Little Lobbyists know our children with complex medical needs and disabilities will grow up to be adults with complex medical needs and disabilities. This is why legislation like the Disability Integration Act, which seeks to end institutional bias and secure everyone’s right to choose to live in their communities instead of an institution - regardless of level of need - is so critical to protecting the civil rights our children deserve.
This year, on Martin Luther King Jr.s birthday, the Little Lobbyists were invited to speak at the re-introduction of the Disability Integration Act with members of ADAPT, NCIL, other disability rights advocates, and members of Congress. The following text is from Erin Gabriel’s speech, mom of Little Lobbyists Abby, Bridget, and Collin. Erin, who lives in Pennsylvania, was also asked to introduce Senator Bob Casey (PA) by the Senator himself before he gave his remarks in support of this bill, which he called and important piece of civil rights legislation befitting the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr..
I am the lucky mother of three beautifully autistic children, Collin, Bridget and Abby. Abby is my youngest. She is 9 years old.
In addition to being autistic, Abby is also Deaf-blind, nonverbal, uses a wheelchair and has a long list of medical symptoms that go along with her genetic diagnosis. She has a rare, progressive and degenerative syndrome that we are still trying to learn more about. Medically, Abby has had to go through a lot.
That said, she, in so many ways, is a story of everything that can go right with the system. Because of where we live in Pennsylvania, her hearing loss was found at birth and she immediately qualified for Early Intervention services as well as a home and community based Medicaid waiver for children with disabilities-Pennsylvania’s version of the Katie Beckett Waiver. We have been able to find therapies and treatments that have helped her – all while living at home with her family.
Abby’s syndrome is progressive. She will eventually lose much of what she has gained. Her seizures will return and intensify. And as her disease progresses, we know she will need nursing care at home to help with her daily needs. With the waiver, we know that when the time comes, she will be able to access the care she needs until she turns 21.
But our waiver is not available to every child like Abby. It varies significantly state by state. And without that waiver, insurance companies use an institutional bias and won’t provide the home care so many of our children need. That means they will pay for care in a nursing home, but not in your own home. It’s part of why we live 600 miles away from our family- because Abby’s access to care literally depends on her zip code.
And when she reaches adulthood, that waiver will go away. Her services will stop, including any therapy and nursing care she has. She will be put on a wait list that extends for years. Her health will continue to decline during that time, while she waits.
Right now, Abby is growing up in her community, with her family and friends. She goes everywhere with us. She enjoys shopping, going to movies, even going to some political events here and there. She travels. She goes swimming at our local lake. She snuggles with her dog at home. She rides all the rides at Idlewild (our local amusement park). She smiles and laughs and brightens the day of so many people around her. She LIVES her life with more spark than most people I know. She deserves to have that freedom to keep living in her community. To get a job if she can. To keep going out with her friends and to travel if she wants to.
She deserves to have that choice and not be relegated to a nursing home at age 22 because of the services she will require. She deserves to actually live and not just exist. Abby and people like her deserve the right to that choice regardless of which state they happen to live in. This is why the Disability Integration Act is so important for our family, for Abby and for people like her.
The National Centers for Independent Living (NCIL) held an art contest last summer. My daughter, Bridget, entered. The contest was “What the DIA Means to Me.” After talking about it for a few minutes, Bridget knew exactly what it would mean to her. She drew a picture of herself and her little sister in a wheelchair with a nurse being shown to their table at a restaurant. Because, as she explained to me, “The DIA would mean I could visit Abby at her house and we could go to a restaurant or anywhere we want instead of being stuck in a boring nursing home.”
The DIA means families can stay together and people with disabilities can participate in their communities and LIVE their lives. Just like every other American. — Erin Gabriel