Disability 101: Amendment 51 is needed
October 26, 2008
I’m voting yes on Amendment 51. It’s a no-brainer for me, but I know there are many out there who disagree. What it really boils down to is this: Do you believe it is our government’s responsibility to help those in need who cannot help themselves? Is this a basic human right, and is our government responsible for basic human rights?
Amendment 51 addresses the problem that there are 12,000 Colorado residents with development disabilities, both adults and children, who are on waiting lists to get services. These are individuals who may need 24-hour residential care and nursing services, who may need a safe place to live, who may need help with independent living skills, or who may need help with vocational training.
The state of Colorado contracts with 20 community-centered boards throughout the state to provide needed services. However, the boards don’t receive enough funding to cover the demand. Hence the waiting lists, which can sometimes take 10 or 15 years to get through.
This amendment would increase the state sales taxes two cents on every $10 purchase (excluding groceries, prescription medicine and gas). It is anticipated that the revenue generated would allow all 12,000 people with developmental disabilities who are currently on waiting lists to receive services.
Why is voting yes on Amendment 51 a no-brainer for me? Because when I was working as a special-education teacher, my students had developmental disabilities and I got to know their families.
I spent a lot of time with the family of “Mark” and “Kelly,” who are brother and sister. They both were born with developmental and physical disabilities. Their disabilities are genetic, but the doctors don’t have a label to assign to their condition. They are adults now, but Mark functions at the level of a 7-year-old and Kelly functions at the level of a 5-year-old. They both use wheelchairs. They both have medical problems. They both will need supervision and care their entire lives.
Mark and Kelly’s mom is exhausted. She can’t work because she has to stay home to take care of them. No day care is available in their Colorado community, so mom handles it all. Dad’s paycheck doesn’t even begin to cover everything his adult children need.
In addition to the physical exhaustion mom experiences from being the only care provider, she continually worries about how they will obtain the health care, therapeutic care and equipment Mark and Kelly need and how she and dad will deal with their almost continual state of financial crisis.
Mom has become an expert at accessing services and government programs. But it’s not enough. Mark and Kelly are on a waiting list.
I was at mom’s side when she broke down with gut-wrenching sobs, wondering what will happen to Mark and Kelly when she and dad die. Parents generally die before their children. What if it happens before Mark and Kelly get off the waiting list?
For those of you who are planning to vote no on Amendment 51, perhaps because you think our government has become too big, because you think our government is wasteful, or because you think our government needs to solve the illegal-immigrant problem first, I would ask you this question: Do you know someone with a developmental disability? Do you know the challenges their family faces?
If you do, chances are you know that the challenges are too great for one family to bear. So, in the end, you must decide if you think it is our government’s responsibility to help those who cannot help themselves.