#AdvocacyMatters: In Their Own Voices

June 11, 2021 / #AdvocacyMatters

This week, the Ohio Senate added an amendment to the state budget with undue and retaliatory oversight of the state’s Protection and Advocacy (P&A) organization that could have a chilling effect on DRO’s ability to protect the rights of Ohioans with disabilities. The amendment was proposed after a group of parents took issue with DRO’s work in Intermediate Care Facilities (ICFS)—institutions where individuals with developmental disabilities receive long-term care. DRO’s outreach to individuals in these facilities focused on providing information about people’s rights when it comes to where they live and receive services.

A 14-year-old advocate with a disability, Erin Fearn, spoke out on the importance of DRO’s advocacy work in public testimony and to the media. Erin’s Senator, Senator Romanchuk—who is seeking the additional oversight—responded with “The individuals that are living in ICFs, are not as high functioning as Miss [Erin] Fearn was, so it’s a different person that we’re talking about here.”

DRO Board Member & constituent of Senate President Huffman, Tia Braun, expressed frustration at Senator Romanchuk’s amendment and statement, especially the implication that some individuals with disabilities are less worthy of making independent choices to lead full lives. As a child, her doctors told her she’d never live past 8 years old or live on her own, and she’d often be labeled as low functioning because she cannot read or write. Despite this label, Tia got her high school diploma, lives & drives on her own, has worked in both a sheltered workshop and in her community, and regularly advocates for the rights of people with disabilities.

“I just wish they [legislators] would put themselves in our shoes,” Tia explained, “They are taking away individuals’ freedoms and rights. How would they like to have to live in an institution?” Tia has sat on several Boards of Directors, including Disability Rights Ohio’s and several organizations in the developmental disability community, all while empowering other individuals with disabilities to chase their dreams. “Some of us want to do more—we just need some help.” While her life was not without challenges, Tia’s personhood is much more than that. “Everyone struggles with different things,” she said, “but that doesn’t mean we can’t choose how to live our lives.”

Essie Pederson is an experienced advocacy professional, friend of Tia, and younger sister to her brother with Down Syndrome. She says this amendment and the attitudes behind it could have long-term negative impacts in the state. “The close-minded beliefs that they’re talking about discounts the work that has been done, not just professionally, but also from families and individuals who made this systemic progress.” Essie has worked most her life to open up opportunities in the community for individuals who want it, and she implores legislators to consider the implications of the amendment on the rights of people with disabilities across the state. “I believe in the P&As, I do,” says Essie, “DRO is just letting people know about their rights and the different options they have in life.”

Just like Tia, Erin, and Essie, DRO advocates for a society where people with disabilities are full and equal members. No matter what, we’ll continue uplifting and empowering individuals with disabilities, fighting under their direction to ensure that they can live, learn, work and play wherever & however they choose. DRO sincerely thanks Tia, Erin, Essie, and all others for the crucial work they’ve done to ensure everyone’s #AdvocacyMatters.

You can join the fight against this amendment by using this link, urging your legislators to remove the amendment from the budget bill: http://bit.ly/DRO_ACT.

Tia Braun grew up in Botkins, Ohio and moved to Anna, Ohio in 2015. She really enjoys her part-time job at Buckeye Electrical Products working on wiring harnesses for a variety of manufacturers. Before joining Buckeye Electrical, she worked at We Can Work Too for nearly five years. In addition, Tia sat on the Board of Directors for the state and county chapters of People First of Ohio. She currently sits on the Board of Directors for Disability Rights Ohio and sits on an advisory group for Capabilities, an organization which provides flexible and personalized rehabilitation services for people with disabilities. In her role as an advisory group member, Tia helps solve problems that any individual may encounter starting at Capabilities' community-based day services. In her free time, Tia loves fishing, camping, making & enjoying artwork of all kinds, playing cards, bowling, and hanging out with family and friends.

Essie Pederson has advocated in a variety of roles professionally since 1973. She’s been the Director of many innovative state and national initiates and educational programs like Ohio Partners in Policymaking, Principal Investigator on aging and DD, and Consultant on people with disabilities serving on boards and committees. She is currently working on the Self Advocates Becoming Empowered (SABE) GoVoter Project by collaborating with P&As and self advocates to support and educate people with DD about their voting rights and responsibilities. Ms. Pederson is also a founding member of the Ohio SIBS and the National Sibling Leadership Network, always working to support self-advocate led initiatives. In addition, she also works with numerous state and national organizations, including many P&As, UCEDDs, and Developmental Disability Councils. She attributes her best education being provided by her older brother who happens to have Down Syndrome.

Make a Donation

Please give. To the best of your ability.