Barriers to inclusion

Today, Chris Serres, reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, wrote an excellent article about how Minnesotans with disabilities are fighting barriers to inclusion and unfilled promises. I love seeing Chris Serres’ articles because he gets it. He’s able to tell the world about what it’s like to try to navigate this system and what happens when the system fails people with disabilities.

This week, I’m going to be sharing my experiences and thoughts about inclusion, services, and moving towards independence, all in three action-packed posts. I am trying to navigate this system and learning as I go. It’s not easy to figure out a path towards independent living as the system is set up now. I am not an expert in all of these services and options but will offer my ideas on what I think would make sense for me as I, with the help of my parents, try to figure out my future.

Part 1: Inclusion

This is my definition of inclusion: a community of diverse backgrounds embracing each other in open minds and open hearts. I’ve written a lot about this in the previous posts. I want to live with as much choice and independence as possible. Isn’t this what anyone would want?

For inclusion to happen, I need to have services and supports in place that help me live the life I want to live in my community.

  • Caregivers are critical for me to live an independent life. I need 24-hour care and receive funding to cover about half of that care. We need to rethink models for care giving and independent living. I’d love to partner with others who live near me – kind of like a staffing cooperative. And what about inclusive co-housing options that include people with AND without disabilities?Do not miss Part 2 tomorrow!Man with arm around Justin, We belong in the community sign hanging on front of Justin's wheelchair
  • What is my path to employment or giving back to society? So far for me, that has meant taking some college courses, writing my blog and book, and having some amazing opportunities for public speaking. But, I have no idea what’s next in my path to an actual job. Read more about this in Part 3 later this week.

Read the article Minnesotans with disabilities fight barriers to inclusion, unfilled promises by Chris Serres. Really, read it right now! And share with all of your friends, family and random strangers!

Disability rights are human rights! Inclusion matters!

Hello 2019

In 2019 I want to write more about the challenges in front of me to keep moving towards independent living. It’s not easy to figure all this out and I’ll share what I find out in case it helps others in their own lives or just so everyone has a better idea of what’s involved. And, of course I’ll also be blogging about political issues impacting disability rights, weird random stuff and my experiences with accessibility.

As you know, I took a break from Twitter and Facebook to work on my book, mainly. It has been a couple of weeks since I started my break. I probably wrote about the same amount in my book than if I had been on Twitter and Facebook. So, maybe social media isn’t as distracting for me as I thought. I’m okay with not being sucked into the non-stop drama of our current political reality. But, think instead of a total blackout, I’m going to just limit my time on social media – maybe 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the afternoon.

Here is what I will be focusing on over the next several months because all of these things need to be in place for me to live independently. I love my parents but like any young adult, I really would love to live in my own place in the next couple of years. So, how do I get from here to there?

My first step is that I need to get my Consumer Directed Community Supports (CDCS) Medicaid/Medical Assistance waiver figured out. This is the funding that helps pay for my support staff, adaptive equipment not covered by insurance, etc. I mentioned this in a previous post, Minnesota Department of Human Services is now requiring me to create my own small business to hire and manage my support staff. My parents and I will be meeting with several different providers over the next several weeks to decide if we’ll stay with our current provider or switch to a new one. Then I’ll need to complete all of the paperwork to become a small business and rehire all of my current staff and have them go through background checks again. The provider I choose will handle the payroll but we also need to figure out how to protect me from liability as a small business (this is more than just worker’s comp and unemployment insurance!). There’s a lot to figure out and it has to be done and in place by March in order to keep having the choice and flexibility for me to hire my own staff. This may all sound confusing. That’s because it is. Thanks very much DHS for making my life more complicated than it already was.

Along with figuring out support services, I’m also trying out new ways to continue growing as a writer. I’m going to try finding a class to take either through someplace like the Loft Literary Center, White Bear Center for the Arts or an edX online class. This could be a fun way to stay connected with other writers and improve as a writer.

And, guess what? It’s almost time for the new legislative session in MN! I’m going to try to get to more of the Disability Days at the Capitol to continue my advocacy for disability rights. Just got my tickets to the Walz-Flanagan Inaugural event at the Orpheum. I’ve heard back about wheelchair accessibility and also have asked if there would be CART captioning.

