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A Digital Newsletter from the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities   •   December 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 updates on current issues affecting Georgians with developmental disabilities to upcoming events. 

In This Issue:

Message from GCDD Executive Director: A Year in Review

A little over a year ago, I came to the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) as its new executive director. Excited and up for the challenge, it has been a year of rebuilding. Between hiring new staff, developing new processes, and refining our team approach among staff, I feel we have accomplished so much during the year.

All US states and territories run their Councils to receive federal funding to support their organization, but operate in different ways. For example, many are non-profits while others, such as GCDD, are housed within state agencies. This causes unique challenges either way. But my previous experience with working for GCDD, and also with the Commonwealth Council on Developmental Disabilities in Kentucky helped me with these challenges during my first year as GCDD’s executive director.

Eric Jacobson, GCDD’s former executive director, oversaw the Council for just under 30 years. Having a new executive director on board was quite a change for Council staff and members. I am really appreciative and proud of them (and myself) for venturing into new territory by learning, being flexible and pivoting to new ideas and ways to do our important work in an efficient and productive way.

We had a tremendous year in terms of public policy. During a tough budget year, we were able to increase the amount of new waivers to 500 – the biggest increase during the last decade! We also gained support from Representative Houston Gaines with his sponsorship of the inclusive post-secondary education bill, HB 185. The bill was passed and funding for it was included in the state budget. We also had three Advocacy Days that were a rip-roaring success through great participation and engagement. In particular, Representative Sharon Cooper stepped up to support Council’s advocacy to end sheltered workshops.

One of the biggest challenges for me during the year was to focus on organizational development. I really think that to be truly effective, we have to have a team approach. It sounds trite or even cliche, but when done thoughtfully, it improves the organization as a whole. It helps us to operate with a team mentality to help each other out, be flexible, and know more about how the organization works. It increases informed decision-making through collaboration.

When I came on as executive director, there was already a vacancy for the deputy director, and then shortly after there became an opening for a public policy director. And during the year, we lost our Office Manager/Membership Coordinator, with the passing of our longtime teammate Kim Person. In August, we welcomed Harry Nelson as our deputy director and Charlotte Densmore as our public policy director. And within the next few months, we anticipate welcoming our new Office Manager/Membership Coordinator.

My focus for the upcoming year is to continue building collaborations with other organizations in order to make us a more transparent, healthy organization. We need to keep refining, growing and building our operations and how we work together as a team.

All this will make us stronger in achieving GCDD’s overall mission to bring about social and policy changes that promote opportunities for the wide spectrum of diverse people/persons with developmental disabilities and their families to live, learn, work, play and worship in their communities.

Wishing you all a safe and happy holiday season!

D’Arcy Robb
Executive Director, GCDD

Public Policy for the People

By Charlie Miller
GCDD Legislative Advocacy Director

Hello Advocates!

The cooler temperatures are here, we are in the holiday season and the 2024 Legislative session is right around the corner. That’s right, Georgia’s General Assembly is getting ready to convene at Georgia’s state capitol. Your locally elected state Senators and state Representatives will come to Atlanta to the state capitol to create new laws and pass the state budget. In this article, we will go over what will be brought up during the legislative session and how you can get involved in the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) Legislative Advocacy Days.

Georgia’s Legislative Session always begins the second week of January and lasts forty legislative days. This is also the second year of the state biennial, where any bills that did not come up for a vote last session still have a chance to be passed by the legislature this year. After this year, any bills that did not pass will have to be reintroduced and would have to start the legislative process all over.

The ending of the legislative session last year was an interesting one. The General Assembly left many bills on the Cutting room floor that we were watching, but we have high hopes that bills will pass this coming session.

One of the bills we are watching is Senate Bill 4. You may remember us reporting on this bill during the last legislative session. This bill would require students who are blind or visually impaired and are going through public education to have the opportunity to receive individualized Braille instruction. This will increase the opportunity for students with visual impairments to succeed and receive the right support.

GCDD Legislative Advocacy Days 2024

We are also excited to be introducing our upcoming GCDD Legislative Advocacy Days. This past fall, our public policy team sent out a legislative survey to help us understand what topics the disability community in Georgia wants to advocate about. Hundreds of Georgians throughout the state responded and we heard you loud and clear. The top issues Georgians want to advocate on include Inclusive Post Secondary Education (IPSE), Direct Support Professionals (DSPs), Home and Community Based Services (HCBS), and ending subminimum wage in Georgia. Each of these topics are vitally important to the disability community in Georgia.

Advocacy Days is the opportunity for GCDD, self-advocates, and our Developmental Disability (DD) Network partners across Georgia to go to the Georgia State Capitol during the legislative session and advocate on topics that are important to the disability community. Mark your calendar for the following Legislative Advocacy Days dates for the 2024 legislative session. Here are details and what our "asks" will be during our annual GCDD Legislative Advocacy Days.

