Civil rights and disability advocate Mary Yoder will retire from her post of executive director of the Atlanta Alliance on Developmental Disabilities at the end of June.
Yoder has worked with AADD since 1976, serving as advocacy specialist, director of project RESCUE, director of community services and assistant executive director.
“Being a part of AADD has provided me with many opportunities to work alongside truly remarkable people and to help develop and build strategies to strengthen our community,” Yoder said.
Betty Dent has worked with Yoder for nearly 30 years. “She’s the most unique director I’ve ever known. She brought to the agency the caring that all people should have. She always made AADD consumers her number one priority,” the outreach specialist said.
Yoder came to Atlanta in 1966 to do civil rights work. “We were volunteers doing background support for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference,” she said. “I did some tutoring in the neighborhoods.”
While tutoring, Yoder noticed how disability and poverty were linked, and this was reinforced by her next job as a teacher at St. Vincent DePaul.
Later, Yoder worked at the Brook Run hospital. “I provided direct care and support there for about three years. It was frustrating because families wanted and needed things we couldn’t provide because institutions operate from the lowest common denominator,” she said.
While working at Brook Run, Yoder met Denise Shaw. “Denise was 4.5 or 5. She didn’t talk or walk. I brought her home every other weekend and on holidays. Even after she moved into a foster home, we still brought her home. It was respite for the foster family, but fun for us,” she explained.
Shaw and Yoder became lifelong friends, and in 1986, Shaw moved in with Yoder and her husband and began working at Georgia State University in 1987.
After Brook Run, Yoder taught adults skills to live in their communities at the Fulton County Mental Retardation Service Center, where she heard of Project RESCUE (Refer, Evaluate, Secure, Coordinate, Uncover, Educate), which later became AADD’s program, Georgia Family Support.
“Project RESCUE was creative about creating supports around what the family wanted, when they wanted. It was really attractive to me. I was thrilled and delighted to come work here,” Yoder said.
Now 33 years later, Yoder is proud of AADD’s accomplishments, including demonstrating that women with severe disabilities could live in their communities; leading the Justice in Developmental Disabilities Coalition; creating a support group for women with cognitive disabilities who have been abused; providing leadership for Unlock the Waiting List!; and supporting mothers with intellectual disabilities so they can keep their families together.
“We have such a dynamite group of staff who are passionate about what they do. Some of our clients have had the same support professional for 26 years. This increases the quality of services so much,” she said.
Her staff will miss her. “She has a heart as big as the world. She would work 15 – 20 hours a day trying to get services for people with disabilities. She is not replaceable,” Dent said.
GCDD VIEWPOINT Advocates Should Join Together for Stronger Communities 2009 has started out as a very interesting year when it comes to our country, state and community. The current economic crisis has resulted in dramatic reductions in the revenue that the State of Georgia will have to allocate for goods and services. The federal economic stimulus package will help the situation if the funds make it to the areas where there is the greatest need. In the disability community, there is a growing waiting list of individuals already in the community and those who want to leave institutions and nursing homes. This waiting list for services and supports will continue to grow unless our elected officials decide that meeting the needs of the people is their most important priority. This might mean forgoing tax cuts and credits or looking for additional revenues or taking the time to converse with constituents and better understand these growing needs. None of these choices are easy, but they may be necessary.
There may be tough decisions for us in the disability community as well. We may have to find ways to come together collectively and join with others who represent people who have been marginalized or exiled. We know how to come together. The more than 2,000 people who showed up for this year’s 11th annual Disability Day at the Capitol tells me that we can bring the numbers. The question is can we use those numbers to create action and change communities and public policies? We are not sure this is quite as easy. Think of the power if people with developmental disabilities, physical disabilities and mental illnesses; people who are poor; representatives of children and the elderly; and populations of color all came together and identified common issues. Let’s take housing as an example. We all know that with the banking and credit crisis, the availability of housing is at risk for many people. Fewer and fewer people have access to quality, affordable and accessible housing. We could change the policy and outcomes for many if the groups mentioned above came together and decided that housing was the most important issue, and they were going to work on the local, state and federal levels to make sure that every Georgian had a place to live. We might have to spend some time talking with each other, learning about the possibilities and recognizing that each person at the table has a gift, but in the end we could find that place where as a group we could make a difference. The power of collective action could spur other opportunities as well.