And, I have a whole lot of doctor and therapy appointments coming up this month – one or two a week. I’m getting botox on my lower leg and foot that’s been so painful on January 9th. Hoping it works.

I’m also going to keep having fun listening to music, watching AFC Wimbledon football (soccer) matches, going to concerts, and hanging out with my family. My younger brother is graduating from high school this spring so life is going to have a lot of changes this year for all of us.

Happy New Year everyone!

Midterms on Nov 6: Clear choice for me in Minnesota

The DFL candidates all are more supportive of disability rights and issues that impact my ability to choose where I live with the supports that I need to be included in my community. Social services that support people with disabilities to be able to live in their communities are critical. This means fighting for:

  • Affordable healthcare and Medicaid (Medical Assistance in MN)
  • Affordable, wheelchair accessible housing
  • Inclusive job opportunities and education

Tim Walz has gone out of his way to come and talk to me from the first time I met him at the Organizing District and State DFL Conventions. He has made me feel that I do have a seat at the table. He supports the very services that I depend on to help me live and participate fully in my community. I am included as part of #OneMinnesota.

Justin shaking hands with Tim Walz with Peggy Flanagan smiling

I also stand with Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith and Representative Betty McCollum in bringing their voices to the US Senate and House. They will help defend Medicaid which is so critical to those of us with disabilities. Cuts to Medicaid will impact me and others you may know who depend on Medicaid for support staff, medical care and equipment. They also speak up for fairness, respect, and decency for all.

My family has received countless negative attack flyers against Ami Wazlawik, who I support for State House District 38B. She is an awesome candidate who listens to people in her community and has done nothing but run a positive campaign. I’m signed up to help with door-knocking again next weekend! I know she will be there to listen to my concerns or about issues that are important to me when she’s elected to the State House. Because she is doing that now!

Ami Wazlawic and Justin Smith smiling

Issues that impact the disability community matter. Who is listening to those of us with disabilities? Who is going to fight for issues that matter to us? My vote is with Walz/Flanagan, Klobuchar, Smith, and Wazlawik.

You can learn more about the candidates and make your own choices from MPR Voter Guide or Star Tribune Election Guide.

20

I turned 20 years old this week. A couple years ago, I thought that after high school, I would go to college. Get my Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree. And then get a job as a writer or journalist. Here’s the thing, I’ve started taking some college classes. Two worked out pretty well – got A’s. I also tried to take an online class which didn’t work out as well and I ended up dropping. The amount of writing required for that online course would have taken me countless hours to keep up with. What would have taken many students a couple hours a day, probably would have meant 40-50 hours a week for me – for just one class.

I am now grappling with a dilemma. Do I go to college? Or do I look at other online courses like through Coursera or EdX to keep learning even though it wouldn’t be working towards a college degree? Or do I find a job or volunteer work to start getting work experience? This past 2 years, I’ve had fantastic opportunities as a public speaker. Would people want me as a public speaker, if I’m not also a college student? Was that part of my story that people were interested in?

My family and I are struggling with what are the options for me with what I love to do and what I’m able to do – because honestly it’s difficult for me to communicate quickly and often times people don’t take the time to wait for me to say what I want to say – so where are those opportunities to work or participate in my community like I’d like to when it’s this difficult to communicate? What does a job for me look like where I can interact with others to do the things I love to do? How do I work towards independence if I’m hanging out at home every day? Because, that’s what I’ve been doing lately, and it’s not working.

I really love public speaking about inclusion and accessibility. I love advocating for disability rights. I love writing even though it takes me a long time. I love to share my voice with the world. I love my volunteer work as a mentor to an elementary student who has cerebral palsy and is learning to use a communication device and power chair.

We know some of the next steps. I need to get connected with Vocation Rehab Services to find out what they can offer. I need to reach out to different advocacy organizations to see if there might be volunteer work or internships that might work for me. I need to meet with my social worker to make sure the supports I need are in place so that I can keep working towards my goals.

So, I’m 20 years old. I feel confused, floundering, like I’m trying to get to the top of a long flight of stairs in my wheelchair – not sure what’s at the top of the stairs or how to get there.