When Regina Watts arrived in 2008, Albany Technical College didn’t have an inclusive post-secondary education (IPSE) program. Watts had worked in the disability space for over a decade prior, and she wrote the idea for an inclusive program down on an initial list of goals. “I wanted to create a program for those students that would possibly not have the opportunity to go to college.”
Six years later, Watts still had the piece of paper, and she began to connect with other administrators across the state as other programs got their start. Eventually she received money through a federally funded grant to gauge interest. With help from the Georgia Inclusive Postsecondary Education Consortium (GAIPSEC), as well as many other people, grants, agencies and institutions, Watts created the Leveraging Education for Advancement Program (LEAP), which is entering its fifth academic year.
“Everything just fell in place with the grant, where we were able to see if there was a need, and most definitely there was a need,” Watts said. “It’s been a wonderful process of getting the program sustained and established.”
Watts is now the special needs/disability services coordinator at Albany Tech and the director of LEAP. There are nine IPSE programs in the state of Georgia, but LEAP is the only one hosted by a technical school, where extra emphasis is given to hands-on education and practical experience.
At LEAP, students with disabilities take courses with peers and receive support through mentorship. Students can enter the program at the start of the fall, spring or summer semesters, and they typically take one course per semester. After two years, students earn a certificate and graduate with their class.
Students enrolled in the program typically complete a Business Office Assistant certificate, a credential approved by the Technical College System of Georgia and made up of six courses also available to Albany Tech’s larger student population. Watts says taking classes with peers and working with the program’s mentor-tutors allows for a holistic college experience built on education and socialization. “They are truly exposed to a lot,” said Watts.
Recently, the school’s board approved for Watts to offer 15 other certificates that students had expressed interest in. The fall 2020 semester is the first time a student has registered for a certification other than Business Office Assistant. The student registered for an Infant/Toddler Child Care Specialist certificate, and her ultimate goal is to work at a daycare.
“Students that probably would not have had an opportunity to go to college can come to the LEAP program and get what they need academically, socially and mentally as well — get the tools that [will] help them go into the world of independent living,” Watts said.
Despite the disruptions of COVID-19, there are currently seven students enrolled in LEAP. One of the students is currently completing his last course, and the program welcomed two new students this semester, one of whom is a dual-enrolled high school student.
Watts personally called each student entering the program on the phone ahead of the semester to present their family with options. Three of the students in LEAP are attending virtually, and four students are taking classes on campus.
Under normal circumstances, students in LEAP take classes on campus in Albany. Students in the program are exposed to a variety of experiences, including conferences, internships, volunteering and job-shadowing. They also work closely with the Career Services Office, where they create resumes and complete mock interviews. COVID-19 has disrupted many of these opportunities, but the work hasn’t stopped by any means.
The program currently has two mentor-tutors available to students for personalized assistance, one on campus and one virtual. Watts says that virtual learning is as inclusive as it can be, but she’s currently working out ways to create a more fulfilling and effective digital experience with virtual tours and workshops.
Under Watts’ direction, the program has been able to leverage its position at a small, technical college to best accommodate those it serves. She hopes to keep it small and flexible, so the program can continue providing students with thoughtful, personalized services.
“I want to give an example of my very first student,” said Watts.
“We started the program with one student, and that was very wise. He is the innovator in the video on my webpage. He blossomed into the person that was able to create a video, to be a part of the video that introduces what the LEAP program is all about. I am just so happy to be able to help someone to achieve their dreams.”
Since then, Watts has used her passion to continually improve the program and adapt to new challenges. “It is definitely a rewarding experience for me as well. To be a vehicle that can help an individual to better their lives,” she said.
Gov. Deal Commits to Jobs, Higher Education, Community Life, Freedom from Institutions GA Legislators, RespectAbility USA Hail Opportunities, Supports for People With Disabilities
ATLANTA (February 27, 2014) – More job opportunities and employment supports for people with disabilities was the overarching message of GCDD's 16th Annual Disability Day at the Capitol on Thursday, February 20. Governor Nathan Deal pledged continued support, GCDD announced re-energized focus for Employment First initiatives, and keynote speaker Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, President and CEO of RespectAbility USA called for the necessary votes to push the ABLE Act through the U.S. Senate (Achieving a Better Life Experience Act: H.R. 647).
"Today, more than two decades after the ADA was passed, 47% of working age Americans with disabilities are outside of the workplace compared to 28% of those without disabilities," Mizrahi said. "But we are not statistics, we are human beings with power, with education, and with value. And we know that together we can make changes a reality." RespectAbility USA is a new national, non-profit, non-partisan organization with a mission to correct and prevent the current disparity of justice for people with disabilities.
Governor Deal said, "A job serves as the launching point for independence, financial stability and...my desire for people to have access to these benefits of employment certainly extends to those in our state with disabilities. To address the barriers to employment confronting people with disabilities, we have a work group in the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities looking into these issues. I am asking them to recommend how we can move forward with an Employment First Initiative in Georgia."
"It is in this way that I hope to see more individuals able to pursue their own path to a job, a career or another form of participation in community life," Deal added.
"Governor Deal has been a friend to the disability community but today, I am proud to announce that GCDD has undertaken a process that, regardless of who is governor, we'll be talking about the passage of legislation to ensure that employment is the first option for all people of the state of Georgia," Eric Jacobson, GCDD Executive Director, said.
Rep. Keisha Waites (D-Dist 60) said to the swelling crowd, "I stand with you... to increase accessibility for every individual that may be disabled throughout the state of Georgia. I want to pull out two pieces of legislation that I have been working on with many of you in the audience...that will increase accessibility to electronic textbooks for the visually impaired and... will provide increased accessibility to your capitol, as well as the legislative office buildings next door."
Other legislators who attended the Rally included Sen. John Albers (R-Dist 56), Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Dist 13), Rep. Winfred Dukes (D-Dist 154), Rep. Michele Henson (D-86), Rep. E. Culver Rusty Kidd (Ind-Dist 145), Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan (D-Dist 39), Rep. Jimmy Pruett (R-149), Rep. Carl Rogers (R-Dist 29) and Rep. Dexter Sharper (D-Dist 177). They thanked the crowd for attending the Rally and encouraged people to contact their legislators about their needs and desires.
Rep. Dempsey, said, "We all have a story, you're right. Your personal story is what you need to share with each and every person in that building behind you."
"Know that it is time to unlock the waiting list. This is your state, my state and we deserve these services. Make no mistake about it, the people on the third floor and the second floor know that you are here," Rep. Dukes said.
2,500 community leaders and disability advocates gathered near the Capitol Steps and , in a collective voice, rallied for jobs, support for post-secondary education and release from institutions for people with disabilities. Governor Deal and Jacobson each praised the expansion of Georgia's post-secondary inclusive education program sponsored by GCDD, the Academy for Inclusive Learning and Social Growth at Kennesaw State University and noted the expansion of similar programs to four campuses in Georgia with the newest one slated to open this fall at East Georgia State College.
This year's Disability Day Rally also recognized the 15th anniversary of the landmark 1999 Olmstead Decision in which the US Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional for two Georgia women with developmental disabilities, Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson, to be institutionalized against their wishes. Curtis, the sole surviving Olmstead plaintiff, was in attendance at last Thursday's Rally. In the spirit of the Olmstead Decision, the Atlanta Legal Aid Society (ALAS) and GCDD facilitated an opportunity for six individuals who have achieved freedom from institutional life to tell their stories at a dedicated StoryCorps recording booth created on-site especially for Disability Day.
Among the six storytellers was Andrew Furey, a self-advocate, artist and Eagle Scout from Lula who fought a long, frustrating battle to receive nursing supports in his home. "I didn't want to be in a nursing home; I wanted the right to stay in my own home." "I am Andrew Furey and I am Olmstead," he declared.
ALAS and GCDD presented "I Am Olmstead – Stories of Freedom" in conjunction with StoryCorps to recognize the triumph of individuals like Andrew and provide an opportunity for others in attendance to sign up to record their own stories in the future. StoryCorps partners with the Atlanta History Center and Georgia Public Broadcasting to record, preserve, and share the stories of communities in Atlanta. Selected StoryCorps recordings air weekly on National Public Radio's Morning Edition and every recording is archived in the American Folklife Center in Washington DC. The GCDD Disability Day 2014 theme, "We All Have A Story, What's Yours?" was echoed throughout the day and could be seen on the hundreds of t-shirts that covered the State Capitol grounds in a sea of blue.
Dawn Alford, GCDD's Planning and Policy Development Specialist, gave an overview of GCDD's 2014 Legislative Agenda and noted the house approved $250,000 to be used for supportive employment for 64 individuals with disabilities.
"Georgia's economic recovery and growth must include employment for citizens with disabilities. For every single dollar that a state spends on helping a person with a disability get a job, the return is anywhere from $3 to $16," Greg Schmieg, executive director of the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency (GVRA), said. "Hiring someone with a disability is not only good for business, it's good for Georgia."
Reverend Susannah Davis, pastor of Kirkwood United Church of Christ, led a prayer and a moment of silence to recognize and honor the memory of 10 Fallen Soldiers, Georgia's disability advocates recently deceased. After the rally small groups as well as groups of more than 250 from all over Georgia, adjourned to the Georgia Freight Depot for lunch, legislator visits, exhibits and other activities including banner signing, an accessible voting machine demonstration and the "I Am Olmstead – Stories of Freedom" listening station.
During this time, GCDD awarded Ralph "Robbie" Breshears from Augusta the Georgia Outstanding Self-Advocate of the Year Award - In Loving Memory of Natalie Norwood Tumlin. Disability Day at the Capitol is made possible by a host of partnering organizations and volunteers from Georgia's disability community. For a list of sponsors, visit www.GCDD.org.
GCDD, a federally funded independent state agency, works to bring about social and policy changes that promote opportunities for persons with developmental disabilities and their families to live, learn, work, play and worship in Georgia communities. A developmental disability is a chronic mental and/or physical disability that occurs before age 22 and is expected to last a lifetime. Visit www.gcdd.org for more information.
CONTACT: Valerie Meadows Suber, Public Information Director Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities 404-657-2122 (office); 404-226-0343 (mobile) www.gcdd.org2014 Disability Day Photos: http://on.fb.me/MBngkY
On February 20, over 2,000 people rallied at the Georgia State Capitol steps to speak up for more jobs and access to post-seconday education for people with disabilities. The rally, which started at the Georgia Freight Depot, received motivation and inspiration from keynote speakers Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, founder, CEO and president of RespectAbility and Governor Nathan Deal, who also declared the day as Disability Awareness Day.
CBS Atlanta was on site for Disability Day and spread the message that people with disabilties should receive the same opportunities as everyone else.
On Tuesday, Feb. 4, the case against former special needs teacher Melanie Pickens received a final say from Judge Henry Newkirk. The Fulton County judge granted immunity to the former Fulton County teacher accused of abusing students with disabilities at Hopewell Middle School in Milton.
Upon the judge's decision, Executive Director Eric Jacobson was featured on CBS Atlanta in an interview giving his insight on the judge's decision and his hopes for the disability community.
These past few months have seen a number of starts and stops in negotiations on a new Congressional COVID-19 relief package, and we expect a busy fall ahead as this Congress wraps up.
Congressional Response: Congress passed three COVID-19 relief bills and an interim bill early this spring. In May, the House passed a new relief package, the HEROES Act, which included many disability priorities, most importantly, additional funding for the home and community-based services (HCBS) on which many people with disabilities rely. However, the Senate declined to consider the HEROES Act and instead, Senate Republicans released their own proposals, the HEALS Act in July and the “skinny bill” in early September.
Both proposals fail to include disability priorities, like HCBS funding. They also contain “liability shields” that would give any business, nonprofit, school or medical provider immunity from liability for significant harm related to COVID-19 in many cases. This would threaten the safety of people with disabilities and older adults in congregate settings; make it easier for employers to escape liability for discrimination and safety violations in the workplace; and allow businesses to refuse to accommodate people with disabilities.
The Senate failed to pass the “skinny bill” in a vote in late September and negotiations appeared dead. But on October 1, the House passed a revised version of the HEROES Act. The bill includes increased funding for Medicaid and HCBS, as well as enhanced unemployment insurance; another round of recovery rebates; and funding for education, housing and food assistance. Negotiations between House leadership and the White House are continuing, but it remains unclear if or when the Senate will take up any new bill. For the latest updates and what you can do to ensure any future coronavirus relief bill includes disability priorities, check out our advocacy page.
Medical Rationing: We’ve previously discussed efforts to address disability discrimination in access to medical care during COVID-19, including complaints CPR and partners have filed with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In August, OCR announced a resolution in response to a complaint filed by CPR and partners alleging that Utah’s Crisis Standard of Care Guidelines illegally excluded certain people with disabilities from accessing life-saving treatment like ventilators and deprioritized others based on their disabilities.
The resolution for the first time makes clear that hospitals must provide information on the full scope of available treatment alternatives and cannot steer people towards or condition treatment on “do not resuscitate” (DNR) policies. It also weighs in on the discriminatory impact of a number of other provisions common in many states’ rationing plans.
Updates on Health Care Policies with Impacts for Georgia:
1332 Waiver: Georgia recently resubmitted an application for a waiver that would allow it to change how many Georgians purchase health insurance. The waiver would allow Georgia to stop using the federal marketplace to enroll Georgians in health insurance without replacing it with a state-based marketplace. Instead, Georgians would enroll in health insurance through insurers themselves or web brokers, which is likely to lead to confusion and coverage losses. GCDD and CPR submitted comments in opposition to the proposal, and we will keep you updated as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) considers Georgia’s application.
For more about the 1332 waiver, check here and here.
United States v. Georgia: The Independent Reviewer of the Olmsteadsettlement agreement between Georgia and the Department of Justice (DOJ) recently issued a compliance report. While the scope of the report was limited due to COVID-19, the report discusses areas of progress and concerns in the adult developmental disabilities (DD) and mental health systems. Concerns regarding the DD system include the impact of recent budget cuts; ongoing issues with support coordination; lack of clinical supports for people with DD and complex medical or behavioral needs; and failure to implement provider corrective action plans.
GAO v. Georgia (GNETS): This spring, both of the judges overseeing the two lawsuits challenging the Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Supports (GNETS) – one brought by DOJ and the other by private advocates including the Georgia Advocacy Office and CPR – denied motions from Georgia attempting to dismiss the cases. Both cases are now in the “discovery” phase, where the parties formally gather information to use in a trial. We are interested in continuing to hear from families and other stakeholders about their experiences with GNETS.
You can contact the Georgia Advocacy Office by phone at (404) 885-1234 (or toll-free in Georgia at 1-800-537-2329) or by email at if you have information to share or questions about GNETS.
On the Fall Horizon:
Money Follows the Person: After the coronavirus pandemic hit, the Money Follows the Person (MFP) program, which helps people with disabilities and older adults move out of institutions and into the community, was given another short-term extension until November 30. On October 1, a larger government funding bill needed to avoid a government shutdown was signed into law to extend current government funding until December 11, including for MFP. This means that any discussion of a long-term or permanent extension, which we had been advocating for throughout this Congress, is unlikely until a new Congress begins in January 2021. Also, in September, CMS announced that states with operational MFP programs, including Georgia, can apply for additional funding that had been allocated by Congress.
Supreme Court Vacancy: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the author of the majority opinion in Olmstead v. L.C. affirming the rights of people with disabilities to live, work and participate in their communities, passed away on September 18. President Trump has nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals to replace Justice Ginsburg, and the Senate is expected to quickly consider her nomination.
As with all Supreme Court nominations, the disability community is examining her record on issues important to people with disabilities. Of note, Judge Barrett has publicly expressed opposition to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), raising concerns about how she might rule when the Supreme Court hears argument in November.
These updates represent only a small portion of what we’re working on. For more on our work, visit our website and connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.
Note: information current as of 10/5/20
By Alison Barkoff and Erin Shea, Center for Public Representation
It seems like everywhere we turn, politically themed images are staring us in the face. They’re on TV, social media and billboards. We can’t escape them. We are in the middle of a presidential campaign, and in Georgia, the beginning of a campaign to elect every member of the Georgia General Assembly and members of US Congress. Regardless of party affiliation, politics are indeed everywhere.
Finally, GCDD has been hard at work planning for the 2020 legislative session and subsequent elections. Since politics is slated to be at the forefront of the national and statewide stages in 2020, we are preparing for a big year. One of the ways in which we are preparing includes the return of Advocacy Days. Be sure to read more below about how to get involved at the Capitol, starting in January.
As another way to gear up for elections, GCDD was recently invited to participate in a discussion about people with disabilities and the ability to vote. Many are concerned that moving to strictly paper ballots will make voting inaccessible to many people with disabilities. For example, if you can’t see what’s on the paper, reach the paper or write on the paper, then how can you vote?
The introduction of electronic ballot machines years ago meant that many people with disabilities could vote for the very first time without assistance. Still, others say that these machines are not secure and vulnerable to cybersecurity threats such as hacking. I am not adequately convinced of a solution, but I do know that we must continue the work of making sure that anyone, including individuals with disabilities who want to vote, are able to do so. We must also be mindful that many people with disabilities want to do this independently and not with the assistance of someone else.
This is an important time for all of us to make our voices heard. Make sure you are registered and prepared to vote, regardless of how difficult it may seem. This is your chance to have your voice heard. (Tip: Check your voter registration status, apply for mail-in voting, find your polling location and more via the Georgia Secretary of State’s My Voter Page.)
Check out GCDD’s website and join our advocacy network so that you can stay informed. We hope you enjoy reading this newsletter. Let us know your thoughts and comments about the magazine by writing to Managing Editor, Hillary Hibben, at .
Public Policy for the People: 2020 Advocacy Days are Here!
Public Policy for the People provides public policy updates as it pertains to people with disabilities here in Georgia.
MARK YOUR CALENDARS for 2020 Advocacy Days: January 29, February 6, February 19, February 27 and March 11!
Join GCDD at the Capitol during the 2020 legislative session to learn about policies affecting people with disabilities, and join advocates from across the state in speaking with elected officials about these very important issues. We need your help to educate Georgia’s lawmakers about topics that affect our community.
What to expect at each Advocacy Day: Each day kicks off at 8 a.m. at the Central Presbyterian Church, across from the Gold Dome, where leaders from GCDD and other organizations will train and teach advocates how to approach legislators, make connections and discuss the topics that are important to you. After the interactive training, advocates and leaders will head over to the Gold Dome to meet with legislators.
GCDD is seeking team leads for its 2020 Advocacy Days! Geared at preparing advocates to take a leadership role at the annual advocacy event, team lead volunteers will learn how to navigate the Georgia State Capitol and support attendees in speaking with their legislators. This is a great opportunity for anyone interested in honing their advocacy skills and leading others to raise their voices!
GCDD is thrilled to welcome Kayla Rodriguez to our team! As an intern in our communications and public policy departments, Kayla assists leadership on such initiatives as content creation, administrative support and more.
Earlier in 2019, Kayla participated in GCDD’s 2019 Advocacy Days where she learned about public policy issues, as well as how to identify and build relationships with her legislators. It is during this experience that she also learned more about problems facing the disability community and how people can advocate to solve them.
“My experience during Advocacy Days really helped lay the foundation of what I’d be doing in my internship,” Kayla said. “I left that experience feeling equipped and prepared to advocate for change.”
Overall, Kayla has worked professionally in disability advocacy for three years. She became familiar with the world of disability advocacy through the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN) and hopes to work toward improving the lives of future generations.
Prior to joining GCDD, Kayla collaborated with some of Georgia’s most prominent leaders in the disability community. After high school, she joined the Bobby Dodd Institute’s Ambassador Program where she trained under disability advocate Kylie Moore. Through this program, Kayla met Mark Crenshaw, a director at the Center for Leadership in Disability at Georgia State University. She worked alongside Mark as a participant in the Georgia Leadership Education of Neurodevelopmental Disabilities Program (GaLEND). Through GaLEND, Kayla was introduced to My Voice. My Participation. My Board, a leadership and advocacy program, where she trained under training and advocacy specialist Molly Tucker.
Originally from New York, Kayla lived in Florida and Virginia before settling in Georgia nearly seven years ago. Outside the office, Kayla enjoys video games, animation, rock/indie music, YouTube and hanging out with friends.
“My favorite part of being at GCDD is how kind and understanding everyone is and how calm the work environment is,” said Kayla. “I’m excited to be an intern here and look forward to making a difference!”
GCDD Honored by BELL Academy
In a hotel conference room sprinkled with a selection of non-visual toys and adapted board games, Raveena Alli typed out her name on a braille typewriter. Alli, a 13-year-old student mentor, started attending the BELL Academy to practice braille literacy skills when she was four years old. She was wearing a Ruth Bader Ginsberg shirt at the National Federation of the Blind of Georgia’s (NFBGA) 2019 state convention.
“There are things you do differently as a blind person,” Alli said while she demonstrated. “Things you wouldn’t even think about as a sighted person.”
On Oct. 5, the NFBGA honored the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) as a platinum-level sponsor and consistent supporter of the BELL Academy at its 2019 state convention in Augusta. BELL stands for “braille enrichment for literacy and learning,” and the academy is a week-long, immersive summer program that offers blind and low-vision young people a social and educational environment to learn fundamental literacy skills.
Monopoly Board adapted for use by the blind.Seventeen students attended the NFBGA’s 2019 BELL Academy, which took place at Columbus State University this summer. Braille literacy and other non-visual skills have a profound effect on blind people’s abilities to learn, work and live fully. The residential camp includes a rigorous academic program, but organizers also make time for field trips, socialization and fun — all meant to build self-confidence and self-determination.
GCDD is involved with the funding and coordination of efforts like BELL across the state. Students get to keep most everything they are provided with during the program, including games and tactile sketch pads that help students conceptualize and learn by drawing. While recognizing GCDD at the convention with a speech and plaque, Jackie Anderson, an instructor of blind students at the NFBGA who created the first BELL Academy in Maryland, stressed the work and funding that makes the program possible. Anderson called the council a friend who answers calls for help in a big way.
“Thank you for helping us provide our students with the skills they need so they can live the lives that they want,” Anderson said.
Cheers and applause for the students, donors and organizers filled the room, and the small audience briefly seemed much larger. Community partnership is crucial to the BELL program’s continued existence, level of service and growth.
The crowd applauded as NFBGA honored the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) as a platinum-level sponsor and consistent supporter of the BELL Academy at its 2019 state convention in Augusta.Alli is too old for BELL now, but she continues with the program through BELLX, a local extension of the program where students continue their education and mentor their peers. Alli says that many blind kids don’t get access to the same level of resources and individualized instruction during the school year, and she appreciates BELLX for the chance to be with her peers and make a difference in younger kids’ lives.
“You need to have empathy, confidence and advocacy skills because the expectations for blind people right now are so low,” said Alli. “This gives us a chance to not only be proficient ourselves but take those things that we’re learning and use them for the greater good — to help younger kids who still have to learn braille.”
A total of 384 people attended the DBHDD Forums.
Feeling Heard: Georgia Family Forums Achieve Their Goal
A total of 384 people attended the forums held in Marietta, Lawrenceville, Macon, Savannah and online.
DBHDD received insight directly from forum attendees which they will use to guide future decisions.The idea behind the forums was to increase collaboration with community stakeholders. DBHDD believes it is essential for families to have not only the opportunity to learn about the resources available but also have a voice, ask questions and share concerns. Rita Young and Associates organized the forums in collaboration with DBHDD.
Forum discussions covered the New Options Waiver Program (NOW) and the Comprehensive Supports (COMP) Waiver Programs, as well as the new Individualized Service Plan (ISP) and the I/DD Connects Portal for Family Access, both of which went live on August 19, 2019. Other topics included crisis services; competitive, integrated employment; electronic visit verification; and Georgia STABLE accounts.
The forums focused on the direction of services for individuals with I/DD in Georgia and provided attendees an opportunity to meet the DBHDD division director, Ron Wakefield, and his staff, including Amy Riedesel, Director of Community Services, and Ashleigh Henneberger, Director of Waiver Services.
Attendees were glad to get the opportunity to be heard.
With an additional forum goal of increasing collaboration with community stakeholders, “The family forums created a space that allowed everyone to have a seat at the table. I’m honored to have the opportunity to listen and learn from individuals and their families all over the great state of Georgia,” said Wakefield.
DBHDD explained the insight received directly from families was very valuable and will help guide future decisions within the Division of DD. In addition, the agency learned about system barriers and suggestions on how to address those barriers. The goal of hearing directly from families about what’s working for them and recommendations for areas for improvement was met. One key insight DBHDD heard was individuals value the services they have and want to continue to have both access and choice regarding their services. One Lawrenceville attendee’s evaluation of the forum was, “It was wonderful to ‘feel heard’.”
Plans by the DBHDD for the future include:
Having a clinical contributor for correspondence, informing providers and families of the services and trends related to I/DD services and supports.
Providing a developer of content that promotes skills of health advocacy, targeting members of support systems of individuals with I/DD.
Developing clinical partner participation in initiatives, promoting access to clinical resources.
For more information about what was presented at the family forums, the PowerPoint, as well as frequently asked questions (FAQs), is posted on the DBHDD website.
On November 3, Americans went to polls, and it appears that Joe Biden has been elected the next president of the United States. While we await his inauguration, many of us have questions about his policies for people with disabilities and who he may appoint to fill the many jobs that will impact people with disabilities. In addition, for those of us in Georgia we still have not elected anyone to the U.S. Senate. The runoff for these offices will be January 5, 2021, and through this vote, Georgians will determine who has control over the U.S. Senate.
The Georgia Disability Vote Partnership, a collaboration between several disability-focused organizations, began work immediately after the election. The partnership is working to get information from the candidates to share with you, and we are also working to share information with the candidates about issues important to people with disabilities and their families. Be on the alert for upcoming information and events from the partnership.
Almost immediately after the runoff on January 5, the Georgia General Assembly will begin meeting. Most of the General Assembly’s business will be done virtually, which means that if you have internet access, you may be able to listen in to meetings of the House or Senate and their committees. Also, GCDD will be hosting a series of virtual Advocacy Days to help you connect with your elected officials and talk with them about you and your families’ needs around employment, Medicaid waiver waiting lists and other supports.
GCDD thanks all those who participated in our town halls, surveys and focus groups related to the creation of our strategic plan. The information you provided was invaluable to staff and council members as we try and determine the direction GCDD will go with our financial and human resources. We hope to have a draft available to the public in late April or early May.
Finally, I want to introduce you to four new GCDD council members who were recently appointed by Governor Kemp. Governor Kemp appointed Wesley Ford (Jackson), Rena Harris (Lawrenceville), Nick Perry (Stone Mountain) and Lisa Newbern (Atlanta). We welcome them all and hope that you will reach out to them as your representatives to GCDD.
In addition, Evan Nodvin has been appointed as the interim chairperson of the council. Evan has served with GCDD for a number of years and has been a member of the executive committee. Evan will serve until a new chairperson is elected in January. Congratulations to Evan and the entire Nodvin family!
We hope you enjoy reading this newsletter, and we want to hear from you. Let us know your thoughts and comments by writing to Managing Editor Hillary Hibben at .
Public Policy for the People: The Race for the Runoff: All Eyes on Georgia
— Alyssa Lee, PsyD, GCDD Public Policy Research and Development Director
Public Policy for the People provides public policy updates as it pertains to people with disabilities here in Georgia.
