Tuesday, March 31 was a big day for disability rights in Missouri. Hundreds of people with disabilities and their advocates gathered at the Missouri state capitol in Jefferson City for the concurrence of two events: Disability Rights Legislative Day, and The ADA Legacy Tour. Event organizers and participants share the conviction that disability rights are civil rights; and they are committed to sustaining social momentum toward the full inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of life.
The 14th annual Disability Rights Legislative Day started with a rally in the capitol rotunda. Emceed by Columbia attorney and disability advocate Max Lewis, the rally focused around the theme “Lives Without Limits.” Key leaders, legislators and self-advocates took the stage to address angles on the theme. The event was sponsored by a coalition of advocacy organizations from across the state.
The ADA Legacy Tour is a traveling exhibit designed to raise awareness and build excitement about ADA25 – the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The “Road to Freedom” bus stopped on the south side of the capitol. The Jefferson City stop was sponsored by 15 disability-related organizations serving Columbia and surrounding areas, and was highlighted by a ribbon cutting ceremony thanks to the Jefferson City Chamber of Commerce. The bus comes with displays and information about the disability rights movement – for which the ADA was a momentous boost with its passage 25 years ago, mandating inclusion and prohibiting exclusion of people with disabilities in community life and work.
This legislative session in Missouri, several bills were filed that would help lift many people with disabilities from outdated strictures constraining them to lives of poverty. For example, SB174 creates the Missouri Achieving a Better Life Experience program (MO ABLE Act). This landmark legislation allows qualified individuals to open up ABLE accounts that can be used to pay for disability-related expenses such as housing, transportation and health care. The money in ABLE accounts is tax-advantaged and will not affect an individual’s eligibility for certain benefits. (Note: this bill crossed the finish line and will go to the governor.) Senate Bill 322 would gradually raise asset limits for people with disabilities on Medicaid from $999.99 for an individual or $1,999.99 for a couple (which have been in place since 1968), to $5,000 and $10,000 respectively. This means people who depend on Medicaid for their health care would be able to accumulate more reasonable assets to take care of things like education, home repairs, automobile costs and unexpected expenses – without losing Medicaid eligibility. Coincidentally, SB322 got first round approval on the Senate floor on the day of the rally. (Note: while this bill was passed by the Senate and House, it ultimately didn’t cross the finish line.)
After the ADA ribbon cutting and the disability rights rally, participants dispersed to meet with their legislators, to discuss issues of importance to them.
Among the sponsors of the day’s events were, for Disability Rights Legislative Day: American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, Arc of Missouri, Brain Injury Association, Coalition for Truth in Independence, Disability Resource Association, Down Syndrome Association of Greater St. Louis, Independent Living Resource Center, Missouri Centers for Independent Living, Missouri Council of the Blind, Missouri Developmental Disabilities Council, Paraquad, People First of Missouri, Services for Independent Living, The Whole Person, and the Tri-County Center for Independent Living.
And for the ADA Legacy Tour: ACT – Alternative Community Training, Boone County Family Resources, Central Missouri Regional Office, Columbia Disabilities Commission, Columbia Public Schools, MU School of Medicine Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, Easter Seals Midwest, Great Plains ADA Center, Job Point, MU Disability Center, MU Equity, People First of Boone County, Services for Independent Living, United Access and Woodhaven.
Rally Presenters included emcee Max Lewis, Attorney General Chris Koster, Department of Mental Health Director Keith Schafer, Senate Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, Senator Eric Schmitt, Representative Kevin Engler, Senate Minority Leader Joe Keaveny, and advocates Megan Layton, Colleen Starkloff, Chris Gray, and Cathy Enfield.