disabilities

Improve Yours First, GCPD

You might notice that it took me several days to write about this year’s Annual Conference sponsored by the Indiana Governor’s Council for People with Disabilities, which concluded on December 9. Why was I holding my tongue? Although the year’s theme was “Improve Yours,” the Council did anything but. For the third year in a row, attendees listened to irrelevant speakers prattle on about subjects of little or no interest to people with disabilities.

The Conference opened with an address from keynote speaker Mayor Mick Cornett of Oklahoma City. Yes, a city outside the bounds of Indiana. Mayor Cornett could have shared ideas that he has explored for the betterment of people with disabilities, those that Conference attendees could take back to their hometowns for application, but instead, the Mayor gave a one-hour history lesson about Oklahoma City. Granted, it was entertaining. But I wasn’t there for a comedy show – I wanted to learn something.

In the final 10 minutes or so of his presentation, Mayor Cornett discussed the fact that he put his city on a diet. He was proud to announce that his constituents had lost a collective million pounds. How did they do this? The Mayor said that he didn’t want to take anyone’s food away, so he encouraged exercise programs. He used tax dollars to extend City bike trails. Great. Let me roll down to the bike shop in my wheelchair and get on that…

Fortunately, Conference attendees don’t seem to be willing to put up with terrible conference agendas anymore. Almost immediately, the Mayor was asked about visitability. When he began to discuss tourism, his questioner explained that visitability is a housing concept. If a home is visitable, someone in a wheelchair can get inside through at least one entrance and use one restroom. Sheepishly, the Mayor said that his condo was visitable. Other questions asked from a more aggressive approach regarded public transportation and Oklahoma City’s lack of sidewalks.

After a ridiculously long 2 ½ hour break, attendees were next subjected to an hour-long speech from Dr. Mary Patterson entitled Violence as a Health Issue. Not a single time in her entire address was disability mentioned. Instead, the speech called for reducing violence by getting involved in social programs. Clearly, it was aimed for residents of inner cities. Minority members of inner cities. And those minorities did not come from the disability community. What about theft from personal care attendants? Neglect and abuse against elders and other disabled individuals? Sexual abuse from caregivers?

Although completely ignored by Dr. Patterson, again, Conference attendees were not willing to let the issues drop. State Senator Michael Crider, Reverend Charles Harrison of the Ten Point Coalition, Steve McCaffrey of Mental Health America of Indiana, Director of Public Safety Troy Riggs, Stephen Viehweg of Riley Child development Center, and Gary Mayor Karen Freeman, members of the following panel, were left feel the wrath of unhappy attendees. To their credit, both Mayor Freeman and Director Riggs attempted to provide advice and assistance to the questions they were asked. Most of the panelists were clueless.

I don’t entirely blame conference attendees – speaking gigs are gold stars on resumes, so I why them down? No, I’m too cynical. These are community leaders, and many probably do have an interest in improving services for people with disabilities. They likely had a genuine interest in being part of the conversation.

Instead, the blame rests squarely on the Council itself. After all, don’t they choose the theme and agenda? Have they been listening to feedback from a crowd that gets smaller and smaller with each passing year? Perhaps not.

Merging Emerging?

In his latest INforefront blog, Chris Cotterill, proposes decimating the number of State agencies. He suggests several mergers as a starting point, one of which would entail combining the Family and Social Services Administration, Governor’s Council for People with Disabilities, and Indiana Protection and Advocacy Services. Bad idea:

Chris, ordinarily I am in favor of the recommendations that you share on the blog. Today we disagree, at least in part. Merging the GCPD and IPAS into FSSA would be a bad move for people with disabilities.

 

First, their constituencies are different. GCPD and IPAS are tasked (federally) with serving people with disabilities (and, arguably, their families). In contrast, FSSA serves a broader service group, and must carefully contend with taxpayers at large and provider agencies. These latter two groups have interests that may directly conflict with those of the disability community.

 

This creates logistical issues. IPAS has the power to sue FSSA, but a agencies don’t sue themselves. Is everyone subservient to the FSSA Secretary? Do GCPD Members still have authority to appoint staff?

 

Finally, who is left to be the watchdog?

Cotterill did respond, acknowledging my concerns and raising a few of his own. Part of his response was inaccurate — GCPD has actually existed in one incarnation or another for decades — while another was astute. Without improved coordination between the three bodies, people with disabilities aren’t being served as fully as possible.

Anyway, the Cotterills are good people who have served the disability community. Chris’ mother began Indiana’s Ms. Wheelchair Indiana Pageant in 2009, is a long-time supporter of the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana, and Editor of People on Wheels. But if merger is entertained, I hope people with disabilities are included in the discussion.

Is the Party Accessible?

In the latest issue of the National Review, Reihan Salam asks: “How can Republican ideas get a hearing among minority voters?” His article, A Party for All, devotes much of its space musing on whether Rand Paul and Chris Christie’s work on criminal-justice reform might garner more productive exchanges between black voters and the Republican party. In the end, Salam argues:

[T]he best way for conservatives to appeal to African Americans is not to emphasize racially specific themes on criminal-justicee reform or any other  issue, but rather to offer a compelling message to middle- and lower-income voters of all races.  The conservative-reform agenda . . . aims to reduce the intrusiveness of government and its tendency toward excessive regulation, yet it also recognizes the importance of making the public sector work for Americans looking to climb the economic ladder.

I sincerely hope that Salam and fellow conservatives recognize that racial minorities are not the only groups worthy of extra GOP attention. Comprising approximately 20% of the population, people with disabilities are a huge voting bloc, a bloc that tends to vote liberal. Many friends with disabilities believe that Republicans do not care about them, and the GOP has done little to counter these claims. Instead, we are swept up with the “takers,” forgotten as attacks on Medicaid are waged, and — I believe — are misunderstood.

Ironically, there are many policy areas ripe for collaborative reform between people with disabilities and Republican wonks. Union demands are wrecking havoc on people with disabilities’ ability to live independently; the Obama administration is doing away with the FLSA’s companionship exemption, meaning that many caregivers will have their hours cut and individuals needing care are scrambling to find new help. Bureaucratic interference and inflexibility prevent many with disabilities from using their Medicaid long-term care hours in an efficient way; for example, since unused hours cannot be rolled-over for emergency use, many ask for more “just in case” hours which are unnecessary. And, though many are capable and desirous of employment, 96% of severely disabled individuals are unemployed.

Someone from within the GOP ought to build a ramp so my disabled pals can join the party. I think, once inside, they’d enjoy it.