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2,500 Advocates Rally at 15th Annual Disability Day at the Capitol

2,500 Advocates Rally at 15th Annual Disability Day at the Capitol 
Governor Deal Pledges Support for Georgians with Developmental

ATLANTA (February 28, 2013) - Jobs, post-secondary education, the Waiting List (for waivers) and reducing the state's burden of proof for defendants with intellectual disabilities in death penalty cases were among the topics at the Georgia Council On Developmental Disabilities'(GCDD ) 15th Annual Disability Day at the Capitol, Thursday February 21. There were 2,500 who preregistered for the rally and thousands of advocates, family members and supporters of people with disabilities gathered on a crisp, sunny morning to fill the grounds of the Georgia State Capitol.

Governor Nathan Deal addressed the crowd and pledged his continued support to people with developmental disabilities. With one of every five Georgians having some type of disability, everyone is connected to disabilities in some way, whether it's through neighbor, co-worker, brother, sister, parent or themselves. Deal highlighted the Kennesaw State University Academy of Inclusive Learning, GCDD's successful post-secondary program.

"I want to commend Kennesaw State University," Deal said. "They are allowing students with disabilities to participate in classes and in educational opportunities along with students who don't have disabilities. They are being a forerunner in our higher educational institutions and I believe it is a program that we can replicate throughout our entire University system."

D'Arcy Robb, GCDD's Public Policy Director, spoke about legislative agenda items including the request to the General Assembly for $350,000 when it passes next year's budget. This money would fund four additional post secondary education projects at four universities, modeled after the GCDD-funded KSU Academy for Inclusive Learning.

Eric Jacobson, GCDD Executive Director, spoke about the day-old stay of execution of Warren Lee Hill. With an IQ of 70, Hill clearly has an intellectual disability and, while it would be unconstitutional to execute him, Georgia also has the toughest standard for burden of proof to determine such a disability. GCDD and Jacobson opposed the execution and have asked for legislation to lighten the burden of proof requirement. An appeals court granted a stay on February 19, less than an hour before Hill's scheduled execution. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rich Golick has said he plans to study the death penalty law as it applies to proving intellectual disability.

At the Rally Frank Berry, commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD), praised DBHDD's team for moving more than 900 people off the short-term planning list since July 1, 2012. Over 7,500 people still remain and the Unlock The Waiting Lists! Campaign, which calls for funding of community based services for vital supports through NOW and COMP waivers, is a major GCDD legislative focus.

"People who were in desperate need of services have gotten services, but we will do better," said Berry. "Your voices are being heard, but we need to do even more. We have never had a governor and a legislature that have been more supportive of what we are trying to accomplish. We need to take advantage of this day."

Greg Schmieg, executive director of the newly formed Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency (GVRA), cited the following disability employment statistics as "unacceptable":

The unemployment rate in US is 70% for people with disabilities;

  • The earning potential of a person with a disability who does get a job is two-thirds that of a worker without a disability;
  • A person with a disability is five times more likely to leave a labor market than a worker without a disability;
  • A person with disability is three times more likely to end up in poverty than a person without a disability.

"I want you to join me in the message that we want to make Georgia a state where everybody who wants a job can have a job," Schmieg said as he led the crowd to chant "everybody who wants a job should have a job."

At last week's Rally, Evan Nodvin introduced Governor Deal. Recently appointed a GCDD council member, Nodvin, 34, has worked in the Atlanta area for 12 years, participates in theater programs, is a medal-winning power lifter, and lives in an apartment he shares with a roommate.

Nodvin, who has Down syndrome, is a prime example of how people with developmental disabilities can live independently in the community.

Legislators in attendance at the Rally included Sen. John Albers (R-Dist 56) who was accompanied by his young son Ryan, Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Dist 39), Sen. Nan Orrock (D-Dist 36), Rep. Tommy Benton (R-Dist 31), Rep. Scott Holcomb (D-Dist 81) and Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan (D-Dist 39).

Rabbi Analia Bortz, Congregation Or Hadash, offered a chant then led a moment of silence to honor the memory of seven Fallen Soldiers, Georgia's disability advocates who passed in 2012.

"We would also like to remember those who have perished while in institutions and nursing homes though we know not their names," the Rabbi said.

After the rally people, who had come in small groups as well as groups of more than 250 from all over Georgia, adjourned to the Georgia Freight Depot for lunch, legislator visits, banner signing and other activities.

During this time, GCDD awarded the Samuel Mitchell Lifetime Achievement Award to Yvette Sangster of the Georgia Advocacy Office (GAO) and Ken Mitchell of disabilityLINK received 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 the disability community. For a list of sponsors, visit

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 for more information.