March 16, 2015
As disability rights advocates gear up for Disability Awareness Day on March 18, they are hopeful that legislators will keep in mind not only how proposed cuts to the state budget will affect people who are low income, but how they will affect low-income people with disabilities.
Among disability advocates’ chief concerns is a proposed $1.65 million budget cut targeting families on Reach Up who have a household member with a disability. The administration proposal would count $125 of an adult SSI beneficiary’s income against the rest of the household’s Reach Up grant —amounting to what some have called a disability tax. Children receiving SSI would be exempt from the proposal.
The theme of this year’s Disability Awareness Day is Disability Milestones: Progress Made, Miles to Go. About 300 members of the Vermont Coalition for Disability Rights are expected to gather at the State House to spread this message to lawmakers.
The two dozen member organizations and allies of VCDR hold Disability Awareness Day every year, bringing together disability advocates, family providers and policy-makers from across the state.
There is a lot to celebrate this year: the 52nd anniversary of the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act, which created Protection & Advocacy Systems and strengthened Developmental Disability Councils and University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities; the 40th anniversary of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which entitles each student with a disability to a free appropriate public education to meet his or her unique needs; the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act; and the 16th anniversary of the Olmstead decision, upholding the right to live in the community rather than in institutions.
VCDR President Ed Paquin said, “VCDR has chosen to acknowledge the tremendous progress we have made in disability rights in the last 40 years. Young people with disabilities are growing up in a different world than they would have two generations ago. As we celebrate progress made, though, it is a slap in the face when today’s budget climate makes supports for independent living incredibly tenuous and threatens federal laws that have been enacted.”
A highlight of this year’s event will be a keynote address at 5:15 p.m. by Andrew Imparato, a disability rights lawyer and policy professional with more than two decades of experience in government and advocacy roles. He currently serves as executive director of the Association of University Centers on Disabilities in Silver Spring, Md.
The keynote address will be followed by a panel discussion on disability milestones. David Sagi, the Department of Disabilities Aging & Independent Living ADA program manager, will speak about what it was like to grow up before the ADA was enacted, while Zachary Schmoll will talk about his experiences as a young person growing up post-ADA. Christine Lamphere, who spent four years at Brandon Training School, will talk about growing up before the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was passed, and Raymond Gordon, a local and statewide leader of the self-advocacy movement, will speak about receiving inclusive education throughout his life.
Disability Awareness Day highlights will include workshops throughout the day on various topics and a press conference at 11:30 a.m. in the Cedar Creek Room. Imparato will highlight some disability milestones, and a trio of Vermonters will outline challenges people with disabilities in the Green Mountain State still face: Stuart Soboleski, a young Deaf farmer from Orleans County and a Vermont Association of the Deaf educational advocate, will speak about the need for more services for Deaf people; Sarah Launderville, executive director of the Vermont Center for Independent Living, will describe the challenges facing people with mental health issues; and Kaiya Andrews, a young mother of two, will emphasize the need for services for high school graduates in the shadow of proposed cuts to the Developmental Services budget.
The Vermont Coalition for Disability Rights is a cross-disability advocacy organization. VCDR member organizations, staff members and volunteers engage individuals with disabilities and family members in Vermont’s legislative and policy activities, enabling them to have a voice in the administrative and legislative decisions that affect their daily lives and civil rights.
VCDR gratefully acknowledges the support of the Vermont Developmental Disabilities Council, the Vermont Statewide Independent Living Council and the Center on Disability & Community Inclusion, UVM. Their financial support has made the events of the day possible. For more information about Disability Awareness Day or to register, contact Stefanie Monte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-224-1820.