Tuesday, January 12, 2010
They Came, They Talked - Did Anyone Listen?
Hundreds of people showed up, some as early as 4am on a morning where the temperature was only 13 degrees. At 8am, they started getting the numbers that would indicate the order in which they could share their stories. By noon, the start time of the hearing, even the term standing room only couldn’t describe the crowd.
Monday, January 11th, was the day that the Virginia General Assembly said they would listen to the concerns of those opposed to balancing the state’s budget by cutting services to people with disabilities. The hearing started promptly at noon, and based on the number of people scheduled to give three minute testimonies, the hearing was going to last well into the night. I got number 168, and just by doing the math, that meant around 8pm.
There were parents – and caregivers – and service providers – and doctors – and teachers – and preachers. Brothers, sisters, parents, and friends. There were people with disabilities – people in wheelchairs, people with braces supporting their bodies, people with white canes, and people who could only get three sentences out in their allotted three minute speaking time. All shared the same message – please do not make the lives of people whose lives are already difficult any worse.
They begged to keep respite hours. They cried as they talked of their family members who were aggressive. They voices became a whisper of worry when talking about what would happen to their most fragile of loves. They were defiant and proud and it was obvious that they were also uncomfortable having to beg to keep their lives afloat.
Did it make a difference? We won’t know for a couple of months, but given the dire straits of the budget situation, I don’t have much hope. I do hope that the assembly members listened and really heard the stories today. If a difference can’t be made immediately, maybe it can be made in the future.
And to a person, the most important statement everyone shared was – we do not need another institution….please divert those funds to the community supports that will keep people with disabilities with their friends and their families.
Please keep Virginia, its people with disabilities, their friends and families, and the General Assembly members who hold fate in their hands in your prayers.