's Office of the Secretary of State (SOS), www.sos.ga.gov or 404.656.2871, provides resources for contacting county boards of registrars and election offices. The website also provides a personalized My Voter Page that allows visitors to see information such as voter registration status, poll locations and sample ballots.
As a voter, gathering accurate information about how candidates stand on issues that are important to you can be overwhelming. Adelaide Kimball, senior advisor at Project Vote Smart, highlights the importance of being ready to vote. "Through Vote Smart, people can find out information such as backgrounds, previous experience, voting records and even ratings by special interest groups on a certain candidate," she said. "Our national database manages information on over 40,000 political candidates and includes voting history for state and federal officials."
Project Vote Smart, www.votesmart.org, is an independent, national organization that is focused on helping people become informed voters. In addition to the Project Vote Smart website, there is a toll-free number (1-800-VOTESMART) for those who may not be able to access the Internet for information. With the help of hundreds of volunteers, "we will be on the phone with you and guide you through the information you need to find out about the candidates in your elections," Kimball explained. "In the end, it is about giving voters the power
of information to make a well-informed decision in the voting booth."
Other resources for candidate information include the SOS' website, www.sos.ga.gov, each candidate's respective campaign websites or local and national newspapers. Candidate voting records are also available at www.congress.gov or www.legis.ga.gov that lists how candidates who are currently in office have voted on certain issues.
Next year, the country will celebrate the passage of the ADA that established paths for equal opportunities for people with disabilities. Accessibility to polling places and the right to vote are protected under the ADA. Along with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), these critical pieces of federal legislation leveled the playing field for people with disabilities through ongoing advocacy. Passed in 2002, HAVA requires every polling place to have at least one accessible voting machine and to "provide the same opportunity for access and participation... as other voters." The legislation also established the EAC, a bipartisan group to provide guidance in meeting HAVA requirements.
In 2011, EAC launched the Accessible Voting Technology Initiative (AVTI) to make voting technology and processes more accessible for people with disabilities. To further this goal, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) began work on technology advancements to make ballots more accessible for people with disabilities through an AVTI grant. "We worked on touch screen technology for ballots that would help voters who are blind or visually impaired," said David Castro, senior analyst at ITIF who spearheaded this project. This new touch screen voting technology is now found in all of Georgia's polling places, which are equipped with other assistive voting devices such as audio and magnified ballots.
Furthermore, in 2010, Title II of the ADA was passed declaring that states and local governments could not deny persons with disabilities "equal participation in, or the benefits of their services, programs and activities," which includes voting.
To comply with these new provisions, proper access must be provided for people with disabilities to voting booths to assure their right to vote. In addition, fully accessible polling places are to be equipped with poll workers trained to take care of the needs of all voters. Voting is also easier for those with and without disabilities through simple new measures such as Absentee or Early/Advance Voting. "These measures are creating disproportionately higher turnout among voters than those states that do not have these options available," said Castro.
Jared Thomas, spokesperson for the Office of the SOS agreed. "We do everything we can to work with local counties to make sure that polling places are accessible for everyone," he said. "We encourage people to call their local county election office regarding resources available on Election Day. If something is missing, it's important to speak up!"
As the disability rights movement continues its progress, it becomes important to carry the torch that has paved the way for so much advancement for people with disabilities. As we head to the voting booth on November 4, it becomes an opportunity to not just vote, but to advocate for people with and without disabilities.
Making a Difference asked the Republican and Democrat gubernatorial and Senate candidates their insight on issues important to our readers. Read what they have to say here and remember to cast your vote on November 4, 2014.
By Jennifer Bosk
The Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) has made integrated employment of individuals with disabilities a top goal in its Five Year Plan.
That’s why State Representative Sheila Jones (D-District 53) saw first-hand how Matthew Roush, an operations analyst at SunTrust, has been so impactful to his team. The visit was part of GCDD’s third annual Take Your Legislator to Work Day (TYLTWD), which kicked off during October’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM).
TYLTWD is an opportunity for employees with disabilities in Georgia to invite their legislator(s) to visit them at work. The goal is to show the far-reaching benefits to employers, employees and communities alike of hiring people with disabilities and create opportunities to form and nurture relationships with their elected officials.
Through a partnership program between Briggs & Associates and Atlanta Public Schools, Matthew Roush interned in several different departments at SunTrust. He is now a permanent employee with benefits. The SunTrust team learned what Roush needs to be successful; accommodated his visual impairment by providing double monitors with large text that enable him to work as efficiently as possible; and supports his growth as a person and an employee.
Rep. Sheila Jones (D-District 53) visited Matthew Roush at SunTrust Bank in Atlanta where he works as an operations analyst.His job as an operations analyst includes data entry, document scanning and monitoring quality control while using assistive technology to help with his visual impairment. Roush also has a hearing impairment and an intellectual disability.
Through TYLTWD, Rep. Jones met Roush, visited his workplace and spoke to him about his job duties and great coworkers.
“I was so thrilled when I received the invitation to participate in this special day. I enjoyed the time I spent at work with Matthew. It was great to see him at his desk working on a computer and using the scanner without assistance. It showed me that with job training, people with disabilities can perform their job just like everyone else. Matthew’s work is necessary and needed at the company where he is working,” said Rep. Jones.
In Peachtree Corners, GA, Jack Prettyman welcomed State Representative Scott Hilton (R-District 95) to his place of work, Wesleyan School, to advocate and show the work he does as a member of the facilities and ground crew.
Prettyman, 23, who is diagnosed with Down syndrome, works weekdays from 8 AM to noon and is one of the busiest people on Wesleyan’s campus. He walks nearly 15,000 steps a day crossing the grounds while he handles recycling, sweeping mats, mopping the gym floor, setting up cafeteria tables and dusting benches.
He also took Rep. Hilton on a full campus tour, pointing out sites at the private school as well as his job duties.
“It was awesome to see the critical role Jack plays in Wesleyan’s operations. Jack is a valuable member of the team,” Rep. Hilton said. “I loved the positive impact he has on everyone around him from students, faculty and administration. It was great to see the joy Jack experienced in his work environment – the work is really important to him.
“I am proud of Wesleyan School for seeing opportunities to employ those with disabilities.”
The Council is working to strengthen meaningful employment opportunities that include a livable wage with career advancement; strengthen financial inclusion and asset development efforts for individuals with developmental disabilities; and educate businesses about the diverse workforce.
State Senator Elena Parent (D-District 42) agrees. “I’d like to see more businesses recognize that hiring individuals with disabilities is a win-win. My biggest takeaway was that jobs for people with disabilities are vital. The business gets a dedicated employee and the employee gets self-confidence and a sense of purpose.”
Sen. Parent spent TYLTWD with Christine Sass at Taziki’s Mediterranean Café located in Decatur. Sass, 26, is diagnosed with autism and cerebral palsy.
“Christine is doing great work for Taziki’s. She knows her duties and moves through them efficiently. The job also gives her the ability to practice her interpersonal skills and to be part of a team,” Parent explained.
“I prepare the dining room for opening,” Sass said, which includes tasks such as putting down chairs, wiping down tables, rolling and placing silverware, bagging cookies, setting up the drink machine and sweeping the floor.
To Sass, the best part of her job is getting paid and adds the greatest thing about the company she works for is that her colleagues are friendly.
Through her experience and opportunity, Sass wants people to know that, “People with disabilities want to work; but, it is important to find the right job.”
The Legislative Impact
While building these meaningful relationships are important and benefit both the employer and employee, TYLTWD allows elected officials to understand the positive impact of publicly funded employment supports when they see people with disabilities in action.
Rep. Hilton, who participated for the first time in TYLTWD, shared that he “would love to see the Georgia legislature find ways to incentivize the private sector to encourage the hiring of individuals with disabilities.”Hannah Hibben was visited by Rep. Dale Rutledge (R-District 109) at the Great American Cookie Company in McDonough
Georgia has begun focusing more on employment for people with disabilities. While a handful of organizations are working on finding employment for individuals with developmental disabilities, the work needed to make Employment First happen in Georgia continues to need a strong advocate push – engaging with both the community and legislators about employment issues.
Employment First is an approach to promote the full inclusion of individuals with varying degrees of abilities in the workplace and in the community. Currently 32 states have an official Employment First policy (based on legislation, policy directives, etc.).
While Georgia has Employment First efforts and initiatives underway, no official policy has been created just yet to make integrated employment the preferred service option.
Sen. Parent also explained that the legislature needs to make progress in eliminating the backlog of people waiting for Medicaid waivers, which can enable more people to take advantage of employment.
In 2014, the Home and Community Based Settings (HCBS) Rule, passed down from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, focused entirely on community living and inclusion. The HCBS waivers work to make sure individuals are given full access to the greater community – including opportunities for competitive and integrated employment, a community life conducive to all abilities, control over their own finances and the same services anyone receives.
The passage of the HCBS Rule in 2014, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act are all shoring up support for Employment First practices in Georgia by building a strong foundation for integrated and inclusive communities.
“Passing legislation that has more impact on corporations hiring people with disabilities is a way the legislature can show their support. The legislature can be invited to discussions to find out ways it can be more involved in Take Your Legislator to Work Day, as well as other programs involving working with people with disabilities,” said Rep. Jones, after her visit with Roush.
