A few months ago, I joined the Board of Directors of the Autism Society of South Central Wisconsin (ASSCW). With my advocacy experience, I was quickly drafted to join an advocacy team that includes members from all 3 Autism Society organizations in Wisconsin, including the Autism Society of Wisconsin and the Autism Society of Southeastern Wisconsin. While we are working on many issues, one of the most critical advocacy issues for adults with autism as well as other people with disabilities and the elderly with long-term care needs, is Gov. Walker’s budget proposal to eliminate IRIS, Wisconsin’s self-directed, community- based, long-term care program for adults with disabilities & older adults with long-term care needs. People using IRIS have the flexibility to self-direct their plan of care within an authorized budget based upon their individual needs and desired outcomes. IRIS participants choose and direct the services and supports that make it possible for them to live, work, and participate in their communities- allowing more people to stay in their homes and avoid costly nursing homes and other institutions.
IRIS stands for, “Include, Respect, I Self-Direct,” so it makes sense that the Governor’s drastic budget cut inspired the creation of the Save IRIS organization which has helped to organize the fight to keep this incredibly successful program in place for the 12,000 people who use it to self-direct their long-term care.
Since the Wisconsin legislature is controlled by the Republican party right now, the 16 member Joint Finance Committee (JFC) includes 12 Republicans, who hold the key votes that will deterine whether or not IRIS will be saved or eliminated. So, yesterday afternoon, I organized a trio of advocates, including myself, a former special education teacher and former ASSCW board member, Char Brandl, and Abby Tessman, an IRIS participant to meet with staff for all 12 Republican JFC members.
As our marathon afternoon of legislative meetings evolved, it became clear to me how critical it was that Abby Tessmann, our IRIS participant team member, joined us. After all, the whole point of IRIS is that participants get to control their own lives. By clearly explaining to all 12 Republican JFC member offices, why IRIS was essential to her living as independently as possible, she evoked consistent responses from legislative staff that the Governor’s proposal to eliminate IRIS had caused their bosses serious concerns. Abby handed staff from each office her business card, indicating that she is an Advocacy Mentor. Abby is pictured on the right along with other great self-advocates involved in the Save IRIS campaign.
By the time we finished our marathon session of 12 meetings, we felt confident that the Governor’s proposal is unlikely to pass. It remains unclear exactly what the legislature will do, however, so people with disabilities, their allies, families and friends, should continue to advocate for IRIS, the empowering program: Include, Respect, I Self-Direct. After all, isn’t that what all of us want?_________________________________________________________________
For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact him by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.