Adjournment

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.