GCDD is calling on our advocates to make their voices heard once again! Although we just voted in the general election last month (in record numbers, by the way!), we have one more chance this election cycle to make sure we are involved in choosing who represents us at the federal level.
As you might have learned from local and national news, we’ve got an important US Senate runoff underway, and GCDD is here to try and answer all the important questions.
Q: So what is a runoff election and why do we need to vote for U.S. senators AGAIN?
We like to do things our own way here in Georgia, and our elections are no different. In Georgia, if a candidate does not get the majority of votes (that means 50 percent plus one vote), then the top two candidates go into a runoff, which is meant to give us one more chance to have our say by breaking a very important tie.
This year during the general election, no candidate, in either of the two senate races, received 50 percent of the vote, which is why we are being asked to vote once more.
Q: Okay, we have another vote. Why is this vote so important?
First, this vote is so important because we have the opportunity to elect BOTH of our federal senators, and we only have two federal senators from Georgia, which will make all the difference in how key supports and services are impacted. The saying “nothing about us without us” is critical during this election, and voting is our way of making sure we are represented!
These senate races have also received more attention than usual because the results will impact whether republicans or democrats have control of decision making in the US Senate. This means that we need to be informed on the candidates’ views so that we can make sure to vote for the person who will work best for what we want and need in our state.
Q: Wow, this vote is important! Who is running and what are they proposing for Georgia’s future?
Below are the candidates for each seat, as well as information on their platforms and voting records.
Sen. David PerdueJon OssoffSen. David Perdue (Republican-Incumbent) vs Jon Ossoff (Democrat)
Once there, you will need to enter information including your name, date of birth and county of residence.
If you’re not registered, you can do so by supplying your driver's license or state ID number.
Applications can be completed online or printed and mailed in.
Once you get your absentee ballot and fill it out, you can mail it in, but remember, your ballot must be received by 7 p.m. on Tuesday, January 5 to be counted!
If you have worries that your ballot might not make it in time, some counties allow you to easily drop it off at a secure drop box location. If you use a drop box, the drop box MUST be located in the county in which you are registered to vote. You can find the best drop box location for you by contacting your county government. If your county does not have a drop box, you might be able to turn your ballot in in-person at your county Board of Registrations and Elections office.
In conclusion, we hope you feel like a more informed voter! If you have any issues and need additional assistance, especially if you plan to vote in person on January 5, here are a few key resources:
GEORGIA ADVOCACY OFFICE: 800-537-2329
THE GEORGIA DEMOCRATS VOTER PROTECTION LINE: 888-730-5816
THE REPUBLICAN PARTY OF GEORGIA: 404-257-5559
GCDD Public Policy Team Public Policy Research & Development Director Dr. Alyssa Lee: Legislative Advocacy Director Charlie Miller:
— Alyssa Lee, PsyD, GCDD Public Policy Research and Development Director
Advocates, it is almost that time of year again where we all work to make our voices heard during Georgia’s legislative session. Traditionally, GCDD has hosted five Advocacy Days each session, which are opportunities for people with developmental disabilities and their allies to learn about important issues to the disability community. Attendees also learn how to participate in the legislative process by connecting with their legislators.
Typically, our Advocacy Days have been in-person events where advocates can meet their legislators at “the ropes” of the Georgia State Capitol; however, COVID-19 has created an environment that makes in-person advocacy currently unsafe. As a result, GCDD is moving our well-attended, in-person advocacy days online! Rather than our typical five events, we will have three virtual events that include a full agenda, including background and context on the issue of the day; training on how to advocate; and opportunities to interact with legislators.
In addition to our Virtual Advocacy Days, we will also host our first virtual Advocate Awards ceremony after the legislative session as a way to celebrate the hard work of each of our advocates during the 2021 legislative session!
Here are our current dates and topics, which are subject to change depending on the nature of the upcoming session:
Wednesday, January 27: Advocacy Day #1 Topic: Home and community-based services (HCBS) Medicaid waivers
Tuesday, February 16: Advocacy Day #2 Topic: Inclusive post-secondary education (IPSE)
Tuesday, March 2: Advocacy Day #3 Topic: Competitive, integrated employment/supported employment
Thursday, April 15: Advocate Awards Ceremony
Be on the lookout for additional information about how to register and what to expect during our 2021 Virtual Advocacy Days!
Governor Brian Kemp has named four state residents to the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) and reappointed six other individuals. The goal of the council’s work is to increase opportunities for independence, inclusion, integration, productivity and self-determination for all persons with developmental disabilities.
New to the council are:
Nick Perry is a sibling of a person with intellectual and other developmental disabilities (I/DD), a foster parent to children with I/DD and a professional in the disability field. Perry explains, “I joined the council because advocating for and with individuals with I/DD is a part of my identity and being a part of the council aligns with that.” Perry hopes to bring awareness to issues impacting Georgians living with developmental disabilities from the perspective of his family members as well as all he serves. He resides in Stone Mountain. Perry is inspired daily by the words of Job 29:14-16: “I put on righteousness as my clothing; Justice was my robe and my crown. I was eyes to the blind and feet (to those who could not walk). I was a father to the poor; I took up the case of the stranger.”
Lisa Marie Newbern previously served the council as a family advisor. She will participate as a parent advocate on GCDD. Newbern lives in Atlanta. She says, “I hope to help make a difference for all those who have developmental disabilities as well as their loved ones and friends. Working with the council and all its partners, I want to help create inclusive communities that value those who have developmental disabilities and support opportunities for them across the lifespan — from learning and playing to working and worshiping.” In addition, Newbern says, “Being a mom is most important to me. I can never get enough time with my kids!”
Rena Harris is the executive director of Georgia Options, Inc. She has spent nearly 25 years working with individuals with I/DD and will represent her organization on the council. She says she wants to be at the table, doing everything she can to ensure true inclusion and equity for fellow citizens with developmental disabilities. Her goal in working with the council is that people with developmental disabilities, especially waiver recipients, are able to access the same choice and opportunity as those without disabilities. Right now, however, Harris says, “I’m in the process of surviving with two teenage daughters during digital learning.” Harris lives in Lawrenceville.
Wesley Ford is a self-advocate appointed to the council. A resident of Jackson, Ford says, “My passion is to share information through various ways that lead to a better understanding of Down syndrome and other disabilities. I want people to know and understand that special-needs individuals are capable of making a powerful impact in their community if they are given the opportunity and the support that they need!” Ford’s life goal is to help all people discover their limitless possibilities through various programs, events and training, which he shares on his Facebook page. Ford says he has a voice and the right to participate in advocating for changes.
Council member Evan Nodvin was reappointed for another council term by the governor. Nodvin is serving as the interim chair of the council. An Atlanta resident, he works at Canterbury Court as a kitchen assistant. He is a graduate of Partners in Policy Making; a graduate of My Voice, My Participation, My Board; a past Buddy of the Year for the Down Syndrome Association of Atlanta; a co-chair of the Special Friends Sabbath Inclusion Program at Congregation B'nai Torah in Atlanta; and a gold-medal Special Olympian. Nodvin enjoys speaking on employment and self-advocacy, as well as the importance of the Medicaid waiver to achieve independence.
Additionally, these people were reappointed to GCDD:
Nandi Isaac will continue to serve as a self-advocate on the council. She is from Macon.
Deborah Hibben is a parent advocate who is a retired high school administrator. She resides in McDonough.
Teresa Heard is a parent advocate for her 20-year-old son and lives in Albany.
Dorothy Harris is a self-advocate who resides in Fitzgerald. She is the secretary for People First of Georgia.
Parker Glick lives in Decatur and is a self-advocate. He previously served as the chair of the council’s executive committee.
The council is a 27-member board, appointed by the governor and comprised of at least 60 percent individuals with developmental disabilities and family members along with policymakers that represent various agencies and organizations having a vested interest in persons with developmental disabilities.
As the policy and advocacy fellow at the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD), Naomi Williams supports GCDD in promoting public policy that creates an integrated community life for people with developmental disabilities, their families, friends, neighbors and all who support them. Williams also assists GCDD in its ongoing efforts related to the 2021 legislative session of the Georgia General Assembly, as well as in the organization’s federal advocacy efforts.
Working alongside the public policy team, Williams tracks legislation and prepares updates; attends critical legislative and organizational meetings; helps execute virtual events; works to engage grassroots advocates; develops advocacy- and policy-related materials; and more.
Williams brings to GCDD 20 years of professional experience in myriad roles. For the past decade, Williams has served as a family support coordinator for a health care organization. She helps patients and families navigate systems while also supporting staff, patients and families by providing parent engagement activities; hospital and community resources; grief support; stress management techniques; and program development to enhance the patient experience and process improvement.
After earning her bachelor’ degree in health and physical education from Augusta University, Williams received a master’s degree in public health from Walden University. She later honed her advocacy skills through such endeavors as interning at her local American Cancer Society branch; focusing on how to reduce racial disparities in infant and maternal mortality with a grant-funded, rural Healthy Start program; serving as a yoga instructor and grief support coach; earning ethics in healthcare leadership certificates; and most importantly, raising her son.
“Raising my son with significant disabilities means I continue to navigate the systems that allow people to be active members in their communities and achieve a meaningful quality of life,” said Williams. “My personal and professional experience continues to inform my work, and I am excited to further it as a part of the GCDD team.”
Constant in her ventures is Williams’ desire to help people and be a source of edification for her community, as evidenced in how she invests her time – both on and off the clock. Among her current roles, she serves as co-chair of the Patient Family Centered Care Partners Diversity Equity and Inclusion Workgroup.
“Public health and health services are such broad fields with unlimited paths, and I love the learning and teaching opportunities they afford,” said Williams. “I thrive on sharing knowledge and empowering people, and I look forward to doing that at GCDD, albeit in nontraditional ways.”
Originally from western Pennsylvania, Williams makes her home in Evans, Ga. She is a proud mom to her 11-year-old son, an abstract artist and endurance athlete, who is also diagnosed with spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy and cortical visual impairment. When she’s not working, Williams enjoys getting outdoors and exploring new places – cityscapes and countryside alike. She thrives on spending time with family and friends; completing long bike rides; cheering on her son during races; and taking long, deep breaths on her yoga mat.
Williams will serve as the GCDD policy and advocacy fellow through June 1, 2021.
Advancing Employment is dedicated to building a community for inclusive employment in Georgia. Through Advancing Employment, individuals with disabilities, their families, service providers and others interested in employment can learn and connect with one another. Advancing Employment supports provider transformation through technical assistance, training, information and resources to ensure supports successfully foster competitive, integrated employment.
In December, Advancing Employment will host two webinars focused on self-employment and what’s next for competitive, integrated employment. Learn more below and register today!
Tuesday, December 8, 2020 | 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. | Rhode Island’s Self-Employment Initiative
Presenter: Sue Babin, Rhode Island DD Council
Sue Babin, from the Rhode Island DD Council, will lead the conversation on all things self-employment — including human services and entrepreneurial initiatives. Babin has helped people with disabilities and their families start, operate many businesses and turn a profit! Among other things, she will discuss the role self-directed waiver services play in self-employment.
Tuesday, December 15, 2020 |2 p.m. to 3 p.m. | A Year in Review: An Advancing Employment Panel on ACRE, the CoP and What’s Up Next!
Presenter: Doug Crandell, MFA, Director of Advancing Employment Technical Assistance Center, Institute on Human Development & Disability, Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Education, Research & Service (UCEDD)
This informative and entertaining forum will feature panelists from Georgia’s Community of Practice. The panel will include people who’ve gone through Association of Community Rehabilitation Educators (ACRE) training, Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency counselor(s) and other surprise guests. The panelists will discuss training, collaboration, and momentum regarding topics as wide-ranging as supported self-employment, economic development, credentialing and social capital.
On January 10, 2022, the Georgia General Assembly will begin, and it's time for all of us to advocate for the changes we want to see in the intellectual/developmental disability (I/DD) system. Last year, the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) produced 6,000 Waiting as a tool to educate advocates about the needs of people on the waiting list for home and community-based services. Now we need to take that message to the legislature. Georgia has a multi-billion-dollar surplus sometimes called the Rainy-Day Fund. Our message needs to be that for individuals and families on the waiting list it is raining, and the funds need to be made available to get the services and supports they need. Everyone should be contacting our state representative and senator to let them know that we need to address the waiting list.
This year, GCDD will support three virtual Advocacy Days to help with issues that require either legislation or budget requests. However, virtual makes it more difficult to connect with our elected officials. This means you must meet with them when they are at home or call their offices. Let them know about the issues that are important to people with I/DD. Tell them that we need to increase wages for direct support professionals, and we need to end paying people with I/DD subminimum wages.
As I wrote in Making a Difference, I will retire from GCDD on May 1, 2021. One of the activities I am most proud of is the development of a strong advocacy program. It brings joy to me when I think about Disability Day at the Capitol going from a few people in one room to over 3,000 people. There were times when we had so many people attending Advocacy Days that there were lines of people in wheelchairs trying to get into the Capitol and talk with their legislators. As a community, we have made our voices heard.
Finally, I want to say thank you to Teresa Heard who has resigned as a GCDD member. Teresa most recently served as Vice-Chairperson. Teresa has been a great member and reminds us about the needs of rural Georgia. However, most importantly, Teresa has prepared her son Derrick to be his own best advocate.
We hope you enjoy reading this newsletter, and we want to hear from you. Let us know your thoughts and comments about the magazine by writing to .
Eric E. Jacobson, GCDD Executive Director
Public Policy for the People
Public Policy for the People provides public policy updates as it pertains to people with disabilities here in Georgia.
Hello Advocates, the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) Policy team has been working hard to tackle the special legislative session. The special session closed on Monday, November 22, 2021. With the redistricting process behind us and some important committee meetings done, we are excited to take a break for the holidays. Below are the highlights of the special session and information about our upcoming Advocacy Days!
On November 3, Governor Brian Kemp called for a special session regarding the proclamation for redistricting in the state of Georgia. Before getting to the drawing of proposed districts, the Georgia Legislator held eleven meetings across the state this past summer to seek public opinion on how the maps should be drawn. After receiving the public’s opinion and comments, the Georgia Senate and House of Representatives started the debate and have now created a new state Senate map and a new state House map.
Currently, the Republicans hold enough seats in both the House and Senate to draw the districts. The Chairman of the Senate Redistricting Committee, Senator John F. Kennedy, has made a point to not draw any Senate incumbent into another district. In the House, there has been a lot more controversy around redistricting. Currently the Georgia House of Representatives has 180 members, some of which are having their districts changed. There is a strong suspicion that some of the House members will be challenging some of their Senate colleagues. They are currently working on finishing out the Federal House districts which will bring some state representatives into a new district.
GCDD is looking forward to an interesting legislative session in 2022. With the Biannual approaching, we will see some bills that haven’t been passed, finally get reintroduced and possibly passed during the session.
We are also really excited to announce our 2022 Advocacy Days for the 2022 legislative session. After surveying the community, we were able to come up with GCDD’s Legislative priorities. The 2022 Advocacy Days, which will be virtual, are as follows:
Wednesday, January 26th: Addressing the Direct Support Professional Workforce Shortage
Wednesday, February 16th: Reducing the NOW/COMP Waiver Waitlist
Wednesday, March 16th: Ending Sub Minimum Wage Practices
(Advocacy Days dates are subject to change based on the legislative session calendar.)
Please be sure to look out for more details about how to sign up and participate with us during the scheduled Advocacy Days. In the meantime, we encourage everyone to reach out and get to know their legislator. Go to Open States to find your state representative.
As always Advocates, visit GCDD's website to stay up to date with all the latest GCDD advocacy opportunities and information.
GCDD Public Policy Team: Public Policy Research & Development Director Dr. Alyssa Miller: Legislative Advocacy Director Charlie Miller:
By Naomi Williams, GCDD Vaccination Project Coordinator
We are nearing the end of 2021, and COVID-19 is still prevalent and a huge topic of conversation in the world today. As we embark on the holiday season, we must remain vigilant in doing our part to lessen the spread of COVID-19 and its variants. It’s important for us to be mindful that the virus can impact people in different ways; for some, the effects of contracting COVID-19 is no more than a cold; while for others, it is catastrophic and life altering. We, personally, won’t know how the virus will impact us until we contract it. We know there aren’t any guarantees that getting vaccinated will prevent a person from getting COVID-19. What we have learned and do know is that vaccination significantly reduces the need for hospitalization and death.
Children ages five to 11 years old are now able to receive the Pfizer vaccine. As you choose the best route for your child(ren) and family, we encourage you to have honest, open, and clear conversations with your child and child’s pediatrician.
As the parent of a 12-year-old with chronic complex medical care, I too was in a conflicting state of “what’s the best decision” to make regarding vaccination. After talking with my son and his pediatrician and talking through the risks versus the benefits of contracting COVID-19 or variant or vaccination, we opted for the vaccination.
Currently, 50% of Georgians are fully vaccinated. GCDD and its partners in the Developmental Disability (DD) Network have been working cooperatively and strategically with the updates to share with individuals with I/DD , their family members, and caregivers. June through October 2021, GCDD held listening sessions to hear from communities about their concerns, confidence, resistance, hesitance, and overall questions related to COVID-19 vaccination and its impact.
We strive to combat misinformation communicated to communities, and one way we’ve learned to do this within the I/DD’s community is by providing and helping families access information in their native language. The webinar sessions include American Sign Language (ASL) and Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) – live real time transcription. On November 17, 2021, the DD Network hosted a COVID-19 information session in Spanish for parents and caregivers of children ages five to 11 years old. A big thank you to Dr. Nelly Mizrahi of Emory Healthcare for sharing important information and answering participant questions.
On December 8, another information session in English will be provided for parents and caregivers. Parents of children ages five to 11 will be on the call, sharing their experience, questions and route to vaccination decision making. We are also pleased to have Dr. Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp, the Chief of the Developmental Disabilities branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and pediatricians Dr. Natalia Benza and Dr. Jennifer Zubler.
Individuals aged five years and older can receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Who is eligible for a booster shot?
All adults, 18 and older, who received their second Pfizer or Moderna shot at least six months ago, can receive a booster shot. Those who received the Johnson & Johnson shot can get a booster shot two months after their first.
How much does it cost?
Vaccination is free to you, and no payment is required.
What if I can’t leave my house and want to get vaccinated?
Email or call (888) 572-0112
How will the vaccine impact the other conditions or medications that my child or I take on a regular basis?
Talk to your primary care doctor or your child’s pediatrician about the medical conditions and medications that are being taken and the concerns that you have.
As we strive for balance and a sense of normalcy to our lives, it will take all of us doing our best and our part in protecting ourselves, our loved ones, and our community. Remember, there are several ways we can do this: 1) get vaccinated 2) wash your hands 3) wear a mask – especially if not feeling well 4) physically distance and stay 6 feet apart from others.
GCDD has welcomed two new staff members to their team this past month.
Tianna Faulkner is the new Media Relations Director for GCDD. Her duties include overseeing the Making a Difference Magazine, the GCDD e-newsletter, and Annual Report. In addition, she will handle all media relations for the Council. Faulkner has a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Mass Media Arts, with a concentration in Public Relations from Clark Atlanta University. She is currently pursuing an MBA degree from Mercer University.
A seasoned public relations professional and former journalist, Faulkner’s experience has been with various public relations agencies and nonprofit organizations. Her areas of expertise are in marketing, branding, promotions, and media relations. Faulkner is a member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). She has been recognized by the Lupus Foundation of America, Georgia Chapter, for excellence in her public relations work.
In joining the GCDD staff, Faulkner said, “I have always wanted to work for an organization whose mission is to serve and better the lives of others. My goal is to use my voice, skills, and talents to help others indirectly or directly.”
A resident in metro Atlanta, Faulkner lives by the Clark Atlanta University motto, which is “To Find a Way or Make One.” Faulkner added, “I also believe that you should never give up on your dreams.” She is an active community volunteer and enjoys reading, travelling, and spending time with her family and friends.
Isabel KnofczynskiIsabel Knofczynski is GCDD’s new Public Policy and Advocacy Fellow, supporting the Council’s mission of promoting public policies that create an integrated community for Georgians with I/DD. Her work will include tracking legislation, researching, and developing policy materials, and attending committee meetings during the legislative session.
Currently an undergraduate studying Public Policy at Georgia Tech, Knofczynski has had the opportunity to complete coursework and contribute to research on the complexities of the legislative process. She is looking forward to using what she has learned and applying that to promoting GCDD’s policy agenda.
Knofczynski is the oldest of eight children, and three of her younger siblings have disabilities, including Down syndrome and autism. “I’m passionate about any opportunity to use the tools of policy and law to impact people’s everyday lives, especially by promoting the creation and development of integrated communities. People with disabilities have historically faced exclusion from certain communities, and I'm excited to advocate for their continual and intentional inclusion. This role felt like the perfect opportunity to combine my professional experiences and skill set with a policy area that I am passionate about,” Knofczynski said.
Originally from Savannah, Knofczynski now resides in Atlanta. She loves to travel and has been to 49 of the 50 United States, with Alaska remaining on her list to visit. She has traveled both domestically and internationally, spending the last four summers doing road trips and camping.
2022 Advocacy Days (virtual) from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Wednesday, January 26th: Addressing the Direct Support Professional Workforce Shortage
Wednesday, February 16th: Reducing the NOW/COMP Waiver Waitlist
Wednesday, March 16th: Ending Sub Minimum Wage Practices
A Digital Newsletter from the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities • December 2022
The Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities newsletter from keeps you up-to-date on the latest news from what’s happening with public policy in Georgia to COVID-19 updates to upcoming events. This issue has a special feature remembering the legacy of Lois Curtis and a recap of the 2022 midterm elections in Georgia.
A teenage girl pleading for aid for her brother. A young man sharing the story of the isolation that defined his life for decades. Provider after provider, talking about the near impossibility of providing care when you can pay staff less than what a McDonald’s employee makes. And parent after parent, sharing some of the most challenging realities of their families’ lives. The stories had a common theme—how families are scraping support together for their loved ones with disabilities, under circumstances that would try even the most resilient souls. Situations that families currently deal with include waiting years for a waiver or struggling to find providers even once a waiver is secured, or having their child placed in an out of state residential treatment center with no support at discharge once they return home.
These are just a few examples of the testimonies that the Senate Study Committee on People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and Waiver Plan Access has heard over the past few months. These stories can be incredibly hard to listen to. And yet, a common theme at the committee’s November meeting was hope, which makes me think of Lois Jeanette Curtis.
People reading this know that Lois was sent to live at Georgia Regional Hospital when she was just 11 years old. She spent her teens and twenties in and out institutions. Somehow, some way, Lois never lost her hope that things could be different. She was famous for calling her attorney and asking when she could get out. Not only did she get out, but Lois and Elaine Wilson paved the way for people with disabilities all across the country to live in the community, thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling in their favor in Olmstead v. LC.
Lois is no longer with us, but her legacy shines every time someone in the disability community speaks a hard truth while holding onto hope that things can be better, and putting in the good, hard work to make it so.
By shining a light on what so many Georgians with disabilities and their families are experiencing, we’re setting ourselves up to change things for the better. That brings me great hope!
D'Arcy Robb, Executive Director
GCDD Welcomes New Public Policy Fellow
Aaron Quick is the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities’ (GCDD) new Public Policy Fellow. He has a bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio and a master’s degree in Social Work from North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina. Currently he is enrolled in the Whitney M. Young Jr. School of Social Work Policy, Planning and Administration, and Social Science Ph.D. Program at Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia. His area of research in the Ph.D. Program is Criminal Justice. Through his education, Quick has experience doing legislation and policy analysis. He said having a bachelor's and master’s degree in social work has equipped him with significant knowledge and competency to work with people with disabilities, using the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines, and ableist speech in the workplace, and in agency policy. Additionally, he has worked for the Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity at North Carolina State University, volunteered at Canine CellMates, a rehabilitation program in Atlanta, Georgia, and was a research assistant for In Her Hands, a Georgia Resilience and Opportunity (GRO) Fund flagship project also in Atlanta, Georgia.
With his degree focusing on policy and leadership, Quick’s goal is to become a legislator one day. A motto he lives by is “Slowly is the fastest way to get where you want to be so learn to enjoy the journey.” He has an older brother who lives with autism and therefore has a personal connection working with and creating spaces for individuals living with developmental disabilities. In his free time, Quick enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking, kayaking, and bicycle riding. He also enjoys flying and taking aerial footage with his drone, traveling to different countries like Spain, Italy, and France, and singing karaoke with friends.
2022 Midterm Elections Recap
Public Policy for the People provides public policy updates as it pertains to people with disabilities here in Georgia.
The polls are closed, and votes are in. We are excited to give you an election recap of Georgia's elections that were held on November 8. Georgia saw a robust early voting turnout with over 1,668,609 votes cast beginning October 17. Compared to 2018’s early voting turn out, which was 1,192,688, there was an increase of 475,921 early votes. A total of 3,964,068 votes were casted throughout Georgia's elections.
This election determined one of Georgia's two United States Senate seats as well as Georgia’s elected offices of governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, labor commissioner, agriculture commissioner, superintendent of Georgia, and insurance commissioner.
In Georgia, if neither candidate receives 50+1% of the vote they are forced to go into a run-off election. Georgia’s U.S. senate seat will be going into a run-off between Senator Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker. The run-off election will be held on December 6 and polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. To check and make sure you are registered for this upcoming election, you can click here. Early voting started on November 28, and ended December 2. For more information on Senator Warnock’s and Herschel Walker’s campaign goals and initiatives, you can watch our candidate video here.
Here is a breakdown of wins and losses during Georgia's elections. Election winners are highlighted and underlined.
Chris Carr 51.86% Jenifer “Jen” Jordan 46.60% Martin Cowen 1.53%
Commissioner of Agriculture:
Tyler Harper 52.97% Nakita Hemingway 44.83% David Radudabugh 2.19%
Commissioner of Insurance:
John King 54.10% Janice Laws Robinson 45.90%
State School Superintendent:
Richard Woods 45.19% Alisha Thomas Searcy 45.81%
Commissioner of Labor:
Bruce Thompson 52.08% William “Will” Boddie 45.33% Emily Anderson 2.59%
This is not a full list of candidates that either won re-election or are newly elected. To find your specific state house member or state senator you can find out who they are by visiting the Open State's website and going to the Secretary of State’s website to find their specific race.
Soon we will find out who will be the second U.S. senator that represents the intellectual and developmental disability community, but our advocacy does not stop at the polls! Now is the perfect time to reach out to your newly elected or re-elected legislator and make sure they understand the issues in the disability community. GCDD will be happy to help support your advocacy in any way we can! For more information, visit www.gcdd.org.
Remembering Lois Curtis and the Olmstead Decision
Lois Jeanette Curtis, whose wish to live life on her own terms became what we now know as the Olmstead decision, died on November 3, 2022, at age 55. Curtis, who was known as an advocate, artist, sister, and friend, lost her battle with pancreatic cancer in her home in Clarkston, Georgia.
Diagnosed with both an intellectual disability and mental illness at a young age, Curtis spent her teens and early twenties living in many institutions across the state of Georgia. Like so many people during that time, the warehousing of people with disabilities was normal and living outside of those walls was only a dream. After more than twenty years of moving from one mental institution to another, Curtis met an attorney from Atlanta Legal Aid named Susan Jamieson. That meeting led her to make one request from Miss Jamieson, “Can you please get me out of here?”