When the question of why Elizabeth Cicerchia wanted to work in early child care came up during State Senator Michael “Doc” Rhett’s (D-District 33) TYLTWD visit, Cicerchia shared that some of the jobs she held previously were simply “just jobs.”
But she knows the work she does at Kids R Kids of West Oak in Marietta is what she wants to do as her career. Cicerchia, 35, is diagnosed with Down syndrome.
When seeing all Cicerchia does on the job, Sen. Rhett said the statement “yes, I can too” comes to mind.
“As a retired educator, I worked with children with disabilities from pre-K through high school. We helped them develop life skills in each grade with the goal of preparing them for gainful employment, just like any other student, upon graduation. The collaboration between the school system, community and business interests is a vital link towards helping anyone contribute in a positive manner to our society,” Sen. Rhett said.
Advocating for Employment
GCDD believes visiting an employee at work is the best way to show legislators that people with disabilities want to work and are as capable as anyone at working in real jobs for real wages.
The legislators shared how TYLTWD showed them the win-win results of employees with disabilities and the employers who hire them including the positive impact it makes on all communities.
“People with disabilities who are willing to work should be given a chance to show that they can and will do the job. I believe it is important for people without disabilities to have an opportunity to see up close people with disabilities doing and enjoying their job,” said Rep. Jones.
To keep the momentum and encourage more community members to advocate for employment for people with disabilities, GCDD will hold its Employment First Advocacy Day during the 2018 legislative session on January 31, 2018.
“Wanting to pursue a career is never a courageous act, regardless of whether the job seeker happens to have a disability or not. We all need help and support in some form or another to do our best, but that human truth doesn’t negate anyone’s potentially amazing contribution to an employer,” said Julie Hicks, the career specialist from Briggs & Associates who coaches Cicerchia.
GCDD thanks all of the employees and employers who participated in Take Your Legislator to Work Day. The Council also recognizes and thanks all of the Georgia legislators who took time to attend and learn about employment options for people with disabilities in their communities.
- Hannah Hibben – visited by Rep. Dale Rutledge at the Great American Cookie Company in McDonough
- Emily Shaw – visited by Rep. Clay Cox at disABILITY LINK in Tucker
- Austin Pahr – visited by Rep. Jason Ridley and Sen. Chuck Payne at Nob North Golf Course in Cohutta
- Christine Sass – visited by Sen. Elena Parent at Taziki’s in Decatur
- Bayley Bristow – visited by Sen. Fran Millar at The Elaine Clark Center in Chamblee
- Jack Prettyman – visited by Rep. Scott Hilton at the Wesleyan School in Peachtree Corners
- Elizabeth Terzich – visited by Sen. Mike Dugan at the Carroll County Animal Hospital in Carrollton
- Patrick James Barlow – visited by Sen. Steve Henson at the Park Springs Retirement Community in Stone Mountain
- Matthew Roush – visited by Rep. Sheila Jones at SunTrust Bank in Atlanta
- Mikel Miller – visited by Rep. J. Collins at the Ingles in Villa Rica
- Tyler Blanton – visited by Rep. Steve Tarvin at Unique Fabricating in LaFayette (Visit http://newschannel9.com/news/local/take-your-legislature-towork-day-provides-unique-opportunities to access WTVC Channel 9 ABC news) (This link is no longer active.)
- Katrina Parsons visited by Rep. Beth Beskin at disABILITY LINK in Tucker
- Elizabeth Cicerchia – visited by Sen. Michael “Doc” Rhett at the Kids R Kids Pre-School in Marietta
- Project SEARCH Interns Reuben Stephen, Nick Brundidge, Rayshun Grant, Rashaan Davis, Darrius Elias, Tionna Evans, Sam Thomas and Deshunte Banks – visited by Rep. Carolyn Hugley at TSYS in Columbus
- Project SEARCH Interns: Te’Airra Simpson, Zitavia Freeman, Kemma Paulk, Jimmy Lee Holliman and Iesha Curtis – visited by Rep. Dominic LaRiccia at the Coffee Regional Medical Center in Douglas
- Michelle Phoenix – visited by Rep. Mickey Stephens at Rise Biscuits & Donuts in Savannah
- Project SEARCH Interns and Graduates: Brian Odom, Marnell McGill, Arthur Arnold, Herman Curry, Derrick Edwards and Gary Ceasar – visited by Rep. Darlene Taylor at Archbold Medical Center in Thomasville
To read more in Making a Difference magazine, see below:
People work for many reasons. For some, it provides a sense of self or meaning in one's life; for others it is the social context of meeting and associating with others in a common effort or goal; and for still others, it is the means by which to gain status, either personal or economic, which allows for choice and discretion in determining one's "life quality." These are the words with which we open our website, www.employmentfirstgeorgia.org, and they are core beliefs behind the idea of Employment First.
Employment First is the idea that employment in the general workforce is the first and preferred outcome for working age citizens with disabilities. Under an Employment First policy, publicly funded services for citizens with disabilities emphasize integrated employment in the community at or above minimum wage as the primary option. The reality is that virtually everyone with a disability is able to work with support in the right situation. Employment First is not "Employment Only" – it doesn't take away choice or mandate that people must go to work. Rather, a true Employment First culture seeks to identify the gifts, talents and goals of all working age citizens with disabilities, and to support each individual in a career path that fits those gifts, talents and goals.
That may not be an easy path, but it is a worthwhile one. Just ask Angelica Summey, who is proud to be an employee at Shaw Industries in Dalton, GA. Today, you can find Summey in her cubicle, speaking with customers about orders and shipping. But a few years ago, her career path was far from clear. As a high schooler, she learned valuable skills through GCDD's Project SEARCH internship program at Hamilton Medical Center, but none of the hospital rotations Summey experienced were the right fit for her. So, she tried a job in retail, but quickly discovered that wasn't her path either: "There were too many distractions," she said.
A second internship rotation connected Summey with Shaw Industries. And when Summey got the chance to work in the inventory department, she and her support team realized that the focused environment was a match for her goal-oriented style. Outside of work, Summey's employment at Shaw has helped her fulfill another type of goal – purchasing her own car – and she's planning to move into her own partment with a friend. When asked how her job makes her feel, Summey simply says, "I can stand on my own two feet."
Across town, Avery Koenemann takes a philosophical approach. As a full-time employee on the food services staff of Hamilton Medical Center, Koenemann appreciates that he is part of a team supporting patients and families during some of the most difficult times of their lives. He explains, "I know I'm helping someone to heal. It's those small things that make a big impact. One person going the extra mile shows that they care about that person. Patients really don't want to be here, so I try to go that extra mile."
Dollars and Sense
According to the well-respected survey of individuals with disabilities, the National Core Indicators, the majority of Georgians with developmental disabilities want to work in their communities like Summey and Koenemann, but only 14% of them do. One of the major
challenges lies in Georgia's current funding system. Under the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD), providers can be reimbursed up to $10,500 for supporting a person at a job in the community, but they can get more – up to $17,500 annually – for supporting a person in a sheltered workshop. Sheltered workshops typically employ people with disabilities to do repetitive work at or below minimum wage.
Financially speaking, that incentive is perfectly backwards. In fact, Georgia taxpayers should get a positive return on dollars invested when individuals with disabilities work in the community, not sheltered workshops. Researcher Robert Cimera, PhD, conducts policy research in the hopes of increasing the number of people with disabilities working in the community while lowering the cost of their services to taxpayers. Cimera looked at the cost effectiveness of employment services provided by vocational rehabilitation agencies across all 50 states to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In Georgia, he found that taxpayers reaped $1.61 in benefits for every $1 put into supporting individuals with disabilities to work in their communities.
And not only is our funding incentive backwards. With the waiting list for the New Options Waiver and Comprehensive Supports Waiver programs hovering around 7,000 individuals, many Georgians who want to work aren't getting the support they need to do so. In
a recent Unlock the Waiting Lists! survey that reached hundreds of Georgians in the disability community, jobs, jobs and more jobs came up over and over again. Not surprisingly, the greatest identified needs for people with disabilities were more and better quality services and supports and more employment opportunities.
As one parent put it, "Once a student has graduated from high school there are no guarantees on what services will be available. They need services and support just as a student with no disabilities is given. Please unlock the waiting list. A parent like myself will be forced to quit my job in order to provide my child with support. I need my job."
This is a concern that we at GCDD hear time and time again as we connect with people across the State – people need supports, and they want jobs. This is an especially critical need for students who are finishing high school. They want to work, but with no employment supports readily available and transportation a major challenge, today's promising young students become tomorrow's couch kids.
So if people want real jobs and it makes good financial sense to support them in those jobs, what are we waiting for? The time is ripe to make Employment First the reality in Georgia.
Envisioning an Employment First Georgia
What will a Georgia in which employment is truly first look and feel like? It starts with two things – a presumption of competence and an agreement of principle. We know that all individuals with disabilities have valuable gifts to contribute.
Under Employment First, we presume both as a disability community and as a greater society that virtually everyone can work in the right situation with the right supports. For Employment First to truly work, we cannot start making exceptions and drawing lines. We can't say, "Janie can work, but Peter can't." If someone is marked "unemployable" and everyone around them starts treating them as such – and worse yet, if they start believing it themselves – there's no room for growth in an environment like that. But the reality is we don't know how to fully measure human potential. And if we prioritize Employment First and commit to its principles, potential has the nourishment to take root and bloom.