This edition of Making a Difference will report on the results of the 2009 legislative session. This was the first year of a two-year session and there were several victories for the disability community that will help us as we move into the second year. We also explore microboards which several families in Georgia are now using to manage the services and supports they receive which are paid for by Medicaid. Finally, we will continue to monitor the impact of the new home and community-based waivers for people with disabilities on individuals, families, providers and the system. We hope you enjoy this edition of Making a Difference. We want to hear from you. You can reach our Public Information Director and Editor In-Chief,
Valerie Meadows Suber at 1-888-275-4233 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
NEWS Obama Names Disability Policy
Special Assistant President Barack Obama is demonstrating his commitment to disability issues by naming Kareem Dale as his special assistant who will focus exclusively on disability policies. Vice President Joe Biden announced the appointment while leading a Presidential Delegation at the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Boise, Idaho.
“The commitment that the President and I have to Special Olympics and people with disabilities is deep and abiding. And we are backing up those words with real action at the White House,” Biden said. “This is our first step to ensure that we have a strong advocate for people with disabilities at the highest levels of our administration.”
Dale, who is partially blind, will have direct access to the president in this role, and he will coordinate the administration’s efforts to ensure that people with disabilities are on a level playing field with all Americans.
Originally from Chicago, Ill., Dale previously served as the national disability director for the Obama for America campaign. He also served on the Arts Policy Committee and the Disability Policy Committee for then-Sen. Obama.
Dale graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a Bachelor’s degree in Advertising in May 1995. He received his JD/MBA in May 1999 from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, graduating cum laude. While attending law school, Dale was also active in community service, including serving as president of two organizations, the Black Law Students’ Association and Open Forum.
Social Security Expands Fast-Track Disability Processes Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, announced in January that improvements to the Social Security Administration’s computer modeling system have increased the number of claimants receiving expedited approvals for disability benefits. Social Security’s two-track system – the Quick Disability Determination (QDD) process and Compassionate Allowances – is now fast-tracking about four percent of all disability cases, a sharp increase from the 2.7 percent of cases fast-tracked last year.
“In practical terms, this means that this year 100,000 to 125,000 Americans – those with the most severe disabilities – will be approved for benefits in about 10 days instead of waiting the three to four months it typically takes for an initial decision,” Astrue said. “These initiatives are truly a lifeline for those who need it most.”
Under QDD, a predictive computer model analyzes specific data within the electronic file to identify cases where there is a high potential that the claimant has a disability and where Social Security can quickly obtain evidence of the person’s allegations. Through Compassionate Allowances, Social Security expedites the processing of disability claims for applicants with medical conditions so severe that their conditions by definition meet Social Security’s standards. These fast-track systems increase the efficiency of the disability process and also help free up resources so the agency can better cope with an increase of about 250,000 cases resulting from the current economic downturn.
“During these tough economic times, getting Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability benefits quickly to Americans who are unable to work helps them and strengthens our economy. For SSI recipients, expedited approvals also ensure they immediately get the vital medical coverage they need,” Astrue said. “It is critical that we continue to embrace innovative technologies in order to improve the services we provide to the public.”
Student Designs New Logo for Albany ARC The Albany Advocacy Resource Center (Albany ARC) has a new look. The new logo and slogan reflect the essence of Albany ARC, and Albany ARC leaders hope it will help in the growth and recognition of their organization.
“We are very excited to reveal this new identity to our members and to the community of Southwest Georgia,” said Sandy Edge, Albany ARC assistant executive director. “We feel the new logo and slogan help to unify Albany ARC’s programs and services it offers to people with disabilities.”
Designed by an Albany Tech Visual Communications student, Megan Warmack of Leesburg, GA, the logo, which includes the slogan, “Helping To Build Brighter Futures,” will be displayed on everything from letterhead to brochures, and will be used for future marketing development through new forms of social media, and a new Web site design. Warmack’s graphic identity was selected from other logos submitted by Albany Tech students in a contest.
“The slogan, ‘Helping To Build Brighter Futures,’ certainly indicates a relationship and helps differentiate Albany ARC,” Edge continued.
AROUND GCDD GCDD, SILC Create
Samuel B. Mitchell Award Samuel Mitchell was a tireless advocate for himself and all people with disabilities, so a group of advocates decided creating a lifetime achievement award that bears his name would be a perfect way to honor the man who helped so many.
“Sam was in the second graduating class of Georgia Voices That Count. That’s how he got started,” revealed Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities Advocacy Director Kate Gainer. “He was very active and encouraging. He became a surrogate father for a lot of people with disabilities he met through the years.”
Mitchell served on a variety of committees, organizations and boards, including as president of the
Georgia chapter of ADAPT and vice president of People First of Atlanta, as well as sitting on the Long Term
Care Ombudsman Advisory Committee, planning committee for the Long Road Home and on the board of disABILITY LINK.
