GCDD e-news - March 2023

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A Digital Newsletter from the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities   •   March 2023

The Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities newsletter keeps you up-to-date on the latest news, from what’s happening with public policy in Georgia to COVID-19 updates to upcoming events. 

In This Issue:

A Message from GCDD Executive Director

D'Arcy Robb

Welcome to March! As you read this newsletter, we are celebrating Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. It’s also our first edition of the quarterly newsletter for the year! 

We have had a strong start to 2023 and are only six weeks in at the time of this writing. Our most significant focus has been on the legislative session. This is always a big time of year for the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) because it's an excellent opportunity to advance policy for people with developmental disabilities and their families. 

As you read this newsletter, GCDD wrapped up its third and final Advocacy Day for 2023.

Our number one priority at the Georgia State Capitol this year has been what we summarize as Waivers and Wages. We were excited last year because we got 513 NOW/COMP (New Option Waiver Program (NOW) and Comprehensive Support Waiver Program (COMP)) Waivers, and that's been the most we have gotten for many, many years. 

This year, we have made a heavily concentrated push for another significant number of waivers to be approved, as there are currently over 7,000 people with developmental disabilities on the waitlist. Our bipartisan senate study committee recommended 2,400 new waivers this year. We've been advocating hard for that. 

We have also advocated increased wages for our Direct Support Professionals (DSPs). These people provide hands-on, day-to-day support for individuals with developmental disabilities. Right now, in the set rate that the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) is paying providers, the assumed rate that goes to DSPs is $10.63 an hour. That's not enough for anybody to live and support themselves in today's economy.

DSPs' vacancy and turnover rates are very high – understandably so.  Numerous providers have talked about losing some of their best staff, who come to them and say: "Look, I love my job. I am a caregiver. I love the people and the person I support. But I cannot sustain my life on $10.63 an hour.” 

We have partnered with providers at Service Providers Association for Developmental Disabilities (SPADD) and are pushing for a wage of $18.86 an hour. Our other legislative work is also focused on Inclusive Post Secondary Education (IPSE), both getting additional funding from the state and a bill we are very excited about. This bill, sponsored by Representative Houston Gaines, would make Inclusive Post Secondary Education students eligible for state-funded scholarships, which they currently do not qualify for in Georgia.

Senator Sally Harrell, a big champion for our community, introduced legislation Senate Bill 198, that would create the Intellectual and Developmental Disability commission. It would be a commission on reform and innovation that would really take a thoughtful look at improving the whole system. 

And finally, we are also focusing on advancing employment for Georgians with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We are working with the Georgia Women's Policy Institute, as well as a group called Cause, working to end 14(c) in Georgia, aka subminimum wage employment. We are also looking for ways to boost employment in general for people with developmental disabilities.

As we welcomed 200 advocates to the Capitol during our GCDD Advocacy Days, we found that legislators rarely get to meet our community in person. Georgia’s disability community always does a great job of showing up and having those conversations with their state representatives, especially during legislative sessions. 

We are thrilled to do the work of making the bridge and connecting and supporting the relationships between Georgia’s disability community and its legislators. Community members are an absolutely critical part of this work. Democracy works well with citizen involvement at every level. 

To me, that's the purpose of Advocacy Days and why advocacy will always be at the forefront for GCDD to remind us that Developmental Disabilities Awareness should be year-round. 

D’Arcy Robb
Executive Director, GCDD

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Public Policy for The People

Public Policy for the People provides public policy updates as it pertains to people with disabilities here in Georgia. 

This past Monday, March 6, 2023, was Crossover Day in the Georgia legislature. Crossover Day occurs every year on the 28th day of the session. It marks the halfway point – the day that bills must get through either the House or the Senate to pass this year. Crossover day is an excellent opportunity to evaluate our progress in this session and determine what we must focus on in the next few weeks.

There have been several legislative wins for Georgia’s Inclusive Post-Secondary Education (IPSE) programs. House Bill 185, authored by Representative Houston Gaines, passed the House unanimously on March 1. HB 185 creates grants for IPSE students like the existing HOPE scholarship program. These grants cover 100% of tuition costs, and the House recommendations for Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 contain nearly $1 million in funding. Georgia’s IPSE programs have also received new infrastructure funding in the FY2023 and FY2024 budgets. For FY23, the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) received a one-time addition of $100,000 to support technology infrastructure and environmental adaptations for IPSE programs. In the FY2024 budget, $200,000 was added to expand and help IPSE across the state. 

As always, our advocacy efforts have prioritized NOW/COMP waivers and Direct Support Professional (DSP) wages. In the FY2024 budget, Governor Brian Kemp’s recommendation included funds to annualize the costs of the 513 waivers added last year and add 250 new waivers. The House recommendation was just released Wednesday and includes funding for 375 waivers. Although any addition of waiver funding is positive, we believe this is inadequate to address Georgia’s waitlist of over 7,000 people. As the budget process continues in the Senate, we must keep advocating for more funding and waivers. 

Senators Sally Harrell and John Albers, who led last year’s Senate Study Committee on waivers, sponsored SB 198, creating the Georgians with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Innovation Commission. The commission would aim to address Georgia's long-standing waiver crisis with expert advice and targeted subcommittees. Although SB 198 had strong bipartisan sponsorship, it was never called for a hearing in its assigned committee, so it will not pass on its own this year. However, some of the language of SB 198 may be included in another bill, HB 520. This would allow parts of SB 198 to go into effect this year. 

