Why it matters

Governor Candidates’ Forum on 9/13

There are some key issues that impact people with disabilities that I think everyone should be thinking about as they decide who to vote for in the midterm elections. I’ve said this in previous posts and will say it again – SHOW UP! It’s important to show up now and find out more about where candidates stand on issues that impact people with disabilities. On September 13th, I will be going to the Governor Candidates’ Forum on Disability to support Tim Walz who I caucused for last winter and supported in the State DFL Convention (check out my Adjournment post to see the news report I was featured in!). I believe that he will support the issues that matter to the disability community.

2 in 5 people have disabilities and 1 in 10 have severe disabilities. We are your family. We are your friends. We are your neighbors. We are your constituents. We are you, at the moment when you get a life-changing diagnosis or are in a crash where you may end up with a permanent disability. In a blink of an eye your life may become one where you need Medicaid or social services to help live independently in your community.


Health care and support services

I know that I say this every time I write about this, but health care is freedom for people with disabilities. Cuts to health care and Medicaid means losing freedom. Medicaid, known as Medical Assistance in Minnesota, is my lifeline for medical care, support staff, medical equipment and assistive technology that help me live a full life in my community. We need a Governor and legislature that will do everything they can to protect services so that people with disabilities receive the care and services they depend on.

Ask candidates what they will do to protect health care, Medicaid, and support services for people with disabilities. If they say that their goal is to cut human services – that means they’re trying to cut the very programs that I and others with disabilities depend on. Do you really want to vote for that person?

There are many other issues impacting people with disabilities, including affordable housing, transportation, employment, education, and finding qualified support staff. All of these issues are important to me as I carve out my adult life. These are the things that matter as I look at candidates and find which ones will also see their critical importance and impact on making sure that people with disabilities are not left behind.

SHOW UP Now!Justin shaking hands with Tim Walz with Peggy Flanagan smiling

If there are candidates you support, go volunteer for their campaigns. Put up some lawn signs. Write letters to the editor. Talk to your friends and family about why voting matters and what candidates you support. Go out and vote in November. SHOW UP!

Also, big shout out to my Aunt Kelly Smith who is running for State Representative in Kentucky. Proud of her and hope she wins! Kelly Smith For Kentucky website


Vote! My letter to the editor

My First Letter to the Editor published in White Bear/Vadnais Heights Press, August 8, 2018

This coming Tuesday, August 14th, is the primary election for governor in Minnesota. As a young person living with a severe disability, I know that the next election can have a huge impact on the disability community. I am supporting Congressman Tim Walz in the DFL Primary for Governor because I believe he will be able to pull people from across the state to protect Medicaid and improve education for all students across the state.

We need a Governor and Legislature that will do everything they can to protect Medicaid services that people with disabilities depend on to live in their communities. I’ll be voting for Tim Walz and Peggy Flanagan because they will work together to keep our state moving in the right direction even when faced with threats to Medicaid and other services that people with disabilities need.

Tim Walz was a teacher and knows the importance of making sure that education is inclusive and accessible for students with disabilities. Funding education, special education, and making college more affordable are important in making sure that all students are ready for the jobs of the future.

We need to elect a governor who can work productively with either party to get stuff done. The needs of the disability community do not change depending on what party is in control. Tim Walz will keep moving our Minnesota forward and make sure that those of us with disabilities are not left behind.







My first time as a delegate to the State Democratic Farmer Labor (DFL) Convention was definitely exciting and suspenseful! I met some amazing people and loved seeing the political process in action.

Thanks to ABC-6 in Rochester for noticing my blog, reaching out, and then sending a wonderful reporter, Noelle Anderson, to interview me about my experience as a first-time delegate. Here’s the link to the DFL Delegate Strives to Give a Voice to Those Without One report from ABC-6 KAAL-TV. Enjoy!

Justin with reporter Noelle Anderson smiling

(ABC 6 News) — There are 3,000 extra people in Rochester this weekend for the state DFL Convention. Half of those are delegates.

One of those delegates is Justin Smith, a public speaker, blogger and disability rights advocate. He’s only 19 years old, and he’s already become a leader for people with disabilities.

“It is important for me to make my voice heard, and show up and to be an advocate for the change. That’s why I am a delegate,” Justin said. “It’s important that people with disabilities are included in meaningful ways. That includes being involved in the political process.”

Justin lives with Athetoid Cerebral Palsy. He uses a communication device to talk, and that device, as well as his power chair, comes at a cost, which is why he’s advocating for support, to make sure anyone who needs technology and care- gets it.

“He’s able to share his unique perspective on how we can all make this work better. He needs support and full-time staff and health care and special equipment, accessible technology. Technology is key for this kid. It’s his independence,” said Kris Schulze, Justin’s mom.

Kris and Justin smiling

“There have been real threats to medical assistance and health care which mean very real threats to people with disabilities. We need more options for self-determination. I want to live with as much choice and independence as possible. Isn’t that what anyone would want?” Justin explained.

Justin says one in five people in America have a disability and one in four 20 year olds will have a disability before they retire.

“I am terrified that many of us with disabilities who need Medicaid will lose our freedom to choose how to live our lives. This support matters. It helps me make an impact on the world,” Justin said.

This leadership role isn’t new for Justin. Last year he was featured in Microsoft’s Inclusion in Action Video series.

Justin also has his own blog called Justin Smith Writes.

Ready to convene

Two years ago, I voted for the first time soon after I turned 18. This year I wanted to get more involved in the process so went to my local caucus. I raised my hand to be a delegate. The next step was going to  the Organizing Unit convention. I caucused for disability rights and Tim Walz for Governor and was selected to be a delegate to the State Convention. The State Convention is this weekend and I’m so excited to be there and make my voice heard for issues impacting people with disabilities

What are some of those issues?