In 1995 Atlanta Legal Aid took Curtis’ request (along a similar ask from Elaine Wilson), in the form of a lawsuit, to the Supreme Court. The suit filed against Tommy Olmstead, who was then Georgia’s Commissioner of Human Services, demanded that the state move Curtis to a group home or smaller community-based housing where she could receive more appropriate community-based care. Curtis would become the lead plaintiff in Olmsted v L.C. in which the United States Supreme Court ruled that warehousing people with mental illness in institutions was discrimination under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.
While the Olmstead decision focused on those living in psychiatric hospitals, subsequent cases after that ruling solidified that Olmstead applied to all state and Medicaid-funded institutions, including nursing facilities.
Gillian Grable, head of community outreach at the Institute on Human Development and Disability, met Curtis when she was a teenager. Grable attended the Supreme Court Olmstead hearing and recalls, “The justices were peppering the attorneys with questions, and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said something like, ‘What does that mean if everyone needs 24/7 care?’ When O’Connor announced that she was retiring from the Supreme Court to go home to Arizona and take care of her husband who had Alzheimer’s disease I found it curious. So many of us from all walks of life could and would benefit from the hallowed belief that we all need support at times to make our contribution to our community.”
Once free to live in her community, Curtis found joy in advocating for increased access to the arts. She was a self-taught artist—most well known for her brightly colored portraits which showcased her love of people. Later in life she fell in love with music and expressed herself through singing.
Curtis was laid to rest at Atlanta’s South-View Cemetery which is often referred to as the Civil Rights Cemetery. It earned this nickname as it is the final resting place for more than 80,000 African Americans, many of whom were leaders in American history and the struggle for freedom and equal rights.
Lois Curtis’ spirit lives on as many still fight for the chance to live and thrive in their community, as was the promise of Olmstead.
2023 GCDD Advocacy Days
The Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) is looking forward to a changemaking 2023 session! The 2023 session will bring many new opportunities, including GCDD’s popular advocacy day events. We heard from the community about preferred methods and topics of GCDD’s advocacy days, and we’re excited to provide you with additional details.
We heard from the community that a hybrid event was preferred, so we went to work crafting what we believe will be the most effective strategy for hosting our annual advocacy days next year. During the 2023 session, we will again host three advocacy days, but this time they will take place over two days. Each event will consist of a virtual portion where we discuss the topic and how best to prepare ourselves for advocating followed by an in-person opportunity for advocates to meet GCDD staff and partners at the Georgia State Capitol to advocate for the issues in person. For the first time since 2019, we are thrilled to be able to be back in person advocating with you all under the Gold Dome! Although we encourage attendees to attend both days, attendance at Day 1 is not required for you to join us on Day 2 at the Capitol.
Mark your calendars for the following 2023 Advocacy Days dates and times:
Inclusive Post Secondary Education (IPSE) Day:
Virtual Day 1: Tuesday, January 24
10:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m. OR 6:00 p.m.–8:00 p.m.
In-Person Day 2: Wednesday, January 25*
9:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m.
Waivers and Wages Day:
Virtual Day 1: Wednesday, February 15
10:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m. OR 6:00 p.m.–8:00 p.m.
In-Person Day 2: Thursday, February 16*
9:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m.
Advancing Employment First and Ending Subminimum Wage Day:
*Advocacy Days dates are subject to change based on the legislative session calendar
Please be sure to look out for more details about how to sign up and participate with us during the scheduled Advocacy Days. As always, visit GCDD's website to stay up to date with all the latest GCDD advocacy opportunities and information.
GCDD Public Policy Team: Dr. Alyssa Miller, Public Policy Research and Development Director: Charlie Miller, Legislative Advocacy Director:
Project SEARCH Employment Preparation Model Kickstarts Careers for Georgians with Disabilities
Project SEARCH helps young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) improve their quality of life, maximize their independence, and enhance their community engagement through meaningful, competitive employment. The Project SEARCH Transition-to-Work Program is a unique, business-led, one-year employment preparation program that takes place entirely at the workplace. This international program has operated in Georgia since 2000. In the past five years, Project SEARCH Georgia has successfully led more than 430 individuals to careers in competitive integrated employment.
Project SEARCH Georgia operates 25 sites at businesses and hospitals that facilitate training for people with IDD. With a recent $1,225,000 Congressionally Directed Spending grant, Project SEARCH is opening eight new sites in Georgia, expanding opportunities in rural Georgia for students and young adults.
Project SEARCH Georgia prepares students and young adults ages 18-26 for careers at training sites through a 36-week training program, which includes classroom instruction and three, nine-week internship rotations. The sites may train students in their last year of school or young adults. Because more funding is available for students than young adults no longer in school, most of Project SEARCH Georgia’s sites only serve students; however, the new grant is allowing Project SEARCH Georgia to open eight new sites that will serve young adults. Four of the sites will serve only young adults, and four of the sites will by hybrid, serving both students and young adults.
Bonnie Seery, Ph.D., a former teacher, special education director, and employment specialist, coordinates Project SEARCH Georgia and is passionate about preparing individuals with IDD for employment. “I knew that there were a number of individuals that we were missing while still in school. They would go through school, but that didn’t mean they would have successful employment when they left school,” said Seery. “This is the group we’re really working to reach with the new sites—people who want to work that could be successfully employed with right training and job skills.”
Workforce participation and competitive, integrated employment bring more than just a job for people with IDD. Opportunity and inclusion in the workplace and competitive, integrated employment; it also bolsters self-worth, independence, and overall quality of life for individuals who are often given fewer opportunities and devalued in the workplace.
“The difference you make in communities’, families’, and individuals’ with IDD lives is astounding,” said Seery. “Their confidence—and self-worth—is built up through successful employment in desirable careers.”
For a job to be considered competitive, integrated employment, workers must be paid a competitive wage and work alongside people with and without IDD. Competitive, integrated employment does not include jobs paying subminimum wage—a legal practice of paying people with IDD less that the minimum wage—or segregated workplaces, like sheltered workshops, that employ people with IDD in separate programs that do not include people without IDD.
Project SEARCH Georgia needs more funding support to ensure the program’s sustainability. While the Congressionally Directed Spending grant brought a surge of new sites, it is only a one-year grant. The Project SEARCH Georgia team is enthusiastic and dedicated to keeping new and existing sites active. The program is actively seeking support from the state of Georgia for financial support to staff adult programs and funds to maintain the new and current sites.
GCDD Storytelling Project's Book Release & Author Reading
Join the GCDD Storytelling Project's Book Release and Author Reading. Please tune in and hear authors from the Georgia Council on Developmental Disability's Storytelling Project read their published works! The Cow Tipping Press Book Authors are:
The event is Wednesday, December 7 at 12:00 Noon on Facebook Live at http://bit.ly/3GRFWMp. This event will be provide CART/ASL support.
Tuesdays with Tootle December 6, 6:30 p.m.
Engage with Stancil Tootle, an experienced disability advocate, and his guests in a conversation to educate yourself and the community on critical current events and disability issues. Join Tuesdays with Tootle every Tuesday at 6:30pm.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”
The Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities has never been silent, and we join in solidarity with those around the world who speak out against the systemic racism that led to the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor and so many others.
As we do this work across our state that is the birthplace of Dr. King, as well as home to John Lewis, Andrew Young, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, the Center for Civil and Human Rights – and countless other individuals and institutions that uplift and foster the potential of Black Americans – we hear you and stand beside you.
Central to the work that we do at the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities is moving the needle of policy and legislation towards inclusion and equity for every Georgian. During this time, we want to amplify the voices of Black Americans and their right to live lives that are free from discrimination and oppression.
There is much work that needs to be done, and our goal is to include diverse thoughts and perspectives in that work.
A Message from the Executive Director
The times that we live in are different from any that we have witnessed in our lifetime.
For many people with disabilities, COVID-19 has meant isolation, lack of supports, sickness and even death. However, there may be new opportunities during this time that many of us have enjoyed, such as getting to know the people in our neighborhoods during evening walks or picking up groceries for each other when we go to the store. I think we should be asking ourselves, “What have we learned during this time that we did not have the time to do before?” Answers may include, “I learned to make sourdough bread,” or “I took an exercise class on Zoom.” We can let COVID-19 get us down – or we can use this time to make our lives better.
In addition, many of us may be asking, “What happened to the Georgia legislature when COVID-19 forced us all to stay in our homes?” The legislature did not complete its work before the pandemic began. Now, members of the Georgia General Assembly will be coming back to finish the work they began. This includes creating and passing a budget for the state year that begins July 1.
Because of the economic chaos caused by COVID-19, state agencies are being asked to cut their budgets by 14 percent. Agencies such as the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities will submit to Governor Kemp how they will cut 14 percent out of their budgets. But what does that mean? Does it mean no new dollars to address the waiting list? Less money for waiver services? Cuts to inclusive post-secondary education programs?
We are counting on YOU to let your legislators know that even with an economy in trouble, people with disabilities will not accept cuts to their services and supports. You can also send the governor and legislature a clear message when you vote on June 9. Make sure to complete your absentee or mail-in ballot, so that your vote can be counted.
Finally, a couple of pieces of news from GCDD. First, GCDD will soon begin its five-year, strategic planning process. This is required by the Developmental Disabilities Bill of Rights and Assistance Act. We will be coming to you and asking about what is working in your communities and where the system is falling short. Second, we have a new executive committee that you can read about in this newsletter. We are excited to begin this planning year with new leadership focused on what the future can look like for Georgians with developmental disabilities.
We hope you enjoy reading this newsletter, and we want to hear from you. Let us know your thoughts and comments about by writing to Managing Editor Hillary Hibben at .
Public Policy for the People: What's Happening
Public Policy for the People provides public policy updates as it pertains to people with disabilities here in Georgia.
Advocates, thank you for taking the time to read GCDD’s public policy updates about state and federal happenings. Regarding Georgia’s legislative session, we left off rather abruptly due to COVID-19, and the state session was suspended after day 29. For a recap on what advocacy took place during the first 29 days, please review the legislative recap in the April edition of our Making a Difference Magazine.
As promised, we want to make sure you know the goings-on under the gold dome. We received word from Speaker of the House David Ralston that session will officially resume Monday, June 15. Committees can begin meeting in-person on Tuesday, June 2, but only to begin reviewing legislation and hearing testimony. No official votes can take place until June 11. Right now, we are not sure what session might look like regarding in-person versus virtual advocacy, but you can guarantee that we will let you know as soon as we find out!
Currently, members of both Georgia’s House of Representatives and Senate are conducting virtual meetings that are available for public viewing, focusing on our state’s budget. Some of you might recall that Georgia’s General Assembly is only required to pass one piece of legislation, and that is the state budget. The state budget for fiscal year 2021 (which starts on July 1, 2020) made it through the House prior to the suspension of session, but it is likely that that version will have significant changes because the governor is asking for 14-percent budget cuts from state agencies.Click to view GA Senate meetings.
These significant budget cuts may be required due to the impact of COVID-19 on our state’s economy. To put that percentage into perspective, total cuts across all state agencies could be more than $3.5 billion, including $172.3 million in cuts to the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD). As of now, we do not have any proposals to better understand where those cuts might come from, but we are expecting to get more information in the coming weeks. (On June 3, 2020, Governor Kemp’s office announced that proposed budget cuts should reflect 11 percent, instead of 14 percent. GCDD remains concerned about these deep cuts to services and supports for Georgians with disabilities, and we continue to monitor what the governor’s recommendations could mean for our communities.)
Federal Policy Updates
Regarding federal updates, the U.S. House of Representatives released the HEROES Act on May 12, 2020, which would provide an additional $3 trillion in COVID-19 relief funds. The House voted and approved the HEROES Act on Friday, May 15. We were relieved to see some of our disability priorities included in the proposed legislation, including $100 million to the Administration for Community Living, which provides supports and services to seniors and people with disabilities and their loved ones.
Although the inclusion of these funds is encouraging news, they are not guaranteed in the final version, which means your federal senators need to hear from you!Remember, GCDD is here to help if you need any assistance locating the contact information for your representative and senator and/or drafting your message. (Tip: Try using this My COVID-19 Story template to get started on your story.)
Email us for more information: Public Policy Research & Development Director Dr. Alyssa Lee: Legislative Advocacy Director Charlie Miller:
Election Day is June 9!
On June 9, Georgians will cast votes for in the primary election to choose the candidate for each party's nomination by voting through secret ballot, as in a general election.
With many shelter-in-place orders in effect, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced that all ballots will be mailed to registered voters.
While early voting is already underway, the primary election features the presidential candidates, as well as the local and legislative primary races. The candidates who are selected by voters will be on the ballot for the November general election.
14 Georgia representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives
2 senators in the U.S. Senate
Also, many state senators and representatives, commissioners, judges, councilpersons and other regional and local seats impact how people with disabilities work, live and play in their communities.
Two ways to vote:
Due to COVID-19, Georgia has allowed registered voters to submit absentee ballots instead of heading to the polls for early voting or on election day. Here’s what you need to know:
Absentee ballot – If you received your ballot and have not submitted it, be sure to mail it in to have your vote counted by June 9. Check out the Secretary of State’s Guide to Absentee Voting for how to complete and submit your ballot.
Going to the polls – To find out where you vote, go to the My Voter Page through the Secretary of State’s website. There, complete your information to find out your polling place for early voting and day-of voting. Please note that lines and wait times might be longer due to COVID-19 precautions, and practice physical distancing and other safety measures while out in public.
GCDD Welcomes New Chair and Executive Committee
New GCDD Chair Parker GlickThe Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) welcomes five new executive committee members who will lead the council and its work to bring about social and policy changes for people with developmental disabilities and their families throughout the state.
Parker Glick, from Decatur, was appointed to GCDD in 2015 and will now serve as the chair of the council. Born with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita (AMC), Glick works as the employment coordinator for the Statewide Independent Living Council of Georgia. An accomplished self-advocate, Glick was also appointed by former Governor Nathan Deal to the Employment First Council. As one of the younger members on the council, he leads by example so young adults with disabilities learn to develop and employ their own self-advocacy skills to affect change for Georgians with disabilities and the policies that impact them.
Heidi J. MooreHeidi J. Moore is a parent advocate for individuals with disabilities and pediatric cancer research with Unite Our Voices, a place for families, providers, politicians and concerned citizens to find information and learn how to advocate for children and adults with disabilities and pediatric cancer. Moore has a 20-year-old son, Jacob, who has Down syndrome and autism and is also a cancer survivor. Appointed to the council in 2016, Moore continues to further her grassroots advocacy efforts to make a difference in the services families of children and adults with disabilities receive in Georgia. She lives in Alpharetta.
Mark CrenshawMark Crenshaw was appointed to the council in 2019 and is working to positively influence policy and model services in Georgia. He works as the director of interdisciplinary training at the Center for Leadership in Disability at Georgia State University. As a council member, Crenshaw strives to help people understand that Georgians with and without disabilities benefit when they are welcomed together as valued members of their communities.Evan Nodvin
Evan Nodvin, a self-advocate, has been a GCDD council member since 2013. Nodvin has participated in My Voice, My Participation, My Board with the Center for Leadership in Disability as well as Partners in Policy Making with GCDD. He works with the council to advocate for the end to the Medicaid waiver waiting list. Nodvin is a resident of Dunwoody.
Dorothy HarrisDorothy Harris,a self-advocate, serves as secretary of People First of Fitzgerald, where she lives. An active advocate, Harris has participated in Disability Day at the Capitol; advocated for a local library to stay open; and fought for public transportation in the Fitzgerald community that can serve everyone. She currently serves on the board of Jessamine Place Human Rights Committee and is an advisory member for GCDD.
GCDD works to create systems change for people with developmental disabilities and their families by increasing opportunities for independence and inclusion. By collaborating with, supporting and funding projects across Georgia, the council promotes innovative programs and activities to develop opportunities to enhance the quality of life for Georgians living with developmental disabilities. Since its inception in 1971, GCDD has advocated for more than 1.7 million Georgians with developmental disabilities and their families.
Parties interested in more information about GCDD, or who would like to apply for the council, may find additional details and application guidelines on the GCDD website.
Georgia Developmental Disabilities Network Brings Together Resources for Disability Community
The Georgia Developmental Disabilities Network (GDDN) is a consortium of 10 Georgia-based, disability-focused organizations that are committed to connecting people with resources during the COVID-19 pandemic. GDDN hosts weekly phone calls to support individuals with disabilities, parents and family members, caregivers and other stakeholders to share COVID-19 challenges.
The weekly webinars provide resources for Georgians with disabilities and other stakeholders that offer guidance on navigating various topics such as Medicaid waivers, employment, Appendix K and more.
The resources are available on GCDD’s website. Click the category of interest below and access various links, recordings and information.
GDDN partners include: The Arc Georgia, Center for Leadership in Disability at Georgia State University, Down Syndrome Association of Atlanta, The Fragile X Association of Georgia, Georgia Advocacy Office, Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities, Institute on Human Development and Disability at the University of Georgia, Parent to Parent of Georgia, Spectrum Autism Support, Education and Resources and Uniting for Change.
The Disability Vote Counts 2020 Remember to vote on Tuesday, June 9th!
Can you believe summer is here? In the past six months, a lot has changed in Georgia...and the country! The Georgia General Assembly closed its 2021 session passing bills and signing them into law; vaccine rollouts encouraged many Georgians to get their vaccine; and GCDD continued its work to develop its next strategic plan for the next five years.
Our 2021 Advocacy Days wrapped up, and we were excited to present the inaugural Virtual Advocacy Awards! Three outstanding advocates were recognized for their efforts to make Georgia a better state for people with developmental disabilities. Meet the recipients below.
Now that summer is here, we know you all want to go spend time with your friends and families whom you haven’t seen in a long time. We hope you enjoy your time and stay safe. But also, remember that advocacy never stops!
Take some time this summer to build relationships with your legislators and share with them what works and doesn’t work in your community. Change happens when YOU take action, advocates.
We hope you have a safe and fun summer, and keep in touch with us through our website and social media channels or reach out to us any time at
Public Policy for the People
— Charlie Miller,GCDD Legislative Advocacy Director
Public Policy for the People provides public policy updates as it pertains to people with disabilities here in Georgia.
How in the world are you doing, advocates? The sun is shining, the birds are chirping and summer is here! We have made it through a rough and rocky legislative session, but that does not mean our advocacy stops.
Your state legislator is now back at home – reaching out and connecting with them is more important than ever. In this Public Policy for The People edition, we are going to go over our feature bill signing, summer advocacy strategy ideas, and many more topics.
During this session, our advocacy took many different forms from moving our Advocacy Days to a virtual platform to doing a lot of legislator visits via Zoom due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
But no matter what, we did not let anything get in our way of pushing for some great bills that impact people with disabilities.
Photo Credit: senatepress.net, Kessarin HorvathThis year, the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD), along with the Down Syndrome Society of Atlanta, and Arc of Georgia worked to get HB 128 re-introduced and then pushed forward all the way to the desk of Governor Brian Kemp. We were excited to hear that the governor wanted to have this signed into law with the disability community by his side.
While we are extremely happy to see Governor Kemp sign some really good bills into law, now is the time to start planning our summer advocacy.
Georgia’s state Legislators are only in session January through April, which gives us a great opportunity to advocate about disability issues in their community.
When you are reaching out to your legislator, make sure you tell them that you are a constituent in their district. If you do not know who represents you, you can always look up your legislator on Open States. On this site, you will be able to find out who your state and federal representatives are.
This is a good resource for any advocate looking to get to know your state and federal officials. Every time you reach out about a disability issue, you create opportunities to teach them about the community members that they serve.
Now, that summer is upon us and your legislator is easing back into normal workdays, feel free to reach out and connect with them. Invite them to get coffee and join your next community event. They want to hear from you even when you don’t have a problem. They love knowing things that they worked on made an impact in your life.
In an attempt to better understand the disability community’s thoughts on the COVID-19 vaccine, GCDD’s Public Policy Fellow Naomi Williams spearheaded an effort to collect responses via a public survey.
We heard from 275 respondents, and two-thirds identified as parents of a person with a disability, and a little less than one-third identified as a person with a disability. An overwhelming majority, approximately 81 percent, reported that they wanted to receive the vaccine. In fact, approximately 66 percent of the respondents indicated that they had already received the vaccine. The primary reasons people listed for wanting to get the vaccine were to keep themselves safe and to keep their loved ones safe.
Of all respondents, approximately 13 percent indicated they did not want the vaccine, and another 6 percent stated they were unsure if they would or would not get the vaccine. The primary responses people provided for not wanting the vaccine, or being unsure of whether to get it, were that the vaccine was too new and a worry that there might be bad side effects from the vaccine.
Of important note is that people with disabilities were more likely to report not knowing where to get a vaccine and not having a way to get to a vaccination site as reasons they had not yet received a vaccine.
Although the sample size of this survey is small, it is encouraging to see that the majority of respondents had received a vaccine or indicated that they would like to receive the vaccine. We continue to see a need for additional education regarding the safety of the vaccine, as well as the disproportionate access barriers to the vaccine for people with disabilities.
The Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) held its inaugural 2021 Virtual Advocacy Awards on April 15 to honor those in the developmental disability advocacy community who have made great strides through education and action.
Representative El-Mahdi Holly, representing District 111 in the Georgia House of Representatives, was honored with the Legislative Champion Award, which acknowledges a Georgia General Assembly member for their work and support of the disability community.
Representative Holly worked closely with GCDD to introduce legislation aimed at improving employment supports and services for people with developmental disabilities and actively participated in the council’s advocacy days this session.
He has lived in Henry County since 2003 and is focusing on serving the working families of District 111 in Georgia. The district, which is located exclusively within Henry County, covers portions of the cities of Hampton, Locust Grove, McDonough, Stockbridge, Jonesboro and Jenkinsburg.
GCDD’s Stronger Together Award was given to an organization that is dedicated to growing the advocacy movement throughout the state of Georgia. The 2021 honoree is The Leadership Collective of Uniting for Change. This group led the way on a variety of advocacy efforts this year and worked closely with GCDD to ensure the voices of people with developmental disabilities continue to be heard by policymakers.
The Leadership Collective of Uniting for Change is made up of self-advocacy leaders from across Georgia who are committed to growing and sustaining the self-advocacy movement in the state. Uniting for Change is a grassroots, statewide network of self-advocates who are uniting Georgians and influencing change by speaking up and taking control of their lives.
Gaylon Tootle, an advocate from Augusta, Georgia, received the Excellence in Advocacy Award. The honor goes to an individual who not only advocates for the rights of people with developmental disabilities but also encourages and motivates others to utilize their advocacy skills.
Tootle is the chapter president of the National Federation of the Blind Georgia state affiliate. He frequently educates state and federal lawmakers on disability issues and is an active participant of GCDD’s policy and advocacy initiatives. He is also an Employment Services Team member for Walton Options where he teaches classes in gaining preparedness skills and assists with independent living and work plans.
Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) Council Member Wesley Ford has been selected as the 2021-2022 National Council of Self Advocates Officer for The Arc of the United States.
This is the first national council of its kind, positioning people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities (I/DD) as parts of a leadership network that is representative of all ages and abilities. The council provides support not only for each other but also offers opportunities to learn and grow as advocates in their own communities.
Ford, a 29-year-old from Jackson, GA, is an active self-advocate. “My goal is to help others with intellectual disabilities, adults and children from birth to 21, their families and friends discover their limitless possibilities through various programs, events and training,” Ford says.
He was appointed to GCDD in 2020 by Governor Brian Kemp, filling the position of self-advocate.
GCDD is one of 56 statewide councils that works to advance public policy on behalf of persons with developmental disabilities. It promotes public policy that creates an integrated community life for persons with developmental disabilities, their families, friends, neighbors and all who support them.
Meet the cast, ask your questions about the process of telling and filming their stories, hear zany tales of traveling the state on a film tour during tornado season, and find out the secret behind why our show is called Treasure Maps! There will be about 10-12 people on screen. They are the storytellers in the show, and maybe the filmmakers. Here are the storytellers bios. Just login to the GCDD Facebook page on Tuesday, June 8 to participate.
A Digital Newsletter from the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities • June 2022
The Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities newsletter from keeps you up-to-date on the latest news from what’s happening with public policy in Georgia to COVID-19 updates to upcoming events. This issue has a special feature on the novel business incubator for people with developmental disaibilites, Synergies Work.
As we look toward the future, The Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) has accomplished a lot over the past year, but there is still much work to be done. GCDD is committed to educating and supporting families, creating fully inclusive communities, working to get available, accessible, flexible, and responsive services for the disability community, advocacy, and ensuring public policy is founded on accurate research and information and best practices.
There were budget wins in this past legislative session. Now is a very important time than ever to start a conversation and build a relationship with your legislator. As we go into the summer months, this is a great opportunity for you to get to know your legislators and thank them for the wins while session is out. COVID-19 is here to stay. Although numbers have been declining, the virus is still here, and people should take all measures to be safe. There are updates regarding vaccinations and access, including a new vaccination that is on the horizon for children under five years old. This issue of the e-newsletter will feature an article update about COVID-19 and getting vaccinated as it relates to the disability community.
We are pleased to announce three new council members: Barbara “Baps” Hall, Wina Low, and Sharifa Peart. These ladies represent a diverse team with over thirty years combined experienced in working with individuals with disabilities and their families. The council is charged with creating systems change for people with developmental disabilities and their families by increasing opportunities for independence, inclusion, integration, productivity, and self-determination and is charged with identifying the most pressing needs of people with developmental disabilities in Georgia. The GCDD Council Members are committed to advancing public policy and systems change that help the lives of individuals with intellectual developmental disabilities.
This issue of the e-newsletter will also feature a highlight of Synergies Work, a community partner who helps individuals with disabilities build sustainable businesses by connecting them to the larger business community, helping them access funding, and get the resources they need to succeed.
We hope you enjoy reading the newsletter and hope that these articles plus updates on what is happening in Georgia will provide you with new and useful information. We want to hear from you. Let us know your thoughts and comments about the newsletter by writing .
Nick Perry, Chairman
Getting to Know Your Legislator
Public Policy for the People provides public policy updates as it pertains to people with disabilities here in Georgia.
With the legislative session over and elections season not quite in full swing, summer is the perfect time to reach out to your state legislators. State representatives and senators are back in their home districts, and many are running re-election campaigns. It’s a great time to reach out and let them know what problems you see and what policies could earn your vote this November.
Georgia’s General Assembly is a part-time citizen legislature. This means that legislating is not a full-time job, and our legislators are rarely policy experts. They are members of your community who have other pursuits and often full-time jobs outside of their legislative work. Georgia’s legislators rely on others–and especially their constituents–to tell them what important issues are facing Georgia.
Many times during the legislative session, a senator or representative will introduce a resolution or a bill because of a conversation they had with a constituent. Citizens and voters play a key role in bringing issues to the table that might otherwise go unnoticed. State representatives have far fewer constituents and hear from their constituents far less often than federal representatives. Although reaching out to your federal legislators is also valuable, state government represents a unique opportunity to have more influence.
Hearing from a self-advocate or a family member can be eye-opening for a legislator who may not have much personal experience with intellectual or developmental disabilities in their everyday life. Telling your state senator or representative about your personal experiences and linking them to an actionable policy response can be highly effective.
