People not only showed up at the capitol with GCDD during the 2023 legislative session, but they also sent a powerful message to legislators. I’m so grateful because to me that’s the “special sauce” of our DD Council – that we are governed by people with I/DD and family members who are committed to making a difference. They are the driving force.
GCDD has hosted Advocacy Days at the Georgia state capitol during the legislative session for many years. During Advocacy Days, elected leaders meet face-to-face with people with I/DD and their families. This year over 300 people registered for and attended GCDD’s three advocacy days. Additionally, over 6,000 emails were sent to state legislators from advocates around the state. Some legislators got over 300 emails each. Our voices were heard!
As a result of our advocacy at the capitol and throughout the legislative session, legislators heard how hard it is for people to get waiver services due to the long waiting list and how critical it is to address the Direct Support Professionals (DSP) crisis. We had some victories, but more work needs to be done. Waiver services for individuals with I/DD and their families increased from 200 to 400 yet advocates had asked for 2,400 new waivers. There was also an increase in DSP wages but not as high as advocates had worked hard to increase to better support and improve the DSP workforce.
It was a fantastic year for Inclusive Post-Secondary Education (IPSE) programs in Georgia. We got a bill passed and saw an increase in funding state funded scholarships. This was a huge win for GCDD, the IPSE program, and the students, families, and schools.
Now that summer is here, does that mean advocacy stops when the legislative session is over? No. Some may say we are now in the off season for state level advocacy but to me, there is no such thing as an “off season.” Instead, I like to call it the “home season.” Summertime is a great opportunity to get to know your legislators since they will be back in their home cities and are more relaxed. It’s a great time to introduce yourself and have a conversation with them.
I encourage you to reach out to your legislator and just say, “Hi! I’m your constituent and I’m an advocate for the disability community in Georgia. I would really like to meet you for coffee to introduce myself.” The point is to get to know your legislator and let them know the top issues you care about. Encourage them to use you as a resource. To find out who your representative is visit https://openstates.org/. It’s one of my favorite resources.
The home season is a great time to further advocate about these current issues and issues that are important to you. Currently, GCDD is working on a one-page information sheet about the critical need to increase services for more Georgians to receive the Innovations Waiver and the need to increase DSP wages. This will be a great resource to share with your legislator this summer during the home season.
On July 26, 2023, it will be the 33rd anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). When I think about the ADA, I feel like it’s parallel in a bigger way, where there have been amazing wins and yet there’s more work to be done. As one of my favorite professors used to say, “A lot of people think that once you have a law in place, that the fight is over … but it’s not.” Once a bill is signed into law, the goal is to make sure it gets implemented. There needs to be continued commitment, leadership, and so much more. The advocating we do is so important because it continues to ensure success.
We are winning and as we look at the ADA, we should not just celebrate it once a year. Instead, we should celebrate it every time a change is made. We need to celebrate the victories because each gets us closer to enjoying the lives we want. Take a moment to step back and take a look at the big picture of how far we have come. Instead of becoming overwhelmed, let’s focus on what we still need to do.
Join me in welcoming this new season of positive transition for the disability community. This summer and beyond promises to bring many opportunities of growth for our members, staff, and the work we do to improve services and support for Georgians with developmental disabilities.
Executive Director, GCDD