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Colorado Quarterly Magazine 

"Rewriting the Myths, Redefining the Realities"


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Kelly Buckland - An Articulate Leader

Kelly Buckland is the Executive Director of the Idaho Statewide Independent Living Council. He is also Vice President of the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) and 
co-chair of NCILís Rehabilitation Committee. Over the last year, Kelly has led NCILís effort to develop a position paper on the reauthorization of the Rehabilitation Act. 
On April 10, 2002 he came to Colorado to keynote a conference on reauthorization sponsored by the Colorado Statewide Independent Living Council. 
We spent three days with Mr. Buckland, working, talking, and getting acquainted. He is married and has a son. He is a big fan of drag racing, and a political activist. Kelly is an important national leader who has a quiet demeanor, but no one can mistake his strong spirit of advocacy for persons with disabilities. 

The Colorado Quarterly is very pleased to be able to introduce Kelly Buckland to the Colorado disability community. His intelligence, leadership, and obvious commitment to improve the lives of persons with disabilities give us reason for hope in the years ahead. Here is what he has to say.

The Colorado Quarterly: Tell us about your background.

Kelly Buckland: I grew up on a potato farm in Idaho. I broke my neck in a diving accident when I was sixteen. If I had not been injured, I would probably be growing potatoes. After graduation from high school I spent a summer farming a hay crop, but I concluded that I couldnít make a living with my muscles, so I went to college. 

I hadnít been very serious about school before my accident, but I began to work harder in my last two years of school. I moved to Boise in the fall of 1973 to attend Boise State University. There was no place that I could live and get personal assistance: so I moved into a nursing home. 

It really sucked, living in that nursing home. I think it helped me to know what it is like to live in an institution. It makes our work now a lot more meaningful. I lived there for about six months. Fortunately, a woman who was a CNA invited me to move in with her. A few months later we were married. We were together for almost ten years.

After college I was employed as a social worker. I had several jobs with the State of Idaho working with youth. I did child protection and probation work. 

In 1987 one of my colleagues saw an announcement for a scholarship to the masters degree program in rehabilitation counseling at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. I applied and got it. My marriage was ending so I went to Iowa. When I finished the program, I was recruited to come back to Idaho where I became the director of the Boise Center for Independent Living. 

A few years later I became the first chairperson of the Idaho SILC and in 1995 I was chosen to be the executive director of the SILC. 

TCQ: You are an advocate for persons with disabilities. How did your commitment to advocacy develop?

KB: In 1980, I was working in Burley, Idaho. The County Courthouse was inaccessible and they were having Community Development Block Grant hearings on the third floor. There were a group of Vista volunteers working in the community. They organized the local disability community to protest. I got involved and we conducted an action. The police ended up carrying us up the stairs to the meeting. The Commissioners were very stubborn. They wouldnít move the meeting to an accessible location. Finally we filed a complaint. It took ten years, but the Courthouse is now accessible.

After I finished my degree in Iowa and came back to Idaho, we got involved in legislation. We were able to convince the legislature to enact legislation that allows persons with disabilities to manage their own personal assistance services. It was 1990 and the legislation was well ahead of what was happening in other states.

At about the same time, I attended my first NCIL convention. President Bush was dragging his feet on the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). We held an action at the White House. It was pouring down rain and everyone was soaked, but no one cared. It was too important. About two months later he signed the ADA. You are right. I am committed to advocacy. It is a major part of what the independent living movement is all about.

TCQ: With all of your interest in advocacy, have you ever been involved in running for office?

KB: Yes. Once I served for one day in the Idaho Senate. A friend who was a Senator couldnít attend, so I served for him. I really enjoyed it. In 1992 I ran for the State Senate. I am a Democrat and Idaho is a Republican state. It was a very competitive race, but I lost. I ran again for the State House in 1994, but I lost again. I am still interested, but the opportunity needs to be there.

TCQ: You are a national leader. Why have you chosen to get involved at that level even though you are deeply involved in your own state?

KB: My Council may have the same question. I have worked with NCIL for a number of years. Last year I was elected to the position of vice president. For the last two years I have testified before the Congress to make the case for more funding for ILCís, and we have been successful. However, Idaho has a small population, so we have not gotten any of that increased funding.

I believe that I am a more effective spokesperson for persons with disabilities because of my grassroots work in Idaho. Idaho also benefits from the gains made by the larger disability community. There would not be a SILC, if it were not for NCIL. We make progress because we are a part of a connected community. We learn from one another. Sooner or later progress at one level finds its way to everyone. After all, we are working for persons with disabilities, wherever they may be.
TCQ: What are the priorities for the Idaho SILC?

KB: Our first priority is legislation. We have continued to improve our consumer controlled personal assistance program and we do things to help CILís. We have legislation that exempts the Centers from sales tax.

We also promote the expansion of our CIL network. We currently have three CILís and eight satellites. We sponsored a study to determine what our needs are. Many areas of the state are not receiving independent living services. We hope to expand.

TCQ: There is debate about the proper role for centers for independent living. What do you think the role should be for CILs?

KB: My thinking has changed over the years. When I began as a director of the Boise CIL, I didnít believe that independent living centers should provide employment services. I thought advocacy should be our role. I still think advocacy is very important, but advocacy without services can be empty. 

Our reauthorization paper is entitled ďInvest In FreedomĒ. We call for a much higher involvement in direct service for CILís. Freedom requires independent living skills and the right attitudes but it also requires community-based services. Who better to provide those services than consumer controlled agencies? 

TCQ: The NCIL position paper calls for vocational rehabilitation to have 51% of its employees to be persons with disabilities. Why is this important?

KB: This is one of those really basic issues. You either believe in persons with disabilities, or you donít. It sends a good message to VR clients and to employers, when the rehabilitation staff person is a person with a disability. We want persons with disabilities to have leadership roles in VR, but in order for that to happen, they need to be in the system. The independent living movement is about consumer control. This is a consumer control issue. We need to make the commitment to give persons with disabilities the opportunity to prove what they can do. Itís time to make that commitment.

TCQ: What are your goals for the years ahead?

KB: I am enjoying my work with NCIL. A year ago when I became vice president, I wasnít sure that I would want to continue in the leadership, but now I am thinking that I do want to play a leadership role with NCIL. I want to work to secure adequate funding for the CILís across the nation and expand the Centers network. I want to be involved in the effort to get America to invest in the freedom of persons with disabilities.

I learned first hand that it really sucks to live in a nursing home. I want to insure that no one need be institutionalized because there are inadequate community services. I want freedom to be a reality for everyone. 

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