Chris Schulz Published

Disability Community Advocates At The Capitol

Senators pose with disability advocates after the passage of Senate Resolution 9 on Jan. 18, 2023.
Will Price

Wednesday was Jan Lilly-Stewart Disability Advocacy Day at the West Virginia Capitol, providing an opportunity for the disability community to come together and let their voices be heard.

Paul Smith is the director of the Fair Shake Network, a grassroots organization of West Virginians dedicated to educating the public on issues that affect people with disabilities.

Smith said Wednesday was the culmination of a two day event to empower people with disabilities to advocate for themselves at the West Virginia Legislature, particularly around funding.

“Of course funding, the last three years the governor’s budget has been a flat budget, and we love that things don’t get cut,” he said. “But in reality, with inflation and such, it’s really a cut, especially over a three year period.”

Smith said it’s a constant fight for people with disabilities to make sure their rights don’t get cut or shortened, and it’s important to keep their issues at the forefront of legislators’ minds.

Christy Black is the advocacy specialist at the West Virginia Developmental Disabilities Council.

She said advocacy days are important to give legislators perspective.

“I’m also a parent of a child with developmental disabilities,” Black said. “Unless you live it, it’s sometimes hard to understand the challenges that people face, or things that we need or how some things may affect people with developmental disabilities differently than someone that doesn’t have a disability.”

Both Smith and Black said they will be following House Bill 2505 closely. The bill would introduce the option for West Virginians with developmental disabilities to make their own decisions with help from trusted individuals as an additional option to guardianships.

The Senate approved Resolution 9, designating Jan. 18, 2023 as Jan Lilly-Stewart Disability Advocacy Day.