It’s also helpful to thank your legislator for all the hard work they did during the legislative session, and especially for any efforts they made to support Georgians with developmental disabilities. Our elected officials tend to hear a lot about the problems facing our state, so it is refreshing for them to hear about successes. During the 2022 session, Georgia made historic investments in funding for NOW and COMP waivers services. Nearly every legislator voted in favor of the omnibus budget bill that included this funding, so there’s a good chance you will be able to thank your legislator for their support.
By Naomi D. Williams, GCDD Vaccination Project Coordinator
In May 2022, the United States of American reached the grim milestone of over one million Americans dying from COVID-19. As summer approaches, many people are living and going about their daily lives—the same as they were before the pandemic began. Society wants to go about life as if COVID-19 is over, but the fact is that the COVID-19 pandemic is not over. The world has endured two years of a life altering virus. People are eager for things to go back to the way they were pre-pandemic, but now is not the time to become complacent and simply revert to living the way we want and doing what we want to do.
What lessons has COVID-19 taught us over the past two years?
COVID-19 affects and impacts people from all walks of life. No one is immune from getting COVID-19, and if contracted, it can affect people differently. There are people who live with and suffer from long-term, lingering symptoms, called “long covid.” The best way of decreasing the spread of the virus and protecting against severe outcomes is by washing and sanitizing your hands often, wearing a mask indoors and when around others you don’t usually share space with, and staying current with your vaccinations and booster shots. We’ve also learned that even by taking all precautions, we can still get infected with the virus.
You may wonder what’s the point of taking precautions and implementing prevention steps if there is still a possibility of contracting the virus? That’s a great question to ask. Research has shown, and we’ve seen firsthand, that the virus mutates, and new variants are born, some stronger than others. The virus will continue to change because that’s what viruses do to survive. Since a vaccination has become available, research has shown that people who are unvaccinated experience more severe complications and account for more COVID-19 deaths than those who are vaccinated.
Over one million people have died in the U.S. from COVID-19
Every state is showing increased cases of COVID-19, along with increased hospitalizations
Booster shots (Pfizer) for children ages 5-11 years old are approved by the CDC
Public Health Emergency (PHE) designation is set to end July 15th. This means exceptions that have been made during the Public Health Emergency will go away, such as Appendix K; Nursing Aides needing certification to work in nursing homes; telehealth appointments not being covered the same; and free COVID-19 testing, treatment, and vaccination, and more)
COVID-19 is still here. It’s still making people sick. It’s still causing people to be admitted to the hospital. It’s still a cause of preventable deaths.
Wearing a mask and frequently washing our hands help reduce the spread of the virus.
Vaccines and booster shots are still available for free.
COVID-19 vaccination reduces the risk of severe outcomes, such as hospitalizations, long COVID-19 effects, and possible death from the virus.
The Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) is committed to keeping individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their family members informed about pandemic developments. We encourage you to plan for and protect yourself and your family. Stay S.M.A.R.T. and advocate for what you need to stay active, healthy, and included:
Shots: Get your booster shot and share with others why you chose to get vaccinated. If you have health conditions that prevent you from getting the vaccine, share how others getting their shot and being vaccinated continues to help protect you.
Make a plan: Plan how to best protect yourself and your family members from contracting the virus and how to minimize its effects if you do get the virus. When everything shut down in March 2020, many were stuck not knowing what to do next. What can you put into action now? What resources and supports do you need to stay active, safe, and included?
Askfor help: The last couple of years have taken a toll on us emotionally and mentally. The isolation and feeling of overwhelm is real for everyone. It is more pronounced and palpable in the aging and disability communities. It’s okay to ask for help and seek out a counselor or therapist to work through the trauma that you or a loved one may have experienced.
Resources: Find the resources that you need to keep you and your family’s needs met for 90 days. Do you have refills for your prescriptions? Do you need to see your doctor? Do you have masks, hand sanitizer, cleaning products, toiletries, and food? This is not a suggestion that you hoard any of these items, it’s a reminder to consider what you need to have on hand or accessible to remain active, healthy, safe, and included.
Time: Now is the time to prepare and protect yourself from future infections, such as the flu, before fall COVID-19 surges, and even other natural disasters and emergencies such as a fire, power outage, or hurricane. March 2020 caught many of us unprepared. We expected to be back to our “normal” lives within six months. Now, over two years later with no defined end in sight, it’s important to ensure that you do what you can control to keep yourself and your family active, included, safe, and supported. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
Remember: People may be over covid, but covid is not over!
GCDD Welcomes Three New Council Members
Barbara “Babs” Hall is employed with the Georgia Department of Human Services (DHS) Division of Aging Services as the Aging and Disability Resource Connection (ADRC) Team Lead. She has worked in the field of health and human services for over 20 years, including field experience in both Child Protective Services and Adult Protective Services as well as non-profit aging and behavioral health services. Prior to joining the team at the Division of Aging Services, Hall served as the Family Support Manager and Statewide Participant-direction Manager for the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD). Additionally, Hall previously served as the Corporate Compliance Officer and Individual Rights Coordinator with Aspire Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability Services as well as the Aging and Disability Resource Connection (ADRC) Program Manager for SOWEGA Council on Aging, both located in Albany, Georgia. She also served as the Affiliate Relations Manager with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Georgia chapter, currently serves on the Executive Committee of the Georgia Gerontology Society as the immediate Past-President, and was named to Georgia Trend’s 40 Under 40 list in 2017. Hall grew up surrounded by family and friends who believed in giving back to the community, which instilled a sense of purpose in Hall and later defined her career path. She is currently enrolled in graduate school, pursuing a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership with a specialization in healthcare, is a newlywed to her husband Dave, and has three cats.
Wina Low currently serves as the State Director with the Georgia Department of Education, Division for Special Education Supports and Services and has been working in the disability community and industry since 1989. Prior to serving as State Director, she was a Program Manager Senior with primary responsibilities including the Teacher/Provider Retention Program, leadership for the CEEDAR project, co-lead for the Special Education Leadership Development Academy as well as effective transition, assistive technology, and professional learning while maintaining a focus on improved post-secondary outcomes for students with disabilities. Low has 38 years of experience as an educator having served as a middle grade’s classroom teacher, educational diagnostician, and local district Student Services Director for 17 years prior to joining the Georgia Department of Education in 2013. She enjoys supporting students and their families to remove barriers academically, as well as in life. Additionally, Low enjoys spending time with her family, including her English Bulldog Lucy and loves to travel.
Sharifa Peart currently works for the Georgia Department of Public Health, Maternal and Child Health Section. In her current role, she is the Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs Director. Peart has worked within this industry for the past ten years. Prior to her role with the Georgia Department of Public Health, she worked with a nonprofit named the Georgia Lions Lighthouse Foundation where she oversaw its hearing services program. Peart has committed her professional career to serving others and she enjoys working with so many passionate individuals working to make Georgia a better place. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, reading, cooking, and exploring Georgia’s state parks.
Idea to Incubation: Entrepreneurship Success for People with Developmental Disabilities
The Synergies Work i2i (Idea to Incubation) Program is the only entrepreneurial program in the United States offering mentorship, business education, funding, and ongoing support to enable individuals with disabilities to launch and grow sustainable businesses.
The i2i Incubator Program is offered every 6 months, and participants engage weekly for a 10-week period. Members of each i2i Cohort participate in weekly Learning Labs with business leaders, receive one-on-one coaching from mentors, and receive 2-6 hours of support from the Synergies Work team to actively develop their business ideas, create a sustainable support structure, develop their business plan, and outline the steps necessary to successfully achieve their business goals.
Founded by Aarti Sahgal, a parent of a young adult with Down Syndrome, Synergies Work believes in raising the bar for individuals with disabilities by challenging the soft bigotry of low expectations.
Throughout the program, each participant receives between 20-50 hours of support from established entrepreneurs, legal consultants, accountants, disability rights advocates, and other members from the business and disability community to help them navigate the world of entrepreneurship and create a sustainable structure that can help them succeed following the incubator.
The program is open to all people who self-identify as disabled and comes at zero cost to the participant. Entry into the program is based on an application and interview.
After successful completion of the i2i Incubator Program, participants graduate to the i2i Accelerator Program that provides one-on-one support for participants to execute their business plan and make it sustainable. The Accelerator Program is a two-year commitment, and Synergies Work staff frequently continue to support entrepreneurs after the two years has been completed.
Participants who complete the i2i Incubator Program are also eligible to apply for an Impact Grant of $500-$2000, aimed at helping them to launch or grow their business. Successful applicants receive funding based on their business plan and proposed use of the grant funds.
“The work is slow and deliberate, but we are ready to do it because for us, every individual matters,” says founder Aarti Sahgal. “Like a caring parent, we nurture each individual and their business with faith and patience while creating a ‘holding environment’ for their business that buffers them against distress and creates room for experimentation.”
Quarterly GCDD Council Meeting
Mark your calendars! GCDD’s next quarterly council meeting is scheduled for July 14-15.
I love the legislative session. I am passionate about public policy, and I am an expert on public policy. That is my happy place! It’s such an intense season and with this being my first one as GCDD’s Executive Director, I was happy to be a part of it.
During this year’s session, our public policy team pushed for people to email their legislators and over 6,000 emails were sent. This had a huge impact! Through this effort, I feel like we’ve come a long way educating people on how hard it is to get waiver services. I believe we are now on the path of getting Georgia to no longer have a waiting list for services.
Now that the 2023 legislative session is over, I am shifting my focus to supporting and building our membership and staff.
I’ve been working on re-imagining the roles and responsibilities of the Executive Director and the Deputy Director. Since my strength is in public policy and programmatic pieces, I feel it would be beneficial for the Council to have a Deputy Director. This person will oversee our operations and manage finances, look for other state or federal funding opportunities, and make sure our projects are on track. We are in the process of interviewing for this position.
We are also hiring a Public Policy Research and Development Director. This person coordinates and administers GCDD’s public policy program while working closely with myself and our Legislative Advocacy Director to plan and implement comprehensive, effective public policy strategies in collaboration with Council members, staff, advocates, and partner organizations.
Our Council Chair and Vice Chair positions have seen changes, too. I am pleased to announce that Nick Perry and Lisa Newbern have switched their roles: Lisa is now our Council Chair and Nick is our Vice Chair.
Nick suggested this change after becoming a new dad earlier this year. He wanted to have more time to focus on the new addition to his family. Lisa agreed to the change, and I’m really excited for her to be in this role! Nick offered to stay on as Vice Chair which will make this a seamless and smooth transition.
Lisa and Nick have been advocating for people with disabilities for many years. Both have family members with a disability. Nick is a sibling of a younger brother with disabilities while Lisa has a son who has disabilities. They bring a strong set of advocacy skills and lived experiences to our Council, while juggling other responsibilities in their lives.
I look forward to seeing the great things that Lisa will do in her new role as Chair. I am confident that that her transition into the new role will be a smooth one. Her presence is always so positive and energetic. To me, she is a great example of “mom power!” She is a truly passionate advocate not only for her son, but for all people with disabilities and has always emphasized the importance of inclusion.
Let’s welcome this new season of positive transition! 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
GCDD releases communications survey
We want to hear from you. In the interest of improving our communications to people with developmental disabilities, their families and the community, the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) has released a short communications survey to learn more about what kind of information our community is interested in; and what formats and channels they like to receive information.
New White Paper Identifies Technology Barriers for Georgians with Developmental Disabilities
In the summer of 2021, the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) held multiple virtual town hall sessions to discuss the issues that Georgians with developmental disabilities and their families thought were most critical for GCDD to address through our work. The strategic five-year plan that was created from these conversations included the need to address the technology divide that impacts Georgians with developmental disabilities living in rural parts of the state.
GCDD released a notice of funds available (NOFA) for a technology access whitepaper and Blue Fire, Inc, and their team Dr. Mark Friedman, Dr. Ruthie-Marie Beckwith and David Taylor were awarded the grant. In June of 2022, they began the technology access white paper with the goal to identify barriers for people with developmental disabilities to use technology and to develop recommendations to overcome these issues, particularly in rural and underserved areas.
At the start of the project the Blue Fire, Inc. team organized a 25 member Project Advisory Committee of self-advocates, family members, leaders of disability focused organizations and experts in Technology First initiatives that ensure technology access for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. That committee developed surveys, focus groups and interviews to learn more about how technology is accessed, what barriers people encounter when trying to use technology and ways they have found to get past those obstacles. At the completion of the project data was evaluated from 170 people, including 97 people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD), on their use of technology.
The data identified four key barriers to technology adoption and usage, including access to devices, access to the internet, support, and assistance in using devices, and training. Key findings from the survey indicated the continuing importance of families (49%) and Direct Support Professionals (47%) in providing technological support and assistance to people with disabilities. In addition, the Blue Fire team reported, “The most compelling results from the survey were the comparison of technology usage by the survey respondents with the general US population. This revealed limited access and use of technology by people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”
Data also showed that the usage of technology for resources such as email and video conferencing were drastically lower in groups with disabilities when compared to users without disabilities. The largest difference was seen in the utilization of telemedicine by survey respondents with disabilities reporting a 12% usage rate while the US average for those without disabilities stood at 80%. As telehealth is a critical resource for people in rural parts of the state who have physicians who are located considerable distances away it is concerning to see they are not utilizing this valuable healthcare platform.
Recently Federal Medicaid Waivers added funding for Assistive Technology as an approved service by the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities for the first time. Mark Friedman of Blue Fire sees this as a critical first step in Georgia to expand tech access and usage across the state.
The Blue Fire Inc, team has been awarded the project for a second year and will utilize best practices from other states utilizing Technology First engagement and legislation to create a blueprint for how Georgia can most effectively and sustainably increase numbers access and usage of technology for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Technology first is systems change framework where technology is considered first in the discussion of support options available to individuals and families to promote meaningful participation, and greater social inclusion, self-determination, and quality of life.
GCDD 's project manager on the contract Maria Pinkelton stated that, “This data is very informative, and we are excited to further work in this area to make the benefits of technology a reality for all of Georgia.”
Lisa Newbern Appointed as New Council Chair, Nick Perry to become Vice Chair
At the April 2023 Council meeting of the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD), the Council approved a motion for Nick Perry to assume the role of Vice Chair after his tenure as Chair of Council. Current Vice Chair Lisa Newbern will now assume the role of Chair for the Council.
Newbern has held many roles at GCDD starting as Family Advisor from 2012 to 2014. She then was appointed as a member to the Council in early 2021. That year, Newbern served as parliamentarian, becoming the Vice Chair in January 2022. In that role, she led the Executive Director search committee, which selected D'Arcy Robb as the new director. Robb's term started in Fall 2022.
Her journey in disability began years before she got involved with GCDD. She was a child life volunteer at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA) where she spent time playing with babies. "I fell in love with this little baby who had Down Syndrome, and just enjoyed my time with him so much," she recalls. Years later, Newbern welcomed a son of her own who was also diagnosed with Down Syndrome.
"I believe it was some sort of divine intervention having met that little baby years ago," says Newbern. "When our son was born, we never asked 'why?' We just asked, 'what can we do to make his life the best possible?'"
In her new role as Chair, she is excited to continue the work with Nick Perry, former chair and now Vice Chair. Her main goals are to continue to move GCDD’s Five Year State Plan, the Council's strategic plan forward to make Georgia better for the disability community. With so much change happening today in disability policy and society itself, Newbern is encouraging individuals and families across the state to get familiar with the Council and apply to become a member.
"There is so much more that can be done, and we really want to work with our individuals, families, and caregivers to make a lasting impact," she adds. "What I hope to bring to GCDD, now as chair of the organization, is continuing to help people with developmental disabilities to live the lives that they want to live."
EDDIE Awards Celebrate Entrepreneurs with Disabilities
Synergies Work of Atlanta was started in 2016 by Aarti Sahgal to provide entrepreneurs who have disabilities ways to bring their business ideas to fruition through mentors, resources and community help.
EDDIE Award Winners (photo courtesy of Synergies Work)Sahgal’s focus is to challenge the low expectations that exclude people with disabilities from living their true potential. She has worked to bring the worlds of the business community and the disability community together. The programs at Synergies Work aim to support and empower entrepreneurs with disabilities. And the success stories from their clients continue to show that it’s working.
Celebrating the business successes of their clients led to the creation of the EDDIE (Entrepreneurs Dedicated to Diverse and Inclusive Excellence) Awards. Synergies Work received over 80 award applications from all over the United States and winners were announced at their sold-out inaugural event of over 200 people on April 27, 2023 in Sandy Springs, GA.
The awards had five categories: Creativity, Newcomer, Techpreneur, Social Impact, and Heart of the Community. Each category highlighted entrepreneurship and entrepreneurs who have made strides in their respective fields.
The winners included:
Creativity: Lachi, founder of RAMPD - RAMPD is a platform connecting a fast-growing global network of entrepreneurs with disabilities to the music, events, and entertainment industries.
Newcomer: Trevor Dealy, founder of Trev’s Trades - Trev’s Trades is an artisanal soap-making company providing handmade, organic soaps.
Techpreneur: Vanessa Castaneda Gill, founder of Social Cipher - Social Cipher is a game-based social-emotional learning platform that helps neurodivergent youth understand themselves and those around them. The platform is in 220 schools in six countries.
Social Impact: Dom Kelly, founder of New Disabled South - New Disabled South is the first regional disability rights and disability justice organization in the country.
Heart of the Community: Austin Underwood, founder of Austin’s Underdawgs - Austin’s Underdawgs is a hot dog food truck and franchise based in Dallas Fort-Worth.
Additionally, Synergies Work presented the Entrepreneur of The Year Award to Vanessa Castaneda Gill, founder of Social Cipher, who received $10,000 in seed money towards her company to help her make a larger impact.
The evening also featured entertainment by DJ Sly, a visually impaired performer and DJ; Voices of Hope Aphasia Choir; a spoken word performance by Jasmin Duffey; and Lachi, who performed and sang for the guests.
Shan Cooper, founder and CEO of Journey Forward Strategies, provided the evening’s keynote. Her company is a solutions-focused consulting firm that specializes in leadership development and organization effectiveness.
More about Synergies Work
Synergies Work is the largest community of disability-led startups in the United States today.
“We offer a free, five-week course to help entrepreneurs with disabilities turn their ideas into successful business ventures,” said Sahgal. Participants leave with a solid business plan, a website, email address, an employer identification number, a limited liability company (LLC) business structure and more.
The organization also offers an intensive 11-week “Idea to Incubation” program to grow startups that uses learning labs, one-on-one coaching, grants and more. The next cohort for this program begins in January 2024 and is offered at no charge to entrepreneurs with disabilities.
When it comes to understanding and meeting her company’s goal, Sahgal reflects on her mission to impact one million entrepreneurs with disabilities within the next five years through a platform of access.
The platform has three key initiatives and includes:
Building community through weekly meet-ups as well as hosting classes featuring business leaders sharing their knowledge on taxes, marketing, ChatGPT and more.
Creating a marketplace where entrepreneurs with disabilities can set up shop and sell their products and services.
Offering a Community Development Financial Institutions Fund (CDFI Fund) to provide financial backing to entrepreneurs with disabilities.
For more information about Synergies Work, as well as success stories of entrepreneurs with disabilities, visit syngergieswork.org.
Though we are still in the first quarter of 2020, it has already proven to be a year full of political intrigue. Here is what we know so far: we know this is an election year, and we will elect a US president, every member of the Georgia US Congressional delegation and every member of the Georgia General Assembly. We know that the Georgia General Assembly passed an amended fiscal year 2020 (AFY 2020) budget that reduced many of the cuts that Governor Brian Kemp attempted to implement in his AFY 2020 budget recommendations. We also know that the governor’s budget recommendations for fiscal year 2021 (FY 2021) did not include any new money for NOW/COMP Medicaid waivers. This means that the 6,000-plus people on the waiting list will remain there throughout FY 2021, and the list will only continue to grow.
In the coming weeks, we will hear much discussion over the need for more people to go to work and for people to be more independent and tax-producing citizens. However, much of this is impossible for Georgians with developmental disabilities without a NOW or COMP Medicaid waiver. In truth, rather than moving forward, we are falling further behind.
It is your voice that we need NOW. Call your Georgia senator and representative! Call the governor’s office and let them know about you or your loved one and why we need additional waivers. Tell them that you vote, and as a Georgia citizen, you recognize the need for more waivers – and you hope they do, too. After all, with NOW/COMP waivers, people can be independent, productive, included and integrated in their communities and self-determined in their lives. (Note: If you don’t know who your Georgia senator and representative are, visit Open States and enter your home address to find out.)
After you have let your elected officials know about the waiver situation, the next step is to make sure you are registered to vote. The primary elections in Georgia are March 24, and the general election is November 3. People with disabilities are the largest minority voting bloc in the country, so let’s make sure we have an impact on the election. Make sure you are registered to vote and find your polling place so you can participate on March 24 and November 3.
Finally, join us for our final Advocacy Days on March 9 and March 18. This will be your opportunity to let your legislators know about the important issues including competitive, integrated employment and the school-to-prison pipeline. Read the articles below to learn more about Advocacy Days. Also, check out how you can celebrate Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, visit the latest blog from our intern, Kayla, and more.
We hope you enjoy reading this newsletter, and we want to hear from you! Let us know your thoughts and comments by writing to Managing Editor Hillary Hibben at .
Public Policy for the People: Hello, DD Awareness Month!
Public Policy for the People provides public policy updates as it pertains to people with disabilities here in Georgia.
The Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) is proud to recognize March as Developmental Disabilities (DD) Awareness Month. The goal for this month is to create awareness about developmental disabilities, teach the importance of inclusion within every aspect of life and to share the stories of individuals with a disability to show that a successful life is possible.
We at GCDD are proud to celebrate DD Awareness Month in March and all year long! Through its many partnerships, the Council works to build a Georgia that is more inclusive and integrated for people. The partnerships focus on working with local groups to build welcoming communities; expanding and leveraging the existing grassroots, community-based coalition to develop and implement a plan to reduce the number of African American males in special education classes who are at risk of being pushed out of school and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems – a trend known as the "school-to-prison pipeline" (STPP); and developing a collection of stories from across the state that give a glimpse into everyday lives of everyday people with developmental disabilities, among many other projects underway.
The campaign is designed to raise awareness about the inclusion of people with developmental disabilities in all facets of community life, as well as awareness of the barriers that people with disabilities still face at times in connecting to the communities in which they live.
How can you raise #DDAwareness? Join us at the Capitol for our last two Advocacy Days – March 9 and March 18 – to educate and inform our lawmakers about Employment and SToPP.
Share your support of National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month on social media with the hashtag #DDAwareness2020 & #GCDDAdvocates.
Great Start to Advocacy Days!
Georgia’s advocacy community has been hard at work! At GCDD’s first three Advocacy Days, the Council welcomed over 400 advocates and over 50 team leads who collaborated to build relationships and educate lawmakers about home and community-based services, Gracie’s Law and post-secondary education!
GCDD’s Public Policy and Communications intern Kayla Rodriguez has worked at GCDD for the past four months learning all the ins and outs of disability policy and communications. To document her experience, Kayla started her own blog series, Kayla’s Corner, to share about her experience in her first job out of college, her own personal and professional growth and what she’d like other young adults with disabilities like her to know about employment.
Updates on Competitive, Integrated Employment for Georgians with Disabilities
— Written by GCDD Executive Director Eric E. Jacobson
In 2018, the Georgia General Assembly, along with the governor, approved the passage of House Bill 831, Georgia’s Employment First Act. Georgia’s Employment First Act was signed into law by Governor Nathan Deal on May 8, 2018, and declared Georgia a state in which competitive, integrated employment is the first and preferred option for citizens with disabilities, regardless of the severity of the disability. To promote and implement this mission, Georgia’s Employment First Council (Council) was created and charged to:
“Advise the Governor, General Assembly, and state agencies as to the adoption and integration of a policy that recognizes that competitive integrated employment, including self-employment, is the first and preferred option of all state funded services provided to working age individuals with disabilities…known as the ‘Employment First Policy’.” (49-4-52)
Furthermore, the Council is tasked with the following actions:
Developing an Employment First training plan for providers;
Coordinating and conducting educational activities with other agencies to increase awareness of Employment First;
Evaluating the funding mechanism for inclusive post-secondary education (IPSE) programs in the state; and
Governor Deal appointed members to the Employment First Council, and over the last two years, quarterly meetings have been held. The Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency (GVRA) has been the host to the Employment First Council, and its Executive Director, Shawn Ryan, is the chairperson.
To date, it has held five meetings and established three committees to get its work completed:
Communication: The Communications Committee is charged with disseminating information regarding the initiatives of the Employment First Council to community partners.
Data: The Data Committee is charged with collecting all relevant data within the community.
Training: The Employment First Council will be creating training for its statewide partners regarding the process of changing the employment outlook with the community and assisting organizations to transition into competitive integrated employment.
As a member of the Council, I have taken it as my duty to be the voice of people with disabilities who want to go to work and earn a living wage so they can be independent, productive taxpayers in our society. Also, it is my responsibility to remind members that a lot of work has been done or is in place, like the Advancing Employment Technical Assistance Center at the Institute for Human Development and Disability at the University of Georgia. We are simply waiting for the opportunity to move Georgia ahead in the area of supported and competitive employment. However, this has not been an easy task because of the many changes being implemented at agencies like GVRA.
A parallel effort has been taken up by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD). This effort has already announced that its goal is to increase by three times the number of people with developmental disabilities who are in competitive, integrated employment over the next four years. The organization plans to host a summit later this month to talk about its progress.
In the meantime, the Employment First Council has produced, but not yet submitted to Governor Brian Kemp’s office and General Assembly, its second report. In the report, members debate the policies that are currently barriers for people to go to work and the remedies for these barriers. The Employment First Council has promoted the following recommendations:
Develop a marketing plan for Employment First consumers, employers and providers. The plan could emphasize why Employment First practices, including competitive, integrated employment, are important to Georgia through stories of supported employment experiences and outcomes.
Develop unique Employment First branding that will ensure uniform branding and consistent messaging. Consider partnering with other Georgia employment initiatives to adopt a coordinated branding approach.
Develop a coordinated website or information delivery system to provide potential and current clients with “one-stop shopping” of available agencies and services (both private and public). The website would house all employment initiatives in Georgia. A possible website option that currently exists is the “Advancing Employment” website.
Develop and maintain a comprehensive data collection and reporting system that incorporates consistent, standardized data points across all relevant agencies.
Form a group represented by GVRA/Department of Education(Ga DOE)/DBHDD to work on identifying, organizing and streamlining communication, services and training resources, with a focus on assisting organizations to phase out their use of subminimum wage certificates. a. Create certification standards and training programs that are uniform across agencies and inclusive of organizations of all sizes. b. Include review of disability etiquette and appropriate terminology.
Support training and other efforts to create a network of providers who are dually eligible to serve individuals who receive services through GVRA and DBHDD.
Incorporate a business consultant role within DOE and DBHDD whose role would be to provide support and services directly to a business engaged in disability hiring initiatives. GVRA currently employs multiple individuals in this role.
State agencies responsible for providing support to individuals with disabilities should coordinate policies in order to create a more efficient and effective system of services.
Because the United States Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) has adopted the Home and Community Based Settings (HCBS) Rule that all states must be in compliance with by March 2022, the State of Georgia should pass legislation that phases out 14(c) certificates that currently allow people with disabilities to be paid subminimum wage. 
