For Chris Wood, a trip a few years ago to Madison began as an intimidating journey but ended with a newfound sense of enlightenment.
Wood is on the board of directors for the Center for Independent Living of Western Wisconsin. The organization’s goal, he said, is to help people with disabilities live in their homes as independently as possible.
CILLWW routinely sends one or more people to the annual Disability Advocacy Day, which includes meetings with state legislators and their staffs to discuss disability issues. Wood went alone his first time and with a Center for Independent Living group last year.
“(The intimidation) all changed when I went to the Capitol for the first time,” said Wood in regard to his initial participation in the event. “I met up with some wonderful disability advocates down there, many of whom had built personal relationships with their legislators.
“After the first conversation with an aide, I realized that it would be fairly easy to communicate with legislators. ... After those couple of days, I realized that there was nothing more empowering than sitting one-one-one with your legislators or their staff and getting to directly tell them the policies you’d like to see implemented.”
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The Survival Coalition of Wisconsin Disability Organizations, which is comprised of roughly 40 local and state organizations, coordinates the event. This year’s is scheduled for March 20, and registration just recently opened.
An issue paper is produced before the day to highlight key areas of concern. Last year’s handout included some startling statistics:
• Forty-nine of Wisconsin’s 72 counties were designated as “mental health professional shortage areas.” According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, using 2017 data, the state had 136 such designations with a combined population of nearly 2.3 million and would need 247 practitioners to remove that label.
• Twenty-five percent of people with disabilities lived in poverty.
• Forty-eight percent of parents surveyed had experienced a reduction of school supports and resources in the past two years.
Jason Endres, a board member for the Eau Claire County Aging and Disability Resource Center, said long-term care and employment will be core topics during the event this March. Endres is in his second term on the board. He has spina bifida and his wife has cerebral palsy.
“I believe in what they do, which is helping people who are elderly and people with disabilities live the lives they want to,” Endres said. “I have also used their services for my wife’s and my long-term care needs.”
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Endres is a 10-year Disability Advocacy Day veteran and plans to attend this time around as well. His top concern heading to Madison is a lack of personal care workers and the low pay they receive. He and his wife both are eligible for supportive and personal care in their home.
“People that do personal care are often able to bag groceries for $12 on hour at Woodman’s, so why would they want to do hard work like helping a person to the bathroom, helping people shower and helping people eating,” Endres said. “We are desperately in need for a higher pay rate for personal care. My wife and I are one fall away of ending up in the hospital or worse because we fell in the shower.”
And bringing such concerns to the attention of legislators is the main goal of Disability Advocacy Day.
“It is truly amazing,” Endres said, “seeing 400 to 700 people with different disabilities come from all over Wisconsin, walking through the halls of the Capitol and telling their stories to their legislators about what is working for them and ... their needs such as long-term care, transportation, employment.”
“As great as our local politicians are, they’re a bit limited as to what they can do on a local level without help from the state,” Wood said. “That’s why when we go down to Madison, we advocate for more transportation funding, more funding for independent living centers all across the state. We also advocate for more support for those that care for the elderly or disabled on a daily basis.”
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