In an Employment First Georgia, all children, regardless of their level of disability, will be encouraged to dream, to explore and prepare for their careers. Parents and teachers will have quality tools with which to support their sons, daughters and students – tools like student-led Individualized Education Programs (IEP) and self-determination curriculum. Internships will happen early and often, and preparation for life after high school will be well underway by ninth grade. It's not enough to finish high school. High school is supposed to lead to something – a job, access to higher education and ultimately a career. The level of expectation will be raised and supported across the board.
The career and work options supported by our system will be readily available, varied and flexible. Most of the Georgians currently accessing employment supports receive supported employment because it is the service most widely available. But supported employment, which involves supporting an individual in an existing job, is only one path to integrated employment. There is customized employment, which is the creation of a job for a specific individual based on their talents and an unmet need in the business community.
Customized employment is generally preceded by job discovery taking a more holistic, in-depth look at a person than a traditional vocational evaluation. There is also self-employment, in which a person utilizes a talent or skill to support their own enterprise. Employment situations evolve and grow throughout a person's lifetime, and a good Employment First system recognizes this truth and is designed accordingly. There has to be room for creativity, flexibility and individuality.
For an adult receiving segregated employment or day services – or not receiving day services at all –Employment First is about education and choice. Adults in these situations will get the opportunity to learn about integrated employment, and those who are interested will get the support they need to explore employment.
For Employment First to thrive, we have to get smarter and more creative about transportation. Especially in areas without well-developed public transportation systems, people need a way to get to work. Going back to creativity and flexibility –we could build a transportation budget as needed into each individual's employment services. We could create employment by providing would-be drivers with accessible vehicles, and then giving them the freedom to design their own routes around the needs of the community with extra incentives for transporting others to and from work. There are worlds of advantage to be gained from shared transportation, and with some innovation surely we can harness that spirit to get Georgians with disabilities where they need to go.
For all of this to happen, we need to make a serious ongoing commitment to provider training and capacity building. Something we hear from folks in various regions across the State is that they would like to work but can't find a provider to support them. And something
we hear from many providers is that they're interested in offering employment services but aren't sure how. As we shift Georgia to a State in which employment is truly the first option, providers need quality, ongoing hands-on training.
From a policy standpoint, making this vision a reality entails several key changes. Employment policies and procedures need to work together across all the key agencies – the DBHDD, the Department of Education, Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency, and the state Medicaid agency, Department of Community Health. Funding needs to incentivize integrated employment and reward positive employment outcomes. Agencies need to engage in data sharing, braided funding, joint strategic planning and a shared commitment to Employment First.
Which brings us back where we started – the need to presume competence and agree on principle that Employment First is where we want to and must go.
Ultimately, Employment First is about the value of people and the value of work, the value of work in peoples' lives, and all the good things that can happen when a person is learning and growing in a career path that's right for them. Those of us who are blessed to have that kind of job know the unique feeling of satisfaction that comes from a hard day's work or the completion of a successful project – and the deep fulfillment that comes from the chance to serve and connect with others through our work.
Paula Clark, longtime employee at the Rehabilitation Center of South Georgia, sums it up: "It's about the people. I just love it."
D'ARCY ROBB is the former public policy director for Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities.
By D'Arcy Robb
She needs to work on appropriate workplace social skills."
"He needs substantial training before paid employment
can be considered."
"It is highly unlikely that she will ever hold a job."
"He is unemployable."
All too often, individuals with disabilities find attention focused on their perceived deficits instead of their strengths. Particularly when it comes to the world of work, that approach is self-defeating and backwards. How many people do you know start their job search by making a list of tasks they struggle with and activities that they hate to do? Yet for many individuals with disabilities, a traditional job evaluation can feel like exactly that. In such an environment, it's no wonder that some employers, parents and people with disabilities struggle to envision each individual with a disability as a fulfilled, valuable member of the workforce.
Job discovery is a way out of that tired old loop of "can't, can't, can't" by providing a fresh and exciting way to see people build their careers. Job discovery starts with a relationship between a job developer and a job seeker. The team gets to know one another as the job developer spends time with the individual and the people who are most important in his or her life by having both casual conversations and targeted interviews. They both interact in a variety of environments, and participate in activities that are both familiar and unfamiliar to the job seeker. The last thing a job developer does is to review files or paperwork about the job seeker.
Why is that the last step? Because the job developer doesn't want to be influenced by the perceptions (and misperceptions and negative outlook) of others about the individual. If the job developer wants to check on any possible issues, he or she can call the job seeker's referral source and simply say, "Is there anything I should know?"
The idea behind job discovery is to get to know and appreciate a person – to see them in their most beautiful light. Once the job developer truly sees the job seeker, it's time to write the profile.
A profile accurately and positively describes the job seeker, and translates the essence of who that person is into the ways he or she could contribute to the world of employment. "Accurately and positively" means that everything in the profile is true, absent of judgment and written to focus on possibilities. A profile will not say, "He slowly made his way across the room, hugging every person he saw. He does not have workplace social skills and can't appropriately interact with co-workers." A profile will say, "He crossed the thirty-foot room in two minutes and twelve seconds, hugging ten people as he went. Adam hugs people the first time he sees them each day. He will benefit from an environment where he interacts with a limited number of co-workers."
A profile focuses on a job seeker's interests, contributions and conditions. Interests, of course, are the topics and pursuits that naturally attract a person, often indicated by the things they do with no prompting. Contributions are the ways in which a job seeker can contribute to a work environment, including tasks that the job developer reasonably expects the job seeker could be taught to do. And conditions are the circumstances that must be met in order for the job seeker to succeed. A condition could refer to a physical accommodation, the need for a particular type of schedule or just about anything a person needs in order to make a job work for them. And of course, we all have interests, contributions and conditions – these elements are not unique to the discovery process, although they provide an excellent way of fleshing them out.
The best way for a job developer to know if he or she "got it right" in the profile is to have the job seeker review it. Asking the job seeker to be the profile reviewer shows that the relationship between the job developer and the job seeker should not be hierarchical, or characterized by one person trying to "help" another. Discovery works best when it is done between equals – a job seeker and a job developer going on an exciting journey together.
Once the profile is ready, it's time to find and negotiate the job. That is the goal of discovery – to lead to employment after the writing of the profile. The job developer reviews a list of potential employers, asking to meet with them to discuss possibilities for this particular job seeker. When a job developer meets with employers, he or she is looking to build a relationship while identifying unmet needs.
Every business and every community has needs that are unmet. As a job developer, they identify those unmet needs, figure out a match between the need and a job seeker and negotiate a job based upon that. A customized job should be a win-win situation that benefits both the job seeker and the employer. The amount of job coaching and subsequent support will depend on the needs of each individual.
Not every discovery process leads to a traditional employer. Self-employment and resource ownership are two hugely promising avenues of employment for people with disabilities that I will be covering in future columns. Nor is discovery only for people with disabilities. Anyone who needs a non-traditional entrance to the workforce can benefit from discovery, including persons with mental illness or individuals transitioning off welfare benefits.
As a friend of mine who is struggling in her job recently said, "Anyone could benefit from this!"
D'Arcy Robb is the co-coordinator of Employment First Georgia.
I was fortunate enough to attend the annual Marc Gold & Associates Discovery retreat last fall in Ocean Springs, MS, and owe a tremendous thanks to Norciva Shumpert, Michael Callahan and my fellow participants for so generously sharing of their knowledge. I highly recommend the MG&A materials to anyone interested in learning more about Discovery: http://www.marcgold.com
For information on Employment First Georgia, visit www.employmentfirstgeorgia.org
The mood was somber as we stood in the dark outside the NAACP offices in Columbus, GA. On that cold winter evening on January 27, 2015, nearly 150 advocates for people with disabilities, NAACP leadership and concerned community members listened as Dorinda Tatum, organizing director of Georgians For Alternatives to the Death Penalty and Community Builder for GCDD’s Real Communities Initiative shared the news: all avenues of appeal were denied and Warren Lee Hill was to be executed that evening.
In turn, I addressed the large crowd, which was stunned into silence, save for soft weeping by some. Choking back tears, I shared that I had been one of the “experts” who had evaluated Hill. I had reviewed piles of evaluations and records and after my review, I concluded that Hill was a person with an intellectual disability.
I was not the only person who evaluated Hill. A parade of experts and doctors offered their conclusions to the court, including new statements by three doctors who had examined him in 2000. Subsequent reviews in 2013 used improved scientific testing methodologies to change their initial reports. In the end, six doctors, including those hired by the prosecution, reviewed the facts of the case and ultimately agreed: Warren Lee Hill was a person with an intellectual disability.
Georgia law and a 2002 US Supreme Court decision of Atkins v. Virginia, prohibit the execution of people who have intellectual disabilities. There we were, in 2015, huddling together, candles lit, waiting as Hill’s execution was being carried out.
I told the crowd that had Hill been in any other state in the nation, we would likely not be standing here, awaiting word of his death. We would not be here, holding vigil. It comes down to the level of proof required to prove that a person has an intellectual disability.
