(PUBLIC NEWS SERVICE) – An effort born out of the pandemic to help members of Ohio’s disability community is evolving into something much bigger.
Maria Matzik, education and advocacy specialist at the Access Center for Independent Living and host of the Breaking Silences Advocacy Committee, which started as a peer group offering a safe place for those struggling with the impact of the pandemic, explained they shared their challenges due to the lack of emergency preparedness for individuals with disabilities and formed an advocacy committee.
They are working to ensure people with disabilities can share their voice, their experiences and their recommendations when policies are being crafted on their behalf.
“To have a discussion and make decisions without us first of all is an insult,” Matzik stressed. “And second of all, you could be wasting a lot of time, a lot of money by putting things in place that may in fact not work.”
What Ohio residents with disabilities are saying
Along with several other advocacy organizations, the committee helped conduct an unmet needs survey in early 2021. A majority of respondents with disabilities expressed fear for their lives. For some, it was attributed to being high risk and disruptions in in-home caregivers. Roughly 70% said their ability to find necessary caregivers was affected by the pandemic.
Matzik explained the committee is focusing on the need for direct care support professionals, and speaking with lawmakers about how raising the minimum-wage floor for direct care workers to a livable wage could help better support the workforce.
“It’s kind of a backdoor to saying, ‘Folks need raises,’ because raises aren’t a long-term solution,” Matzik pointed out. “But if you raise the minimum-wage floor, then that, in fact, will raise their wages and hopefully bring them to a comfortable wage that hospital and facilities are offering.”
How the committee is hoping to help Ohio residents with disabilities
Other focuses for the committee include ensuring compliance with accommodations as mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act and removing red tape creating barriers to securing food, shelter, health care and other basic needs. And Matzik encouraged Ohioans to get involved in advocacy efforts for the disability community.
“Everybody is going to face disability at some point in their life,” Matzik noted. “The things that we do for our community affects everyone, with a disability or without. It will help them now, it will help them in the future.”
One in four Ohio adults has some sort of functional disability; roughly 2.3 million people.
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