Justin with I voted sticker on next to Vote Here sign and US Flag

  • Protect Medicaid and services for people with disabilities. The federal government cut 7% of funding for Minnesotans receiving Home and Community Based Services for living in their communities. I could potentially see cuts to my waiver budget for staffing this year because this year’s state budget bill did not pass. We need a Governor and legislature that will do everything they can to protect services so that people with disabilities are able to live in their communities.
  • Education that is inclusive and accessible for all students is a common issue for students with disabilities. Funding education for K-12 and ensuring that there are real options for transition age students to have the supports they need to attend college are important.
  • We need to select a governor who can work productively with either party to get stuff done. Both parties need to compromise and figure out how to keep moving our state forward while protecting and making sure services are available for those of us with disabilities so that we have the supports we need to live independently.

So, this weekend, I will see what a State Convention is all about. I’ll be doing what I can to make sure that people are aware of how important it is for our state to stay strong when faced with threats to Medicaid and other services that people with disabilities depend on.

I’m here and stuff

Welcome to my new blog site! I’ve moved my blog to JustinSmithWrites.com

I’ve been learning how to set up everything in WordPress, which has been fun. It’s pretty easy to use. So, sign up to receive notifications for when I post a new blog from my new site. Let me know what you think!

It has been a busy couple of months for me.

Charting the Cs Keynote and PresentationsJustin smiling with audience seated at tables in background

I had a great time and met some awesome new people at Charting the Cs. I also got to see some old friends. I loved that families and kids got to get together on the Family Day. It’s so important for families who have kids with low-incidence disabilities, to be able to come together to share fantastic ideas, learn and to have fun together. It is important to remember that even though we may face challenges in living with disabilities, we are also part of families.

And we are part of a larger family and community. This was a great event to have some fun, learn new stuff, enjoy hanging out with others who get what it’s like to be in our shoes.

Charting the Cs was a great conference for educators and therapists to learn and share ideas about helping all kids learn and I was glad to be a part of it. Here are some quotes from my keynote and presentations:

Justin in elevated wheelchair with screen displaying closed captions behind

How are we preparing our young people, with and without disabilities, to live in an inclusive world, if we don’t first have meaningful inclusion in schools. This is where we all are learning to live, work, and play together. Don’t you think that meaningful inclusion in schools would lead to more meaningful inclusion everywhere else? How can we make it work better?

No one ever said it would be easy, there will be barriers along the way, but that doesn’t mean we don’t try. Inclusion matters. Accessibility matters. It’s not enough to talk about it – but we need to figure out ways to do it and to do it better.

So, you may think you have a simple end goal, but the face of reality seeps into life and you just get to figure out how to keep working towards that end goal even when the challenges get in the way.

Technology is changing all the time. It’s important to keep trying to find the tech that works best for you.

This is what my high school paraprofessional said: “You taught me to focus on the ABILITY of a person and not their disability.  There isn’t just one way to complete a task. It’s my job as an educator to find a way for all students to be able to show me their knowledge of the curriculum.”

Happy Belated Global Accessibility Awareness Day

I showed up in a couple Microsoft videos on Global Accessibility Awareness Day this year. What great messages about empowering every person, inclusion, and accessibility! Check out the Microsoft blogs with videos:

Global Accessibility Awareness Day: Ensuring inclusive learning for all your students blog and video

Reimagine accessibility and foster inclusion in the modern workplace blog and film

Time for Some Politics

In two weeks, I am off to Rochester for the DFL State Convention. This will be my first and hopefully not last time as a state delegate. It is so important for people with disabilities to show up and be included in the political process. There are so many legislative attempts right now that could result in cutting services that people with disabilities depend on for living in their communities. I will do what I can to advocate for strong support services and healthcare for as long as I breathe. We need to support candidates that support disability rights, independent living, and real choices!

Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

Just say no

I have fought and will continue to stand against every single attack to cut Medicaid because of these three words – freedom to choose. People with disabilities should have the freedom to choose how to live their lives and I can only do that with the help of Medicaid.

Justin with I voted sticker on next to Vote Here sign and US FlagThe Medicaid funding I receive helps me live in my home, hire support staff, and pay medical costs not covered by my family’s private insurance. This support matters! It has made it possible for my parents to work. They have not been bankrupted by high medical costs. I have received medical treatment, equipment and care that helps me be more independent and make an impact on the world.

There is so much in this tax bill that could harm the most vulnerable in our communities. If this tax plan goes through and has the negative impacts to Medicaid that are expected, I am terrified  that many of us with disabilities who need Medicaid to live in our communities will lose our freedom to choose how to live our lives because the services we depend on will be severely cut back.

Call your senators and tell them to vote NO to this tax bill!

Here is the Arc statement on the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

We vehemently oppose this bill and the threats it poses to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities”

Washington, DC – The Arc released the following statement in response to the House of Representatives passing theTax Cuts and Jobs Act on 11/16/2017:

“The Arc has a longstanding position that tax policy should raise sufficient revenues to finance programs that support people with disabilities to live and work in the community. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act does the opposite. By reducing revenue by at least $1.5 trillion, the bill increases the pressure to turn next to cut Medicaid and other programs that are critical to the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“We vehemently oppose this bill and the threats it poses to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We now turn our attention to the Senate, which is considering legislation that will also increase the deficit and repeal a portion of the Affordable Care Act that would undermine the entire law. The disability community has fought against threats to vital programs and won several times this year, and we are prepared to do it again,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.