Georgia has the toughest standard in the nation for proving intellectual disability. It requires capital defendants to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they are intellectually disabled in order to avoid execution on those grounds.
Hill’s lawyers argued Georgia’s standard is unconstitutional because mental diagnoses are subject to a degree of uncertainty that is virtually impossible to overcome. How many more experts would have to agree before that burden were achieved?
I am not new to reviewing an individual in a determination of disability process. I wrote one of the first evaluations of L.C. in the Olmstead decision. I evaluated people with intellectual disabilities in nursing homes to help them qualify for community-based services. This was not my first evaluation; I know the score.
For over 25 years, I have worked in Georgia supporting people with disabilities when the justice system has become a juggernaut that has run them over. People with disabilities risk exploitation, longer sentences, lack of supports and violence within this system.
Research has shown these poor outcomes tie to people not knowing their rights, not understanding the process, being unwilling to disclose disabilities because it makes them a target in jail/prison. In the justice system, there is a lack of understanding of disability issues by law enforcement, prosecutors, public defenders, judges and jail staff.
Although there are training efforts to help different sectors of the justice system understand the vulnerability of people with intellectual disabilities, they are woefully unfunded/under-resourced.
After Hill was put to death and in the days following his execution, I found myself driving and having to pull to the side of the road to weep. I am haunted by this singular truth: Even with all the hard work by his legal team, those expert reports and across the board agreement about his intellectual disability... we had not been able to save Warren Lee Hill.
The night of the vigil I asked people to remember him and that even though the work is hard, there are people counting on us to step up and do the hard work, to change those things that are unjust. When people are alone and caught in a wheel of hard times and injustice, we must be courageous and turn towards them instead of away from them. We need to join together and ask legislators to change the law, change the burden of proof requirement to be in line with other states. We need to collaborate with other groups who are interested in criminal justice issues, knowing that we do not need to agree on everything, but that there is common ground where we can create change together.
On January 27, I stood alongside scores of advocates for people with disabilities, with prayers by Reverend Bill Gaventa, being led in song by the leadership of NAACP Columbus Chapter President Tonya Ganza and Past President Edward Dubose. That night, there was an important spark of connection. My heart was heavy, but in that moment, it became a place for us to move forward together.
LESA NITCY HOPE, PhD, LMSW, QDDP has worked for the past 25 years on supporting people with disabilities and their families through advocacy, education, family support and social services programs. Her areas of interest are looking at the resilience and many gifts that people with disabilities possess, even as they are disproportionately impacted by poverty, isolation, poor educational supports, victimization and challenging interactions with the justice system. She has worked as an expert witness and evaluator on disability-related issues in a number of criminal and civil cases.
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, 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:
In America, the phrase "Civil Rights" evokes powerful emotion, conjuring up visions of the 1960s, of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and of students at lunch counters and university doors.
These were the disability community's models for civil rights advocacy. This year, we celebrate landmark anniversaries of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Brown v. Board of Education and Olmstead v. LC. These legal landmarks, together, show that disability rights are an essential part of the civil rights movement and that separate is not equal – for any group of people.
In Georgia, the home of the Olmstead decision, the State and the Department of Justice are concluding the fourth year of a multi-year Agreement to transform the state's service system for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental health disabilities. We are working together to fulfill the promise of these legal landmarks for citizens with disabilities.
The Olmstead case has rightly been called the Brown v. Board of Education of the disability rights movement. Olmstead marked the first time the Supreme Court formally recognized that unjustified segregation of people with disabilities is discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Court recognized that unwarranted "confinement in an institution severely diminishes the everyday life activities of individuals, including family relations, social contacts, work options, economic independence, educational advancement and cultural enrichment."
At the Department of Justice, we believe the ability to be part of your community is the right from which all other rights flow.
Since 2009, the Department of Justice has participated in approximately 44 Olmstead matters in 24 states. Georgia is one of eight states to reach Olmstead settlements with the Department that are directly affecting over 46,000 people with intellectual, developmental, mental health and physical disabilities. Nothing in the ADA or the integration mandate is limited to residential settings. Olmstead points to a variety of everyday life activities that are harmed by unnecessary segregation. The Department has expanded its Olmstead work to look beyond just where people live to examine how people live. Simply moving someone from an institution to a community-based residence does not achieve community integration if that person is still denied meaningful integrated ways to spend their days and is denied the opportunity to do what we all do – work in the community.
Olmstead means that people with disabilities have a right to receive services in the most integrated setting appropriate for them. Our settlements don't focus on closing institutions (although to date, 17 states across the nation have closed all of their large state-run ICFs). Our settlements focus on making sure quality services are available in people's communities – so people have viable options to receive services without submitting to unnecessary segregation.
Our Olmstead work depends on the work of local advocates – people with disabilities, parents, service providers, advocates and others – who let their policymakers know they want to live in their communities – who let us know where this civil right is being systemically violated – and who support people as they make their way into the community. Policymakers on every level of government have become partners in the transformation of systems that for too long perpetuated unnecessary institutionalization.
For so long people with disabilities have been marginalized and discounted, and assumed to be incapable of contributing meaningfully. Public and private services were designed within this mindset. Those attitudes have shifted, and people are telling us how their lives have changed for the better as a result. But much work remains. We have no illusions about the significance of the challenges ahead. But we will make progress, working together, toward fully enforcing the civil rights of all of our citizens.
by Eve Hill
Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice.
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.
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.
I want to begin this article with a confession: I broke my neck in 1973 at the age of 27. This is the same age that Janice Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison committed suicide. Their suicides have nothing to do with the rest of the article except for the fact that I wanted to get
your attention and the number 27. Another confession: because of that number 27, I am a D (disability), not a DD (developmental disability). I actually didn't realize that when I was lying in bed in the Bronx Veterans Affairs Hospital. Nor did it come up when I became active in advocacy in Houston, TX with the Texas Paralyzed Veterans and the Coalition for Barrier Free Living. It actually never came up when I became active in the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities nor when I was on the board of the American Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities.
When I was hired as coordinator of Handicapped Student Services at the University of Houston, they never mentioned it during my job interview. When I got involved with ADAPT (originally Americans Disabled for Accessible Public Transit) in 1984, neither ADAPT's founder Wade Blank, its national organizer Mike Auberger, nor renowned community organizer Shel Trapp ever asked the "D" or "DD" question.
When I first got arrested for civil disobedience in Washington, DC blocking an inaccessible bus, the arresting police officer never asked the question. I first became aware of the distinction between D and DD was when I served on the board of the National Association of Protection and Advocacy Systems (NAPAS), which is now the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN). I learned about the definition of "developmental disability." It was first introduced in 1970 for certain disabilities acquired before age 18, and then further expanded in 1975 in the Developmentally Disabled Assistance and Bill of Rights Act (DD Act) which raised the age of onset to 22 and switched from a list of specific conditions to a more functional approach. I learned the acronyms of DD; P&A (protection and advocacy); PAIMI (protection and advocacy for individuals with mental illness); and PAIR (protection and advocacy for individual rights).
I found out that not only did the DD Act create the P&A groups, but also State Councils on Developmental Disabilities and University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Education, Research and Service. It is quite an impressive structure. It struck me sitting at these NAPAS board meetings that although it was a well thought out structure, why did it focus only on people with the label of DD? It seemed to contradict the cross-disability philosophy that fueled the independent living movement and the disability rights movement as a whole. It also seemed to contradict a slogan self- advocates used: LABEL JARS, NOT PEOPLE!
I had participated in the protests to implement the rules of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which put into law the definition of "person with a disability" that includes people with the label of DD. Why the separation? This definition was the basis for the current definition in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
I then realized that this separation was bureaucratically designed in 1979 when the Department of Health, Education and Welfare split into two agencies: Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Education (DOE). The Administration on Developmental Disabilities was created at HHS and Independent Living (IL) went to the Rehabilitation Services Administration at DOE. These were decisions made by the advocates at the time. The ADA will be celebrating its 25th anniversary next year. Community integration, the philosophical foundation of the ADA, is something everyone in the disability community can agree on.
Though our rhetoric is of cross- disability, the reality is we are an extremely fragmented community, that has built our service delivery models for long-term services and supports (LTSS), based not on our functional needs, but on an arbitrary age of onset and governmental disability definitions. There is no debate on the fact that all people with disabilities don't need the same package of services.
Our community is not a fondue all melted together; we are more like a tossed salad made up distinct vegetables (no offense intended). However if you need an attendant to get out of bed, it doesn't matter if you were born with your disability, acquired it before age 22 or broke your neck at 50. If you need assistance with financial management or other decision- making tasks, does it really matter that you had a brain injury at 30, a stroke at 60 or were born with those needs?
If you have an "Intellectual Disability," why is it the government only recognizes it if you had it before age 22? How do mental health needs get integrated into the LTSS system?
We have built systems that have their own cultures. We speak different languages defining the same things. We have different program names, different packages of services, similar services with different names, different rates for workers doing the same tasks, different providers, different bureaucratic agencies, etc. It is not an easy discussion. There are many interest groups that have a stake in keeping the status quo. It is also a political minefield that we hate to traverse. I personally think we avoid this open discussion at our own peril.
