Gov. Deal Commits to Jobs, Higher Education, Community Life, Freedom from Institutions GA Legislators, RespectAbility USA Hail Opportunities, Supports for People With Disabilities
ATLANTA (February 27, 2014) – More job opportunities and employment supports for people with disabilities was the overarching message of GCDD's 16th Annual Disability Day at the Capitol on Thursday, February 20. Governor Nathan Deal pledged continued support, GCDD announced re-energized focus for Employment First initiatives, and keynote speaker Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, President and CEO of RespectAbility USA called for the necessary votes to push the ABLE Act through the U.S. Senate (Achieving a Better Life Experience Act: H.R. 647).
"Today, more than two decades after the ADA was passed, 47% of working age Americans with disabilities are outside of the workplace compared to 28% of those without disabilities," Mizrahi said. "But we are not statistics, we are human beings with power, with education, and with value. And we know that together we can make changes a reality." RespectAbility USA is a new national, non-profit, non-partisan organization with a mission to correct and prevent the current disparity of justice for people with disabilities.
Governor Deal said, "A job serves as the launching point for independence, financial stability and...my desire for people to have access to these benefits of employment certainly extends to those in our state with disabilities. To address the barriers to employment confronting people with disabilities, we have a work group in the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities looking into these issues. I am asking them to recommend how we can move forward with an Employment First Initiative in Georgia."
"It is in this way that I hope to see more individuals able to pursue their own path to a job, a career or another form of participation in community life," Deal added.
"Governor Deal has been a friend to the disability community but today, I am proud to announce that GCDD has undertaken a process that, regardless of who is governor, we'll be talking about the passage of legislation to ensure that employment is the first option for all people of the state of Georgia," Eric Jacobson, GCDD Executive Director, said.
Rep. Keisha Waites (D-Dist 60) said to the swelling crowd, "I stand with you... to increase accessibility for every individual that may be disabled throughout the state of Georgia. I want to pull out two pieces of legislation that I have been working on with many of you in the audience...that will increase accessibility to electronic textbooks for the visually impaired and... will provide increased accessibility to your capitol, as well as the legislative office buildings next door."
Other legislators who attended the Rally included Sen. John Albers (R-Dist 56), Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Dist 13), Rep. Winfred Dukes (D-Dist 154), Rep. Michele Henson (D-86), Rep. E. Culver Rusty Kidd (Ind-Dist 145), Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan (D-Dist 39), Rep. Jimmy Pruett (R-149), Rep. Carl Rogers (R-Dist 29) and Rep. Dexter Sharper (D-Dist 177). They thanked the crowd for attending the Rally and encouraged people to contact their legislators about their needs and desires.
Rep. Dempsey, said, "We all have a story, you're right. Your personal story is what you need to share with each and every person in that building behind you."
"Know that it is time to unlock the waiting list. This is your state, my state and we deserve these services. Make no mistake about it, the people on the third floor and the second floor know that you are here," Rep. Dukes said.
2,500 community leaders and disability advocates gathered near the Capitol Steps and , in a collective voice, rallied for jobs, support for post-secondary education and release from institutions for people with disabilities. Governor Deal and Jacobson each praised the expansion of Georgia's post-secondary inclusive education program sponsored by GCDD, the Academy for Inclusive Learning and Social Growth at Kennesaw State University and noted the expansion of similar programs to four campuses in Georgia with the newest one slated to open this fall at East Georgia State College.
This year's Disability Day Rally also recognized the 15th anniversary of the landmark 1999 Olmstead Decision in which the US Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional for two Georgia women with developmental disabilities, Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson, to be institutionalized against their wishes. Curtis, the sole surviving Olmstead plaintiff, was in attendance at last Thursday's Rally. In the spirit of the Olmstead Decision, the Atlanta Legal Aid Society (ALAS) and GCDD facilitated an opportunity for six individuals who have achieved freedom from institutional life to tell their stories at a dedicated StoryCorps recording booth created on-site especially for Disability Day.
Among the six storytellers was Andrew Furey, a self-advocate, artist and Eagle Scout from Lula who fought a long, frustrating battle to receive nursing supports in his home. "I didn't want to be in a nursing home; I wanted the right to stay in my own home." "I am Andrew Furey and I am Olmstead," he declared.
ALAS and GCDD presented "I Am Olmstead – Stories of Freedom" in conjunction with StoryCorps to recognize the triumph of individuals like Andrew and provide an opportunity for others in attendance to sign up to record their own stories in the future. StoryCorps partners with the Atlanta History Center and Georgia Public Broadcasting to record, preserve, and share the stories of communities in Atlanta. Selected StoryCorps recordings air weekly on National Public Radio's Morning Edition and every recording is archived in the American Folklife Center in Washington DC. The GCDD Disability Day 2014 theme, "We All Have A Story, What's Yours?" was echoed throughout the day and could be seen on the hundreds of t-shirts that covered the State Capitol grounds in a sea of blue.
Dawn Alford, GCDD's Planning and Policy Development Specialist, gave an overview of GCDD's 2014 Legislative Agenda and noted the house approved $250,000 to be used for supportive employment for 64 individuals with disabilities.
"Georgia's economic recovery and growth must include employment for citizens with disabilities. For every single dollar that a state spends on helping a person with a disability get a job, the return is anywhere from $3 to $16," Greg Schmieg, executive director of the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency (GVRA), said. "Hiring someone with a disability is not only good for business, it's good for Georgia."
Reverend Susannah Davis, pastor of Kirkwood United Church of Christ, led a prayer and a moment of silence to recognize and honor the memory of 10 Fallen Soldiers, Georgia's disability advocates recently deceased. After the rally small groups as well as groups of more than 250 from all over Georgia, adjourned to the Georgia Freight Depot for lunch, legislator visits, exhibits and other activities including banner signing, an accessible voting machine demonstration and the "I Am Olmstead – Stories of Freedom" listening station.
During this time, GCDD awarded Ralph "Robbie" Breshears from Augusta the Georgia Outstanding Self-Advocate of the Year Award - In Loving Memory of Natalie Norwood Tumlin. Disability Day at the Capitol is made possible by a host of partnering organizations and volunteers from Georgia's disability community. For a list of sponsors, visit www.GCDD.org.
GCDD, a federally funded independent state agency, works to bring about social and policy changes that promote opportunities for persons with developmental disabilities and their families to live, learn, work, play and worship in Georgia communities. A developmental disability is a chronic mental and/or physical disability that occurs before age 22 and is expected to last a lifetime. Visit www.gcdd.org for more information.
Valerie Meadows Suber, Public Information Director
Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities
404-657-2122 (office); 404-226-0343 (mobile)
www.gcdd.org2014 Disability Day Photos: http://on.fb.me/MBngkY