JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMIZ)
People from all over the state of all abilities gathered in the Missouri State Capitol rotunda to make their voices heard on the 21st Annual Disability Rights Legislative Day.
Wednesday, March 9, is Disability Rights Legislative Day -- a day where people with disabilities are encouraged to meet with lawmakers, advocate for what's important to them and make their voices heard. After an 11 a.m. rally in the Capitol rotunda, self-advocates dispersed across the building to share their stories with their representatives and senators.
Leigh Anne Haun, Missouri Developmental Disabilities Council project manager, played a large role in organizing the event.
"It's just to make their voice hear; there're no rules, right," Haun said. "Every issue is a human issue. What matters to self-advocates? What do they want to say? So, we've tried to provide a way today for them to have their voice heard."
Wednesday is the last day to register for voting for the upcoming April elections, so the League of Women's Voters and MoABLE set up booths at the Capitol to help people register. Haun said voting can be challenging for people with disabilities.
"There's just all kinds of little barriers around that for the disability community," Haun said.
People with disabilities can have someone come in the voting booth with them to help, but under Missouri law, that helper would not be allowed to assist anyone else.
"Even if you had advocacy organizations that wanted to pick it up and say 'Ok, we'll be there to help whoever needs it,' they can't do that," Haun said. "That's a challenge; it's one to one and then you're done."
There are several bills in motion in the Capitol, such as House Bill 324, that could make voting more accessible to people with disabilities.
Jason Mize is vice president of People First Boone County and a member of the Missouri Protection Advocacy Group. Mize said he's an advocate for all people.
"I think we all should have the right to vote and vote for things that will change people's perspective on people with disabilities," Mize said. "A lot of people don't know that we're out there, but when you come into this building you're not just here to represent your own county and stuff, you're here to be heard and seen for people with disabilities."
Mize encourages people to educate themselves on the issues people with disabilities face every day.
"Take a walk in our shoes and learn about us," Mize said. "Learn how to be friends with us just like a normal person would."
Individualized Education Programs
Education was also a topic of discussion at the rally. People with learning disabilities have to make Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) to help them learn, but the process of creating these plans can be confusing.
"They go into IEP meetings in schools, and there's just a lot of confusion," Haun said. "It's a heavy meeting, you're talking about the supports and maybe things you want to work on with your child."
Rep. Travis Smith (R-Dora) introduced two bills to lessen the barriers people with disabilities and their families face when trying to make special education plans.
"When the MoDE people first came to my office they sat down for about two or three minutes, and after that third minute, I said, 'You've got to stop. I have no idea what you're talking about,'" Smith said. "And they said, 'Mr. Congressman, now you know how parents feel when they are presented with an IEP for the first time.'"
Eliza Salladay, Missouri Disability Education (MoDE) advocate and fourth-grader at Alpha Hart Elementary, spoke at the rally about her personal experience with public education as a student with dyslexia, ADHD and nonverbal learning disability.
"If my parents had not fought for me to have an IEP, I would still be struggling today to read," Salladay said.
After the rally, Eliza Salladay and her mother, Amy Salladay, spent the day meeting with lawmakers from both chambers to advocate for House Bill 2010 and House Bill 2011, which they say will make special education easier for families and schools.
"I might be a teacher, TV reporter or governor someday," Salladay said. "Anything is possible if I learn how to read, write and spell now."