"Rewriting the Myths, Redefining the Realities"
by Homer Page
Handicapped Media Inc., HMI, has been selected by the State of Colorado to coordinate the advocacy program for the Statewide Independent Living Council
(SILC). The SILC along with the Division of Rehabilitation is required to develop a State Plan for Independent Living,
SPIL. The CoSPIL was completed and submitted to the Federal Rehabilitation Services Administration at the end of June. The SPIL encompasses a three-year period running from October 1, 2001 to September 20, 2004. One of the goals in the new SPIL calls for the development of a statewide advocacy network made up of persons with disabilities. HMI has been chosen to assist the SILC to implement this goal.
HMI publishes publications in Colorado, Montana, South Dakota, Texas, Wyoming, and Arizona. It also provides an information and referral service, offers scholarships to students with disabilities, and aides persons with disabilities who are in danger of becoming homeless or institutionalized. HMI was incorporated in 1979. The SPIL goal to create an advocacy network is very consistent with HMI’s mission of education and advocacy for persons with disabilities.
HMI will assist the SILC coordinate with other disability groups to develop a common agenda, develop and conduct advocacy training in at least ten communities around the state, assist disability groups in local communities to conduct information workshops with candidates for elective office, and consult with local disability groups as they work on relevant issues in their communities. The advocacy network will be broadly cross-disability. It will seek to involve persons who live throughout Colorado, and there will be an emphasis on outreach to minority communities.
“We believe that the only way persons with disabilities can take control of their own lives is to organize,” says Jim Rowland, Chair of the SILC. “We want to help people develop the skills that they need to make system change. The creation of a statewide advocacy network is a necessary first step toward making these changes. We are excited about the possibilities.”
The SILC contract calls for ten advocacy training workshops to be conducted around the state. These workshops will focus on creating community-based advocacy teams that will advocate for persons with disabilities within their own local communities. These teams will meet with local candidates, write to and speak with local officials, and work with local media. HMI will offer a continuing consulting service for the local advocacy teams.
In addition, the advocacy network will be asked to work on state and national issues. The SILC identified housing, transportation, health care, and consumer controlled personal assistance as key areas of concern among persons with disabilities. It is widely believed that improvement in these areas is necessary for persons with disabilities to live independently. The work which has been done by the State Olmstead Committee on the development of an Olmstead Implementation Plan has also identified these as key areas. The advocacy network will potentially be a strong voice for improving vital services.
The contract also mandates that HMI work with other organizations to develop a collaborative advocacy agenda. The intent is to be helpful in the consolidation of the voices speaking on behalf of persons with disabilities. In the third year of the contract, the SILC will facilitate a statewide conference directed toward formalizing the advocacy network. The SILC contract directs HMI to support the work of the advocacy organizations that already exist. These groups will be invited to participate in the planning of the conference and the development of the network.
The goal to create a statewide advocacy network has matured over the last year and a half. In June 2000, the SILC sponsored a conference which focused on statewide team building. As the SPIL developed last fall and winter, SILC members became aware of the large changes in the systems that serve persons with disabilities that are needed if genuine independent living styles are to become reality. To make those changes, SILC members have committed to promote the formation of a coherent, forceful, united voice coming from the disability community. They decided not to write one more plan that lists areas needing improvement. Rather, they chose to develop a concrete plan for doing community organization within the disability community.
The SILC vision is one of a disability community that is organized throughout the state. Each community and region will have persons with disabilities who are knowledgeable about the specific needs within their own local area. They will understand the services that are available and the public and private resources that may be drawn upon to meet those needs, and they will have the knowledge and support to actively advocate for change.
The vision also contemplates a network of local and regional activists who can advocate with state and national officials. An organized disability community must make phone calls, write letters, attend meetings, speak with officials, and support one another. The SILC vision requires a very high level of activism if it is to become a reality. The purpose of the SILC contract is to support the disability community as it builds an advocacy network. The SILC members are results oriented. They want to see change in the lives of persons with disabilities. They do not seek a controlling role in the work of the network.
Most of us understand that we are in a new era after September 11, 2001. All of the questions about when the new millennium began can now be answered. It began when those hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center. Many have said that the new emphasis on the war on terrorism, coupled with the slowing down in the economy, will hurt persons with disabilities. These factors make it all the more important that the disability community speaks with a strong, unified voice. But, there is more.
The disability rights movement and the progress of persons with disabilities toward independence and full citizenship represents the best of the American culture. Our love of personal freedom and our commitment to independence and self-determination places us in the mainstream. Our struggle is the struggle of all humanity. We must claim our rightful place in the American culture. There is a heightened awareness of the meaning of the American Dream. As we pass beyond shock and anger, we need to be prepared to interpret our struggle in the light of its larger meaning for our whole society.
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Copyright 2002 A&H Publishing Corporation