I am a husband, father, son, brother, uncle and friend. I believe in sharing my talents and experiences by giving back to the community by giving my time to coaching, church and especially to the disability community. I truly believe that all men and women are created equally.
I had the opportunity to meet with Representative Gwen Moore in her office, along with her staff and some fellow self-advocates and advocates, sharing our thoughts on the proposed implementation of the Health and Human Services (HHS) rule on “integrated settings.” As I have written before, this is not a new rule and we are not looking at closing “sheltered workshops”. What we are looking at is a paradigm shift in how we are looking at employment options for individuals with disabilities. Individuals today want to work and be a part of their community.
In speaking with Rep. Moore, we were able to share stories of how we view employment. The Congresswoman heard from a self-advocate who has a job interview in the community coming up in the coming weeks . She heard how a parent wants his son to be able to work in the community and that he feels it is important to be a member of his community, not segregated in a facility. She heard how an individual has secured a job that pays well enough that the individual does not receive SSI benefits (still has health benefits), but if this job would be lost or the hours reduced, the individual has the ability to regain her SSI benefits without a waiting period.
Rep. Moore was very interested in each of these stories and in what we were saying in regards to employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. We shared how Medicaid funding should be promoting integrated opportunities for individuals with disabilities and not continue to fund segregating individuals away from their community. We currently spend approximately $65.5 million dollars of public funds on facility based employment and only $22.9 million dollars of public funds on integrated employment. We need to bring these numbers closer together.
The more that I am getting involved in this conversation, the more convinced I am that this is the right thing to do. This is about equal opportunity. This is about building a better and stronger community.