Hundreds of people turned out on the steps of the Capitol building in Atlanta last Thursday with umbrellas in hand and a single purpose in mind: to get the state to do more to help people with disabilities in the state of Georgia.
February 16 was Georgia’s 14th Annual Disability Day, and while the rain may have diminished the turnout of more than 2,000 people originally anticipated in our preview coverage, it did not dampen the determination of organizers and supporters. The rally’s theme, “My Life is FOR REAL,” called for inclusion of people with disabilities into the community “where they can live, learn, work, play, and worship.”
WGCL-TV Atlanta dispatched reporter Christopher King and a camera crew to cover the event. They captured the crowd members chanting and holding up signs like “We are ‘JUST’ PEOPLE’” that simultaneously communicate the simplicity and complexity of the challenges people with disabilities face when trying to be part of the communities in which they live. People like Shelly Smith, who tells King that one of the biggest challenges is finding a place to live that is both suitable and affordable:
It’s always a struggle… not just to be able to get into a home, but to be able to get around, wide enough doorways, accessible bathrooms.
King also speaks with one of the rally organizers, Valerie Suber, who is shown in the video below, as she calls on the state lawmakers to devote more resources to programs for people with disabilities and accessible transportation as well as to combat job and housing discrimination.
On the same day of the Atlanta rally, advocates for people with disabilities were also in the nation’s Capitol to show their support for the Achieve a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, which was introduced during the last term by Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R) of Florida and Sen. Robert Casey, Jr. (D) of Pennsylvania. The two sponsors were part of an discussion panel which also included Michael Morris, the executive director of the National Disability Institute. Its press release about the panel succinctly outlines the goals of the proposed legislation:
The ABLE Act… is designed to encourage and assist individuals with disabilities and their families to set funds aside in a tax-advantaged savings account that allows the funds to be withdrawn to cover costs of health care, housing, transportation, the purchase of technology and lifelong education.
Morris compared the potential impact of the ABLE Act to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, saying that its passage would “promote the independence and productivity of individuals with disabilities and their families.” It’s hard to disagree with that assertion; especially when you connect the benefits of the ABLE Act to efforts from state legislators like the ones in Georgia to bring more manufacturing jobs back to American workers. Giving people with disabilities additional financial resources to get the training and skills they need to join the workforce will be essential to their success in achieving the goal of inclusion.