Note: Please be aware that the GCDD Legislative Advocacy Days dates are subject to change. Stay tuned for more details about how to get involved with the GCDD Legislative Advocacy Days by visiting www.gcdd.org!

Inclusive Post Secondary (IPSE) Advocacy Day
January 23 - 24, 2024

Georgia has been leading the way in advocating for Inclusive Post Secondary Education programs. Currently, Georgia has ten schools supporting people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities (I/DD) to go to school in Georgia. These programs serve as a pipeline for future skilled and talented candidates with disabilities in Georgia to learn skills and get education that can help them to enter the workforce and/or live independently after college.

Last year our community advocated to the General Assembly that there needed to be a state-supported IPSE scholarship to help make these opportunities more affordable. The general assembly heard us and listened to what we advocated about and they created a scholarship that has greatly helped our community.

Our ask: To fully fund the scholarship and make sure that all Georgians with I/DD have this opportunity.

Waivers & Wages Day
February 6 - 7, 2024

Georgia’s disability community is in a state of emergency regarding the Medicaid waitlist and wages for direct support professionals (DSPs). Currently Georgia has a waiting list of over 7,000 people waiting for HCBS services. These services are critical for the disability community who are supported by DSPs. Last year the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) funded a rate study around DSP pay. The study found that Georgia’s DSP community desperately needs a rate increase to help support people who work in this field. GCDD has been working hard, meeting with legislators, talking to advocates, and advocating to ensure that this year Georgia fully funds the DSP rate study.

Our ask: To fully fund the DSP rate study which would come out to 107 million and also support 2,400 waivers which is about 65 million waivers.

Employment Day
February 27 - 28, 2024

Last year the disability community in Georgia identified an underlying issue around paying people with disabilities below minimum wage (subminimum wages). Currently, in Georgia employers can legally pay people with disabilities below minimum wage compared to their able-bodied counterparts. During our legislative advocacy days this past year, GCDD’s public policy team met with legislators to talk about the issue.

This past summer, we kept the conversation going and identified one legislator who is willing to help end this unfair practice. We are in the final steps of getting the bill ready to present and this year we are advocating to fully end 14c Certificates in Georgia to make sure Georgians with disabilities are being paid a fair and livable wage.

Our ask: Talk with legislators and get this bill passed after it is introduced.

Meet Ryan Shindler, GCDD’s New Public Policy Fellow

By Jacob Segura

Growing up was not always easy for Ryan Shindler of Midtown Atlanta. He grew up during a time when mental health services for people with autism were underfunded, and furthermore, people with autism were often stigmatized and pressured to adhere to unusual norms. It was these factors that compelled Shindler, the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities' (GCDD) newest public policy fellow, to pursue a career in advocacy for those with developmental disabilities.

Ryan Shindler, GCDD Public Policy Fellow"I knew I wanted to do something in policy, particularly in public health work," Shindler said. "Being disabled myself, I decided to pursue disability advocacy to contribute to my city and to my state. It’s a dream come true. I’m so happy to be part of this organization officially."

Before joining GCDD, Shindler volunteered at various Council events for several years. Shindler emphasized that, though there are many organizations that are dedicated to people with developmental disabilities, he feels that GCDD's mission aligns with him the best.

"While some organizations are oriented towards putting people with developmental disabilities in facilities, GCDD's focus is on giving people with developmental disabilities autonomy by allowing them to live in places of their choosing, on their own terms," Shindler said.

Shindler is eager to lend his expertise on critical issues for the disability community. One cause that is particularly important to him is bringing the concept of managed care to legislators' attention. Currently, there are over 7,000 Georgians who are on the Medicaid waiting list.

"The state operates under a waiver system for developmentally disabled people who need help from the state but don’t want their autonomy compromised by being placed into a nursing home or similar facilities," Shindler explained. "We advocate for the availability of slots for the thousands of people waiting for these services."

Advocating for people with developmental disabilities is a personal battle for Shindler, and he cannot emphasize how helpful the staff of GCDD have been with the formation of his career, even before he officially took a position as a public policy fellow. In particular, Charlie Miller, legislative advocacy director for GCDD, is a great source of inspiration for Shindler.

"Charlie has been a wonderful role model over the years for what a person with disabilities can accomplish despite the ableism and restrictions, whether physical, mental or social. I’ve learned a lot from Charlie," said Shindler.

Shindler is excited to be a part of GCDD, where he can lend his various skills and experience to help people with disabilities live self-determined lives that make them happy and fulfilled lives.