Medicaid, the largest funder of LTSS, will be going through reforms over the next five to 10 years that none of us can predict. Medicaid managed care is growing. Whether we support or oppose it, we can't escape the reality that even some of the most progressive governors in the country are implementing Medicaid managed care. Congress seems unable to address difficult issues so it appears change, if it is to occur, must bubble up from the state level.
A start might be an Administration on People with Significant Disabilities within the Administration on Community Living. Another thought is to change the age of onset in the DD Act to under 60. As we celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the ADA let's not miss the opportunity to debate how our services and supports system can better align with the community integration philosophy of the ADA.
BOB KAFKA is a disability rights activist and co-founder of ADAPT of Texas. Through his work with ADAPT, Kafka helped shepherd the WE WILL RIDE victory for lifts on buses and the 1990 Americans with Disabilities
Act. ADAPT fights to release people from nursing homes and other institutions and works for more accessible communities including transportation, housing, public accommodations and governmental buildings and programs.
By Dave Zilles
Individuals with disabilities want to live and have the same rights as those without a disability. The Americans with Disabilities Act defines an individual with a disability as "a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such impairment." In reality, all of us might eventually have a disability. Everyone wants to be safe and healthy, have a place to live and have family and friends as well as a meaningful day, which could include employment or activities in the community.
In Georgia, according to the recently released 2014 Annual Disability Statistics Compendium, the total population of Georgia is 9,800,887 with 12.4% (1,211,831) having a disability. They define a disability as having a difficulty with; hearing, cognitive, ambulatory, self-care and/or independent living. Many of these individuals are living by themselves and receiving daily care (if needed) by a family member or friends. Many older adults are taking care of their children with disabilities as they themselves age and are not able to provide the support.
What is the answer if you are no longer able to get the services and supports you need to live a normal and healthy life? One alternative that is available is to enter institutions like a nursing home for your 24-hour care. The preferred choice of many is to continue to live in their own home and receive the necessary services and supports they need based on their individual person-centered care plans in the home.
In order to receive these services in your own home, you need to pay for them from your financial resources or be on Medicaid and request to receive a Home and Community-Based Waiver. These waivers provide a variety of services that include case management, personal care support for activities of daily living, residential settings, day services and supported employment.
Georgia currently offers five waivers for the Elderly and Disabled, people with developmental disabilities and the significant physical disabilities, which include those with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). There are currently 39,660 individuals being served by these waivers with 9,145 on a waiting list.
Home and Community-Based Services
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released their final rule on Home and Community-Based Service (HCBS) Settings on January 10, 2014, which was passed down as an official mandate in March.
This rule strengthens the requirements for personal autonomy, community integration and choice in home and community-based services funded through Medicaid. It makes clear that the requirements apply to both residential and non-residential settings and sets specific and more stringent rules for provider-owned or controlled residential settings. It requires an independent assessment of individual needs and strengths and a person-centered planning process to ensure that individuals receive the services they need in a manner they prefer.
The final rule creates a single definition of a home and community-based setting for Medicaid waivers. The rule describes home and community-based settings by being more integrated in the greater community and focused on the individual's choosing.
To continue advocating for a more integrated community and ensure the best quality of life for people with disabilities, the new rule also determined what a setting is not.
For provider-owned or controlled residential settings, the rule states the following additional requirements (that can only be modified using a process described below):
• Units or rooms must be a specific physical place, the kind that could be owned or rented in a typical landlord-tenant agreement
• Individuals have privacy in their living or sleeping units, meaning that
- Units have lockable doors and entrances, with only appropriate staff having keys to doors
- Individuals who share rooms have a choice of roommate in that setting
- Individuals can furnish and decorate their own units within the limits of the lease or agreement
• Individuals control their own schedules, including access to food at any time
• Individuals can have visitors at any time
• The setting is physically accessible to the individual
The rule states that the following are never home and community-based settings:
• Nursing facilities
• Institutions for mental diseases
• Intermediate care facilities for people with intellectual disabilities
Why Is This Important? Why Should We Care?
As parents or self-advocates we need to understand what these new rules mean for our loved ones. This new rule is all about choice with a focus on what the individual needs and how they want to live their lives in the most integrated community setting.
For the first time, Georgia is seriously looking at all the current HCBS services and making an assessment of the current providers to see if they meet the objectives of the new rule. We want to see the best for our children – as parents, not just as caregivers or advocates. By moving the settings to be more people-centered, we can see our children succeed by contributing their talents in a more integrated community.
What can I do?
Our voices need to be heard. We represent almost 40,000 individuals receiving services as well as the 9,000 on the Medicaid Waiver Waiting Lists. Get involved: tell your story to your legislator. If you think your loved one is experiencing a service or support that does not meet these rules, let us know at .
There will be more updates in the future and you should look to GCDD (www.GCDD.org) and Unlock the Waiting Lists! (www.UnlockTheWaitingLists.com) to keep you informed.
Dave Zilles is a parent advocate and a public policy consultant for Unlock the Waiting Lists!
The arts are an excellent way for communities and individuals to express their voices through painting, photography, dance, music and more. For some, the arts are also a channel of outreach, engagement and even advocacy.
Such is the case for dancers of Full Radius, an inclusive dance company based in Atlanta that was formed in 1998. The founder, Douglas Scott, was already using dance to work with incarcerated people, senior citizens, people with disabilities and more. "These were bodies that didn't look like mine, but they were equally capable," said Scott.
At the same time, the Shepherd Center in Atlanta and VSA Arts of Georgia were planning to organize similar classes in the State and invited Scott to take part in a teacher training. Scott progressed to begin teaching dance classes and then he received an invitation from the band Van Gogh. The band, fronted by two brothers with disabilities, wanted a choreographed dance routine for a concert. As a result, Full Radius was created.
The dance company, now in its 16th year, has been an avenue for dancers with and without disabilities to use art to showcase talent as well as to send a message and break barriers. "This is about pushing ourselves, pushing our physicality that is beyond what we think we are capable of," added Scott. "It definitely blows people away."
Lindy Dannelly, who lives with sacroiliac joint disorder, officially joined Full Radius in 2011 after a one-year apprenticeship. "When I felt that feeling, the way the body does when it's dancing, I was hooked," said Dannelly. Dannelly also writes for the dance blog "Blend, Move, Sway."
Full Radius is making waves as an integrated dance company that is known for its physicality and its unwavering look at people with disabilities. Shawn Evangelista immersed himself into Full Radius and its mission and he has gained an important awareness. "When I am not in the studio and just doing my day-to-day things, I have suddenly become consciously aware of accessibility," shares Evangelista. "It's one of the best things I have learned while being at Full Radius."
It is that awareness that VSA Arts of Georgia wants to expand through the integration of arts for people with and without disabilities. "Art is art," said Director Elizabeth Labbe-Webb. "And our mission is to make all art available for all people all the time." As a wheelchair user, she encourages people with disabilities to become patrons and consults with art venues that want to be more accessible and open.
Currently, VSA Arts of Georgia is housed with the Mason Murer Fine Art Gallery in Atlanta – a step towards integrating mainstream arts with the disability community.
"There is a teaching level that is important when it comes to integrating with the arts," she added. "For example, we help galleries and other venues understand what to expect if a group of people with disabilities attends an exhibit or the center." The purpose, she says, is to build a wholesome community around the arts. The organization also works with emerging artists by helping them professionally, identifying their best venues and introducing them to galleries and art shows to further their careers. "We want our artists to be contributing members of society." said Labbe-Webb. "Art is about finding a way to include everyone."
"We have seen people around the artists such as friends and family discourage them because the arts are too often thought of as out of the norm or as a scary venture," she said. On the contrary, VSA Arts pushes its artists and those around them to go beyond the comfort zone and become self-sufficient monetarily and spiritually. It is also a psychological turning point as it allows the artists to build confidence and self-esteem.
Jonathan Gross, from Dahlonega, is finding his turning point and moving toward self-sufficiency through photography. His newly found form of expression is now a possible career and also an avenue for his family to better connect with him. Photography became Gross' vehicle of communication. When the 13-year-old with Down syndrome was diagnosed with verbal apraxia, his mom felt as if his world was shrinking. Ultimately, he found his focus and voice through a unique educational tool, the Thousand Words Project, which uses artwork as a form of communication. His mother, Pam Gross said, "Isn't that what every parent wants for his or her child – a promising future?" (Read Pam Gross' Perspective on page 20.)
Gross was one of many who participated in ConnectAbility's Thousand Words Gala held in Dahlonega on May 10, which showcased photography produced by teams of mentors and mentees. Each team developed their photography skills and displayed their work
in a silent auction. ConnectAbility, a Dahlonega-based nonprofit, began in 2010 when Jacqueline Daniel wanted to find a way to encourage, enrich and empower children and adults with disabilities, families, caregivers and communities. The organization engages its participants in recreational activities, sports and photography.
"This is the second year we've done the Thousand Words Project and it met with great success," said Daniel. "The purpose is to introduce people to photography and also create a conversation between people with and without disabilities." Leading up to the gala, three workshops were held to teach the basics of photography and in the end, 10 photographs were auctioned. What resulted at the end of the workshops were not only everlasting friendships, but "we found that people with disabilities had so much to say and they did it through photography," added Daniel. "Once he learned this new tool, Jonathan's whole world opened up."