Ensure alignment regarding the definition of “disability” across agencies and providers, particularly as it relates to appropriate application of training, services and employment opportunities
Recommend an equalization in funding between Supported Employment Services, Community Access Groups and Pre-Vocational Services to assist the organization in increasing the hourly rate of Georgia’s supported employment services to national averages so that providers can cover costs for supported employment.
DBHDD currently pays through its Medicaid Waivers $17,856 a year for facility based non-employment services (community access group) and the rate for most people served in supported employment services is $7,069. Capped rates of $10,760 and $17,856 exist for supported employment. These rates are based on an hourly rate of $29.64 which is below documented provider costs, so these higher caps are almost never reached . A cost-saving solution would be to revise the rates to indicate that employment is a priority.
Assistive technology is an opportunity to support people with disabilities to be more independent and economically self-sufficient. Recommend that DBHDD fund assistive technology through the Medicaid waivers or state grant-in-aid.
Assistive technology is any device, software or equipment that helps people work around their challenges. Some examples of assistive technology are text-to-speech and word prediction. Assistive technology includes low-tech tools and is more commonly found in workplaces thus reducing the stigma of having a disability and being able to work in a competitive, integrated job setting in the community with people without disabilities. It is often more cost-effective long term than on-the-job, in-person support.
We expect that these recommendations will be submitted very soon to the governor and General Assembly. Our next steps are to develop implementation plans for each of these recommendations. You can follow the work of the Employment First initiative online. _____________________  Note: The 14(c) Section of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is known as the Subminimum Wage Certificate Program (14(c) certificates) and allows organizations to pay people with disabilities subminimum wage. Although the US Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division has released guidance stating the 14(c) program should not be the first or only choice of employment for people with disabilities, the program continues to be overused.  Note: This comes from the DBHDD Employment Leadership Committee, Funding Committee document “Barriers and Initial Actions” 11.22.2019
Enrollment Open for Cooperative Academy
The Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities, Synergies Work and Green Worker Cooperatives have launched a co-op academy to empower and educate entrepreneurs with developmental disabilities to build successful businesses.
The first of its kind, the virtual co-op academy will guide entrepreneurs to turn their ideas into successful cooperative businesses.
The Co-Op Academy will be a five-month worker cooperative development program that will run twice a year, and is free for participants. It will support 10 entrepreneurs.
The organizations will be hosting two information sessions on:
Wednesday, March 11, 1-2 pm
Wednesday, March 19, 1-2 pm (if required)
Recruitment Process: March Application deadline Monday, March 23rd Interview dates: March 16 - 27
Start Date: April 7, 2020 - Orientation/first session End Date: May 28, 2020 Program: Tuesdays & Thursdays, 3:00-5:00 PM
A cooperative is an entity (business) owned by and operated for the benefit of those using its services. Profits and earnings generated by the cooperative are distributed among the members, also known as user-owners or worker owners.
Happy 2021! As the new year is underway, there are many exciting things happening. The Georgia General Assembly began meeting and is debating budgets and bills. Questions about state revenue, based on a sluggish economy caused by the pandemic, will be the focus of budget conversations. Is there enough money to address the needs of Georgia’s citizens? What are our priorities? Is absentee voting going to be expanded? Or will fewer of us have an opportunity to mail in our ballots? Who will get the COVID vaccine and when? Hopefully, we will have the answers to these questions by the end of the 40-day session.
On January 26, GCDD hosted the premiere of “6,000 Waiting,” a short film that tells the story of three people on the waiting list for home and community-based services. Those who read this newsletter or GCDD’s Making a Difference magazine know that addressing the waiting list has been our number-one priority. We believe this film illustrates the impact on individuals and families when they do not receive the supports they need. I want to thank the stars who shared their story: Ben Oxley, Naomi and Noah Williams, and Nick Papadopoulos. Visit www.6000Waiting.com for opportunities to view the film and join in our advocacy efforts.
GCDD continues to monitor and advocate for people with developmental disabilities, caregivers and staff to access the COVID-19 vaccine. Letters and calls have been made to Governor Brian Kemp and Commissioner Kathleen Toomey asking that people with developmental disabilities be prioritized to receive the vaccine. At this time, there has been no decision to focus on individuals with disabilities until more vaccine supply is available. But do NOT stop calling or writing!
Finally, our final 2021 Advocacy Day takes place on March 10. Make your voices heard. We need to make sure that our elected officials know that people with disabilities are in the community, and we can have influence over what is happening in our lives.
We hope you enjoy reading this newsletter, and we want to hear from you. Let us know your thoughts and comments by writing to Managing Editor Hillary Hibben at .
Public Policy for the People – Voting!
— Alyssa Lee, PsyD, GCDD Public Policy Research and Development Director
Public Policy for the People provides public policy updates as it pertains to people with disabilities here in Georgia.
Hello, advocates! It is hard to believe that we have made it past the halfway mark of the 2021 state legislative session and are almost at Crossover Day, which will take place on March 8. Crossover Day occurs on legislative day 28 each year. It is important because in order for a bill to have a chance at passing and becoming law during that session, the bill has to be passed out of at least one chamber (i.e. the House or the Senate) by the end of Crossover Day. Luckily, we are at the beginning of our biennial session, meaning this is the first year of a two-year session. So if a bill you care about doesn’t pass one chamber before Crossover Day, it still has a chance of passing next year!
So what is the major theme of the 2021 session so far? VOTING! You might remember that back in our January Public Policy for the People article, we mentioned the likelihood that this session would be filled with new voting legislation. Well, that has certainly been the case with, at current count, over 40 voting-related bills filed just this session. Here are a few that we believe will have an impact on the disability community:
Senate Bill 241 This bill is the Senate’s version of a voting omnibus bill, which basically means it is a lengthy bill that covers numerous voting policies and includes ideas from other Senate voting bills that were previously introduced. These proposals include limitations to absentee voting, new voter ID requirements and many other changes to how Georgians could exercise their right to vote. The bill has gone through a few changes and continues to be amended. This bill is currently in the Senate Committee on Ethics.
Senate Bill 67 This bill would require Georgians to submit a photocopy or number of their Georgia identification card to apply for an absentee ballot. The proposal has raised concerns for the disability community as not all people with disabilities have identification cards. This bill has passed the Senate and is currently in the House Special Committee on Election Integrity.
House Bill 531 This bill is the House’s version of a voting omnibus bill. Similar to the Senate version (SB241), this is a lengthy bill that combines many of the earlier proposed voting changes into one large bill. It is likely that this bill will also undergo some changes and is currently in the House Special Committee on Election Integrity.
By clicking on the bill number, you can find updates on each one. If you are interested in letting your state representative and senator know how these bills might impact you, make sure to reach out to them via phone or email. If you do not know who your representative or senator is, please enter your full home address here.
To stay up to date during the 2021 legislative session, please join us each Monday at 9 a.m. for our Public Policy for the People calls led by GCDD Legislative Advocacy Director Charlie Miller. You can access the login information here.
Also, please join GCDD during our final Advocacy Day of the 2021 session, taking place on March 10. This day will focus on competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities. Please register here.
GCDD Public Policy Team Public Policy Research & Development Director Dr. Alyssa Miller: Legislative Advocacy Director Charlie Miller:
— Kate Brady, Deputy Director, Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities
As we approach the one-year mark of COVID-19 in Georgia, GCDD is encouraged by the state’s decision to include individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their caregivers in the next round of COVID-19 vaccine eligibility. According to Governor Kemp’s press conference on February 25, 2021, revisions to Georgia’s vaccination plan will go into effect March 8. That means people with I/DD and their caregivers, as well as family members of children with complex medical needs, will be able to begin receiving the vaccine, along with other newly eligible populations.
Alongside a strong network of grassroots advocates of individuals with I/DD, parents and other allies, GCDD has been fighting for people with disabilities to gain access to the vaccine. One of our advocacy actions included our signing on to a letter to Governor Brian Kemp, submitted by the Center for Dignity in Healthcare for People with Disabilities. In the context of COVID-19, we know people with I/DD and their caregivers are at higher risk of contracting the virus; facing serious illness and hospitalization; experiencing a decreased quality of life; and even succumbing to death as a result of contracting the virus.
We acknowledge the work that Governor Kemp and his team continue to do to protect Georgia’s citizens, and GCDD remains in close discussions with the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH). Together with DPH, we look forward to collaborating and advising on logistical considerations such as transportation; rollout plans and equitable access; continued eligibility expansion to all medically fragile persons; and more.
People with disabilities comprise approximately 27% of Georgia’s population. People with disabilities are our family members, our neighbors, our teachers, our health care providers and our front-line workers. GCDD remains committed to advocating for all Georgians with I/DD and advancing our mission to bring about social change, public policy and innovative practices that increase opportunities for individuals with I/DD and their families to thrive where they live, learn, work, play and worship in Georgia’s communities.
Because we know there are complexities beyond the rollout plan, GCDD has convened a task force for advancing vaccination access and participation by people with disabilities, their family members and caregivers. People interested in joining the task force may contact GCDD Deputy Director Kate Brady at . We are examining national trends and practices, producing plain language materials and advocating at the grassroots and grass-tops levels for accessible, coordinated vaccination rollout that takes fully into account the needs of our community.
Documentary Profiles Georgians as They Navigate Systemic Barriers and Extensive Waitlists
The Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) has partnered with L’Arche Atlanta to bring the stories and voices of Georgians with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their families to light with their multi-year Storytelling Project. The presentation of the latest work from that partnership took place on January 26 with the premiere of the documentary “6,000 Waiting.”
Following the screening of the film, investigative reporter and co-host of GCDD’s Hidden Voices podcast, Raisa Habersham, moderated a panel that included Eric Jacobson, GCDD executive director; Parker Glick, employment advocate from the Georgia Advocacy Office; Naomi Williams, film subject, parent and systems navigator; and Michael McDonald, national communications director of L’Arche Canada and director of “6,000 Waiting.”
Nearly 500 attendees from as far away as Australia watched the mini-documentary showcasing three Georgians living with developmental disabilities and how a lack of access to waiver services impacts their lives. Audience members included staff of organizations that work alongside people with disabilities, federal and state agency representatives, direct support professionals, self-advocates, family members of people with I/DD and others.
The film received overwhelming praise from audience participants with one attendee stating, “This truly was a brilliant film. It really did give very universal aspects of people being served and why the waiver is so important.” A second audience member also shared, “It was an eye-opener for those that have not been involved or are not knowledgeable about how the system works. This really shows the red tape that it takes to get a waiver.”
Following the screening, the panel answered questions from audience participants on subjects ranging from the making of the film; experiences living life with and without waiver services; and policy and budget changes needed to fund waivers for Georgians on the waitlist. There are currently more than 6,000 Georgians on the state’s list awaiting New Options Waivers (NOW) and Comprehensive Support Waiver Program (COMP) funding. For those on the list, waiver dollars mean the difference between lives fully realized and those unrealized.
GCDD’s Eric Jacobson commented, “This film sheds much-needed light into how NOW/COMP waivers bring stability and possibility to the lives of its recipients and what life is like for many of those who go without that necessary support.” The film promotion team is currently scheduling large-scale public and private screenings and medium-sized screenings; they are also preparing the film for entry into juried film festivals. Plans are to make the film available for wide screening by vast audiences and individuals alike by summer of 2021.
To learn more about “6,000 Waiting,” schedule a screening and help advocate for increased waiver spending, visit www.6000waiting.com.
The Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) has appointed five of its members to its executive committee for the 2021-2022 year. The committee is part of the 27-member board appointed by Governor Brian Kemp.
Below are details about the council’s executive committee:
Chairperson Nick Perry is a sibling of a person with intellectual and other developmental disabilities (I/DD), a foster parent to children with I/DD and a professional in the disability field. He lives in Stone Mountain.
Vice Chair Teresa Heard is a resident of Albany and is a parent advocate for her 20-year-old son.
Member-at-Large Mark Crenshaw is the director of interdisciplinary training at the Center for Leadership in Disability at Georgia State University. He is an Atlanta resident.
Member-at-Large Deborah Hibben is a parent advocate and a retired high school educator. She resides in McDonough.
Member-at-Large Evan Nodvin is an active self-advocate for people with Down Syndrome. He resides in Dunwoody.
The executive committee will lead and guide the council’s efforts to bring about social and policy change for people with developmental disabilities and their families throughout the state.
By collaborating with, supporting and funding projects across Georgia, the council promotes innovative programs and activities creating opportunities to enhance the quality of life for Georgians living with disabilities.
Since its start in 1971, GCDD has advocated for more than 1.7 million Georgians with developmental disabilities and their families. The council is composed of at least 60 percent individuals with developmental disabilities and family members. Other members include policymakers that represent various agencies and organizations having a vested interest in persons with developmental disabilities.
For more information about GCDD or to apply for the council, visit the council webpage.
On January 20, 2021, Alison Barkoff was appointed as Principal Deputy Administrator, Administration for Community Living in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in Washington, D.C.
In her new position, Barkoff will advise the HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra (awaiting confirmation) on issues affecting individuals with disabilities and older adults. Also, under her leadership and direction, she will guide all United States ACL programs such as aging and disability networks, empowering advocacy, support to caregivers, and more.
For nearly three years, Barkoff co-wrote the “What’s Happening in Washington?” column for the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) magazine, Making A Difference. Barkoff is a graduate of Cornell University and obtained her law degree from Emory University School of Law.
The Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) joins in recognizing March as National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month (#DDAwareness2021). Thirty-four years ago, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed March as DD Awareness Month for Americans to provide encouragement and opportunities necessary for people with developmental disabilities to reach their potential.
The month focuses on the inclusion of people with developmental disabilities in all areas of community life, as well as awareness to the barriers that people with disabilities still sometimes face in connecting to the communities in which they live. So, too, does the work done by GCDD.
Through its supported programs and public policy initiatives, GCDD works diligently to enhance the quality of life for persons living with developmental disabilities throughout Georgia. In addition, the partnerships GCDD manages with multiple organizations and nonprofits work to develop a person-centered and community-centered life for all. Some of these partnerships include:
Advancing Employment is managed by the Institute on Human Development and Disability at the University of Georgia and works to improve employment supports and outcomes for individuals with disabilities who want to work.
Real Communities/Welcoming Community Movement, working with Global Ubuntu, partners with local groups working to create communities that engage and include people with and without disabilities as well as mobilize people around issues impacting their ability to thrive.
Other partnerships and programs supported and funded by GCDD can be found here.
Kicking off the celebration of National Developmental Disabilities Month in March is GCDD’s final Virtual Advocacy Day on March 10, which will focus on issues around competitive, integrated employment and supported employment. The day offers a variety of breakout sessions and opportunities to speak with legislators about issues impacting the lives of people with disabilities in Georgia. You can find more information about the day here.
DD Awareness Month shines a spotlight on people with disabilities, the communities where they live, and the challenges and barriers they face. It also provides opportunities for all people, with and without disabilities, to advocate so that all can thrive where they live, learn, work, play and worship in Georgia’s communities.
A Digital Newsletter from the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities • March 2022
The Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities newsletter from keeps you up-to-date on the latest news from what’s happening with public policy in Georgia to COVID-19 updates to upcoming events. This issue has a special feature on how to celebrate and advocate during Developmental Disabilities Month.
As this newsletter goes to print, we are at day 25 of the 2022 legislative session; with only 15 more days to go. One of the ways that the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) will determine the success of the Session is by how many letters, emails, and phone calls legislators receive. Thanks to you taking time to use the GCDD Phone2Action system, our first two advocacy days had almost 1,000 emails sent to legislators. This is incredible! We know that many legislators determine their support for legislation and budget items based on the number of times constituents contact them.
Don’t forget to attend the final Advocacy Day on March 16, 2022. We will focus on advocating for increased employment opportunities. This means additional dollars for supported employment. It also means changing policies, such as the one that allows people with developmental disabilities to be paid less than minimum wages. It is time that we end the practice of paying subminimum wage through the 14C program and insist that all people get paid a living wage.
Advocacy is about relationships you need to build relationships with your elected officials and others running for elected office. Remember this is an election year. Take the time to educate those running for office about issues such as the waiting list, the need for direct support people to get paid a living wage, and that employment is important for you and your loved one.
Remember that March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. This is a time when we recognize and celebrate that struggles you go through every day. We recognize that disability rights are civil rights. And we recognize that the long-term care system of supports must do a better job of meeting the needs of individuals with developmental disabilities.
We hope that these articles plus updates on what is happening in Georgia will provide you with new and useful information. Let us know your thoughts and comments about the newsletter by writing to .
Eric E. Jacobson, GCDD Executive Director Nick Perry, Chairman
Public Policy for the People provides public policy updates as it pertains to people with disabilities here in Georgia.
Fellow advocates, it is hard to believe, but we are more than halfway through Georgia’s 2022 legislative session and quickly approaching Crossover Day on March 15th and the end of session on April 4th! We are seeing an increase in activity under the Gold Dome as legislators, lobbyists, and advocates work to get their priorities passed through one chamber before the 15th so that bills still have a chance of becoming law in 2022.
As a reminder, any bill that does not become law this year will have to be reintroduced next year as we will begin a new biennial. However, that does not mean the bill will never have a chance at becoming law. We can point to Gracie’s Law as a recent example. Although it was introduced in 2020, during the final year of the biennial, and did not pass, when it was reintroduced in 2021, it passed that same year! Keep reading for additional updates from under the Gold Dome as well as a brief recap of our virtual Advocacy Days.
Be in the Know: What is Happening Under the Gold Dome
As with most sessions, a primary focus of our advocacy efforts has been centered on the budget process. In fact, our first two virtual Advocacy Days have focused on an ask specific to the budget, increasing Direct Support Professional (DSP) wages, and increasing funding for the NOW/COMP waivers. We have yet to see a finalized version of the big budget, but we are hopeful that those priorities will be included in the final version.
Additionally, there have been quite a few bills that GCDD has been tracking, and we wanted to update you on a few of the highlights:
HB1013 Georgia’s Mental Health Parity Act: The goal of this bill is to improve mental health services across Georgia. GCDD has been working to add language to the bill that would make sure that the mental health of Georgians with developmental disabilities is considered. In addition, our partner organization, the Georgia Advocacy Office, has been working to modify concerns including the mandated treatment and registries provisions. The bill has received two hearings in the House Health and Human Services Committee, and the authors continue to make adjustments based on feedback.
HB1426: The goal of this bill is to lower the burden of proof for a person with an intellectual disability who is facing the death penalty. Georgia remains the only state who requires a person with an intellectual disability to prove their disability “beyond a reasonable doubt”, which is an impossible standard to meet. This bill would lower that burden of proof to a “preponderance of the evidence”, which is similar to other states. Disability advocacy organizations have been pushing for this change for over a decade and are encouraged by the bipartisan support for the current bill. The bill had a hearing in the Judiciary Non-Civil Smith Subcommittee on March 1st but there was no vote and is still waiting approval.
As always, if you are interested in making your voice heard on any of the above bills, please reach out to your state senator and representative. For additional information on bills GCDD is tracking, please tune in to our Public Policy for the People calls and read our biweekly Public Policy for the People Newsletter.
Advocacy Days Recap
GCDD is excited to report that we have had two successful virtual Advocacy Days during the 2022 session and are currently preparing for our final virtual Advocacy Day, which takes places Wednesday, March 16th. During our first two events, we had over 150 participants join us to learn more about the Direct Support Professional (DSP) workforce shortage and crisis and the NOW/COMP Medicaid waiver waitlist. We have also been able to unveil our new advocacy platform that allows advocates to easily communicate policy asks to their state legislators. As of the writing of this article, we are proud to report we have had over 460 advocates join our new platform and over 960 emails have been sent to Georgia’s state senators and representatives asking that they prioritize disability issues during this 2022 legislative session!
5 Ways You Can Still Participate During the 2022 Session
By Naomi Williams, GCDD Vaccination Project Coordinator
Welcome to 2022, where we are learning to live with and lean into developing a new sense of normalcy as we realize COVID-19 and its variants are still here without any indication of ever going away.
Georgia has made some progress but is still behind the national average regarding persons who are partially or fully vaccinated. Fifty percent of Georgians are considered fully vaccinated, meaning they have received at least two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or one dose of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. Sixty-two percent of Georgians have received at least one dose of the vaccine. A good indicator to assess how Georgia is doing with COVID-19 infections and its impact on the state is to look at the capacity status of hospitals around the state. Knowing what ICUs, ERs, and hospital-wide bed availability is, along with staffing, helps give relevance to the overall picture of the community’s response. As surges continue to go up and down, it can be hard to keep up with hospital visitation or family presence policies. Partners at the Georgia Advocacy Office (GAO) helped compile a list of the larger hospital systems around the state and provided a link to their visitation policies. This resource maximizes community members’ time by minimizing the amount of navigation needed to access hospital visitation policies.
Partnership and Collaboration
The DD Network still meets twice a month to debrief on what organizations are focusing on regarding COVID-19 and how to continue to support each other without duplicating efforts. There is unanimous support to continue providing education and information on ways for individuals to be self-advocates and do what is best to protect themselves. The Network continues to encourage the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), washing hands with soap and water often, and social distancing (maintaining six feet apart) from people who don’t live with you.
One of our partners, Susan Tharpe, Disability Preparedness Specialist with the Georgia Department of Public Health is seeking feedback on individuals and families with intellectual and developmental disabilities involvement or inclusion in planning and preparing during the initial and ongoing COVID-19 response.
Testing and Vaccinations
Testing and vaccinations are still available. Children 5-11 years old can be vaccinated. A third shot, also known as a booster, is available for individuals 12 years old and older. You can visit the Georgia Department of Public Health’s website for locations of testing, vaccination sites, and how to get the vaccine if a person is unable to leave their home (homebound).
Free over-the-counter rapid antigen testing home kits are now available. The U.S. government is providing up to four home test kits per household. To order visit https://www.covidtests.gov/ or call 1-800-232-0233. The Department of Health and Human Services is working with manufacturers on the accessibility of results for home test kits. Efforts are being made to ensure individuals that are blind or visually impaired can properly administer and interpret the results.
The Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) awarded funding for nine projects in January during the first of two grant cycles anticipated this year. Every year, GCDD’s Council members award grant funding for projects throughout Georgia and makes funds available to fulfill its mission in accordance with the Developmental Disabilities Bill of Rights and Assistance and its Five-Year Strategic Plan.
Through its grant making, GCDD partners with public, private, and nonprofit entities to improve the lives of people with developmental disabilities and their families. GCDD grants serve to expand best practices and contribute to system-wide changes that support the rights of people with developmental disabilities and their full inclusion as community members. Recipients of GCDD grants are expected to be ongoing partners bringing about change resulting from the impact of their work. Grant initiatives funded in this grant cycle included marketing and communications, data and policy research, education, coalition development, and self-advocacy.
Nine organizations were awarded grants in GCDD’s first round of funding. Sangha Unity Network was awarded the Advocates for Change Training by Self Advocates grant to develop a comprehensive plan for the growth of self-advocacy in Georgia. Georgia State University’s Center for Leadership in Disability (CLD) was awarded the Support New Leaders Representation for All grant to develop a robust network of new young leaders in Georgia that are ready to be involved and mentored in the disability community. The Institute for Human Development and Disability at the University of Georgia (UGA) Research Foundation was awarded the End 14C Coalition grant to see an advocacy coalition develop that is meaningfully engaged in organizing at the grassroots and state levels to advocate for needed regulatory, legislative, and policy changes to ensure the phased ending of 14c subminimum wage practices in Georgia.
Georgians for a Healthy Future was awarded the Data and Policy Research Grants: Housing for Georgians with developmental disabilities grant. This is a research project established to support the collection and analysis of data that will provide Council, advocates, and policymakers with objective analysis and conclusions that promote systemic change and build capacity to improve services and supports for people with developmental disabilities and their families. Georgia Options and the University of Georgia’s Institute on Human Development and Disability were both awarded the DSP Innovation Fund grant allowing the submission of innovative pilots proposed for impacting the shortage of direct service professionals. Claritas Creative, LLC, was awarded a grant to manage GCDD’s communications platforms and awarded the Coalition of Family Advocates grant to build a strong coalition of family advocates within Georgia. Crimminz Associates was awarded the Inclusive Post Secondary Allocation Formula Consultant grant to develop an equitable and adaptable funding formula for Georgia’s inclusive post secondary education (IPSE) programs using the state’s yearly budgetary allocation.
GCDD’s programs and grants management team assists grantees in ensuring the success of their projects while also overseeing project performance, administration, and compliance. For more information on how respond to a GCDD Notice of Funding available, visit www.gcdd.org/funding-opportunities/nofas.
Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities has released a new video showing the inclusive post secondary education (IPSE) programs in Georgia, what they have to offer, and the life-changing effects it has on their students, graduates, and communities. The students and graduates shown in this seven-and-a-half-minute video are excellent examples of how IPSE programs help young people with intellectual/developmental disabilities (I/DD) grow, learn, and succeed alongside their peers. College provides a variety of experiences and opportunities for students with I/DD for growth as they prepare for the next chapter of their lives. Transition planning should include college and begin as early as possible during their middle and high school years.
Through IPSE, a concept that has been around for 10–15 years, students with I/DD are able to reach their dream of continuing their studies in a university or college setting. The eight IPSE programs in Georgia are Kennesaw State University Academy for Inclusive Learning and Social Growth, Columbus State University’s GOALS, East Georgia State College’s CHOICE, Georgia Institute of Technology’s EXCEL, Albany Technical College’s LEAP, University of Georgia’s Destination Dawgs, Georgia State University’s IDEAL, Georgia Southern University’s EAGLE Academy, and coming soon, Georgia College and State University’s THRIVE. For more information on IPSE in Georgia, visit GAIPSEC.org.
The Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) is proud to recognize March as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month (DDAM). This year’s theme is “Worlds Imagined: GCDD is advancing policy and practices in Georgia to ensure all citizens can benefit from people with developmental disabilities living full, productive, included, integrated, and self-determined lives in their communities.” The goal for this month is to create awareness about developmental disabilities, teach the importance of inclusion within every aspect of life, and to share the stories of individuals with disabilities to show that a fulfilling and successful life is possible. GCDD’s role is to advocate for and support work that ensures all Georgians with Developmental Disabilities can have a life well lived. The focal points of DDAM this year are inclusion, contributions, and togetherness. We want you to spread the word and share your stories on social media (Facebook and Twitter). DDAM is also about people with and without developmental disabilities sharing their stores about living alongside each other.
How can you raise #DDAwareness? Each week during the month of March has a main theme focus:
February 28th – March 4th: Worlds Imagined March 7th – March 11th: Change Imagined March 14th – March 18th: Support Imagined March 21st – March 25th: Skills Imagined March 28th – April 1st: Hope Imagined
Post and share on social media your photos, videos, and stories about what’s going on in your life. We encourage you to also expand your network and reach out to your legislators, businesses, schools, your local media, diverse communities, and more.
You can also join us on GCDD’s last virtual Advocacy Day on March 16, 2022, to educate and inform our lawmakers about Advancing Employment for people with developmental disabilities. To register for Advocacy Day three,click here.
Throughout March, GCDD will post weekly action items on this webpage and on our Facebook and Twitter accounts to raise awareness of the voice of the disability community.
Share your support of National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month on social media with the hashtag #DDAwareness2022, #DDAM2022, #WorldsImagined, #GCDDAdvocates.
Virtual Advocacy Day #3 from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Mark your calendars! GCDD’s Advocacy Day Three is scheduled for Wednesday, March 16th from 10:00am to 1:00pm. We will be focusing on advancing employment for people with developmental disabilities and learning how to connect with your state legislators.