New Report Uncovers Racial Disparities in NOW/COMP Waiver Distribution in Georgia

By Arlinda Smith Broady

Uncovering Disparities in Georgia's HCBS Waiver Waitlist report coverThis report is available at https://www.newdisabledsouth.org/reports/waitlist-disparities, including a Plain Language Summary version.Racial disparities in housing and employment are as prevalent today as they were in the eras prior to the Civil Rights Movement. A report last year by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Economic Policy showed that as late as 2019, White households, no matter the age of the head of household, had homeownership rates at least 10 percentage points higher than Black and Hispanic households. An analysis this year by the Pew Research Center based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data showed that Black workers generally earn less than U.S. workers overall and the unemployment rate for Black Americans is the highest of any racial or ethnic group and roughly double the rate for the U.S. overall. But when it comes to government-issued health benefits, one would expect that racial bias would be nonexistent.

A new report from New Disabled South refutes that perception.

Its research titled "Uncovering Disparities in Georgia’s HCBS Waiver Waitlist" has found that in Georgia, disparities have emerged in the distribution and utilization of Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) waivers that serve as a critical lifeline for people with developmental disabilities who need long-term care and support.

According to the executive summary, "This report … [sheds] light on the distinct experiences and challenges faced by various racial groups, with a focus on Black/African Americans, in accessing essential care and services. By analyzing the data, identifying contributing factors and proposing potential solutions, this report seeks to initiate informed discussions and advocate for a more equitable and inclusive approach to providing vital support to all Georgians, irrespective of their racial background."

In a letter urging advocates to read the report and act upon it, New Disabled South CEO Dom Kelley wrote,

"In Georgia, more than 7,100 people reside on the waiting list for NOW/COMP HCBS waivers. During this year's legislative session, New Disabled South invested $100,000 in a statewide paid media campaign to educate and mobilize Georgians around this critical issue, and I spent many days at the Capitol meeting with legislators. During this work, we started to hear stories from folks impacted by this waiting list who had waited for 10, 15, 20 years for waivers, and the majority of them were BIPOC [Black, indigenous, and people of color]. We realized that an important missing piece in the years of advocacy around this issue has been the intersectional lens - a critical principle of disability justice - so we set out to understand the racial disparities of the NOW/COMP waiting list as well as the list of those receiving waiver services."

This research has demonstrated the necessity of increased scrutiny of awarding government services and increased awareness to fund programs and services that are offered for people who need them.

The report was written by Kiana Jackson, senior research manager at New Disabled South, who as an African American with a disability and who also comes from the most impoverished metro area in Georgia, was curious to see if what she saw in her community was happening across the state.

"Albany … [is a] majority Black city - 75% Black," she said. "[We have] a lack of access to resources for help in Albany and a high disabled population … so I merged the issues."

These findings have prompted New Disabled South to further its research into other states.

"We are beginning to expand this analysis to the rest of the region to better understand these disparities across the South. For anyone interested in partnering in this work in other parts of the South, please do let us know," wrote Kelley.

You can contact New Disabled South by email at .

An in-depth article on this report will be featured in GCDD's Making a Difference Winter 2024 magazine.

Calendar Spotlight

Parent2Parent Miles of Advocacy Support Group Cobb County
When: December 4 from 7pm to 9pm
Location: Daily Grind Coffee House and Cafe, 3960 Mary Eliza Trace NW, Marietta, GA 30064

Locating Employment Avenues through Peer Support (LEAPS)
When: December 5, 10am - 11:30am
Additional Information: Come fine-tune the skills you will need to find gainful employment.
For more info contact Mimi Palmer at 

Uniting for Change Area Network Meeting
When: December 6 from 10am to 12pm
Location: Online via Zoom
Register here

Ga Medicaid Basics and Care Management Organizations (CMOs) Webinar
When: December 7 from 10am to 11am
Click here for more information

FOCUS of Georgia Sip and Share Group
When: December 8 from 8pm to 9pm
Location: Online via Zoom
Click here for more information

Down Syndrome Association of Atlanta "A Mother’s Rest" Retreat
When: December 8 at noon through December 11 at noon 
Click here for more information

FOCUS of Georgia and Lekotek Holiday Party
When: December 9 from 10am to 12pm
Location: Eastminster Presbyterian Church, 5801 Hugh Howell Road, Stone Mountain
Click here for more information

Parent2Parent Crossing the "Medical Bridge" Transition to Adult Healthcare for CYSHCN Webinar
When: December 12 from 12pm to 1pm
Location: Online via Zoom
Click here for more information

Exploring Careers through Informational Interviews and Job Shadows (Guest Speaker: UGA)
When: December 12, 10am - 11:30am
Additional Information: Come fine-tune the skills you will need to find gainful employment.
For more info contact Mimi Palmer at 

Parent2Parent Movin' Up! Planning Your Child's Successful Transition at Age 3 Webinar
When: December 12 from 12:30pm to 1:30pm
Location: Online via Zoom
Click here for more information

Down Syndrome Association of Atlanta Holiday Party
When: December 16 from 10am to 2pm
Location: Christ Church First Presbyterian, 1740 Peachtree Road Northwest, Atlanta
Click here for more information

For more events, visit our website's Calendar of Events!

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