My Turn: Preserve funds for independent living centers

Posted: Thursday, April 10, 2003

Gov. Murkowski's proposed budget cuts target centers for independent living (CIL) around the state, now slated for $619,000 in cuts. CILs serve people with disabilities and empower these individuals to achieve job skills training, independence from restrictive institutions, as well as civil rights advocacy, peer support and recreation. This translates into giving people with disabilities equal opportunities in all facets of our society and work places.

People with disabilities want and need the same things the majority of us take for granted. They want to live with their families, go to local schools, work at major jobs where they can use their qualifications, start their own families, be in full control of their lives and make their own choices. We have all seen what people with disabilities can accomplish when given reasonable accommodations.

To impose such tremendous cuts to CILs severely limits the services CILs are able to provide to people with disabilities. CILs help give disability possibilities. These budget cuts unfairly discriminate against the population of people experiencing disabilities. This seems unfair and unreasonable, as well as morally questionable for our community to allow this to happen to our family, friends and neighbors.

Given current funding for FY 2002, CILs were able to serve 1,805 Alaskans with significant disabilities to receive independent living services, 1,185 people received accessible and affordable transportation, 142 received ramps or other housing modifications, 61 received vocational services, 106 received some type of financial assistance, 43 Alaskans were transitioned from nursing homes, 123 were diverted from costly institutional care. There were 4,200 information and referral requests from communities statewide.

The proposed elimination of $619,000 of state general funding would reduce the state's commitment to independent living services to $32,000. CILs in Kotzebue, Ketchikan, Wasilla, Seward and Kenai would be forced to close. An estimated 700 fewer Alaskans with significant disabilities would receive independent living services; $162,000 less would be spent on direct goods and services requested by consumers; 17 fewer Alaskans would be transitioned from nursing homes, costing the state an estimated $1,530,000 a year; 49 more Alaskans would be forced into costly institutional care, costing the state $4,428,000 a year.

If the state in concerned about the budget, it doesn't make any sense to cut CIL funding. CILs are already saving the state millions annually; $619,000 seems like a reasonable price to pay.

These tremendous cuts in funding will fracture and harm the capacity of CILs to allow people with disabilities to achieve equality within this society. Such severe budget cuts targeting CILs, which Murkowski says are "nice but not necessary," pulls the rug out from under our feet, and consequently severely limits possibilities and opportunities for individuals with disabilities to reach their full potential.

The preamble to the federal 1992 Rehabilitation Act says: "A 'disability' is a natural part of the human experience and in no way diminishes the right of individuals to live independently, enjoy self-determination, make choices, contribute to society, pursue meaningful careers and enjoy full inclusion and integration of the economic, political, social, cultural, and educational mainstream of American Society.

"The goals of the nation properly include the goal of providing individuals with disabilities with the tools necessary to: (1) make informed choices and decisions; and (2) achieve equality of opportunity, full inclusion to integration in society, employment, independent living, and economic and social self-sufficiency."

Together we can give disability the possibilities that people deserve in a country like America, and in this great state of Alaska. Through reasonable accommodations, the opportunities that most of us take for granted can become a reality for people with disabilities. Let your legislators know you think these budget cuts are wrong. Write letters, e-mails, make phone calls, tell your friends. Let's take pride in our community's well-being. Help give disability the possibility it deserves to succeed in Alaska.

Tom Lee works with the community of Juneau experiencing disabilities at (SAIL) Southeast Alaska Independent Living/(ORCA) Outdoor Recreation Community Access.

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