2017 Conference on Disability

Earlier this week, I attended the 2017 Conference on Disability, sponsored by the Indiana Governor’s Council on People with Disabilities. (Disclaimer: I am a board member.) It was a great time, as usual.

The Sunday before the Conference began, the Indiana Statewide Independent Living Council (INSILC) conducted a town hall meeting. A moderator was brought in to  explain to Hoosiers the basics of centers for independent living, and then hear from the crowd how the centers and INSILC can better serve their constituencies. Common comment themes included frustration that the centers have not engaged more fully in public policy, concern that not many people know about the services offered by their local center, and hope that all of Indiana’s 92 counties may one day be served by a center. INSILC staff listened intently throughout the forum, and were thoughtful in assuring that those who were interested could participate in the event. My only objection is that participants were expected to raise their hand if they wished to make a comment – a task that’s not easy when your muscles don’t work. Nevertheless, it is evident that INSILC has vastly improved from previous years and I look forward to seeing how forum comments are used to further promote the organization and its independent living mission.

Monday’s breakfast keynote speaker was Senator Tom Harkin. The beginning of his speech focused on anecdotes about his Deaf brother and an entrepreneur with intellectual disabilities from Independence, Iowa. In essence, he was preaching to the choir about the ingenuity and dedication that people with disabilities bring to the business sector. Harkin shared that while many Titles of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) have dramatically increased opportunities for people with disabilities, Title I, which addresses employment, has not had the same effect. Employment for people with disabilities is about the same as it was in 1990, the year the ADA was passed. in his retirement, Harkin has decided to work on this issue and recently held the second Harkin Summit on Global Disability Employment. I’m very interested in what he learned at the Summit, but this was not discussed.

Next up was my workshop, Changing the Agency Paradigm: Promoting Choice Through Consumer-Directed Care. I wasn’t expecting a large turnout; not many people in Indiana have taken advantage of the paltry consumer-directed options currently available. However, my room was packed! Attendees were very receptive to my message, and seemed eager to work on advocating for more consumer-directed options. As one attendee pointed out, though, providers need to be part of this conversation rather than sticking their heads in the sand or actively objecting to policy changes. Those providers were nowhere to be found. The session, and the interest of its participants, really got me revved up and excited to continue advocating for the expansion of consumer-directed care options through Indiana Medicaid.

24312795_10213405462764569_6790251941549572215_n.jpg
 Emily Munson presents a PowerPoint presentation from behind a podium with the assistance of Shannon Clark. Photo credit: Shannon Clark.

An independent living panel, consisting of people with a wide variety of disabilities, convened after lunch. Afterward, I attended a workshop by Diana Braun. She showed the film Body & Soul: Diana & Kathy, and then discussed what she has been doing since Kathy’s death. Then I spoke with some of the exhibitors, including the folks at the INDATA Project. The assistive technology available today is truly incredible, including a vibrating GPS system you can put inside your shoes and glasses that can help colorblind people better differentiate color.

Tuesday morning began with a keynote from Dr. Sue Gant. She spoke about what happened at Henry’s Turkey Farm, detailing horror after horror. I went to her workshop about detecting abuse and neglect afterward, although participants hijacked the session by asking specific questions before Dr. Gant even had the opportunity to begin. Disturbingly, one professional in the audience didn’t realize she was a mandatory reporter, nor did she have any idea to whom she is obligated to report abuse, neglect, and exploitation.

Lydia X. Z. Brown brought the energy to their afternoon keynote, Claiming Disability in Resistance: Exploring Disability Justice, Struggle, and Healing. After their speech, I got to purchase a copy of All the Weight of Our Dreams: On Living Radicalized Autism. While they were signing my book, I also got to ask Lydia about her experiences at Georgetown.

My final sessions of the day contemplated community organizing as an advocacy tool and website access. I also got to visit the AbleGamers and play a video game with only my eyes! It was amazing!

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