Thomas and I will be attending the annual Disability Day at the Capital on Monday and Tuesday of this week. DD Day will be on Tuesday; however we will be up a day early so that we can meet with as many legislators as possible while we are in town.
As advocates and a self-advocates it is important to stay connected with our state legislators. It is also important to be active on the national level. However, I have found that as advocates we can be more effective at the state level. The laws and budgets passed by the State of Florida directly and significantly impact the lives of persons living with disabilities here in our state.
I have been advocating in Tallahassee since Jeb Bush was governor. I like to think that my efforts have had some level of success and have helped to make the lives of many Florida citizens better.
The issues have remained the same for as long as I have been doing this. We need better employment opportunities and better transportation services. These two often go hand in hand. It is hard to find employment if you can not get to and from work. Persons with disabilities have a high rate of unemployment. Only 18% of people with disabilities are employed.
Every year we fight to keep the Early Steps program funded. This is administered by Children’s Medical Services and is the Part C of the IDEA – Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. They provide early intervention services for 0 to 3 and serve over 40,000 children in Florida. History has shown that early intervention works.
The Med Waiver has been under funded for a decade or more. We currently have over 20,000 people on the Med Waiver waiting list. Every year we work to increase funding in an attempt to reduce the waiting list and continue to provide community services for those who so desperately need them.
Last session we saw and increase in funding and were able to remove over 1,000 individuals from the waiting list. However, we still have a long way to go.
Every year the treatment of children with disabilities in our public schools is discussed. In 2010 we had the first significant legislation protecting children from the abuse of seclusion and restraint in our public schools. This year there is no legislation proposed so our children will remain vulnerable to abuse for another year.
Each year we fight the same battles. Some years we make small steps and we celebrate our successes. It is sad that advocates for the most vulnerable members of our society have to settle for small incremental successes. However, that is the reality that over 20% of our citizens live with. That is the percent of people who have a disability.
This Tuesday, March 18 you should hear the squeaking of wheels in Tallahassee. I hope that our legislators listen and appreciate how difficult it is for so many of our disabled citizens to make the trip to the Capital. We want to be listened to, we want to be heard and we want to be taken seriously.
We will continue to keep squeaking our wheels for as long as it takes.