Mitchell’s wife, Cherie Mitchell, was touched by the award. “I was really pleased and honored they chose to name it after Sam. He was a fabulous advocate, both at the state and national levels,” she said.
The first Samuel B. Mitchell Lifetime Achievement Award, jointly presented by GCDD and the Statewide Independent Living Council, was bestowed on Bernard Baker during the 11th Annual Disability Day at the Capitol February 25.
“Bernard is the type of old advocate you can call on to do just about anything. And he’s not only there, he’s there enthusiastically,” Gainer said. “He is the type of advocate who can motivate a crowd
of strangers. To me, he embodies self-determination.
“Sam really worked hard in the movement, and Bernard embodies that same spirit. Sam used to joke around and tell people he was a manly man. The second runner up to that would be Bernard,” she said.
Organizing Institute Graduate Receives Computer from Community Center While Patricia “Ajike” Williams was preparing to promote disability rights as a pro se litigant before an administrative judge, her home computer failed.
Undaunted, she headed to the Dorothy C. Benson Multipurpose Complex in North Fulton County to use the center’s computers to complete her presentation.
“I didn’t realize the staff members were observing me at work. Little did I realize that the seemingly innocent questions they asked were out of more than mere curiosity,” Williams explained.
“Little did I know that others around me thought the work I was doing to increase employment opportunities for all members of the disability community in Georgia was important. However, I became fully aware of the unique spirit operating at the Benson Center on the day that Don Gurecio presented me with an entire computer system!”
Gurecio said, “Anyone sacrificing to do the work you are doing deserves to have their own computer.
Thank you for your effort to expand employment opportunities among the disability community!”
Williams was grateful for the generosity of the gift that would allow her to continue her advocacy work for employment for people with disabilities.
“There is a unique spirit operating at the Benson Center. The manner in which both volunteer and paid staff members deliver services is with a servant’s heart. On more than one occasion, I have watched as staff members have gone beyond the call of duty to uplift and improve the quality of life for all those who come to the center, transcending cultural and class barriers,” she said.
STUDENT MARCHES IN INAUGURATION
Rolling Down Pennsylvania Avenue: Just Another Day for Devin Robinson
By Carly Sharec
The South Cobb High School band, in Austell, recently took its place in history at the inauguration of President Barack Obama as it was one of only a handful of selected bands across the country to play at the event. For one student, it was an especially historical occasion, as he walked –no, rolled – down Pennsylvania Avenue.
“Devin Robinson is a freshman in our drum line,” said SCHS band director, Zachary Cogdill. “Devin has a degenerative neuromuscular disorder. We had to come up with a way for him to march with us – I was not going to let him miss out on an opportunity of a lifetime!”
Robinson has leukodystrophy, which is the progressive degeneration of white matter in the brain.
Robinson particularly has trouble with muscular skills and speaking. “There is a lot of shaking and instability as far as his muscles go,” Cogdill explained. “But he’s a very smart kid, and a very talented bass drummer. We do what we can to accommodate his needs, and the inauguration event was no exception.
“Several people called up, ready to donate wheelchairs or golf carts. While we were of course appreciative, we wanted Devin to blend in a little bit more,” Cogdill explained. “We initially set out to have something specially designed, something that wasn’t intrusive or too big so that it wouldn’t distract away from
Devin or his performance.”
Just when it began to look impossible, things fell into place. Devan Seabaugh, the man who brought soapbox derby racing to the Atlanta area, contacted the band and offered a modification of a soapbox derby car.
Michael Feldberg from The Color Spot also offered his company’s services in creating the vinyl wrapping to go around the car with the band logo and colors. “Going back to the concept of inclusion, the car was mostly wrapped with black in order to blend in with the rest of the band, which wears black pants,” Cogdill said.
Seabaugh heard the need from his friend, Feldberg. “He sent out an e-mail explaining about Devin, and I just happened to have a soapbox that I built back in 2004. We took it to the high school and once the band director said it was exactly what they needed, we took it back to modify it for Devin’s drum and to accommodate an extra person.”
“I initially heard about the need from the Atlanta radio station Q100,” Feldberg explained. “This was a once-in-a-lifetime event for these students, and we wanted to do everything we could do to be a part of it. We’re just glad we could assist.”
“The car was redesigned to accommodate a back passenger, which was SCHS student Shanique Williamson,” Cogdill said. “She helped Devin keep time – after all, with drumming, it’s very important to be precise!”
“I know that he got a kick out of it...we had a blast,” Gerald Robinson, Devin Robinson’s father, stated. “But he also took his job seriously. Devin was there as a band member, not as an individual.” Cogdill is appreciative of the overwhelming community support, not only for Robinson but also for the entire band. “My students learned so much about character and philanthropy through this experience,” he said. “As a teacher, I don’t think I could ask for anything more.”