Welcome to March! As you read this newsletter, we are celebrating Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. It’s also our first edition of the quarterly newsletter for the year!
We have had a strong start to 2023 and are only six weeks in at the time of this writing. Our most significant focus has been on the legislative session. This is always a big time of year for the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) because it's an excellent opportunity to advance policy for people with developmental disabilities and their families.
As you read this newsletter, GCDD wrapped up its third and final Advocacy Day for 2023.
Our number one priority at the Georgia State Capitol this year has been what we summarize as Waivers and Wages. We were excited last year because we got 513 NOW/COMP (New Option Waiver Program (NOW) and Comprehensive Support Waiver Program (COMP)) Waivers, and that's been the most we have gotten for many, many years.
This year, we have made a heavily concentrated push for another significant number of waivers to be approved, as there are currently over 7,000 people with developmental disabilities on the waitlist. Our bipartisan senate study committee recommended 2,400 new waivers this year. We've been advocating hard for that.
We have also advocated increased wages for our Direct Support Professionals (DSPs). These people provide hands-on, day-to-day support for individuals with developmental disabilities. Right now, in the set rate that the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) is paying providers, the assumed rate that goes to DSPs is $10.63 an hour. That's not enough for anybody to live and support themselves in today's economy.
DSPs' vacancy and turnover rates are very high – understandably so. Numerous providers have talked about losing some of their best staff, who come to them and say: "Look, I love my job. I am a caregiver. I love the people and the person I support. But I cannot sustain my life on $10.63 an hour.”
We have partnered with providers at Service Providers Association for Developmental Disabilities (SPADD) and are pushing for a wage of $18.86 an hour. Our other legislative work is also focused on Inclusive Post Secondary Education (IPSE), both getting additional funding from the state and a bill we are very excited about. This bill, sponsored by Representative Houston Gaines, would make Inclusive Post Secondary Education students eligible for state-funded scholarships, which they currently do not qualify for in Georgia.
Senator Sally Harrell, a big champion for our community, introduced legislation Senate Bill 198, that would create the Intellectual and Developmental Disability commission. It would be a commission on reform and innovation that would really take a thoughtful look at improving the whole system.
And finally, we are also focusing on advancing employment for Georgians with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We are working with the Georgia Women's Policy Institute, as well as a group called Cause, working to end 14(c) in Georgia, aka subminimum wage employment. We are also looking for ways to boost employment in general for people with developmental disabilities.
As we welcomed 200 advocates to the Capitol during our GCDD Advocacy Days, we found that legislators rarely get to meet our community in person. Georgia’s disability community always does a great job of showing up and having those conversations with their state representatives, especially during legislative sessions.
We are thrilled to do the work of making the bridge and connecting and supporting the relationships between Georgia’s disability community and its legislators. Community members are an absolutely critical part of this work. Democracy works well with citizen involvement at every level.
To me, that's the purpose of Advocacy Days and why advocacy will always be at the forefront for GCDD to remind us that Developmental Disabilities Awareness should be year-round.
D’Arcy Robb Executive Director, GCDD
Public Policy for The People
Public Policy for the People provides public policy updates as it pertains to people with disabilities here in Georgia.
This past Monday, March 6, 2023, was Crossover Day in the Georgia legislature. Crossover Day occurs every year on the 28th day of the session. It marks the halfway point – the day that bills must get through either the House or the Senate to pass this year. Crossover day is an excellent opportunity to evaluate our progress in this session and determine what we must focus on in the next few weeks.
There have been several legislative wins for Georgia’s Inclusive Post-Secondary Education (IPSE) programs. House Bill 185, authored by Representative Houston Gaines, passed the House unanimously on March 1. HB 185 creates grants for IPSE students like the existing HOPE scholarship program. These grants cover 100% of tuition costs, and the House recommendations for Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 contain nearly $1 million in funding. Georgia’s IPSE programs have also received new infrastructure funding in the FY2023 and FY2024 budgets. For FY23, the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) received a one-time addition of $100,000 to support technology infrastructure and environmental adaptations for IPSE programs. In the FY2024 budget, $200,000 was added to expand and help IPSE across the state.
As always, our advocacy efforts have prioritized NOW/COMP waivers and Direct Support Professional (DSP) wages. In the FY2024 budget, Governor Brian Kemp’s recommendation included funds to annualize the costs of the 513 waivers added last year and add 250 new waivers. The House recommendation was just released Wednesday and includes funding for 375 waivers. Although any addition of waiver funding is positive, we believe this is inadequate to address Georgia’s waitlist of over 7,000 people. As the budget process continues in the Senate, we must keep advocating for more funding and waivers.
Senators Sally Harrell and John Albers, who led last year’s Senate Study Committee on waivers, sponsored SB 198, creating the Georgians with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Innovation Commission. The commission would aim to address Georgia's long-standing waiver crisis with expert advice and targeted subcommittees. Although SB 198 had strong bipartisan sponsorship, it was never called for a hearing in its assigned committee, so it will not pass on its own this year. However, some of the language of SB 198 may be included in another bill, HB 520. This would allow parts of SB 198 to go into effect this year.
In addition to targeting advocacy efforts for our legislative priorities, we monitor bills affecting people with disabilities. GCDD aims to practice the “Disability in ALL policy” by ensuring that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) have a voice in all legislation. Both the House and Senate have passed bills that we believe will benefit people with disabilities across Georgia.
The House passed HB 122, which builds on the work of last year’s HB 1008 by making some administrative changes to Georgia’s ABLE account program. The bill aims to expand awareness of ABLE accounts and improve the resources available to users.
Representative Alan Powell authored HB 215, which allows registered nurses and physician assistants to certify that a person has a disability to obtain accessible vehicle decals. This makes it easier for people who need these decals to get them. HB 215 passed the house on February 16.
The Senate has addressed some key disability issues, too. They unanimously passed SB 4 - which is notable mainly because Democrats entirely sponsor it. SB 4 is the “Blind Persons’ Braille Literacy Rights and Education Act.” It aims to expand access to Braille education by requiring those blind and visually impaired students to be evaluated to determine their need for Braille and receive Braille instruction if it’s right for them.
These bills will have to make it through both chambers by the end of the session to become law this year. However, they will still be viable next year because 2023 is the first year of Georgia’s biennial session.
Even though it is not an election year, the legislative session has been scheduled to be short this year: it will be over by the end of the month. With so much still undecided this year, we must persevere in our advocacy efforts during the last few weeks of the session.
Beyond the Conversation
March is Developmental Disability Awareness Month (DDAM). Each year in March, the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (NACDD) and its partners — like the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) — work together to create a social media campaign that highlights the many ways in which people with and without disabilities come together to form strong, diverse communities.
The campaign seeks to raise awareness about including people with developmental disabilities in all facets of community life and the barriers that people with disabilities can still face in connecting with their communities.
This year’s Developmental Disability Awareness Month’s theme is “Beyond the Conversation.” The goal is to push state representatives from conversations to action regarding issues concerning the developmental disability community. The goal is also to create awareness about intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), teach the importance of inclusion within every aspect of life, and to share the stories of individuals with disabilities to show that a fulfilling and successful life is possible. GCDD’s role is to advocate for, and support work that ensures all Georgians with IDD can have a life well-lived.
During the month of March, we encourage you to post and share things about your life through photos, videos, and stories on social media. We encourage you also to expand your network and reach out to your legislators, businesses, schools, local media channels, and diverse communities to spread the word.
Similar to last year, artwork from a Washington D.C. artist was selected to use during this year’s campaign. The artist’s name is Jamila Rahimi. Feel free to use her artwork in your own branding. Share your support of the 2023 DDAM social media campaign by using the following hashtags: #DDawareness2023, #DDAM2023, #BeyondtheConvo or #BeyondtheConversation
Sharia Stripling Wants to Speak for Herself
“Let me just talk for myself,” says Sharia Stripling.
In her ideal world, Stripling wishes everyone knew American Sign Language (ASL).
“I would go to places and appointments with my mom. My mom can hear, and I cannot. And so I would be asking her, ‘I'd love some more in-depth information.’ And, she'd give me that finger, like, hold on, hold on. But I wanted more in-depth information like everybody else had access to.
“I wouldn’t have to work through interpreters; you could just sign with me directly. That would be an ideal world for me because I could talk to you. That's what we, the deaf community, would want.”
From Fort Valley, Georgia, south of Macon, the 33-year-old started her advocacy journey in high school. She works at Apexx, an after-school program, as a dance instructor and ASL coach.
“Pageants were my platform, and that's when I started to break the barrier.” She developed a passion for dance and pageantry after reading a book in middle school by Heather Whitestone, the first deaf ballerina and Miss America 1995. In 2007, Stripling competed in her first pageant, the Miss Deaf Georgia pageant, although she did not win the competition.
After graduating from high school in 2008, Stripling continued her education at Valdosta State University and became the first deaf graduate with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in dance and theater in 2014. She became the first deaf woman to win the Alpha Phi Alpha: Mu Omicron Miss Black and Gold 2013 and held the title Miss Deaf Georgia 2013-2015.
Her advocacy journey led her to become a part of NashInspired — a company that teaches ASL, among other diversity and inclusion programs, and was founded by Terryann Nash. Stripling partnered with Jackie Brown, a speech therapist and entrepreneur focusing on ASL.
And now, as one of the newest self-advocates to be appointed to the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities, she wants to use her seat to raise the voice for Georgia’s deaf community.
She wants to become an advocate for community appointments, medical appointments, and things where an interpreter is needed so the deaf community can have communication access — the same access she wanted when going to appointments with her mother.
And for Stripling, being on the Council is a great opportunity to advocate and help people get into positions and places they need.
“I'd love to share with the Council that I would like more programs for the deaf. There is Vocational Rehabilitation, the Georgia Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and the Georgia Association for the Deaf. Those are great programs, but we need more,” said Stripling.
GCDD also advocates for inclusive post-secondary education, a program for which Stripling wants to increase visibility.
“We didn't have that in my time in college, which could have been such a huge help. All we had was vocational rehab and a few little programs, but I'd love more access for the deaf community,” said the Valdosta State University graduate.
She wants to incorporate more learning sessions and encourage people to take ASL to understand the language.
She adds, “We use our own language; it’s very creative. We'd love the opportunity to show and use our language worldwide. That’s the kind of access we are looking for right now.”
Celebrate World Down Syndrome Day on March 21, 2023! March 21 marks World Down Syndrome Day dedicated to raising awareness about Down syndrome and celebrating individuals worldwide living with the genetic condition. Learn more here.
We recently lost one of the greatest Americans and a leader in the Civil Rights movement. John Lewis was more than a member of the U.S. Congress or even a civil rights leader – he was a hero to many people across the world. Those who had the honor to meet with John Lewis will never forget their first time – nor the conversations, stories and the connections he made between human rights for people of color, people with disabilities and any other marginalized community with which you may identify.
I had the opportunity to meet with John Lewis several times. Every time, I learned something new about how we should treat people. One of the most important lessons that John Lewis spoke about was the importance of voting. This fundamental right in a democracy is the best way to create change. GCDD has written about and supported efforts to assert that the “Disability Vote Counts,” and as we get closer to November 3, 2020, it is important that each of us get educated on where the candidates stand, and how we plan to vote during the pandemic. We are being told that if you want your absentee ballot to be counted, get it in early. Remember what Justin Dart, the great disability advocate wrote: “Vote like your life depends on it, because it does.”
Also, in this newsletter, you will learn about GCDD’s Five Year Strategic Planning effort. Council members and staff are currently working on this plan that will be completed by August 2021, and we need your involvement. We recently held three townhall-style forums, and there are more ways you can be involved. Our survey is open till September 4, so take some time to complete it. And coming up, we plan to host a series of focus groups. This input will assist council members and staff in understanding the issues impacting you and your family. This information will be reflected in the goals and projects that GCDD supports in our next five-year plan. Read more about the many ways you can provide input into this effort.
Finally, GCDD is proud to announce that that we have renamed our “Learning Support Fund” to the Dottie Adams Scholarship Fund. Dottie worked for GCDD for many years and passed away in 2016. She is best known for helping individuals with developmental disabilities and families find the resources they need to live their best lives. The scholarship fund will provide up to $2,500 per applicant to assist individuals and family members to attend conferences and other learning events – and then bring what they learned back to their communities.
We hope you enjoy reading this newsletter, and we want to hear from you. Let us know your thoughts and comments about this edition by writing to Managing Editor Hillary Hibben at .
Public Policy for the People: Advocacy Outside of the Legislative Session: Let’s Talk Budget
— Alyssa Lee, PsyD, GCDD Public Policy Research and Development Director
Public Policy for the People provides public policy updates as it pertains to people with disabilities here in Georgia.
During Georgia’s 2020 legislative session, we saw historic levels of engagement from our advocates, whether that meant showing up to GCDD’s advocacy days (pre-COVID, of course) or joining one of our call-in days. Although most of our time and attention goes to preparing for and engaging in Georgia’s legislative session, we want to take some time to talk about the importance of continuing our advocacy efforts year-round.
This conversation will focus on an extremely important, yet often overlooked, opportunity to make our voices heard: the budget process! Many of you are familiar with our advocacy efforts surrounding the budget during session, but there are actually numerous opportunities to engage in advocacy around our state’s budget before the session even begins. To effectively advocate for our budget priorities, we first need to understand Georgia’s budget process. We will provide a brief overview, but to access the detailed, seven-phase process, please visit the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget (OPB) website.
Each year, the governor requests all state agencies to develop a budget for the upcoming year (note: Georgia is currently working on the creation of its fiscal year 2022 budget which starts on July 1, 2021). State agencies do most of their budget development during the summer and typically deliver their budget recommendations to the governor’s office in September. While state agencies are developing their budgets, we can advocate for our needs by meeting with state agency officials and attending board meetings.
An example of a common state agency we often work with is the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD). This state agency is responsible for requesting new NOW/COMP waiver slots in the upcoming budget. Although this year’s opportunity to engage state agencies during their budget development has passed (Governor Kemp requested all budgets be sent to his office today, September 1!), there is still plenty of time for you to advocate for the issues important to you and your family.
Now that the state agencies have passed their recommendations on to the governor’s office, our advocacy efforts will be focused on educating the governor’s office on the supports and services you need. First, you might want to look over the recommendations from the state agencies so that you know what was included and what was left out. You can typically find the recommendations from state agencies on this OPB budget page. Once you have that information, you can start by requesting meetings with the governor’s staff. The governor usually has a staff person knowledgeable in specific topics, and it is most effective to discuss your issues with that staff person.
In addition to meeting with a staff person of the governor, you can also call and email your concerns and requests. The governor’s office will work throughout the autumn months on creating the governor’s budget proposal, which is often distributed in January at the start of Georgia’s new legislative session.
For administration contact information, please visit the governor’s website. And please reach out to our Public Policy team if you need help locating contact information or drafting talking points!
GCDD Public Policy Team Public Policy Research & Development Director Dr. Alyssa Lee: Legislative Advocacy Director Charlie Miller:
GCDD'S Five Year Planning Process Update – August 2020
In the past few weeks, GCDD has held three townhalls, released a survey and will be hosting focus groups to learn what is important to people with developmental disabilities across the state. The final townhall wrapped up last Thursday, and over the course of three different meetings, we learned a lot about what people are seeking from their communities, the state and even GCDD. Read more about the townhall meetings and how you can still advocate for yourself, your family member or someone you know.
Pat Nobbie, GCDD' former deputy director, who wrote the column Mia's Space for Making A Difference magazine, shares an important story that affected her daughter, Mia. Having worked in Washington, DC while Mia lives and works in Athens, GA, Nobbie shared stories of Mia's growing independence and advocacy for herself through employment, education and more. Most recently, Mia needed to advocate for herself medically. Nobbie writes about the importance of effectively communicating and advocating for medical needs.
Mia has lived with a family for 11 years, in her own apartment in their home, participating in lots of typical family routines while also maintaining her own friendships, church affiliation and employment. It’s the best arrangement I could have imagined, and the advent of the virus only confirmed its value because Laura and Joe, with whom Mia lives, kept Mia safe from exposure like they did for themselves and their three children, while also keeping her busy after she was furloughed from her job in the short-stay surgery unit in early March.
Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the project will continue this year with Over the Wire — a virtual, crowd-sourced collection of video stories.
“We really want to hear people’s stories and experiences,” said Irene Turner, the director of GCDD’s Storytelling Project. “This is a really good way for anyone who wants to tell their story through the Storytelling Project to do that.”
The GCDD is asking people to submit short video clips of themselves online, answering some questions that speak to their personal experience and story. Turner says the questions are meant as a guide, and she wants people to have fun with the project.
Those interested in participating can visit the Storytelling Project’s website, which has a designated page for Over the Wire with information and instructions. The webpage currently has a sample video of Martha Haythorn, a rising freshman at Georgia Tech who hopes to become a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. and effect national change. There is a Google form where videos can be submitted.
The project is now open for submissions and will continue for the next six months. Videos will be released on a rolling basis a few weeks after they’re submitted. Goodier Creative will be completing the videos with finishing touches and an introduction, and they’ll be promoted on social media continually through the spring.
“We wanted to do something that fit with the current flow of culture, so Over the Wire was conceived,” said Turner. “Over the Wire is responsive to our current time and place, in that people are consuming media and connecting online.”
Learn more about Over the Wire and how to submit your story on its website.
Grant Opportunity - Welcoming Community Movement Opens Grant for Social Justice Movement
The Real Communities Partnership (RCP) is an award-winning, signature concept that has received national attention for its innovation and diversity. To best address the many urgent issues we are now facing in society, the RCP is transitioning to the Welcoming Community Movement Fund (WCMF). The WCMF is the natural evolution of the RCP and we are excited about the collaboration and progress that we expect it to engender. The WCMF is funded by GCDD and managed by Global Ubuntu.
In the same spirit of collaboration and progress, WCMF is launching a social justice movement grant that is open for local organizations and movement coaches.
Grant Name: Welcoming Community Movement Fund - a social justice movement Application Submission Deadline: October 10, 2020 Grant Period: Once awarded, the grant period is 11/01/2020 – 10/30/2021. Area of Emphasis: Equity from racial and disabilities justice lens. Number Funding Awards: There are 6-10 awards available. At least six (6) groups must be at least 70 miles outside of Atlanta. Funding Descriptions: Local Initiatives & Movement Coaches
For the last 25 years, the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) has used the Learning Opportunities Support Fund to award small grants (up to $2,500) to individuals with disabilities and their family members. GCDD recently announced the endowment will now be known as the Dottie Adams Scholarship Fund.
The new name was announced on Aug. 5, Dottie’s birthday, and is meant to support dedicated advocates in her memory. Money from the grants allows families to attend conferences and educational events for advocates. They’re then able to come back and educate their own communities on possible service improvements and new solutions.
The fund’s redesignation honors the nearly 35 years of service Dottie Adams gave to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities during her life as an advocate. Dottie was a creative and fearless pioneer who fought for more person-centered planning and brought the Project SEARCH employment program to Georgia. She served as its State Coordinator for the Council.
“I’ve never met anybody that has been known and been admired by more people with disabilities and their families than Dottie was,” said Eric Jacobson, the executive director of GCDD. “She worked across the state to help people get the resources they need and was beloved by many.”
The fund is open to anyone in the state with a disability or their families, and the money can be used for in state or out-of-state events. Families only cannot receive these funds in successive years. There is a quick application online, and all funds are released as reimbursements. Completed applications should be submitted 30 days before the event.
Currently, there aren’t many in-person conferences or events due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but the fund is always open for applications. Questions may be emailed to Lisa Eaves, Grants and Contracts Manager at GCDD, at .
Announcing an exciting new opportunity! GCDD has created a Public Policy and Advocacy Fellowship Program, and we are looking to recruit our first fellow! The application process opens TODAY.Visit our website page to learn more and apply!
August and September are usually those months when children begin returning to school or families are taking their last vacation of the summer. In state government that used to mean quiet time to think about what took place during the past year and begin preparing the upcoming legislative session. Not anymore! August and September have become very busy months in preparation for the work that must be done as we move into preparing budgets and having new plans. This month’s newsletter provides an update on the work that GCDD and advocates statewide have been conducting.
For more than 15 years, GCDD has led the battle to eliminate the waiting list for home and community-based services for people with intellectual/developmental disabilities. This work resulted in the production of 6000 Waiting,an award-winning documentary that has been seen by self-advocates, family members, advocates, policymakers and other interested individuals across the globe.
It was shown to the board of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities. Members of that board expressed a desire to figure out a solution to the waiting list. But – we need YOU to put pressure on the DBHDD board. They need to know that addressing the waiting list is a priority.
At its July meeting, GCDD members adopted its next five-year plan. This plan tells us the direction that GCDD will go during this period. Read my article about the plan in this newsletter but here is a hint: The goals of the plan are 1) to create systems change around the issues of employment, transportation, health care and housing; 2) to support and expand opportunities for individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities to share their voice and take leadership of the disability movement; and 3) to make sure that issues of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion are a part of all the work that we do.
We hope you enjoy reading this newsletter and we want to hear from you. Let us know your thoughts and comments about the newsletter by writing to
Eric E. Jacobson, GCDD Executive Director
Public Policy for the People
Public Policy for the People provides public policy updates as it pertains to people with disabilities here in Georgia.
Every September, we celebrate direct support professionals (DSP) and their invaluable contribution to the disability community with the Direct Support Professional Recognition Week, taking place this year during September 12th-18th.
Many of us know personally the dedication that direct support professionals have to their work and those that they support, and we wanted to honor their work by focusing this Public Policy for the People on the work that is taking place in Georgia to ensure that direct support professionals are adequately supported in their professions. As we’ve mentioned in previous issues, Georgia is experiencing a direct support professional workforce shortage and crisis seen all over the country.
Given the work that needs to be done, we were encouraged to see through the American Rescue Plan Act Georgia is set to receive approximately $500 million to enhance, expand, and strengthen home and community-based services, which includes the work of direct support professionals. Georgia submitted their initial spending plan in July, which can be read in full here, and included some planning related to direct support professionals.
Georgia stated it intends to provide reimbursement rate increases and specialized payments such as hazard pay, shift differential pay, and one-time signing bonuses and/or retention bonuses, which they believe will assist in the workforce shortage and retention challenges. Reimbursement rates will be increased for the ICWP waiver and the Elderly and Disabled Waiver, and the following services should see temporary payment enhancements: crisis stabilization units, crisis service centers/temporary observation core services, community service boards, behavioral health agencies providing services under the Medicaid rehab option, and the IDD workforce 1915(c) HCBS services. In addition, Georgia plans to assess the HCBS workforce, with a focus on direct service provider retention, recruitment, and career development.
Although GCDD is encouraged to see direct support professionals included in the spending plan, we do believe Georgia has an opportunity to invest its dollars into recommendations that have already been provided to them, both in the House Study Committee report and the GCDD white paper mentioned above. GCDD will continue to advocate to state agencies partners to ensure that direct support professionals are prioritized in future planning, and we will continue to monitor the spending of funds and the related effects on the workforce.
Stay tuned for additional announcements on how GCDD plans to expand our support for the direct support professional workforce in its new five-year strategic plan starting October 2021!
Every summer, GCDD's Public Policy team begins the planning process for Georgia's upcoming state legislative session. To be most effective in its advocacy, GCDD typically leads on 2-3 priority areas each session, while also supporting its partner organizations in their efforts.
So, they would likeyour input! Provide feedback on GCDD's 2022 legislative priorities, as well as its 2022 Advocacy Days through the survey and share how you want to advocate for services and supports for the disability community in Georgia.
The Developmental Disabilities Bill of Rights and Assistance Act is the federal legislation that creates Developmental Disability Councils, Protection and Advocacy Agencies, and University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities. One of the requirements for Developmental Disability Councils is to prepare and implement a five-year plan that indicates the important issues in a state and how the Council will use its resources to address those issues.
For the past year, members of the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities have been listening to individuals, families, advocates and policymakers about the issues that exist and how GCDD may use its resources. We heard from hundreds of people from around the State about the need to address the waiting list, increase employment, housing, transportation, and healthcare opportunities, and to remember that Georgia is bigger than just Atlanta.
GCDD members and staff used this input to decide upon the goals, objectives and activities that we will use over the next five years. We decided upon three major goals: 1) to create systems change around the issues of employment, transportation, health care and housing; 2) to support and expand opportunities for individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities to share their voice and take leadership of the disability movement; and, 3) to make sure that issues of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion are a part of all the work that we do.
Within each goal are a set of objectives and activities. While there is not enough space to list every objective and activity, here is a highlight of what we will be working on. We believe there is work to be done to understand where we are as a state around employment, housing, transportation and healthcare. This means that we will be asking you more about what is needed in your part of the State. We will continue to use this information and others to advocate for a legislative agenda that includes eliminating the waiting list, increased wages and support for direct support professionals and eliminating subminimum wages for workers with disabilities.
We need your involvement and GCDD will develop and support coalitions to address these issues. We want to include organizations that are not disability related but have common purpose and agenda. We want to build the largest and most effective self-advocacy movement in the country. Finally, we want to make sure that individuals across the state regardless of geography, economic status, race, ethnicity, gender or religion have equitable access to services and technology to participate in society.
The Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) announced two individuals have joined their office staff recently. Tonya Fair is the new Fiscal Manager for GCDD, and T’Airia Samuel has been selected for the role of Grants Manager.
Fair holds a degree in Business Management and Marketing from Auburn University at Montgomery. She has 24 years of experience in the field of finance and contracts with the State of Georgia. As part of helping GCDD achieve its goals, she strongly feels that “Everyone needs to be provided equal opportunity and treated fairly, regardless of their disability.”
As Finance Manager, Fair will be responsible for:
Finance, accounting, and fiscal control functions.
Accounts payable, accounts receivable and general ledger.
Analyzing information and preparing reports to document financial activities.
Prior to COVID, Fair loved to go to plays, concerts, musicals, art exhibits and sporting events. She really enjoys family gatherings and children’s activities, especially with her nieces and nephews.
T'Airia SamuelSamuel, GCDD’s Grants Coordinator, is a Florida A&M graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science. She worked for the State of Florida for three and a half years in various positions including as a claims analyst to provide relocation assistance to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking. She also served as a grants manager assisting Florida consumers whose homes were damaged or demolished because of hurricanes.
Samuel’s duties as Grants Manager includes:
Coordinating grants and contract management functions.
Assisting in the development of policies and procedures for grants/contracts management.
Having comprehensive knowledge of Federal Performance Measures and Program Performance Reports requirements.
She will also provide technical assistance to Council members, staff, and grantees regarding the DD Suite contracts management system.
Regarding her position with GCDD, Samuel said, “I chose this specific role because I have a desire to help those who need it. My previous roles showed me the different struggles people face daily. All struggles are not, in fact, the same, but being able to help someone by providing resources, a helping hand, or a kind word is fulfilling to me.”
In her time outside of work, Samuel says she enjoys sketching and painting.
Naomi WilliamsAs the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) continues to see a need for additional education regarding the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine, as well as the disproportionate access barriers to the vaccine for people with disabilities, they recently welcomed Naomi Williams as GCDD’s COVID-19 Vaccination Project Coordinator. Williams was also the Council’s Public Policy Fellow.
