Hundreds of activists stood up for Missouri lawmakers to support their communities during Missouri Disability Rights Legislative Day Tuesday.
Due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19, organizers hosted the event online, with Masters of Ceremonies Monica Williams and Chris Worth cheering on attendees.
The online event is a “super accessible place” for attendees, Worth said.
“Although I miss the Capitol very much – because I love the pictures and the people – this is an exciting experience,” said Worth. “We’re in it together. We are in it together. Just say it and you will be with us. “
“In This Together” was the theme of the day. The 20th year event attended more than a dozen speakers, including Governor Mike Parson, State Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick, and six lawmakers.
It focused on three topics:
• Support our employees – for many people with disabilities, reliable support staff are essential for a happy, healthy and productive life.
• Support our inclusion – because students with disabilities shouldn’t be exposed to restraint and seclusion.
• Support our work – because people with disabilities can and want to work.
“We want to send a message to lawmakers,” said Williams. “By supporting our employees, they support our lives.”
Direct support professionals have been in high demand in Missouri for years. Part of the problem is that they are not well compensated for their work. DSPs work directly with people with physical or mental disabilities to help them integrate into a community.
It’s clear that DSPs are hard workers doing everything from nursing and personal care services to teaching life skills, said Rep. Sarah Unsicker, D-Shrewsbury.
“DSPs need a raise to make sure the people offering these services can afford the job,” she said. “DSPs work hard, but their pay is tied to what the state pays.”
In most cases, she said, they could make more money with an easier job in fast food or retail.
“We need to make sure that DSPs get fair pay for them and the people they work with,” she said.
Activist Tracy Bono spoke about House Bill 387, which would change laws governing the politics of seclusion and restraint in schools. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Dottie Bailey, R-Eureka, would require schools to include a ban on the use of restraint or seclusion in their policies except during times when there is a risk of physical harm to themselves threatens himself or others directly. The policy should include when a child should be removed from restraint, seclusion, or isolation. It would lay down reporting requirements and other protective measures.
Bono said her youngest son, who has autism and limited verbal skills, has been repeatedly locked in a closet at his school. But she was never informed.
Bono finally found out when she asked the boy’s teacher to confess, she said.
Now that her son is older and more verbose, he’s told Bono more about what happened. He was pulled into the room by his hair, said Bono.
He no longer goes to this school, she said.
She also said that data shows that black children and children with disabilities are more likely to be restrained or isolated.
“Every day I think of all the children who are affected by it. There is no accountability in Missouri, ”she said. “No mistake.”
Bono encouraged the audience to tell their lawmakers that the law needs to be passed.
Missouri has also talked about consumer-facing aid, said State Representative Bridget Walsh Moore, D-St. Louis.
Moore sponsors House Bill 115, which seeks to create the Missouri Employment First Act. The bill stipulates that all government agencies that provide work-related services or provide services or support for people with disabilities, coordinate with other agencies, share data when feasible, promote competitive integrated employment and provide services for Employing people of working age with disabilities.
The bill goes further than the Act on Americans with Disabilities, Moore said.
“I know there are a lot of people here who would like to be in a work environment,” she said.
She assured people who like to work in sheltered workshops that they will not be affected by the bill.
The challenge, she said, is that as disabled workers make more money, they will approach the “fiscal cliff” where they will make enough money to stop the state from providing other benefits.
Parson told viewers he would like to change the way people see the community, adding that he doesn’t like the word “disability”. He prefers to talk about people’s abilities. He said the efforts made by those attending Advocacy Day – and every day – were impressive.
How does Missouri as a state offer opportunities in which people of all abilities can excel? Asked Parson.
As part of a governor’s proclamation, Parson explained to activists that full inclusion is a matter of social justice and that creating an equitable environment creates a common experience for all.
And, he said, all Missourians have a greater responsibility for that.
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