Area disabled residents want better services
People with disabilities in the Gainesville area expressed a desire for better quality services and support at a meeting Thursday with the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities. The meeting was one of several statewide stops on the council's "listening tour" leading up to the 2015 General Assembly. Council leaders asked questions and provided information for a small group gathered at the Lanier Charter Career Academy.
"We are an independent state agency and our mission is, in the informal way I always say it, we're trying to kick the can or move the ball further for folks with disabilities and their families," said D'Arcy Robb, GCDD public policy director. Robb said she typically poses questions to the public at the listening tour meetings to stimulate discussion.
Her first question asked, "What's working in this community for people with disabilities and their families?"
Dr. Irma Alvarado, Brenau University professor and co-owner of Essential Therapy Services Inc. in Cumming, said she thinks what works for people with disabilities in Gainesville is "variable." "It depends on what you know, what's in your community," Alvarado said. "... There are some people out there looking for opportunities, but they have to look."
The second question Robb posed asked what the audience believes is not working.
Jennifer Allison, clinical instructor at Brenau University, said most people don't know what services are available locally. Others expressed concerns over the quality of services, educational opportunities, transportation to and from services and job opportunities.
"The thing we hear a lot of is jobs," Robb said. "People with disabilities want to work real jobs in the community and they just aren't getting the support they need to do that." Robb said she often hears people express a general desire to change the way the community views people with disabilities.
"One thing we hear a lot is essentially changing the culture," Robb said. "Not looking at people with a disability as first and foremost that disability. ... So just being more supportive and embracing as a society, seeing people as a whole package for who they are and not just stigmatizing them for this disability or that diagnosis."
Robb said the most important part of the meeting is listening to the public. She said not only does it help give the council an idea of what Georgians with disabilities are looking for, but it lets people know they are being heard. "People have said that they appreciate, No. 1, being listened to, and us coming out in person," Robb said. "I think people appreciate that opportunity to have a community forum and have a voice."
Dawn Alford, advocate and GCDD policy development specialist, encouraged local residents to join the council's advocacy network at www.gcdd.org. "Our team focuses on advocacy, trying to push the system's change," Alford said. "In order to do that, we need the help of grass-roots advocates, people in their communities reaching out to their own legislators."
By Kristen Oliver
The original article appeared in The Gainesville Times on September 5, 2014.