Archive for Sunday, August 5, 2007

Self-advocacy group provides opportunities to be active

August 5, 2007


Representing Self Advocates of Lawrence, Kathy Lobb wrote a letter to the Lawrence City Commission, explaining how a reduction in the hours of operation for the city bus system would seriously affect the lives of people with disabilities who depend on it.

The City Commission this summer has been considering reducing bus service for budgetary reasons.

Although she had to leave before speaking, the commissioners read her letter.

Lobb's advocacy is an example of one of the main purposes of SAL, an organization open to adults with self-described developmental disabilities, and their support staff. Formed in the 1980s, SAL is one of the oldest of 23 such groups in the state that make up the Self Advocate Coalition of Kansas, or SACK.

Originally called Friends, the organization provided an opportunity for social interaction for its members. Members and sponsors then added education and advocacy to their focus.

SAL members lead the meetings with the support of their advisers and staff, Andrea McMurray and Bonnie Morris, under the auspices of The Arc of Douglas County. About 25 members meet at 5:30 p.m. the second Tuesday of every month at United Way, 2518 Ridge Court.

McMurray and others also provide transportation to and from the polls on election days.

The group's advocacy works on many levels. They encourage each other to exercise their right to hire and fire personal staff when necessary. They also add their voice to national advocacy efforts in Washington, D.C. Lobb, other SAL members and Barb Bishop, director of The Arc, were among the primary drivers for the establishment of paratransit and the fixed route bus system in Lawrence.

The group's focus now is on the upcoming SACK conference Oct. 20 and 21 in Wichita. Conference sessions will cover issues such as personal safety, legislative advocacy and employment and housing rights.

However, the conference is not all work. At the June meeting, when a new member asked if the conference is fun, she was met with a resounding, "Yes!" by the members who attended last year.

"Between classes we rock!" Morris said.

SAL members will host fundraisers to help members who cannot afford the $100 hotel bill for the conference.

The youngest member of SAL is 25, but people as young as 18 are invited to join. Members range from young adults to senior citizens. In the past, SAL members have enjoyed entertainment, such as special events at the Lied Center, and have volunteered for fundraising events, such as The Arc's Pancake Feed.

Three members of SAL work in the SACK office, which is in Lawrence at the United Way Center.

Lobb has been a National Self Advocate of the year. Another member, Lisa Barcus, signs the paychecks of SACK employees and Hal Schultz is the SACK group coordinator. Most members work at Cottonwood Inc.

Robin Herzog said SAL has made a huge difference in the quality of her life. She has made new friends and is looking forward to the conference in October. Cathy Brown also enjoys the meetings, which offer her a welcoming place to socialize. Brown plans on joining the fundraising committee.

SAL members say they are aware of and care about government policies that directly affect their lives.

Interhab, a resource network for people with disabilities, provides relevant information to SACK and SAL and encourages them to make their voices heard.

This last "Push Day," the day the Kansas Legislature began its budget planning, saw members of SACK present legislators with a paper carpet full of signatures on a petition to increase pay for support staff and to reduce the waiting list for services.

"I joined because I want my voice heard. I want control over my life," said Cole Brown, a SAL member.

For more information about SAL, call McMurray at 749-0121.

- Denise Gossage is a fellow of the Citizen Journalism Academy sponsored by The World Company and Kansas University's School of Journalism.


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