In her role, Williams will assist GCDD’s partners throughout the state to ensure access to education, information, and vaccination for COVID-19. The goal is to maximize effort while minimizing duplication which includes hosting and participating in community listening sessions, providing technical assistance for pop-up vaccine clinics, and overcoming barriers such as transportation and support for those wanting to be vaccinated.
“My plans are to listen and to build connections so we can continue building communities where everyone’s well being is thought of and planned for regardless of where in the state they live. The goal is to get our communities safe and build a playbook of how to better reach and serve them as we move forward,” Williams explained.
GCDD is currently engaged in two primary areas of work to overcome some of the hesitation and barriers to the vaccine. One area is transportation assistance and Williams wants people to be aware that travel reimbursement is available for taking your community member to a COVID-19 vaccination site. The reimbursement and reporting process is easy and can be found here.
The other area is a media campaign to uplift the positive stories of people with disabilities who have received the vaccine and is promoting the Georgia Developmental Disabilities Network (GDDN) #Vax4Me campaign aiming to recognize the vulnerability of the small subset of our community who would want to be vaccinated if they could but for whom the vaccine isn’t either available because of their age or medically advisable because of their health. This #Vax4Me campaign invites families and other individuals who have been vaccinated not only for their own health, but also for the benefit of those around them, to share their stories through video of why they decided to get vaccinated and/or for whom they got the vaccine.
“The campaign is new and is beginning to gain traction. We have heard from several parents who want to get their child vaccinated, but cannot due to their child being too young. I’ve met one family of five who have been together, in their home, over 500 days. The parents are working from home, and the kids are doing virtual school. Their entertainment consists of weekend rides in their van. This family has three children, two who are medically complex and two that are under the age of approved vaccination,” Williams said.
Williams added, “We have and continue to hear hesitation about the risk vaccination could have on exacerbating those with chronic health conditions. Our message is if you can get vaccinated, please do so to protect yourself and others. Together we can get through this.”
GCDD also anticipates releasing Notices of Funds Available for COVID-19 work around the state and invites the community to stay-tuned to the GCDD website for opportunities to submit project proposals.
If you have any questions, concerns, or would like to host a listening session, contact Williams at .
Direct Support Professional (DSP) Recognition Week is September 12th-18th.
This week is an opportunity to show gratitude to the dedicated, innovative direct support workforce that is the heart and soul of supports for people with disabilities. Thank you for your hard work, DSPs!
A Digital Newsletter from the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities • September 2022
The Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities newsletter from keeps you up-to-date on the latest news from what’s happening with public policy in Georgia to COVID-19 updates to upcoming events. This issue has a special feature on The GCDD Storytelling Project's latest film and an introduction of GCDD's new executive director, D'Arcy Robb.
We hope you have enjoyed a great summer! As we head toward the fall, the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) is excited about the work that we are doing to help improve the lives of Georgia’s intellectual and developmental disability (IDD) community. This month’s e-newsletter provides an update on what you can look forward to GCDD tackling in the months ahead.
First and foremost, we are excited to announce our new executive director, D’Arcy Robb, who comes to GCDD with a great amount of experience in the IDD space. Robb recently served as the Public Policy Director for GCDD. Robb plans on keeping GCDD’s five-year strategic plan on track, getting the IDD community ready for the upcoming election, and preparing for the 2023 session of the Georgia General Assembly while tackling the NOW/COMP waiver waitlist.
GCDD’s Public Policy Team is also beginning to look toward the upcoming legislative session and need your input as they plan their work for GCDD’s 2023 public policy agenda. Please take a moment to complete the Public Policy Survey and read this newsletter’s public policy update. In this issue, you will learn about COVID-19 updates and events, including a webinar scheduled for September 15 addressing COVID vaccines for children ages six months to five years old. The GCDD Storytelling Project also has an event on September 17 in Macon, Georgia, showcasing 10 new self-advocates in their new Treasure Maps film.
It has been a few years and now it is back, the GCDD Candidate Forum is scheduled for September 29. This is a forum where GCDD invites individuals running for public office to speak on issues of importance to Georgia’s disability community. Do not forget to check out the e-news Calendar Spotlight and GCDD’s Calendar of Events to find activities and events in communities throughout Georgia.
We hope you enjoy reading this newsletter and that these articles and updates provide you with new and useful information. We want to hear from you! Let us know your thoughts and comments about the newsletter by writing to .
Nick Perry, Chairman
GCDD Welcomes New Executive Director D’Arcy Robb
After a thorough search, the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) welcomes new executive director D’Arcy Robb. Robb comes to GCDD with several years of experience working in the intellectual and developmental disability (IDD) community. As the new executive director, she will focus on GCDD’s relationships, its network, and focus on how the agency is using its talents and resources. Additionally, she will work with the staff to analyze their environment and current activities and ensure that they are getting their five-year plan goals underway. Robb also wants the staff with her help to be sure to get information on voting out to the IDD community in the upcoming election and prepare for the 2023 session of the Georgia General Assembly.
“Self-advocates and family members will always be at the heart of GCDD. My approach as the executive director will be collaborative and relationship based. I want to keep GCDD grounded in values, ethics, resiliency, support, and growth,” she said. “As an organization, we need to have a constant focus on connection, vision, strategy, and action. Some of the actions I’m particularly interested in are ending the waiting list for NOW and COMP waivers and replacing the lifelong systems of segregation that all too often surround folks with disabilities with innovative, inclusive supports that let people move through the world living their best lives.”
“I’m honored to welcome D’Arcy back to GCDD as the new executive director,” said Nicholaus Perry, GCDD’s Council Chairman. “We’re fortunate to have her and excited for the future of the organization.”
Robb has a bachelor’s degree from Williams College and a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Kentucky. She served as the Public Policy Director for GCDD in 2013 for almost two years. Prior to that role, she served as the Public Policy Coordinator for the Commonwealth Council on Developmental Disabilities, GCDD’s equivalent in Kentucky, which she loved.
Past roles that Robb has held include being a part-time consultant for Employment First Georgia for GCDD, a Special Projects Coordinator for the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency (GVRA), and most recently, the Program Manager and Interim Family First Program Director for DFCS (formally known as the Georgia Department of Human Services’ Division of Family and Children Services).
What she is most proud of in her career includes leading Employment First Georgia and the inaugural year of Take Your Legislator to Work Day, an effort that ultimately led to the passage of Georgia’s Employment First legislation. Robb is also proud to have begun GCDD’s Advocacy Days, to have spearheaded the Georgia Evolution Conference during her time at GVRA, and to have been part of the team that successfully advocated for the first-ever regulations on restraint and seclusion in Kentucky public schools.
“I am thrilled and humbled to be joining GCDD as the new executive director,” Robb said. “I am a family member to multiple people with developmental disabilities and am so excited to come into this role and work as a part of this community.”
Robb is happily married to her husband Todd, has an eight-year-old daughter named Annika, and has three cats. In her free time, she is a competitive adult ice skater who loves to write, travel, and relax by the water. Robb began work with GCDD on September 1, 2022. For more information, visit www.gcdd.org.
GCDD’s Public Policy Team Prepares for the 2023 Legislative Session
Public Policy for the People provides public policy updates as it pertains to people with disabilities here in Georgia.
As summer winds down, GCDD’s Public Policy Team is beginning to look toward the upcoming legislative session, and we need your input as we work to build our 2023 public policy agenda! As we begin planning which priorities we want to tackle, we appreciate hearing from the community on the issues that matter most. To make sure we have public input each year, we put together a brief survey that allows advocates and organization representatives the opportunity to make their voices heard. GCDD’s Public Policy Team takes lead on 2 to 3 priorities each legislative session, making sure that those issues are in alignment with our five-year strategic plan. In addition, we look to support partner organizations on policy priorities in which they plan to lead during the session. The survey is an opportunity for you to vote on GCDD’s priorities, submit additional policy areas for consideration, and request GCDD’s support on issues your organization is leading. In addition, we also seek input on how we can best host our annual advocacy days.
Last year, we heard from hundreds of community members, and the results clearly showed that the top two priorities for the community were NOW/COMP waiver slots and direct support professional (DSP) wages. GCDD’s Public Policy Team got to work on those issues, focusing two of our 2022 advocacy days on those topics and partnering with the community to educate legislators on the importance of those issues. We were thrilled to see the hard work pay off with the unprecedented funding for NOW/COMP waivers, as well as funding for a provider rate increase which is the mechanism required to increase the wages of DSPs.
This year, in order to have another successful legislative session, we are asking that you take 2-3 minutes to complete our 2023 Legislative Session Planning Survey and share it with your networks. The survey includes policy areas such as: subminimum wage, NOW/COMP waivers, home and community-based services (HCBS) rates, inclusive postsecondary education (IPSE) programs, mental health, and housing. As mentioned above, you will also have the opportunity to fill in any additional policy issues that you believe are most important. The deadline for submitting your response is Monday, September 26, at 11:59pm. We look forward to hearing from you. For more information or for any questions, please contact GCDD’s Legislative Advocacy Director, Charlie Miller, at or GCDD’s Public Policy Research and Development Director, Dr. Alyssa Miller, at .
Books, Backpacks, and Boosters: Your COVID Update for the Fall
By Naomi D. Williams, GCDD Vaccination Project Coordinator
Welcome Back Friends!
Summer vacation has come to an end and we’re getting back into the familiar school routine. Class supplies have been purchased and secured. Paper towels and cleaning wipes for the classroom teacher have been delivered. Extracurricular activities or weekly therapies are back and in full effect. Biding time and waiting to be seated under those Friday night lights because we’re ready for some football. Whether you have a child starting daycare, kindergarten, middle school, high school, college, or find yourself with no need for first day pictures, school is back in session.
The beginning of this school year resembles that of 2019 and the many years before it. It has a sense of familiarity of what a typical school year looks and feels like, regaining something we all lost March 2020. While we embrace the comforts of normalcy, be mindful that COVID-19 and its subvariants are still with us.
Many lessons have been learned over the past two years, enabling us to be back together, better. The wait is over, allowing anxiety levels to ease as vaccines (Moderna and Pfizer) have been approved and made available for children six months to five years and older. The dosage amount and spacing timeframe for full vaccination in this age group is different than the older age groups. As always, be sure to talk with your child’s pediatrician or primary doctor if you have questions and want to discuss any concerns.
New guidance from the CDC released August 11, 2022, shares updates on when and for how long to quarantine or isolate if you test positive for COVID-19, and details of what to do if you or child have been exposed to someone positive. The guidance took into consideration all that has been learned, what worked and what didn’t, and the necessary steps to reduce the risk of severe illness.
As we move forward and learn how to live life around COVID and other viruses during the cold and flu season, we can give ourselves and our children of all ages a boost. You can boost your immune system by:
Drinking plenty of water
Getting restful sleep at night
Eating healthy meals with fruits and vegetables
Taking the recommended daily dose of vitamin C
Staying up to date with recommended vaccinations and boosters
Washing hands often with soap and water
Locations for Vaccination and Boosters
For children, connect with your child’s pediatrician or primary care doctor to schedule an appointment for vaccination. For adults, connect with your primary care doctor or medical home to schedule an appointment for your vaccination or booster. Vaccinations are still being provided free of charge. If you don’t have a primary doctor or medical home, you can contact your local health department or go to www.vaccines.gov to find a place to get the shot near you.
Remember: People may be over covid, but covid is not over!
The GCDD Storytelling Project Returns to Macon to Chronicle the Lives of People with Developmental Disabilities
Treasure Maps: Macon, which is the newest iteration of The GCDD Storytelling Project, a partnership between the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD), L’Arche Atlanta, and StoryMuse, is headed to Macon this fall. The film screening and community celebration will take place on the evening of Saturday, September 17, 2022, at the Elaine Lucas Center in Macon. The gates will open at 6:30 p.m., pre-show begins at 7:00 p.m., and the program and film start at 8:00 p.m.
Ten storytellers from the Macon area are featured in the anthology of short films, which showcase independent living, love, health, family, community volunteerism, and even a newfound career in stand-up comedy. The ten storytellers are:
Shannon M. Turner, lead artist on Treasure Maps: Macon and the Founder & Creative Director of StoryMuse said, “The primary objective of this project is to provide a virtual stage for the important stories of people with developmental disabilities, inviting their stories in from the margins to the center of our communities. An equally important component is to provide education and advocacy to the general population and legislators around the Medicaid waiver, a vital funding structure which supports the lives of people with developmental disabilities so they can live independently.”
The GCDD Storytelling Project was created four years ago in partnership between GCDD and L’Arche Atlanta to increase public awareness and motivate Georgia legislators to act now for individuals in Georgia with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), a remarkably underserved community. By providing living portraits of Georgians, some of whom have, some have not, received the life-altering gift of a Medicaid waiver, the project’s goal is to expand cross-sector allies and garner voices of support outside of the developmental disabilities community. Treasure Maps aims to paint a fuller picture of the complex, beautiful lives of these Georgia citizens who do not deserve to be sequestered in institutions. The goal is to create a meeting place for people to engage with the life stories of Georgia residents living with a developmental disability and provide a platform for participants to be known on a human level and to understand the policies that govern the extent of their own self-determination.
Last year, the first set of short films, Treasure Maps: The Georgia Storytelling Roadshow 2021, traveled the state and captured the stories of ten individuals with developmental disabilities. The films covered various themes including Indian cooking, owning a jewelry business, and the joy of being an Elvis impersonator. The complete set of ten inaugural Treasure Maps short films are available on GCDD’s YouTube channel.
“What began as a legislative advocacy project for advocates to have a tool to share their stories during Georgia’s legislative session has grown into something so much greater,” shares Maria Pinkelton, GCDD Public Relations Director and Storytelling Project manager. “This project and the pieces that have been produced from it: the individual stories and photos, podcast episodes, the documentary 6,000 Waiting, and the first set of Treasure Maps short films have shown the diverse voices and lives of Georgians with developmental disabilities and their families in a way we never could have imagined.”
The production and screening of the Treasure Maps: Macon is the first project of a yearlong three-part series of work being done under the Storytelling Project umbrella. Building on L’Arche Atlanta’s experience in shining a spotlight on Georgians with developmental disabilities for the past four years through the art of stories, they will join their partners in offering two other opportunities for individuals to have their voices heard. Budding storytellers will have the opportunity to tell their stories through traditional interview-based journalistic stories with photographs or, through a partnership with Cow Tipping Press, participate in a workshop that will build their capacity to develop a thorough understanding of the art of story building and how to convey their own stories. A formal, public book launch will cap the work with Cow Tipping Press.
Weather permitting, the September 17 show will take place outside in the yard, but in the event of inclement weather, the show will be moved inside. Local partners include Storytellers Macon and Macon-Bibb Parks & Recreation, River Edge Behavioral Health, Wesley Glen Ministries, Citizen Advocacy, and The Arc of Macon. The collection of short films will be produced by Atlanta-based Xerophile Studios.
Since 2018 L’Arche Atlanta and their partners have traveled the state collecting images and stories of Georgians with developmental disabilities and the lives they live. So far more than 150 stories have been told through the two seasons of the Hidden Voices podcast, the documentary 6,000 Waiting, and short and long form written stories with accompanying photographs. View these works and learn more about how you can participate in an upcoming storytelling event by visiting our website at story-collection.gcdd.org.
The Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities 2022 Candidate Forum
The Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) will host the 2022 GCDD Candidate Forum on disability issues Thursday, September 29, at 6:00 p.m. at the Courtyard by Marriott Decatur Hotel and Conference Center, located at 130 Clairemont Avenue, Decatur, Georgia 30030.
This is GCDD’s second Candidate Forum. The purpose of this event is to invite individuals who are running for public office to speak on issues of importance to Georgia’s disability community. Georgians with intellectual and developmental disabilities, their families, and community members will have the opportunity to hear from candidates running for public office. Affordable health care, educational opportunities, voting access, and more continue to present challenges for Georgians with disabilities. GCDD and its partners look forward to hearing how these candidates will work to remove them. In addition, attendees will have the opportunity to learn about voting accessibility and what to expect when they go to the polls this November.
The candidates who have been invited to participate are competing for the following offices:
Secretary of State
State Superintendent of Schools
US Senator for Georgia
This will be a hybrid event with virtual and in-person opportunities to participate. This event is free and open to the public, refreshments will be served, but registration is required. There is limited seating for in-person attendees. Register for the forum now to secure your seat. For more information about this event or to register, visit https://2022CandidateForum.eventbrite.com.
GDDN COVID-19 Pediatric Vaccines for 6 months and Up Webinar September 15, 6:00 p.m.
Join the Georgia Developmental Disabilities Network for a webinar on Thursday, September 15, at 6:00 p.m. ET as public health experts and several Georgia-based pediatricians answer your questions about the COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 6 months and up.
ATLANTA , GA – As the 2014 Georgia General Assembly convenes and the nation's midterm election season approaches, Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities' (GCDD) winter edition of Making a Difference quarterly news magazine outlines GCDD's legislative priorities and covers how people with disabilities are engaging in the democratic process by voting in higher numbers to gain political power.
Insight from local and national leaders, such as the Office of Disability Employment Policy's Assistant Secretary of Labor Kathy Martinez, shed light on ways to overcome and become a part of the democratic process through tips, suggestions and resources.
Additionally, during the Georgia legislative session that began on Jan. 16, GCDD is focusing and strongly advocating Unlock the Waiting Lists!, a campaign that aims to "reduce and eventually eliminate the waiting lists for home- and community-based support for Georgians with disabilities."
While the legislative session is under way, an anticipated 2,000 Georgians will convene for GCDD's 16th annual Disability Day at the Georgia State Capitol on February 20, 2014 featuring a keynote address by Governor Nathan Deal. For more information, visit www.gcdd.org/public-policy.html.
In the "Expert Update," Mark Perriello, president of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), answers questions on why it is important that Americans with disabilities engage in the political process. Perriello discusses the progress that has been made in the disability community, and why more voter turnout can mean more progress and change for the better.
Perriello's discussion on significant political engagement aligns with the guest column commemorating one of the disability community's biggest legislative victories. The landmark US Supreme Court's 1999 Olmstead Decision celebrates its 15th anniversary year with a four-part series covering the time before, during and after the Olmstead Decision and its effects on the community. The articles are written by Talley Wells, director of the Disability Integration Project at Atlanta Legal Aid Society.
This issue also features an inside look into the ASPIRE (Active Student Participation Inspires Real Engagement) program, an educational approach that is becoming popular across Georgia schools for students with disabilities. Through a grant funded by GCDD, the program is part of the student-led Individual Education Program (IEP) initiative that has students contribute content, "which allows them to become more involved and responsible for their education," says Cindy Saylor, GCDD Partnerships for Success coordinator and ASPIRE consultant.
GCDD’s next quarterly meeting will be held in Atlanta on April 17-18, 2014. All meetings are open to the public.
About Making a Difference:
Making a Difference is published by Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD). Current and past issues can be accessed online at gcdd.org and hard copies can be requested by contacting the GCDD Office of Public Information. The magazine is available online in accessible PDF and large print format, as well as on audio by request. www.gcdd.org/news-a-media/making-a-difference-magazine.html
CONTACT: Valerie Meadows Suber, Public Information Director Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities 404-657-2122 (office); 404-226-0343 (mobile)
During the months of August and September, GCDD hosted listening sessions and focus groups to hear from people around the state about what issues mattered to them. To make sure Georgians with disabilities, their family members, caregivers and community advocates shared what changes they’d like to see in Georgia, GCDD hosted three virtual townhalls; convened six focus groups; and opened a survey to collect detailed information from respondents.
What did we find out?
Over 200 people attended the town halls and the audience had a diverse representation of ability, race, geography, gender identity and sexual orientation.
11 people participated in the focus groups for professionals
9 cis women
2 cis men
5 African American/Black
11 people participated in the focus group for PWDD
1 - 18-24 year old
8 - 25 - 44 year olds
2 -45 - 64 year olds
2 African American/Black
1 Middle Eastern
5 cis women
4 cis men
1 prefer not to say
7 people participated in the focus group of family members
6 cis women
1 cis man
3 African American/Black
1 Native American
340 surveys received
325 unique respondents
23% said they had a disability
~61% were family members
~18% service providers
Top 3 Areas for Focus:
Top 3 Barriers
Lack of knowledge on resources available
Lack of money
Through these various approaches, many common themes emerged as concerns for the disability community. Some included:
Eliminate planning list
Expanded services in rural areas
So, what comes next?
With the feedback received, the council will now work to construct the Five Year Strategic Plan based on what we’ve learned from the community and our work to-date.
GCDD will analyze all the data gathered through focus groups, surveys and townhalls to decipher common themes. GCDD is excited about the powerful and intersectional experiences the community shared openly and candidly. After the review, the council will begin to craft goals across the domains of systems change, capacity building and advocacy where the council is charged with having impact.
If you were not able to participate, the Council will collect more feedback on the plan when it is completed and ready for public input in spring 2021. Stay tuned!
by Moira Bucciarelli, Photographer: Haylee Fucini-Lenkey
Nandi – short for Nanditha – is finally home. She has lived in a variety of places, some better than others. Nandi gets emotional as she recalls painful experiences from her group home life – in one instance being told to pack up and move on short notice; in another being confronted and shouted at by a staffer.
These distressing experiences have led Nandi to move back home with her parents at age 35. This time, she moved into a small apartment her architect father built for her. It is just a stone’s throw from her parent’s simple ranch home and aquaponic garden on a wooded lot outside Macon. Nandi’s family paid for all the construction and furnishing of the apartment home.
Nandi is a woman with a visual impairment and Down syndrome who lives in the Macon area. She stands at the doorstep of her very own home, thrilled to have visitors to show around. She starts in the living room, then the kitchen, and then her bedroom. The walls of her bedroom feature beautiful and colorful framed photographs that Nandi has taken – a smiling dolphin and a graceful sailboat. She tells us how she discovered her talent for photography through a club called the ShutterBugs Club.
Nandi is able to thrive and succeed at home due to the love and dedication of her parents. Her mother spends 20 hours or more per week on Nandi’s support, care and advocacy. But Nandi also has a participant direction COMP waiver that allows her 50 hours of caregiver support each week. Having these caregivers allows Nandi to have a vibrant community life where she contributes through meaningful roles. Nandi’s mom says about the positive impact of the waiver: “It has vastly improved Nandi’s independence, self-determination, ability to work and general quality of life.” In addition, her social security disability insurance helps cover her living expenses. If Nandi didn’t have these financial resources, she would most likely still be living in a group home or institution.
Thanks to these resources, Nandi has also been able to supplement her income through entrepreneurship. With the encouragement and guidance of her care team, Nandi’s interest in photography led her to start her own small business, “Scan with Nan.” The scanning business idea is a good fit for Nandi, because, as she admits with a disarming self-awareness, she “gets distracted easily, especially by TV.” At one of her previous jobs that became a problem, as there was often a television on in the background. But at home with her caregiver or her mom, she can focus more easily and take breaks when she needs them.
Her caregivers are critical to giving Nandi the support she needs to set goals and allocate time for her scan orders, but also participate in her numerous community and social events. Because Nandi is not all about the business, she spends about 20 hours a month engaged in volunteer and community service. She does public speaking events, where she talks about ways people with developmental disabilities can plan for transitions from school to work or life in the community. She serves on boards and does advocacy work, and recently was hired with the “Living Well Georgia” project for a five-year period. In that role, she will co-train direct support professionals about “supported decision-making.”
Getting the COMP waiver was not an easy or quick process. After years of perseverance, they finally received a letter from the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities saying Nandi had been determined eligible for waiver services and was on the waiting list. In 2005, they received the news that would change their lives for the better. “We literally jumped for joy and thanked God when we received the letter saying Nandi was approved to receive services. Unfortunately, from the approval letter to the start of services was an incredibly long time with more follow ups and jumping through hoops.” It wasn’t until late 2005 or 2006 that Nandi began to receive NOW Medicaid waiver services.
As Nandi’s mom says, “The waiver has given us joy to see Nandi able to live her own life and to grow in so many areas. We have peace in knowing that it is possible for Nandi to live a good life in her dream home. We thank God that she has these wonderful opportunities and experiences.” Thanks to the waiver, Nandi and her business are flourishing. The Isaac’s story demonstrates the perseverance and hope that it takes for families to receive the services and supports they need to thrive.
GCDD’s Storytelling Project paints a picture of the complex systems of support that enable people with developmental disabilities to live their best lives.
Spanning Georgia’s 56 state senate districts, these stories feature at least one individual who resides in each district – allowing this project to become a vehicle of advocacy for Georgians living with disabilities. The stories highlight racial disparities, socioeconomic inequities and how a situation can play out in two different circumstances – one where people are or are not supported by the system.
6,000 Waiting Documentary
6,000 Waiting tells the powerful stories of three Georgians with developmental disabilities whose lives are significantly impacted by the staggering lack and complexity of state Medicaid waiver funding. With persistence, courage and self-determination, they fight to access the resources they desperately need to live life on their own terms. 6,000 Waiting will premiere this winter and will support GCDD’s 2021 advocacy actions. You can now watch the trailer here!
In the upcoming months, the storytelling team will host virtual screenings for both private and public audiences. In addition, they will submit 6,000 Waiting into several film festivals across the state of Georgia. Stay tuned to the GCDD storytelling page for more details on these screening opportunities.
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 post-secondary 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 .
Eric E. Jacobson Executive Director, GCDD
Tell us your thoughts about the magazine or what topics you would like to see addressed by emailing us at , subject line: Letter to the Managing Editor
MEDIA ADVISORY Jobs, Education Among Legislative Priorities 2,000 People Will Meet, Tell Stories, Call To Gold Dome For Support
WHAT: One of the largest public gatherings held annually during the official legislative session emphasizes the statewide need for community-based services and vital supports for people with developmental disabilities. The event is themed "We All Have A Story...What's Yours?" and in the spirit of the day, attendees will be encouraged to rove through the crowd sharing stories. Select "I Am Olmstead" stories will be recorded by StoryCorps and, at the Freight Depot, people can sign up for future StoryCorps sessions as well as hear pre-recorded narratives of "I Am Olmstead – Stories of Freedom" at listening stations.
WHY: Georgia is a focal point for disability rights and home state of The Olmstead Decision, the 1999 landmark US Supreme Court case brought by the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, on behalf of two Georgia women, affirming the right of people with disabilities to live in the community rather than institutions and nursing homes. Freedom for people in institutions is part of GCDD's 2014 legislative agenda along with: • Supported employment in the community • Inclusive post-secondary educational opportunities • Unlock the Waiting Lists! Campaign, Children's Freedom Initiative (CFI), housing voucher programs, changes in the standard to prove intellectual disabilities in capital punishment cases, and the Family Care Act (HB 290).
Over 7,500 Georgians are on the waiting list to receive funding of community-based services and vital supports. One in five Georgians and about 57 million Americans have some type of disability as an occurrence of birth, injury or longevity.
WHO: Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD, www.gcdd.org), Sponsor/Host: Eric E. Jacobson, executive director; Mitzi Proffitt, chair
Capitol Rally at 11 am: • Governor Nathan Deal will address the gathering. • Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, founder, CEO and president of RespectAbility, will deliver keynote about "empowering people with disabilities to live the American dream" through jobs and voting rights. • Talley Wells, director of the Disability Integration Project, Atlanta Legal Aid Society. • Andrew Furey, self-advocate, artist and Eagle Scout from Lula who fought a long, frustrating battle to receive nursing supports in his home. • State legislators and other elected officials.