Lois Curtis, the plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case Olmstead versus LC has been an artist for as long as she remembers.
"My art been around a long time; I came along when my art came along. Drawing pretty pictures is a way to meet God in the world like it is," she said. Lee Sanders, one of Curtis' supports, added, "She does not judge her work and draws without struggle or doubt, each line sure and unbroken. She never uses an eraser. After eight years sitting by Lois's side as she draws, I'm still amazed."
In addition to painting, dance and photography, the arts include music.
A professional jazz singer, Myrna Clayton realized there was something missing – a voice that hadn't been represented. When she surveyed her audience, people could mention Stevie Wonder or Ray Charles when it came to singers with disabilities, but what about artists in today's music industry? Who was the voice of the many who feel unrepresented?
"No one could name a singer, so I knew I had to do something about it," said Clayton.
She launched the nonprofit Abel2 in 2010 to provide programming for people with and without disabilities through music and the performing arts. The goal is to educate audiences to become agents of change in their communities. Performances by Abel2, such as the Holiday Hands in Motion at the Georgia Aquarium, allow people who are deaf and hard of hearing to experience holiday music through expressive sign language and syncopated lighting.
"Everyone is able," said Clayton, "It is about creating opportunities to let people enjoy the same things we all do. We have to break barriers." Her passion for music and launch of Abel2 sparked her advocacy for accessible staging. "We see a lot of theaters making the seating area accessible, but what about the stage?" she asked. "There is no ramp to the stages and that is where we need to see more people with disabilities."
Like Labbe-Webb, Clayton shares the sentiment to use art as a way to allow people with disabilities to engage in the broader community and push comfort zones for themselves and those around them. "Many times, people with disabilities are encouraged to sit back and not get involved and that unexpectedly creates barriers," said Clayton. "We need to bring these individuals into the spotlight because like everyone they have gifts that are important and should be shared."
Clayton established the Voices Embodied Ensemble (VEE), an inclusive group of musicians and singers who rehearse twice monthly at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta.
VEE vocalist Rusty Taylor is also an accomplished singer with the Columbus Jazz Society who has recorded an album titled Southern Standard Time. As a person who lives with quadriplegia, Taylor likes the idea of using the arts to create a more integrated community. Clayton is recruiting singers to join VEE and hopes to take the ensemble to the 2016 Paralympics in Brazil. "It would be just the best thing to see these singers from all different backgrounds come together for a common purpose and express themselves through this art form."
Whether it's photography, painting, dance or music, the arts offer opportunities for all people, with and without disabilities to express and enjoy.
Abel2 is looking for singers! To audition for VEE, visit www.abel2.org
For more information on Full Radius Dance, visit www.fullradiusdance.org
Thousand Words Project will be on display in September at the Bowen Center for the Arts in Dawsonville.
2015 Georgia Winter Institute: A Celebration of Community
Save the date for the 2015 Georgia Winter Institute (GWI) on January 25-28, 2015 at the Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, GA. The event will bring people together from Georgia and beyond to discover how to infuse values-based, person- centered philosophies into our community building efforts.
"The main focus of the 2015 event is person-centered planning and community building," said Stacey Ramirez, director of Individual and Family Supports at the Center for Leadership in Disability (CLD) at Georgia State University. GWI will explore topics including, but not limited to Employment/Financial Independence, Community Building, Futures Planning, Inclusive Faith Communities and Health and Wellness.
The attendees will also hear keynote speeches from "The Roving Listener" De'Amon Harges, who will focus on going into the community and making the "invisible visible;" William Gaventa, former director of Community and Congregational Supports at the Elizabeth M. Boggs Center on Developmental Disabilities at Rutgers University who will speak about employment and inclusive faith-based communities; and Tom Kohler, co-author of Waddie Welcome and The Beloved Community, who will speak about community building.
"We want people to come together, embrace new ideas and implement them back into the communities they serve," said Ryan Johnson, community support specialist at CLD. The mission of the Georgia Winter Institute is to connect people with and without disabilities to work together to nurture and use gifts to strengthen community bonds.
For more information on the 2015 Georgia Winter Institute, visit georgiawinterinstitute.weebly.com.
DBHDD Adds Two New Leaders
Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) announced two new leaders in the Division of Developmental Disabilities. Dan Howell will serve as the director of the division and Frank Kirkland will be the assistant
director. DBHDD provides opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities or behavioral health challenges close to their homes, so they can live a life of independence and recovery and create a sustainable, self-sufficient and resilient life in their community.
Making a Difference's Summer 2014 issue covered the opening of the new National Center for Civil and Human Rights Center in Downtown Atlanta. At the closing of the article, the link to the Center was provided as www.ncchr.org. The correct link to National Center for
Civil and Human Rights Center's website is www.civilandhumanrights.org
by Adrianne Murchison
Deborah Hibben had a task at the start of every school year when her daughter Hannah was growing up. She had a conversation with teachers to share what Hannah, who is diagnosed with Down syndrome, responds to, as well as her personality and needs.
I would give teachers a one-page fact sheet on what Down syndrome is,” Deborah said. “I would tell them Deborah Hibben had a task at the start of every school year when her daughter Hannah was growing up. She had a conversation with teachers to share what Hannah, who is diagnosed with Down syndrome, responds to, as well as her personality and needs. ‘These are some of the things she likes,’ and try to get a [willingness] from everyone to be inclusive at the beginning of the year. Inclusion benefits all students.”
She also encouraged parents to call her if their child was uncomfortable or had a problem with Hannah.
Hannah, now 23, had many friends and activities growing up, and thrived as a result, her mother said. She went to roller skating birthday parties and even played football in the Faith, Hope and Love Flag Football league for children with disabilities.
“She started as a cheerleader and became a player and is credited with being the first female football player in that league in Henry County,” said Deborah, a McDonough resident.
Hannah became so close with two high school girlfriends in a church youth group that she decided to stay in high school until age 19 and graduate with them. This was despite having completed her academic requirements a year earlier. As a student with disabilities, Hannah could’ve stayed in school until age 22.
By the time of her graduation from Ola High School in 2015, Hannah also had a reunion with two friends who were classmates in elementary school that she had lost touch with when her family moved away.
“It was like they had never been apart,” her mother recalled.
Deborah and parents like her have said that it’s often when children with developmental disabilities are separated from typical classroom settings that incorrect assumptions are made about their abilities.
Aarti Sahgal, of Sandy Springs, found a variety of activities for her son Angad, 18, after transferring him to a private school for children with disabilities. “I had to work extra hard to make sure he could meet kids without disabilities,” Aarti said.
Angad Sahgal is proud to be a member of the Sandy Springs Police Explorers youth programAngad, who is diagnosed with Down syndrome, has a black belt in karate, plays soccer and takes weekly swimming lessons, as well as horseback riding lessons at Heaven’s Gate Therapeutic Riding.
“He attended regular soccer camp with kids without disabilities,” Aarti said. “He was the slowest [on the team], but that’s okay. Coaches, teachers and the other kids encouraged him.”
Through music therapy at the Georgia Center for Music, Angad has learned to coordinate his hands and legs while playing the drums, a favorite instrument of his.
“The music therapist has helped him to remember the words of songs,” Aarti said. “He is starting to believe that he is a singer.”
Angad has wanted to be a police officer since he was nine years old and recently joined the Sandy Springs Police Explorers youth program. In learning about local law enforcement, explorers from ages 14-21 develop skills in teamwork, interview witnesses and suspects, learn about officer safety and even Georgia criminal laws.
“They have been so welcoming,” Aarti said. “He does all of the activities.”
For the July Fourth holiday, Angad was scheduled to help officers direct traffic for the evening fireworks event.
Aarti enjoys that her son is like every other teenager. “He doesn’t want to be seen with me anymore,” she laughed. “He will walk in front of me or behind me. I know he is a typical teenager, but like any other parent, I can’t say that I have it all figured out.”
She has help. Aarti’s 24-year-old son lives in New York City, but his hometown friends have watched Angad grow up and treat him as their own little brother by taking him out to dinner, the movies and sporting events.
“They are a huge support for him,” Aarti said. “He loves talking. He is fond of people and animals. It all gives Angad so much confidence.”
Hannah Hibben (second from left) with co-workers outside her newest place of employment
For Hannah, transitioning from high school to adulthood was a challenge, early on. A postsecondary academy was intended to teach her life skills. However, an administrator advised Deborah that Hannah was not employable.
The determined mother set out on her own to find employment for Hannah. A yogurt shop and Great American Cookie Co. hired Hannah immediately, and she recently started a new position with a computer recycling company.
“She loves seeing co-workers every day,” said Deborah. “Her employers are really great about social outings and include Hannah.”
Hannah’s camaraderie with co-workers is helping to improve her communication skills.
“Every positive experience she has improves it,” Hibben said. “From school to church and social activities to relationships at the workplace. One of the ways it shows itself is her behavior is more mature. Most of her co-workers are adults. I can see that she is grasping what it is to be an adult.”
To read more in Making a Difference magazine, see below:
Making a Difference asked the Republican and Democrat gubernatorial and Senate candidates their insight on issues important to our readers. Read what they have to say and remember to cast your vote on November 4, 2014.
