On September 16th, members of the newly formed Self Advocates of Indiana local chapter visited Indianapolis to attend the bi-annual statewide conference. Self-Advocates is a group of individuals who have shown interest in working toward disability rights for the betterment of themselves as well as others. The purpose of the conference was to get information on different ways they could make a difference in the community and within the chapter.
Mosaic was represented at the conference by both the Northern Indiana agency as well as the Terre Haute agency. The four officers for the Northern Indiana agency are as follows: President, Laura McDowell, Vice President, Rachael Gates, Secretary Suzanne Figg and Treasurer, Justin Balser. Officers from the Terre Haute agency include President, Jeff Morgan and Secretary Geneva Brune.
Also supporting the group as they traveled to the capital were Advisors Elizabeth Goldman and Brenda Tryon, Co-Advisors Rachel Hooker and Courtney Holston, and Volunteers John Coleman and Tally Sowards.
“This year’s keynote speaker was Jennie Todd, Research Associate at Indiana Institute on Disability and Community, who spoke on the importance of inclusive communities by design. Breakout sessions were presented by the ARC of Indiana, Best Buddies Indiana, IPAS and Special Olympics amongst others. Presentations ranged in a variety of topics from Medicaid waiver utilization to disability employment law to health & wellness,” Elizabeth Goldman said.
The advocates chose which breakout session to attend based on level of interest. Todd compared two Bloomington neighborhoods during her presentation in order to reveal the differences and challenges in accessibility issues within the same city.
“The newer community was better because they made changes, like wider, cleaner sidewalks, they trimmed overgrown bushes and had benches and chairs for resting. The older community was not inviting, there were cracks in the sidewalks where people could trip and you would have to sit on the curb to rest. The older communities are generally lower income and this is where people who live on a fixed income, such as people with disabilities would live,” Rachel Hooker said.
A portion of the conference focused on employment rights. Treasurer Justin Balser said he learned something he didn’t know before.
“It was awesome, I learned that you were supposed to still be paid for down time when you are at work,” Justin said.
Members of the IU History Project conducted interviews of self-advocates and their direct support staff.
“They wanted to see how and where they live and what they do to document how far things have come compared to how it used to be,” Rachel said.
Mosaic received a special honor following the conference.
“The Mosaic group had a private dinner where we were joined by our guest of honor, Dawn Adams, Executive Director of Indiana Protection and Advocacy Services (IPAS) – the federally designated legal protection and advocacy entity for the State of Indiana. There definitely wasn’t a dull moment with our group! We had the opportunity to engage in discussion about what our favorite takeaways from the conference were as well as what our priority initiatives are that we would like to see implemented in our communities to promote the advancement of disability rights. Two main focus areas that both advocacy groups identified that they will be targeting in the upcoming charter year include community accessibility and disability voting rights,” Elizabeth said.
A new partnership with IPAS resulted from this dinner. Members of both advocacy groups will serve as consultative focus groups assisting with accessibility of future IPAS published content.
Aside from the educational aspect, the advocates enjoyed traveling and socializing.
“I liked it a lot. I want to go back,” Laura said.