WHEN: Thursday, February 20, 2014 9:00 am – Registration and Exhibit Hall: accessible voting machine demonstration, creation of a giant collective story narrative collage, sign-making, plus StoryCorps listening / sign-up station and other activities Georgia Freight Depot 11:00 am – Rally at the Capitol Steps 12:00 pm – Lunch (Legislators, Constituents, Advocates) Georgia Freight Depot 12:45 pm – Advocacy Awards
WHERE: Capitol steps, Atlanta: Washington Street side and adjacent Georgia Freight Depot
Media packets available for pick up at white "Media Tent" on Capitol steps behind the podium.
CONTACT: Valerie Meadows Suber, Public Information Director Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities 404-657-2122 (office); 404-226-0343 (mobile) Follow Updates on Twitter at #GCDDAnnualDisabilityDay
“VOTE LIKE YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT, BECAUSE IT DOES!” – Justin Dart
In this edition of Public Policy for the People, we will be focusing on the upcoming 2020 election, which sees key national and state seats up for grabs. This election will certainly be one for the history books, as much of our attention has been paid to the current COVID-19 pandemic, making this campaign season unlike any in modern history. To prepare you for the upcoming election, we want to make sure you are an informed voter, not only on the candidates and their platforms, but also on your rights as a voter. Let’s discuss which seats are up for election and where the candidates stand on issues important to the disability community.
Candidates for President of the United States
Every four years, we elect the next incoming president. During this presidential election, we will choose between the current president and a challenger. We have been encouraged to see more robust disability plans during this presidential race than in years prior. Below is a brief overview of each candidate’s disability platform.
President Donald J. Trump is the 45th president of the United States of America representing the Republican Party. Trump ran as a member of the Republican Party, and he beat the Democratic challenger former Secretary Hillary Clinton by 77 votes in the Electoral College. You can read more about Trump’s campaign here.
As an incumbent president, we can look to Trump’s proposed plans, as well as his record on key issues while in office. Although disability policy is not specifically mentioned, we can look at the areas where we most often see policies created that impact people with disabilities: employment, education and healthcare.
Employment: Trump touts his influence on an improved economy, which has seen record job growth and increased wages for workers. Of note, disability employment is not highlighted, and the unemployment rate for people with disabilities continues to hover around 70 percent.
Education: Trump and his administration state their support on the expansion of school choice. It is important to note that many in the disability community have voiced strong concerns regarding school choice expansion, as private education systems are not bound to the same requirements to support children with disabilities as the public school system.
Healthcare: Trump has called for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act insurance mandate, which means people would no longer be penalized for not having health insurance. However, concerning healthcare policy in the disability community, Trump has consistently proposed budget cuts to Medicaid and other disability-specific programs, such as the Special Olympics, which includes a strong initiative to improve the health and wellness of people with disabilities.
Additional policy considerations:
Access to Housing: Although no official statement appears on the campaign website, the candidate’s position on this issue is made clear in the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) agency press statement about its new budget. Some of Trump’s budget modifications include $2.8 billion to assist the fight to end homelessness; a record $425 million to boost healthy homes; and also $41.3 billion to help Americans pay rent. However, it is important to note that Trump’s budget proposal for HUD had push back from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, as the proposal requested a 15.2 percent cut, which would translate to an $8.6 billion budget cut.
Transportation: Although no official statement appears on the campaign website regarding transportation for people with disabilities, the candidate did address transportation for people with disabilities in his interview with the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) in 2015. He states, “This is a critical question that must be dealt with by the federal government. We should integrate into our investments in infrastructure and transportation, assets and policies that provide for the services required by people with disabilities, to the extent possible.”
It is important to note that as a challenger, we do not yet have specific examples of what actions Biden has taken as president. We can, however, provide information regarding his promises on disability issues. Some of Biden’s disability policy proposals include:
Employment: Biden has stated his support for expanding competitive, integrated employment opportunities for people with disabilities. He has also promised to phase out subminimum wage for people with disabilities by supporting and getting passed the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act.
Healthcare: Biden has promised to increase access to home and community-based services (known in Georgia as NOW/COMP, ICWP and CCSP Medicaid waivers); invest in the direct care workforce; and support informal and family caregivers.
Transportation: Biden has promised to address accessibility barriers to transportation for people with disabilities. He specifically indicated support for incorporating universal design into new modes of transportation and ensuring the accessibility of air travel.
Dr. Jo Jorgensen is a senior lecturer in psychology at Clemson University. Dr. Jorgensen does not have a disability-specific platform. As she has not held public office, we do not have access to any previous actions that have impacted the disability community. However, you can read more about her positions here.
For a great overview of the candidates running for president in 2020, including a list of each of their platforms, feel free to visit #CripTheVote’s blog on the 2020 presidential candidates.
GEORGIA-BASED RACES TO WATCH
For the past few decades, Georgia has been considered a solidly Republican state; however, over the last few years, Georgia has started to poll toward the middle of the political spectrum, which has created increased interest and investment in our U.S. Senate and House of Representatives races. In this section, we review key federal races to watch in Georgia.
In one race, we have incumbent Senator David Perdue (R) running against challenger Jon Ossoff (D). Both are likely familiar names, as Perdue has served in the U.S. Senate since 2015, and Ossoff ran for Georgia’s 6th congressional district during the 2017 special election, which was one of the most expensive House races in the country.
Although neither have a specific disability platform, you can find out more information about their stances, including Perdue’s voting history below:
Our second U.S. Senate race can be a bit confusing, as it is not happening during the typical election timeline for that specific seat. After Sen. Johnny Isakson announced his early retirement, Governor Brian Kemp appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler to hold that seat until the upcoming election on Nov. 3. This specific election did not have a primary election prior to the general election, which typically serves to narrow down the field of candidates running.
The reason this election is called a “jungle primary” is because all candidates could run for the same office, regardless of political party. As such, we find ourselves with multiple candidates from the Republican and Democratic parties running for the seat. In order to secure a victory, the top candidate must receive a majority of the vote. In the real likelihood that no single candidate receives a majority of the vote, the top two candidates will compete in a runoff election in January 2021.
Here is a breakdown of all those candidates, separated by party. Of note, no candidate in this race has created a disability-specific platform.
Please click on each candidate’s name to be taken to their “Issues” webpage to learn more about each candidate’s positions.
Please click on each candidate’s name to be taken to their “Issues” webpage to learn more about each candidate’s positions. As Ed Tarver was a former US Attorney, Southern District of GA, click on Ballotpedia for info as well.
For decades, Georgia’s 6th district for the U.S. House of Representatives has been a solid Republican seat whose winners – Newt Gingrich, Johnny Isakson and Tom Price – became major figures in the Republican Party. Georgia has slowly shown more diversity within its elections, which is why the 6th district is on our hot list of races to watch. The two candidates for the current 2020 election include:
Georgia’s 5th congressional district was represented by the late congressman John Lewis since 1987. For the first time in over 30 years, this district will now be represented by someone new, so we included it in our list of races to watch. Lewis originally won the 2020 Democratic primary race for the seat before his unexpected passing. Georgia’s Democratic Party then selected state Senator Nikema Williams to serve as the Democratic candidate on the ballot. The two candidates include:
Don’t forget that local seats matter too! With the federal election coming up we must not forget an important fact: local senators and representatives are also up for election. Georgia has 56 state senators and 180 state representatives, and they are ALL up for election.
Visit Open States online to find out which state senate and house district you live in, and the current state legislators who represent you. You can even see the committees the legislators serve on and the bills they have sponsored. Visit Ballotpedia to learn more about the election history of your state-level districts and whether or not your current legislator has a general election challenger.
* It is important to note that GCDD does not endorse any candidate and that the enclosed information encompasses only a small piece of a larger political platform for each candidate. We encourage you reach out to them with questions of your own – and to vote.
by Alyssa Lee, PsyD, GCDD Public Policy Research & Development Director and Charlie Miller, GCDD Legislative Advocacy Director
There’s a lot of information out there. Here’s how to make sure you’re prepared to make your vote count.Cheri Mitchell is a member of the HAVA (Help America Vote Act) Team at the Georgia Advocacy Office (GAO). Here are some of the most common issues she sees voters with disabilities have on election day, as well as how to navigate them.
WHERE DO I GO TO VOTE? Voters can find their polling place online at the Georgia Secretary of State (SOS)’s website: mvp.sos.ga.gov. The SOS also has a smartphone app available.
WILL THE POLLING PLACE BE ACCESSIBLE TO ME? By law, all polling places should be accessible. The Secretary of State will be providing “readers” to those who need them for the paper ballot printed at the end of a voter’s session. If you would like to familiarize yourself ahead of time with Georgia’s new voting machine, watch Georgia Public Broadcasting’s video here.
WHAT ARE MY RIGHTS AS A VOTER? “Under the Help America Vote Act, voters with disabilities are entitled to the same opportunities for both access and participation as all other voters,” Mitchell says. “Additionally, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that governments provide people with disabilities a full and equal opportunity to vote.”
The Georgia Advocacy Office will also release a survey in November following the election for voters with disabilities who experienced issues voting in the election. If you would like to receive a survey, contact Mitchell by email at or call the GAO office at 404-885-1234.
IS TRANSPORTATION AVAILABLE?
You have a few options for getting to the polls. Uber and Lyft often offer discounts for rides, and if you have a MARTA Mobility Breeze Card, you may be able to make a reservation for a ride to your polling location.
Mitchell says there are multiple organizations that may be able to assist voters with transportation: “The Georgia Democrats Voter Protection Line (888-730-5816) has provided free rides to the polls, and the Republican Party of Georgia may also be able to assist (404-257-5559). You may also try the League of Women Voters (404-522-4598).”
Voters unable to get to their polling place may request a mail-in ballot and vote from home. “The ballot must be received by your county registrar by the time the polls close for voting,” Mitchell says. You can request a mail-in ballot anytime between 180 days before the election to the Friday before the election (Oct. 30).
AM I ALLOWED AN ASSISTANT INSIDE THE POLLING PLACE?
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 allows voters to bring someone with them to assist them with voting. In a federal election, this can be anyone except an employer, a representative of your employer, or a representative of your union, if you belong to one. Poll workers and watchers who are residents of your precinct are not allowed to help.
WHAT ELSE SHOULD I KNOW?
If you run into any issues while voting, ask for a provisional ballot. You have 48 hours to resolve the issue, and you can see the status of your provisional ballot through the SOS app or website. Mitchell says to vote early in the day if you can. “In Georgia, voters with disabilities do not have to wait in line at a polling place if they arrive between 9:30 AM and 4:30 PM,” she says.
Your vote counts. Take your time and ask for help if you need it.
GAO’s Voter Protection Hotline:
From now through election day, voters with disability-related issues can call GAO at:
(404) 885-1234 or (800) 537-2329
Having trouble registering to vote, requesting an absentee ballot, accessing early voting, etc.? Leave a message and someone will contact you within two business days!
Check in with a poll worker.
Provide a valid photo ID, which the poll worker will scan to verify that your voter registration information is correct.
Sign the Elector Oath.
The poll worker will then load your ballot onto a voter access card and hand it to you.
Place the voter access card into the voting machine.
The ballot will appear on the screen and you will make your selections.
Accessible options are located in the top right corner of the screen:
High contrast view
Sip and puff technology for the physically impaired
Select your candidates by touching the screen.
If you would like to change your choice, touch that candidate again and the screen will clear.
You can review your choices when you are done selecting.
Print and review your ballot.
Insert the ballot into the scanner, which will confirm that your vote has been cast.
Twenty-seven community advocates for inclusion and change from the Real Communities Partnership (RCP) and the Welcoming Communities Dialogues (WCD) groups gathered virtually from August 19 to 21 for their annual retreat.
For those three days, the work centered around their response to a movie called “Why I Write,” a film about bettering one’s community through art and action, developed and produced by the Hearts and Minds Film Initiative and TELEDUCTION.
“We were excited to hear the community discussion around the movie and to discover what was familiar to retreat attendees, what was unfamiliar and what was a challenge for some,” said Malaika Geuka Wells, community organizing coordinator for Global Ubuntu, the organization that manages RCP and WCD.
During the retreat, people were asked to express their vision of what their community would look like within the next five years via art. Using supplies on hand, from paper to magazines to pictures, participants spoke through their art about their hopes and dreams for their communities in achieving the Welcoming Communities’ mission to pave the way toward an equitable and just society where people across race, ethnicity, culture, class, socioeconomic background, educational status, abilities, gender and religion are treated with dignity and respect.
The retreat was followed by three virtual workshops that helped participants understand the fundamental forces of the current economic and governance systems; envision a democratic and sustainable future; and strategize toward building a new solidarity economy, which is an economy that is created with people, instead of profit, in mind.
These workshops provided an introduction to Highlander’s Mapping Our Futures curriculum, which shares innovative strategies from across the globe that are advancing new economies and shifting the ways groups organize themselves, govern their work together, resist capitalism’s structurally designed inequities and transform people’s lives and conditions.
The workshops focused on Setting the Stage and Community Mapping; Capitalism and the Solidarity Economy; and Beautiful Solutions: Examples of Solidarity Economy.
Other plans for this Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) initiative included the second annual Welcoming Communities Dialogue Summit on Sept. 26. This year, it was held virtually and targeted social justice, disability and race. Woven throughout the discussions were restorative and healing dialogues led by the Mindfulness with Favor organization. “Our goal is to describe systems of injustice, root out and remove systemic issues, and supply the safe space to talk about it,” said Sumaya Karimi, the project organizing director for RCP and founder and director of Global Ubuntu.
Karimi also explained Global Ubuntu is working to move the focus from the project base of Real Communities where assistance was given to individuals to fit into their communities to a movement base via the Welcoming Community Movement Fund, adjusting communities to be welcoming and adaptive to all who already live there.
Currently, out of Georgia’s 159 counties, the Welcoming Communities Dialogue groups operate in 10 areas across the state. “We plan to expand the movement and to share best practices for others,” Karimi added. Through the lens of the Welcoming Community Movement Fund, the participants will build and sustain a movement where the culture shifts from one of hate, unfairness and dehumanization to one of love and belonging, where the principle of morality is practiced as the norm.
Before Wells’ arrival, GVRA began a major reorganization after years of criticism. The agency, which serves as Georgia’s main employment services resource for people with disabilities, conducted an independent review that identified major problems, including a problematic internal culture, low case closure rate, too many managers and too few well-trained agents.
There have been four executive directors at GVRA in the last five years. Wells’ two predecessors similarly reorganized the agency under the direction of outside consultants. Wells is trying to manage the restructuring while keeping clients safe in a pandemic, in part by using technology and working with providers to offer virtual services. Mainly, he’s working to return the agency to full service as a reformed body, more accessible and collaborative moving forward.
The widespread, existing issue of underemployment for people with disabilities has been exacerbated by the turmoil of COVID-19, but many advocates and government administrators see opportunities in a time of disruption and overhaul.
“I think that agencies are starting to think about where we can move resources to have the greatest impact on somebody’s life,” said Eric Jacobson, the executive director of the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD).
Since July, GVRA has updated its provider manual, case management system and customer care line. “That way, when we do come out of the pandemic, we’ve addressed some of the concerns from a data-driven analysis perspective,” Wells said.
Advocates in Georgia’s disability community have long pointed to employment as an area in need of improvement, as many individuals have trouble finding effective and accessible employment supports such as job development and job coaching. As with many disability services, opportunities vary by location, and no two people are the same.
Some individuals don’t seek state assistance, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t on their own path forward. In 2010, Jenna Quigley and Donna Williams started a greeting card business called Just for You Card Art. The best friends had a shared passion and idea: a way to make money doing what they already found fun and relaxing.
With help from parents and organizations, the two began making cards and fulfilling orders that ranged from birthday greeting cards to wedding invitations. Together, Quigley and Williams traveled to present at conferences and meet prospective customers.
By early 2020, both had settled into part-time restaurant jobs. Before the pandemic picked up, they had been receiving orders for hundreds of cards, but the process wasn’t as relaxing anymore. Quigley and Williams, enjoying their new jobs, decided the card business had naturally run its course, and they dissolved the company.
“We loved doing it,” Quigley said. “My favorite part was to show them to people. I made a lot of people’s day – to be happy, to be surprised.”
Still, the two catch up constantly on Zoom. Williams is back working as a barista at BrewAble Cafe, and Quigley is waiting to return to her job at Pancake Social until it’s a little safer. She’s been visiting the restaurant for takeout, and the manager calls her to check in.
A variety of agencies, institutions and organizations are tasked with empowering individuals on their journey to independent living, and underemployment has long been a key advocacy issue. In order to meet the needs of a population as large and heterogeneous as the disability community, agencies need to be flexible and collaborative.
As government entities face changing circumstances, they have the opportunity to review priorities and reassess best practices. Current interruptions to services are felt by both providers and those needing support. It is more critical than ever for all service systems to work together in order to meet the changing needs of the communities they serve; unfortunately, these systems aren’t always in alignment.
One agency won’t single-handedly solve underemployment for folks with disabilities, but they can improve their services to make a stronger impact. DBHDD oversees a network of approximately 700 community-based service providers for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, as well as the administration of COMP and NOW Waivers.
Ultimately, DBHDD connects people to services, and Commissioner Judy Fitzgerald recently announced an effort to prioritize employment. Wells of GVRA recognizes his agency’s past shortcomings, and he also has a different vision moving forward.
In 2018, the Georgia General Assembly passed House Bill 831, Georgia’s Employment First Act, which established the state as one where competitive, integrated employment is the “first and preferred” option for people with disabilities, regardless of the severity of the disability. The legislation also created the Employment First Council (EFC), which is federally funded.
“They have the legislative authority to create that set of recommendations, give it to the governor, give it to the legislature, and push policies that are going to be more friendly towards getting people work,” said Jacobson, who sits on the council.
The EFC is made up of 14 individuals with disabilities, ties to the community or involvement in state agencies serving the community. Chaired by the executive director of GVRA, now Wells, the council meets quarterly and releases an annual report. The report is typically released in October, but it will be delayed this year.
Wells says the council needs a strategic plan moving forward, and they’ve moved to establish one when they meet again in October. Other members also say now is the time, when nothing is normal, to create a shared outlook.
“I think we have to keep our eye on the goal,” said John Wells, the vice chair of the EFC (no relation to Chris Wells). “We are transitioning from sitting at home, or sitting in day services, to employment. Everybody needs to be on the same page; everybody needs to coordinate their efforts.”
Many professionals and advocates around the state are working to facilitate employment in a changing landscape. Fitzgerald says that an economic downturn could have a silver lining in honing services.
“We have to make sure we don’t have redundancies,” Fitzgerald said. “The most important question we ask for ourselves … is, how do we use state and federal funds to incentivize the right things? So, if we want people to be able to move towards competitive, integrated employment, does the way we spend our dollars help move people in that direction?”
Jacobson says that dollar allocations of budgets are their own priority statements, and it’s important they reflect the community’s needs. Crandell notes that the ongoing, collective disruption to daily life is an opportunity for providers to adapt.
“We need to change policies and procedures –- both in our Medicaid Waiver funding and with vocational rehabilitation – around making sure people have access to telework, supported self-employment, [and] entrepreneurial initiatives,” Crandell said. “That’s something I think we’ll see a lot more of post-pandemic.”
Emerging Solutions: Entrepreneurship, Self-Employment and Micro-Enterprise
Nandi Isaac is a self-advocate, businesswoman and Special Olympics athlete from Macon, GA. In 2007, Isaac founded Scan with Nan, a micro-business and digital preservation service for photographs and documents.
After holding various jobs that didn’t work out, Isaac discovered her passion for photography through a local club called the ShutterBugs Club. She credits the club with enhancing her ability to look at pictures and study them carefully. From the hobby, she was able to find a passion and business.
“Being a businesswoman and being self-employed made me have confidence and made me a better self-advocate in my community,” Isaac said. “And I met really cool people, and I got to save their memories.”
Isaac received support from her family and community, and she now has an operational website and social media accounts, though marketing is a challenge for her. After 13 years in business, Isaac thinks self-employment is an ideal option for people with developmental disabilities. “They can use their given talents, be flexible with time and use supports at home based on their needs.”
The 2019 BLS report on labor force characteristics found that, “a larger share of workers with a disability were self-employed in 2019 than were those with no disability (10 percent versus 5.9 percent).” Isaac’s story is one piece of a larger trend that providers and agencies are beginning to catch onto.
Sulaimon Salam Bamidele is originally from Nigeria, and he’s a trained broadcast radio journalist and DJ. Salam says his experience becoming blind, and the listless days that followed, led him to his passion for journalism. His local school system in Nigeria did not support his education, so he was at home while school aged. A family member told him about a school for the blind which he began attending at the age of 18. Salam now hopes to disseminate useful information to the world and make an impact.
After coming to the U.S. in 2014, Salam was staying with his godmother when her husband suggested he start his own media company. The conversation planted a seed, and the possibilities instantly came to him. Salam is now the owner of SUSABAM GD Communications, Inc. He produces a daily live show on Great Dreams Radio, a subsidiary he calls “GD radio station.”
“Choosing to work for myself, to create my own business, allows me to have unlimited space to be creative and to impact the community and the people at large,” he said.
Getting started, Salam had just one computer, so he couldn’t DJ while transmitting a radio broadcast. Eventually, he was able to save up and buy another. He was able to build resources, develop his network and grow his operation. Salam enjoys his work, and he enjoys being self-employed.
“I want to work with my own time,” Salam said. “I’m a creative person. I don’t like to be limited. I love my space, I cherish my time and I use those to the best of my ability.”
Synergies Work is a Georgia-based, nonprofit organization that provides funding and guidance to entrepreneurs who may not otherwise have the opportunity to start a business. The organization and its founder, Aarti Sahgal, had a prominent hand in the development of Isaac’s and Salam’s businesses.
“This is the biggest minority in our country,” said Sahgal. “And yet, when we talk about diversity, we don’t talk about disability. Our approach to employment is limited. We talk about choices, but we’re not giving that choice when it comes to employment.”
Sahgal sees this as the right time and place for Synergies Work to grow and continue to fill a vital need. Sahgal notes that the access to conventional professional networks is lacking for young people with disabilities, a critical disadvantage in the worlds of business and entrepreneurship.
“Running a business is running on a treadmill,” said Sahgal. “If you stop, you’re going to fall. That’s what I’m interested in. How do you make sure that the businesses that you’re setting up become sustainable?”
At Synergies Work, the goal is to provide unique, personalized service in the form of technology, resources and contacts at no cost to entrepreneurs. Minna Hong is a mixed medium artist, entrepreneur and board member at Synergies Work. Hong says some entrepreneurs are ready to sell a product, and some are nowhere near close. For them, it’s about empowering someone to move further along in their journey and closer to their goal. “They have to do as much if not more,” she said.
Brandon CantrellBrandon Cantrell turned his passion for crochet into his own business, Crochet by Brandon. is another entrepreneur with a passion for crochet. Cantrell was introduced to Sahgal through the Georgia Advocacy Office earlier this year. Sahgal showed Cantrell that money could be made with his hobby and helped set up his website. Before they met, he was giving his creations away.
Before starting his micro-enterprise business, Crochet by Brandon, Cantrell sought support through multiple agencies and local providers, but GVRA services and DBHDD day programs were unfulfilling. He had loved crochet since his grandmother showed it to him when he was 10 years old, and with a new perspective, he was able to turn it into more.
“It lets me be my own boss,” Cantrell said. “It lets me make my own hours. It gives me a shot at doing something I enjoy and seeing people’s reaction. Having a purpose. It makes me feel like a contributing member of society.”
Cantrell works in his crafts room. He hands out business cards wherever he goes. His sales have seen a downturn, as with many others, but Cantrell and his mother expect business to pick up as the weather gets colder.
Starting from scratch is hard work. Universally, entrepreneurs need support, whether their business is large or small. Many join incubators or get connected with mentors. Nandi Isaac was having the most trouble with her digital presence and marketing before she got connected to Sahgal.
“Becoming a businesswoman has taught me how to use technology and marketing,” said Isaac. “This has improved my life and my ability to be a self-advocate.”
Quigley and Williams appreciate their family, friends and community for their help, and they’re not worried about the future. Both are enjoying their current jobs, but they cherished their experience as business owners and entrepreneurs. Quigley sees self-employment as a viable option for other people with disabilities. “I think other people can help them and support them in the right direction.”
In some states, agencies have sought out opportunities to receive support to adopt new solutions. Through ODEP’s Advancing State Policy Integration for Recovery and Employment (ASPIRE) program, 12 states and Washington D.C. will receive assistance aligning their disability employment systems and implementing specific plans through policy and strategy coordination. Georgia is not one of the states in the program, but ODEP is implementing a broader initiative called Visionary Opportunities to Increase Competitive Integrated Employment (VOICE) that could be taken advantage of in the future.
“DBHDD doesn’t do anything alone,” Fitzgerald said. “Our success is dependent on providers, families, academic partners – real experts who continue to advise us, and most importantly, people with disabilities who show us the way and make sure their voices are leading the work.”
Getting support for employment and aligning advocacy is more vital than ever during a pandemic. The recently formed Georgia Developmental Disabilities Network (GDDN) is a body made up of ten Georgia-based organizations focusing on the disability community. The network was established in response to COVID-19, and it provides people with resources to navigate a variety of challenges, including employment. Ultimately, the GDDN is meant to support advocates and align agencies as they deal with unprecedented times. The EFC, as a legislatively mandated body, also connects the leaders of various agencies to prioritize employment.
Recently, GCDD partnered with GreenWorker Cooperatives and graduated three teams through a program designed to expose young entrepreneurs to the worker-owned cooperative business model. In the past, GVRA programs have been criticized for focusing resources on pre-vocational services. Crandell says that this doesn’t track with most people’s lived experience: they just want to work.
“Our system is set up to reinforce providers to continually tell us why the person can’t go to work and needs more funded services prior to that,” Crandell said. “It just doesn’t mirror how Americans go to work. We get fired. We take a job we don’t like. We work early and work often … I think that the struggle is to get the funded system of disability employment to look much more like what naturally happens if you don’t have a label.”
Wells speaks on the past failures of GVRA with thoughtfulness and a positive energy. At the end of the day, he hopes that communicating with individuals in the community and using the current climate to reflect on the agency’s areas of improvement will lead to meaningful change.
“We are opening up our voices, and we’re opening up our ears, our eyes, in order to leverage the resources we have, along with our agency partners, to ensure that we’re moving everybody in the right direction,” said Wells.
State agencies and many organizations have largely decided moving forward that the right direction is towards competitive, integrated employment. Hong says this is vital, but people need to get creative and remember they’re speaking with individuals. Everyone has unique aspirations, and the path forward isn’t always obvious. “We can’t have a system where one size fits all; it doesn’t. It doesn’t really exist,” she said.
Ultimately, efforts to better empower and support people with disabilities on a path to employment must be mutable and human-centered to be effective. A rise in micro-enterprise and entrepreneurship could potentially help solve the underemployment crisis, but it could also make the world a more textured and joyous place. Salam hasn’t been able to professionally DJ since March, but he’s found ways to pour himself into his radio work and create new content. Either way, the business means more to him than profit.
“For me, work is loving my space, loving my time and using those to the best of my ability to make the world a better place,” said Salam. “So, it’s not really about how much I make in terms of dollars, the money. It is not about how much I make, you know, in figures. It’s about how much impact I’m able to make on people and society at large. That gives me more joy than making money for someone else.”