1. What ways would your administration enhance the resources available to people with disabilities in terms of employment, Medicaid expansion or waivers?
2. The unemployment rate is high for people with disabilities. How do you hope to address employment for people with disabilities?
3. One out of five or 20% of all Americans have some type of disability as an occurrence of birth, injury or longevity and most people are likely to have a loved one, neighbor or co-worker with a disability. Have you had personal ties to someone with a disability or the disability community? How does that affect your stand on policies?
MICHELLE NUNN (D)
We must strive as a State and nation to empower all citizens and that starts with igniting economic opportunities and job growth, managing healthcare effectively, and providing accessible educational opportunities.All Georgians need access to affordable healthcare that meets their needs and that's why it's important that we expand Medicaid. Georgia's Medicaid waiver program provides individuals with disabilities necessary support so they can live independently. We need to protect and broaden the accessibility of educational programs for
those across the spectrum of developmental disability. Policy makers must continue to maintain and build upon the provisions of IDEA so that all individuals with disabilities can have the right to an equality of opportunity to be independent and achieve economic self-sufficiency.
My hero and family friend Rafa San Miguel lost his hearing as an infant. He is a scientist at The Coca-Cola Company and the father of three boys. He is a Boy Scout leader, church leader, inventor, and in his spare time he teaches low-income kids about science with eye-popping experiments. He and his wife Betsy have inspired me to understand the opportunities associated with fully tapping into the talents of people with disabilities. I think we have a tremendous opportunity as a nation to ensure that we give all people who live with disabilities the chance to live out their unique and great talents and thereby enhance our communities, grow our economy and strengthen our nation.
DAVID PERDUE (R)
I believe it is extremely important to ensure that all Georgians, especially those who are most vulnerable in our communities, have the resources and support they need to get good jobs to provide for themselves and their families. My wife Bonnie was a school teacher who helped children with disabilities and special needs. I also come from a family of educators and understand how important it is to work together to help more parents and children with special needs live happy, healthy and productive lives. As a United States Senator, I am determined to use my 40 years of business experience to help grow our economy and create more economic opportunity for everyone. Additionally, a strong vibrant economy is necessary to adequately fund our budget priorities.
Race for Governor
STATE SENATOR JASON CARTER (D)
The future I see for Georgia is one where nobody gets left out. That means that we have to do everything in our power to make sure that all people have access to opportunities to succeed. Georgia can, and must do better serving its citizens with disabilities. In the last several years, the state government has drastically cut job training, counseling and rehabilitation programs that could be helping people with disabilities get jobs and gain independence. Today, Georgians with disabilities face a higher unemployment rate and greater poverty. As governor, I will make sure that we take advantage of every resource available to serve Georgians with disabilities.
GOVERNOR NATHAN DEAL (R) INCUMBENT
Governor Deal strongly supports ongoing work by the Dept. of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD), Dept. of Community Health (DCH) and the General Assembly to make inclusive community-based living a reality for all Georgians with disabilities. Being able to live in one's own home, get a good job and be active contributors to our economy is, after all, central to the pursuit of the American Dream. That's why Governor Deal's budgets have included funding to increase access to Medicaid waiver services and supports that give Georgians with disabilities the tools they need to succeed and thrive. Governor Deal emphasized during Disability Day at the Capitol this year – on the 15th anniversary of the Olmstead decision – we're not done yet. He looks forward to continued input from the disability community, providers, employers and families as we navigate complex issues in pursuit of a common goal: afford every Georgian, regardless of disability, the opportunity to live independently and pursue a career of their choosing. Job creation is his number one priority as Governor, and supporting employment opportunities for Georgians with disabilities is a big part of that effort. Under Governor Deal's leadership, Georgia has taken important steps to expand post-secondary inclusive education to equip students with the skills needed to succeed in a job. Recently, Kennesaw State University's Academy for Inclusive Learning was bolstered with additional state funding and a new post-secondary inclusive education program at South Georgia's East Georgia State College will open its doors to new students very soon. Governor Deal has also tasked DBHDD's work group dedicated to addressing barriers to employment for Georgians with disabilities to recommend how best the State can move forward with an Employment First Initiative.
ATLANTA, GA, February 18, 2015 -- Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities’ (GCDD) Winter edition of Making a Difference quarterly news magazine focuses on advocacy by announcing the 17th annual Disability Day at the Capitol and providing an in-depth preview of what GCDD wants in the current legislative session. It also covers the new Home and Community-Based Settings Rule (HCBS) passed by Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS). The magazine continues its year-long commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with an article from guest writer Mark Johnson, the director of advocacy at the Shepherd Center and chair of the ADA Legacy Project.
2015 kicked off a new legislative session in the Georgia General Assembly, and Making a Difference highlighted GCDD’s legislative agenda advocating for people with disabilities. The focus is on Employment First, Inclusive Post-Secondary Education, The Family Care Act and Unlock the Waiting Lists! Campaign, a coalition of organizations to get more Georgians waivers for the supports and services they need.
The legislative session also brings GCDD’s signature event, Disability Day at the Capitol, to the new Liberty Plaza across the street from the Georgia State Capitol, on March 5. With notable speakers, including Governor Nathan Deal, and over 2,000 attendees, Disability Day will unite advocates in support of legislation promoting independence, inclusion, self-determination and more.
The theme of this year’s Disability Day is “Fulfilling the Promise of the ADA”, which continues the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act -- all leading up to the national celebration on July 26, 2015.
Mark Johnson announces Phase 2 of the ADA Legacy Tour, which will kick off in March. He also brings attention to the Six by ‘15 Campaign that supports advocacy for employment, community living, education, transition, healthy living and early childhood.
In keeping with the ADA commemoration, Making a Difference reached out to millennials and asked them how the ADA has impacted their lives. Charlie Miller (Atlanta), Chad Roberts (Cherokee County) and Jonathan Waters (Atlanta) all shared their stories in Perspectives.
The Department of Community Health (DCH) traveled across the State to gain input from people with disabilities, their families and caregivers about the new mandate concerning the HCBS rule that affected provider-owned and operated settings in Georgia. Making a Difference examined the new rule and how it would affect people with disabilities. “This mandate is raising the bar on quality of life and we are moving away from a ‘menu of services’ and towards a person-centered and self-directed focus,” said Marcey Alter, Deputy Medicaid Director, Aging and Special Populations, at DCH.
Riad Akhras (Eatonton), in Straight Talk, reflected on having the ability of choice. “Making real choices for people with disabilities shouldn’t be choice itself,” writes Akhras, who takes private karate classes -- an activity of his choosing.
GCDD also welcomed six new advisory council members. Parent advocates Marcia Singson (Winder), Brenda Munoz (Duluth), Pam Hunter Dempsey (Atlanta), Rickie Jodie Wren (Mabelton), Trace Haythorn (Atlanta) joined the Council along with self-advocate Eren Kyle Denberg (Atlanta).
GCDD’s next quarterly meeting will be held in Atlanta on April 16-17, 2015. All meetings are open to the public.
To read Making a Difference Winter 2015, visit http://tiny.cc/MADWinter2015
For photos of Making a Difference Winter 2015, visit http://tiny.cc/MADWinter2015Photos
For information on the 17th annual Disability Day at the Capitol, visit www.gcdd.org/2015DisabilityDay
About Making a Difference:
Making a Difference is published by the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD). Current and past issues can be accessed online at gcdd.org and hard copies can be requested by contacting the GCDD Office of Public Information.
Making a Difference is available online in accessible PDF and large print format, as well as on audio by request. www.gcdd.org/news-a-media/making-a-difference-magazine.html
About Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD):
The mission of the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) 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. www.gcdd.org
Valerie Meadows Suber, Public Information Director
Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities
404-657-2122 (office) 404-801-7873 (mobile)
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:ATLANTA, GA, April 28, 2014 -- Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities' (GCDD) spring edition of Making a Difference quarterly news magazine covers the hot topic of post-secondary transitions for young adults with disabilities, coverage of Disability Day, the history of The Olmstead Decision and much more.
On Disability Day, held on February 20, keynote speaker Governor Nathan Deal declared it as Disability Awareness Day and he laid out his goals of creating job opportunities for all Georgians. He also announced new waivers and support services for an additional 500 families through the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD). Click to tweet this!
RespectAbility USA founder Jennifer Lazlo Mizrahi, who advocates for post-secondary education and employment opportunities for people with disabilities, also spoke at Disability Day. The Emory University alumna championed for people to speak out and get their voices heard and recognized local employers such as he Georgia Aquarium, yhe Atlanta Braves and Publix Supermarkets who have all embraced hiring practices that include people with disabilities. (For photos of Disability Day, please visit http://on.fb.me/1kdkKfN)
The rally is held during the Georgia General Assembly session, which came to a close on March 20. Dawn Alford, GCDD's planning and policy development specialist, offers a recap of the session and highlights the successes which will benefit the disability community.
The magazine further explores post-secondary options in employment and education and how advocates and community leaders are working hard to provide resources for families and youth after high school. The article also highlights what parents can do to ensure their child has a successful post-secondary education opportunities in the future.
Additionally, Talley Wells, director of the Disability Integration Project at Atlanta Legal Aid Society, explains the history of The Olmstead Case, the Supreme Court case that stated that institutionalization was a form of discrimination, in part two of his four-part series for the magazine.