Budget Issues Take Center Stage
By GCDD Deputy Director Patricia Nobbie, Ph.D.
The winter edition of Making a Difference reported that the 2009 Legislative Session was going to be a bumpy ride, and it was. As of this writing, the legislature is five days away from Sine Die, but legislators are still working on the FY 2010 budget, and the Department of Human Resources (DHR) restructuring legislation. These two moving parts, along with the addition of federal stimulus money from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 (hereafter referred to as ARRA) are challenging even the most seasoned advocates with keeping track of the latest developments.
Revenue: what did Georgia have to work with? Revenue continued to decline as the session began. January’s revenue collections were 16 percent less than the same month a year ago; February’s revenue collections reflected a 34 percent decline over February of 2008. This scenario forced Governor Sonny Perdue to once again lower the revenue estimate by another $1.6 billion. ARRA funds filled $1.1 billion of the hole, along with a combination of the enhanced federal match for Medicaid, state stabilization funds in public safety and education, and Title IV-E funding for foster children and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Further reductions to state agencies provided another $70 million. The rest of the funding came from reducing the motor fuel tax, adjusting the State Health Benefit Plan employer contribution rates, and other smaller items.
ARRA funding As complicated as it seems, it is important for advocates to understand how the Medicaid portion of the ARRA was used in the budget, so here’s a little context. Prior to the passage of the ARRA, the state put up 36 percent state funds and the federal government matched it with 64 percent for Medicaid. This formula is called the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP). The ARRA offered states an enhanced matching rate of 25 percent/75 percent for nine fiscal quarters – from October 1, 2008 to December 31, 2011. The state generated savings in the budget by cashing out the difference between the 36 percent and the 25 percent, and using that cash to plug holes in the budget. For example, Georgia previously paid 36 cents for $1.00 in Medicaid funding – the state match portion. Well, now that $1.00 only costs Georgia 25 cents, so the state now has an extra 11 cents. Multiply that 11 cents by all the Medicaid dollars in the budget, and the state has generated a windfall in extra cash. But instead of using the money for Medicaid-eligible people and services, the state used it for lots of other things, including the Homeowner’s Tax Relief Grant, cuts in public health, etc. The executive branch contends that the ARRA money prevented even more drastic cuts to the budget, given the abysmal revenue picture, but this may have positioned the state to go from the frying pan to the fire. In 2011, when the enhanced match phase is up, the Medicaid dollar will again cost 36 cents, and Georgia will have to come up with the money it spent in other places to replace a huge hole in the Medicaid budget.
Remember this: The Medicaid enhanced match windfall totaled about $731 million dollars. As of this writing, the House, Senate and Governor’s Office were going back and forth about the use of the funding for maintaining Medicaid provider rates at current levels versus funding the projected growth in Medicaid-eligible patients, but the home and community-based service providers were held harmless from the cuts. So the disability community didn’t gain anything from that effort. The cash out from just the adult and child and adolescent developmental disabilities program budgets was $52 million dollars. It was taken from training, contracts, the funds for the 135 waivers traded out through attrition, and more. So in 2011, advocates and the state will have to find the money somewhere to replace that $52 million. In the meantime, the only new money appropriated was for the 150 Money Follows Person slots to support people moving out of the state hospitals, and 100 Independent Care Waivers (ICWP) to support people moving out of nursing homes, and annualizing prior appropriations. These services are mandatory because of the Olmstead Voluntary Compliance Agreement and the Money Follows the Person Grant.
DHR restructuring Aside from the budget, the next big moving piece was the DHR restructuring legislation. Again, this initiative had a lot of moving parts. The Governor’s Task Force recommended creating three departments out of two; the Department of Behavioral Health included Mental Health and Addictive Diseases services; the renamed Department of Human Services contained Aging Services, Developmental Disabilities and the Division of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS) and Child Support; and, the Department of Health contained Public Health, Healthcare Financing and Office of Regulatory Services. The House substitute version, HB 228, moved Public Health into the Department of Behavioral Health with Developmental Disabilities. The Senate version, SB 222, moved Public Health back to the Department of Health, and kept Developmental Disabilities with the Department of Behavioral Health. At the time of writing, HB 228 was stripped and SB 222 was inserted, passed committee and the Senate and was transmitted to the House. House and Senate will disagree with the differences in the bills and appoint a conference committee to work out those differences. At this point though, Developmental Disabilities will be housed under the current Department of Behavioral Health, which will most likely take on a new name. In addition, the Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities will be renamed the