By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Over 130 members of the Alabama Disability Advocacy Network (ALDAN), many of them in wheel chairs, rallied in front of the Alabama State Capital Building on Wednesday.
The members of ALDAN are asking that the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services receive their $49.6 million budget request from the Education Trust Fund. If the state provides their share of the money, then federal matching funds will give the Department $186.9 million in fiscal year 2015.
According to a written release by ALDAN, since 2010 the state has lost $27.5 million in federal funds for the Vocational Rehabilitation Program because the state has not adequately funded the program. Proposed level funding in 2015 would result in the loss of another $9.2 million in federal matching funds. The state can make $9.2 million simply by increasing state funding another $500,000.
ALDAN is asking the state to provide more resources for pre-school developmental services for infants and toddlers with disabilities and developmental delays. 5,893 children age 3 and under and their families received services in 2013. The cost of these treatments is increasing and more of the costs are falling on the families. The average cost of these services is $5,034 per child. The state and federal government only provided 72% of that money ($3,636), the balance being paid for by the families.
ALDAN is also asking for more funding for Children’s Rehabilitation Services. According to ALDAN, the state has cut the Education Trust Fund (ETF) funding for these services by 21% since 2008.
Another budget issue is the Alabama Homebound Program. The program allows persons with “significant disabilities” to attend school, work, and live in their homes and college dorms rather than be institutionalized in a nursing home setting.
The program has seen a 5% reduction in state funding since 2008.
ALDAN also has endorsed several pieces of legislation. The group has endorsed HB 9, sponsored by Representative Steve McMillan (R) from Gulf Shores, and SB 62, sponsored by Sen. Trip Pittman (R). These two bills would implement the Alabama Informed Voter Act creating a 15 member Fair Ballot Commission so that amendments which appear on ballots would be more easily understood.
The group also endorses HB 204, sponsored by Representative Johnny Mack Morrow (D). This legislation makes it a crime to intentionally kill a service animal and prohibits interfering with the animal performing its duties. Since trained service animals can cost thousands of dollars, this bill would make the slayer of a service animal pay full restitution.
ALDAN endorses HB 265, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Ridgeway. The bill would require that state programs and services promote competitive employment of individuals with disabilities in an integrated setting.
ALDAN is also supporting HB 378, sponsored by Rep. Phil Williams (R) from Huntsville. The bill gives purchasing preferences by state entities to services provided by the Institute for the Deaf and Blind.
ALDAN supports SB 13, sponsored by Senator Cam Ward (R) from Alabaster. SB 123 creates the Alabama Behavior Analyst Licensing Board. This bill would provide government oversight to the behavioral analysts working in this state.
The group is also advocating for the passage of SB 100, sponsored by Senator Paul Bussman (R) from Cullman. It would require that anyone selling home medical equipment in the state of Alabama have at least one licensed actual physical location in the state of Alabama.
They also endorse SB 104, which is also sponsored by Sen. Bussman. It creates a Home Medical Equipment Board, to regulate the sale home medical equipment sold in the state of Alabama.
The group supports SB 196, which is sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr (R) from Decatur, which allows persons with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to have “ASD” displayed on their driver’s licenses.
ALDAN is backing SB 286, which is sponsored by Senator Jimmy Holley (R) from Elba. SB 286 requires that persons applying for a disability parking placard present identification. ALDAN hopes that this will decrease the fraud and abuse of the program by people who use the placards but are not disabled.
The President of the Alabama Disability Advocacy Network, Chris Tidwell said, “We can all do something. We may not all be able to reach something in the top shelf, but we can all do something. “We want to aim our arrows high. We need help from our legislators to reach our goals.” Tidwell is a career nurse who was forced to make a career change following paralysis in 1991.
State Representative John Robinson (D) from Scottsboro said, “Two years ago I was diagnosed with Parkinsons and I have worked real hard to overcome that disease. I have worked and worked and exercised to improve and my doctor says that I am better now than I was two years ago. Never ever give up because there is always something for you to do.” “One of our greatest Presidents we have ever had was Franklin Roosevelt and he was in a wheelchair. You can overcome most of these weaknesses that you have.”
People with disabilities advocate Darren Moore said,
“A closed mouth doesn’t do anything…I want to see something changed…African Americans didn’t have the right to do the things we wanted to do. That changed. It is still not perfect, but it is a lot better than it was.”
Moore said that he hopes that when they talked to legislators that Alabamians with disabilities will be able to do more of the things that they want to do.
Danielle Elliot is profoundly deaf. She did not learn sign language until she was 18, but has earned a degree from the University of South Alabama and works as a deaf services coordinator. “I had to talk to myself from birth to early adulthood.”
Danielle was bullied in middle school over the way she spoke. Danielle went to speech therapy throughout school and is still receiving therapy since being deaf she doesn’t actually hear what she is saying.
“Danielle credited her family for their support and Vocational Rehabilitation Services for their support. What is really important is being involved with your family and being involved with the deaf community. I hope things will get better going forward.”