In addition to targeting advocacy efforts for our legislative priorities, we monitor bills affecting people with disabilities. GCDD aims to practice the “Disability in ALL policy” by ensuring that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) have a voice in all legislation. Both the House and Senate have passed bills that we believe will benefit people with disabilities across Georgia. 

The House passed HB 122, which builds on the work of last year’s HB 1008 by making some administrative changes to Georgia’s ABLE account program. The bill aims to expand awareness of ABLE accounts and improve the resources available to users. 

Representative Alan Powell authored HB 215, which allows registered nurses and physician assistants to certify that a person has a disability to obtain accessible vehicle decals. This makes it easier for people who need these decals to get them. HB 215 passed the house on February 16. 

The Senate has addressed some key disability issues, too. They unanimously passed SB 4 - which is notable mainly because Democrats entirely sponsor it. SB 4 is the “Blind Persons’ Braille Literacy Rights and Education Act.” It aims to expand access to Braille education by requiring those blind and visually impaired students to be evaluated to determine their need for Braille and receive Braille instruction if it’s right for them. 

These bills will have to make it through both chambers by the end of the session to become law this year. However, they will still be viable next year because 2023 is the first year of Georgia’s biennial session. 

Even though it is not an election year, the legislative session has been scheduled to be short this year: it will be over by the end of the month. With so much still undecided this year, we must persevere in our advocacy efforts during the last few weeks of the session. 

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Beyond the Conversation

March is Developmental Disability Awareness Month (DDAM). Each year in March, the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (NACDD) and its partners — like the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) — work together to create a social media campaign that highlights the many ways in which people with and without disabilities come together to form strong, diverse communities. 

The campaign seeks to raise awareness about including people with developmental disabilities in all facets of community life and the barriers that people with disabilities can still face in connecting with their communities.

This year’s Developmental Disability Awareness Month’s theme is “Beyond the Conversation.” The goal is to push state representatives from conversations to action regarding issues concerning the developmental disability community. The goal is also to create awareness about intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), teach the importance of inclusion within every aspect of life, and to share the stories of individuals with disabilities to show that a fulfilling and successful life is possible. GCDD’s role is to advocate for, and support work that ensures all Georgians with IDD can have a life well-lived. 

During the month of March, we encourage you to post and share things about your life through photos, videos, and stories on social media.  We encourage you also to expand your network and reach out to your legislators, businesses, schools, local media channels, and diverse communities to spread the word. 

Similar to last year, artwork from a Washington D.C. artist was selected to use during this year’s campaign. The artist’s name is Jamila Rahimi. Feel free to use her artwork in your own branding. Share your support of the 2023 DDAM social media campaign by using the following hashtags: #DDawareness2023, #DDAM2023, #BeyondtheConvo or #BeyondtheConversation

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Sharia Stripling Wants to Speak for Herself

“Let me just talk for myself,” says Sharia Stripling.

In her ideal world, Stripling wishes everyone knew American Sign Language (ASL).

“I would go to places and appointments with my mom. My mom can hear, and I cannot. And so I would be asking her, ‘I'd love some more in-depth information.’ And, she'd give me that finger, like, hold on, hold on. But I wanted more in-depth information like everybody else had access to.

“I wouldn’t have to work through interpreters; you could just sign with me directly. That would be an ideal world for me because I could talk to you. That's what we, the deaf community, would want.”

From Fort Valley, Georgia, south of Macon, the 33-year-old started her advocacy journey in high school. She works at Apexx, an after-school program, as a dance instructor and ASL coach.

“Pageants were my platform, and that's when I started to break the barrier.” She developed a passion for dance and pageantry after reading a book in middle school by Heather Whitestone, the first deaf ballerina and Miss America 1995. In 2007, Stripling competed in her first pageant, the Miss Deaf Georgia pageant, although she did not win the competition. 

After graduating from high school in 2008, Stripling continued her education at Valdosta State University and became the first deaf graduate with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in dance and theater in 2014. She became the first deaf woman to win the Alpha Phi Alpha: Mu Omicron Miss Black and Gold 2013 and held the title Miss Deaf Georgia 2013-2015.

Her advocacy journey led her to become a part of NashInspired — a company that teaches ASL, among other diversity and inclusion programs, and was founded by Terryann Nash. Stripling partnered with Jackie Brown, a speech therapist and entrepreneur focusing on ASL. 

And now, as one of the newest self-advocates to be appointed to the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities, she wants to use her seat to raise the voice for Georgia’s deaf community. 

She wants to become an advocate for community appointments, medical appointments, and things where an interpreter is needed so the deaf community can have communication access — the same access she wanted when going to appointments with her mother. 

And for Stripling, being on the Council is a great opportunity to advocate and help people get into positions and places they need.  

“I'd love to share with the Council that I would like more programs for the deaf. There is Vocational Rehabilitation, the Georgia Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and the Georgia Association for the Deaf. Those are great programs, but we need more,” said Stripling.

GCDD also advocates for inclusive post-secondary education, a program for which Stripling wants to increase visibility.

“We didn't have that in my time in college, which could have been such a huge help. All we had was vocational rehab and a few little programs, but I'd love more access for the deaf community,” said the Valdosta State University graduate. 

She wants to incorporate more learning sessions and encourage people to take ASL to understand the language.

She adds, “We use our own language; it’s very creative. We'd love the opportunity to show and use our language worldwide. That’s the kind of access we are looking for right now.”
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Celebrate World Down Syndrome Day on March 21, 2023!
March 21 marks World Down Syndrome Day dedicated to raising awareness about Down syndrome and celebrating individuals worldwide living with the genetic condition.
Learn more here.

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