By Kodey Toney
You're Gonna Hear Me Roar
Last Thursday was Developmental Disabilities Awareness Day at the Capitol in Oklahoma City. Since I was off work I decided to get up early and make the trek to represent the eastern side of the state. Along with networking I got to see some great advocacy from self advocates, parents, professionals, and even the legislators.
The event kicked off with several senators and representatives addressing the crowd of several hundred that filled the rotunda on the first floor. Among those speakers was Rep. Jason Nelson. I met him while in the Partners in Policymaking program, and while he only spoke briefly he has been a big ally for those with disabilities.
Another great voice at the Capitol is eastern Oklahoma native Wanda Felty. Originally from Spiro, she moved to the middle of the state several years ago and has become a champion of all people and families coping with disabilities. One of the best things is that Felty hasn't forgotten those of us in this rural area of the state.
One of her main topics was and has been the Developmental Disabilities Service Division (DDSD) Waiting List. For those who don't know, this list, in a nutshell, includes almost 7,000 people who have applied for services through the DDSD, but are still waiting due to the lack of funding at the state level. The sad part is that some on this list have been waiting since 2005.
The legislators approved $2 million in the past two years to help with funding. While that is a substantial amount, and is helping, it only worked to remove about 300 families from the list.
Also a big topic, especially for the self advocates there, was aiding in employment for those with disabilities. While unemployment is a major topic everywhere, the statistics for those with disabilities show that approximately 80 percent are without jobs.
Members of the self-advocacy group Oklahoma People First where among the most vocal. Playing on the theme of the day, the group "roared" as they let the legislators know they needed their cause to be heard. They finished the program with a flash mob dance to Katy Perry's hit song "Roar".
After hearing all the speakers I went to the fourth floor to speak with representatives from this area and must say that both Rep. Ed Cannaday and Rep. James Lockhart were very receptive. Cannaday is a member of the board of directors for the Pervasive Parenting Center and has been good about listening to issues in our area.
I want to say a special thank you to Rep. Lockhart who took the time to listen to me and even gave me a small tour of the west side of the Capitol building. He introduced me around and even talked to me about other issues he was interested in during the current session.
The networking alone was worth the trip.
In all I was honored to be a part of the events that day. We have to make our voices heard if we want anything to change in this world.