ATLANTA—Gov. Nathan Deal (R-Ga.) spoke to thousands of disability advocates at the state capitol on Feb. 21 for Disability Day.
Deal won applause when he praised Kennesaw State University (KSU) for a program that includes people with developmental disabilities in university courses.
“They are allowing students with disabilities to participate in classes and in educational opportunities along with students who do not have disabilities,” said Deal, adding that he wants the university system to replicate those opportunities throughout the state.
“Those with disabilities have great abilities,” Deal said.
He made no comment, however, on his refusal to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid in 2014.
Gov. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) have relented, but so far, Deal has not.
A provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (H.R. 3590) offers full federal funding to states to offer Medicaid health insurance to more people, including children and people with disabilities. Over time, the federal support would be reduced to 90 percent. Governors who have refused the funds say their states cannot afford the future 10 percent.
Many in the crowd wore T-shirts or carried signs that read, “My Medicaid Matters.” After the governor spoke, an advocate using a wheelchair led the crowd in chanting the phrase.
Deal supports people with disabilities, according to Eric Jacobsen, executive director of the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities.
“I’m excited to hear that the governor would like to see the (KSU) program expand,” said Jacobsen at the event. Only days after “your advocacy kept Warren Hill from being executed, we have to keep working to make sure no person with an intellectual disability is executed in Georgia,” Jacobsen said to the crowd.
Warren Hill received a 30-day stay of execution on Feb. 19. Hill is intellectually disabled, but his lawyers were not able to prove it when he was sentenced to death because Georgia law is uniquely stringent about proof of intellectual disability. Advocates are working to convince legislators to amend the law.
The day was about more than policy. It was also about celebrating achievement.
Ken Mitchell won the Georgia Self Advocate of the Year Award. He is blind, and transportation is near the top among the many ways he tries to make life better for people with disabilities. He said that he was attending classes on mobility, and when he arrived a 9:30 a.m., a lady, also blind, was waiting for a bus. When he left at 3:30 p.m., the lady was still waiting.
“That got me started,” Mitchell said. He has been advocating for better transportation choices for people with disabilities ever since.
“To be part of a community, part of a job, I can only go as far as my feet can carry me,” he said. Mitchell works for disABILITY LINK—The Center for Rights and Resources, a non-profit in Decatur, Ga.
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