In Perspectives, Georgia Parent Mentor Partnership's Family Engagement Specialist Anne Ladd and Wayne County Schools' Parent Mentor April Lee offer insight on the Georgia Parent Mentor Partnership Program and the community's role in fostering success for students with and without disabilities.
Dr. Gregory Blalock, a professor at Columbus State University, delivers expertise in Expert Update on how higher education is starting to develop programs across Georgia for young adults with developmental disabilities.
Andrew Furey, an advocate, writes his personal perspective in Straight Talk about the importance of community partners recognizing the value of people with disabilities in workplaces and college classrooms.
GCDD's next quarterly meeting will be held in Atlanta on July 17-18, 2014. All meetings are open to the public.
To read Making a Difference Spring 2014, visit http://bit.ly/1rx7BRz
For photos of Making a Difference Spring 2014, visit http://on.fb.me/1kdkKfN
For photos of GCDD's Disability Day, visit http://on.fb.me/1kdkKfN
About Making a Difference:
Making a Difference is published by the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD). Current and past issues can be accessed online at gcdd.org and hard copies can be requested by contacting the GCDD Office of Public Information.
Making a Difference is available online in accessible PDF and large print format, as well as on audio by request. www.gcdd.org/news-a-media/making-a-difference-magazine.html
About Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD):
The mission of the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) 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.org
Valerie Meadows Suber, Public Information Director
Editor-in-Chief, Making a Difference magazine
Work 404.657.2122, Cell 404.226.0343
ATLANTA , GA – As the 2014 Georgia General Assembly convenes and the nation's midterm election season approaches, Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities' (GCDD) winter edition of Making a Difference quarterly news magazine outlines GCDD's legislative priorities and covers how people with disabilities are engaging in the democratic process by voting in higher numbers to gain political power.
Insight from local and national leaders, such as the Office of Disability Employment Policy's Assistant Secretary of Labor Kathy Martinez, shed light on ways to overcome and become a part of the democratic process through tips, suggestions and resources.
Additionally, during the Georgia legislative session that began on Jan. 16, GCDD is focusing and strongly advocating Unlock the Waiting Lists!, a campaign that aims to "reduce and eventually eliminate the waiting lists for home- and community-based support for Georgians with disabilities."
While the legislative session is under way, an anticipated 2,000 Georgians will convene for GCDD's 16th annual Disability Day at the Georgia State Capitol on February 20, 2014 featuring a keynote address by Governor Nathan Deal. For more information, visit www.gcdd.org/public-policy.html.
In the "Expert Update," Mark Perriello, president of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), answers questions on why it is important that Americans with disabilities engage in the political process. Perriello discusses the progress that has been made in the disability community, and why more voter turnout can mean more progress and change for the better.
Perriello's discussion on significant political engagement aligns with the guest column commemorating one of the disability community's biggest legislative victories. The landmark US Supreme Court's 1999 Olmstead Decision celebrates its 15th anniversary year with a four-part series covering the time before, during and after the Olmstead Decision and its effects on the community. The articles are written by Talley Wells, director of the Disability Integration Project at Atlanta Legal Aid Society.
This issue also features an inside look into the ASPIRE (Active Student Participation Inspires Real Engagement) program, an educational approach that is becoming popular across Georgia schools for students with disabilities. Through a grant funded by GCDD, the program is part of the student-led Individual Education Program (IEP) initiative that has students contribute content, "which allows them to become more involved and responsible for their education," says Cindy Saylor, GCDD Partnerships for Success coordinator and ASPIRE consultant.
GCDD’s next quarterly meeting will be held in Atlanta on April 17-18, 2014. All meetings are open to the public.
About Making a Difference:
Making a Difference is published by Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD). Current and past issues can be accessed online at gcdd.org and hard copies can be requested by contacting the GCDD Office of Public Information. The magazine is available online in accessible PDF and large print format, as well as on audio by request. www.gcdd.org/news-a-media/making-a-difference-magazine.html
Valerie Meadows Suber, Public Information Director
Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities
404-657-2122 (office); 404-226-0343 (mobile)
"Nothing about us without us!" This familiar slogan is used throughout the disability community and reminds us of the importance that we must speak up on issues that can impact our lives. The mission of the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities is to bring about social and policy changes that promote opportunities for Georgians with disabilities and their families. But we cannot accomplish that mission without you – those who share our vision and are willing to advocate for it to become a reality.
Recently, GCDD went on a listening tour around various locations in Georgia so that we could hear the concerns of people with disabilities and those who love them to help us shape our legislative agenda for the upcoming legislative session. At the time this issue went to print, we had visited Thomasville, Savannah, Columbus and Gainesville, Decatur and a listening tour in Dalton is scheduled for mid-October. Not only did our listening tour help us understand what issues need to be on our radar, but it helped us to connect with more individuals who care about disability issues.
In advocacy, the more voices that speak up, the greater the chance we have to influence change. GCDD maintains an advocacy network database of individuals who sign up to receive our Advocacy & Policy Alerts and are willing to mobilize by contacting their legislators about key issues.
In addition to legislative updates and calls-to-action, our advocacy network database includes subscribers to GCDD's Community News and Alerts, as well as Making a Difference magazine. We have been working to increase the number of individuals in our advocacy network database and ensure the accuracy of our records. In recent weeks, we have been emailing individuals to take a moment to review and update their contact information and subscription preferences. You may even receive a phone call from someone at GCDD to remind you to update your database profile and offer to assist you through this process if needed.
If you have not received an email invitation to update your records, please visit www.gcdd.org. Click on "Join our Advocacy Network" and follow the instructions. You will have the opportunity to select the following subscription preferences: Advocacy & Policy Alerts; Unlock the Waiting Lists! Campaign Alerts; Community News and Alerts and Making a Difference magazine. If you are specifically interested in legislative advocacy and want to receive notifications that require action by our advocates, be sure that you select the preferences to receive "Advocacy & Policy Alerts" and "Unlock the Waiting Lists! Alerts."
But, you don't have to wait to receive an action alert from GCDD to begin your advocacy. Take the time now to make appointments with your state legislators to share your concerns and personal story.
Log on to the GCDD Advocacy Network to find out who your legislators are. For an excellent resource on how to talk with your legislator, be sure to check out an archived webinar on the GCDD public policy page at www.gcdd.org/public-policy.html. Our legislative agenda will be posted there too. And don't forget to go vote on Election Day, Tuesday, November 4th. Remember your voice counts and together we can make a difference!
For more advocacy resources, please visit www.unlockthewaitinglists.com.
Preserving, celebrating and learning from Georgia’s rich disability history helps future generations understand the importance of disability rights advocacy. The Georgia Disability History Alliance (GDHA) held the Georgia Disability History Symposium: Urgency of the Moment in November 2017 at the Russell Building Special Collections Libraries in Athens, GA.
Support and service providers, advocates, UGA faculty and students, individuals with disabilities and others, including National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities’ (NACDD) CEO Donna Meltzer and Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities’ (GCDD) Executive Director Eric Jacobson, attended the half-day symposium to address the urgency of learning from the state’s disability history.Wheelchair in the exhibit at the Russell Library is an antique 3-wheel chair produced by the Gendron Wheel Company of Toledo, Ohio in the 1930s
“Georgia’s historical part in the disability rights movement has been central to informing and creating change,” said Gillian Grable, one of the GDHA’s founders.
Highlighting major events in Georgia’s disability history, Mark Johnson, director of advocacy at the Shepherd Center, touched on early ADAPT protests, the importance of the 1999 United States Supreme Court case Olmstead v. L.C. and 2017’s “No Cuts, No Caps” demonstrations to save Medicaid. Johnson showcased how past advocacy has changed public policy and the differences it has made presently.
Dr. Beth Mount, author and founder of Graphic Futures, a consulting organization, stressed the importance of personcentered planning by creating opportunities and relationships that will highlight a person’s gifts, especially in Georgia.
“Make [gifts] and capacities visible and find places where those gifts are needed,” Mount said. “Build alliances that will sustain their contributions and be the ally that brings to life what other people feel so strongly about.”
Mount explained how the urgency of seeing that potential will aid in taking on a system, which for years was a form of constraint.
Discussing the pervasive effects of social exclusion and control, John O’Brien, former citizen advocacy planner of the Georgia Advocacy Office (GAO) and author, spoke of the history of people with disabilities being pushed aside and “living on the margins.”
O’Brien reiterated the importance of investing in people and organizations who offer direct supports. He also examined how the gap that’s been created by the system can be bridged in the future by putting in place social resources and relationships for those who have been excluded or segregated.
In a panel discussion, GCDD Council members Parker Glick and Evan Nodvin, as well as Basmat Ahmed, executive director of Al-Tamyoz Community Building, a Real Communities partner, observed that younger generations are beginning to challenge notions that people historically had about people with disabilities.
“We want to empower youth,” Glick said. “Success [to us] looks like a conversation with an individual, seeing our perspective and not being an afterthought.”
GCDD, along with the Albany Advocacy Resource Center, the Center for Social Justice, Human and Civil Rights at UGA, Georgia Microboards Association and Easterseals of Southern Georgia, sponsored the symposium.
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