The underlying philosophy and effort in our Advocacy Program is to bring equality and integration to society for people with disabilities.
Fifty years ago, the only options for people with disabilities were to stay at home with family or to be institutionalized. The establishment of Medicaid in 1965, while it provided benefits, inadvertently favored receiving benefits through nursing homes, and thereby increased the probability of people with disabilities being sent to homes and institutions for basic care.
We’ve come a long way since then. Research shows that many, if not most people with disabilities would prefer to live at home, or in some way independent of a nursing home. Recent changes in policy including Colorado Choice Transitions and Money Follows the Person (Medicaid) are designed to provide benefits and resources to people with disabilities so that they can receive the support and services they need in an independent living environment.
But we still have work to do. People with disabilities continue to be subject to segregation, discrimination, and even pity. They are often segregated to special areas in our communities without access to all of the public places and resources that we all share. Often, discrimination occurs through employers, landlords and even community groups and organizations. Pity is perhaps the most personally devastating bias, and occurs when people are seen as their disability, and not as a whole person.
Our Advocacy Program has two complimentary branches: Systems Advocacy and Individual Advocacy.
Systems advocacy is about working with and improving the systems that provide, benefits, resources, accessibility and equality to people with disabilities. On one end of the spectrum this means including people with disabilities in decision-making groups that determine the structure of benefits such as Medicaid, housing, and other State-run programs. On the other end is an ongoing awareness campaign to improve local systems such as public transportation, accessibility to public places and private business, and access to information and education.
At CPWD, members of our team who are people with disabilities have also joined the Community Living Advisory Group to ensure that Medicaid benefits go towards helping people to integrate into and live in the community, as well as the Colorado Choice Transition Advisory Committee, to work towards transitioning all people with disabilities who choose to do so from nursing homes into independent living.
We participate and host conversations at the level of local government, and often join in State and National level movements and initiatives that support the effort to bring equality and integration to people with disabilities across the country.
People with disabilities are not always fully aware of their rights and benefits. For those with lifelong disabilities, they may have experienced marginalization or intimidation and be cautious about defending their rights without knowledge and support. For those with acquired disabilities, the shift from ‘normal’ living to navigating the maze of social security, Medicaid and other benefits and considerations can be overwhelming and confusing, especially in the case of a cognitive disability.
Our Individual Advocacy Program works with people with disabilities to inform, educate and empower individuals to self-advocate. We teach people what their rights are, what the laws are, and how to be assertive in the face of discrimination or even misunderstanding. We support individuals through this process, and over time, help them build the confidence and self-esteem to advocate for themselves. This could include advocating for accessibility in their apartment, or for mobility and safety devices such as shower bars; advocating for benefits both social and medical (the Affordable Care Act brought many changes that needed to be learned), for employment, and for access to public places and private businesses. Our goal is to support people with disabilities through the learning process and empower people to feel confident self-advocating for independent living and their own individual goals.