As we move closer to 2021, we can either look at this time with regret and sadness – or as a time of opportunity. Though battling COVID-19 has meant being away from friends and family, new technology allows us to be together even when we are far apart. We at the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) have learned so much from YOU, those who continue to participate in the bi-weekly Georgia Developmental Disabilities Network COVID-19 Zoom sessions or the weekly Community Strong virtual gatherings.
You have shown us how you have struggled to cope with COVID-19 and how you have overcome many challenges during this time. We have been and will continue to be with you every step of the way.
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Read in this edition of Making a Difference about the opportunities we have towards creating a system that will help more people go to work. While the economy struggles to add more jobs, many people, including those with developmental disabilities, have lost their jobs or can’t find a position. In addition, the legislature reduced the budgets of many state agencies that have had to reduce staff and services, including day services and competitive, integrated employment services. In this article, state leadership talks about the opportunities and challenges that exist.
As I have written before, GCDD continues to work on its Five Year Strategic Plan. I want to thank all of you who participated in the public input part of this process. We have held three townhall meetings, collected over 325 responses to our online survey and completed six focus groups. This information will help us determine what we will work on over the next five years. You will have the opportunity next spring to comment on what we have proposed to do. One thing we heard from you all is concern about the status of legislative advocacy, especially in light of budget cuts. Specifically, many of you told us you were unhappy with how recent budget cuts, including $91 million in cuts to services provided by the Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD), will continue to impact our community. We also heard that you were looking for more ways for GCDD – and you! – to become involved in effective advocacy.
As a state agency that receives federal dollars, GCDD cannot aggressively lobby as one may traditionally think of lobbying. We are an advocacy organization charged with educating and informing the community and policymakers about what issues matter to the disability community. And, we are just one part of the puzzle. While GCDD helps to organize advocacy efforts by providing information and support, it is up to YOU, as Georgians, to also advocate and build relationships with lawmakers and other decision-makers that affect your everyday life. While it may be difficult during this time to come to the Capitol, your elected officials are in their communities and perhaps more accessible to you. Connect with them and educate them about issues such as the waiting list for home and community-based services. With the election just weeks away, this matters now more than ever! Ask those running for election if they will support increased funding for employment, housing and transportation services. We cannot tell your story for you. YOU are at the heart of what we, as an entire state, can accomplish.
Finally, we are changing a few things to the magazine. We will now feature an Include College Corner, featuring stories of inclusive postsecondary education (IPSE) programs around Georgia. And we are adding a Self-Advocacy Spotlight, first-person essays written by members of Uniting for Change. Be sure to check this out and hear what people with developmental disabilities are saying about what happens in Georgia.
Check out GCDD’s website and join our advocacy network so that you can stay informed. We hope you enjoy reading this magazine, and we want to hear from you. Let us know your thoughts by writing to Managing Editor Hillary Hibben at firstname.lastname@example.org. Eric E. Jacobson Executive Director, GCDD