The voices of hundreds of disabled Kentuckians were heard Tuesday at the state capital. Rally organizers claim a record number of individuals with physical, mental, and developmental disabilities were expected. Their aim was to leave a lasting impression on the state’s policy makers. The day began with activists, many with disabilities, filling the hallways at the state capital annex. They filed into a couple rooms to hear their marching orders. After getting directions to offices occupied by state lawmakers, they left…hoping to make a case for state services needed by Kentucky’s disabled residents.
Organizing the event was Sheila Shuster, who directs the Advocacy Action Network. Shuster argues Kentucky spends too much money on institutional care, and not enough on programs that keep disabled residents active within the community. Today, Shuster says their objective was simple.
“We want to leave a visual image in the minds and hearts of the governor, the cabinet members, and the legislators, that we count, we matter, and we vote,” said Shuster.
By meeting with lawmakers, Shuster says disabled citizens also learn they can influence the political process. Among the participants was Cherish Wolfe, who’s received care at the Bridgehaven Adult Day Treatment Center in Louisville. Wolfe says the staff there helped her cope with serious anxiety.
“I was just afraid of everything. I couldn’t pull my shades up in my house because I was afraid somebody might look in and see me. Couldn’t walk into Walmart unless somebody was with me and I mean literally I had to hold onto them. And if we got separated, I would just panic. So, they’ve just done everything for me. I owe them everything,” added Wolfe.
Wolfe says the facility offers psycho-social rehabilitation for adults. She says classes cover everything from depression to yoga to painting. Wolfe adds the need for mental health services is all around us.
“All the bad things that are happening in this country and everybody saying, we’ve got to do better with mental health. It seems to be all lip service and nothing really happens and we’re trying to make something happen that’s what we’re doing,” explained Wolfe.
Representatives of ‘Participation Station’ made the trip from Lexington. Participation Station is considered the only totally consumer run center for people who suffer mental illness. Valerie Mudd is the director.
“And we are a peer run, peer operated center, which means people with mental illness come to the center and they run all the programming. We have no professionals on staff. We don’t need any referrals and all of our services are free,” said Mudd.
Mudd says ‘Participation Station’ follows psychological rehab model which covers living, learning, working, and social.
Jimmy Lewis was visiting from Morehead. He receives services offered at Pathways, which is a community based center for people with developmental disabilities. Chaperone Daniel Leech along with Lewis talked about his job…doing contract piece work in Ashland.
“I really like doing stockets. What’s a stocket? It’s a white paper, but the red tape on and make stockets. Do you know what’s that used for? What’s that used for? What is the stocket used for? That is a two sided body molding tape,” said Lewis.
After lobbying lawmakers in their offices, the activists gathered in the capitol rotunda. The rally was led by Sheila Shuster. A number of lawmakers were in attendance and they heard from Kentucky’s Governor. A fiscal conservative, Republican Senator Jimmy Higdon of Lebanon also agrees the need of the state’s disabled residents goes beyond politics.
“The needs are infinite and the resources are limited and so we have to make good choices where we spend our money and this has to be a priority. Mental health has to be a priority,” added Higdon.
Today’s rally was just a preliminary event. The real battle for state dollars is expected next winter, when the general assembly considers a new, two-year state budget. And, on the table will be funding for programs that assist disabled