Laura Hershey: Writer, Poet, Activist, Consultant Rotating Header Image

July, 2009:

Don’t Sacrifice Disabled People’s Lives to Balance Bungled Budgets

In several states, crucial services for people with disabilities are being sacrificed to the politics of fear and greed. We all know the economy is bad, ravaged by orgies of risky investing and corruption. Corporations and other private entities largely created this mess — though certainly federal government agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission failed in their watchdog duties — but state governments unfortunately bear the brunt of a diminished tax base. All kinds of social and educational services are suffering, but there is a growing fear among people with disabilities that our right to live independently in our own homes — even our very lives — may be at risk.

In one of the wealthiest states in the nation, California, money is being squandered on oil subsidies, tax breaks for the wealthy, and other misplaced priorities. The strained state budget is being exacerbated by politicians’ failure to find equitable, commonsensical savings. For example, the ACLU estimates that California could save over $100 million per year by suspending the death penalty. Instead, Gov. Schwarzenegger is pushing through cuts in home care workers’ wages and their disabled clients’ hours.

Similarly, Illinois officials seem ready to penalize disabled home care users for the state’s budget crisis. The governor has vetoed the legislature’s budget, and unless the legislature override that veto or comes up with a new budget by Wednesday, money for attendants’ wages may disappear.

This certainly isn’t the first time in history that disabled people have been considered expendable. However, my sisters and brothers in California and Illinois aren’t going down without a fight. Some are staging angry protests. Others are just telling their stories, forcing the public to confront the consequences of political and economic injustice.

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Some Progress, but Wrong Priority

I just read this —

As a cultural worker, I’m excited to see the White House promoting accessibility to the arts. But I wish they’d get real, and give this high a profile to the issue of community-based long-term services and supports! If you are stuck in a nursing home, or don’t have help to get out of bed in the morning, it’s awfully hard to paint a picture or attend a symphony concert.

Maybe we need to start a movement of Disabled Artists for Community Choice! Would the administration start listening then?