Amidst falling snow and lunch-break traffic, more than 30 people came together and rallied in support of people who live with disabilities last Wednesday.
"What do we want? Community services. And when do we want them? Now!" they chanted in front of the Kenai Arby's on the corner of the Kenai Spur Highway and Main Street at noon that day.
As members of the Key Coalition, these central Kenai Peninsula community members and local agencies united for the cause while simultaneously across the state others had their own rallies in their respective communities, even at the state Legislature in Juneau.
"We just want the public to be aware of what we do so we try to do it all across the state at the same time," said Dennis Haas, the vice-president of the statewide chapter of the Key Coalition and president of the local chapter.
Haas was in Juneau at the rally there, to coincide with a lobbying visit to the capitol that has become an annual tradition for the Key Coalition.
He explained that 23 years ago during Gov. Bill Sheffield's administration the coalition took its first trip to Juneau because public service funding had been cut that provided disability services to Alaskans.
"Over the years we've been pretty successful in making a change for families," Haas said. The Key Coalition was instrumental in convincing the state to shut down the Harborview Developmental Center in Valdez, the state's only institution for people with developmental disabilities. Haas said that the coalition proved that it is cheaper for the state to care for disabled people in their communities than in institutions.
"We're one of the only states that's institution-free," he said.
The Key Coalition's main focus now is eliminating the wait-lists - and waiting times - for people who qualify as developmentally disabled to receive services.
Members of the Key Coalition at the Kenai rally held signs that read "No wait-lists for babies" and "Reduce the wait-lists."
According to data from the state of Alaska, as of last June 30 there were 972 developmentally disabled individuals on the waiting list -- 197 of those people from the Southcentral region, which includes the central Peninsula area. The average wait time for people on the list is 50 months.
"It's a really cumbersome system," said Holly Scott, the director of community support in Kenai for Hope Community Resources, a non-profit dedicated to people with disabilities. "They sit on a wait-list and there's no funding for them."
The are several types of services that people with disabilities wait to receive, like care-taking support for families and children's services.
Scott said that families can be torn apart by not getting the service support they need for a disabled member.
"Oftentimes families don't even know there's a process to become DD (developmentally disabled) eligible to receive services," she said.
"We want to make the community aware that there are still challenges for people who experience disabilities," Scott said, adding that there are still places that are not accessible to them, there are limited choices for them and there are no services to support them.
Scott said she was in Juneau along with Haas to meet with legislators and discuss issues like autism insurance reform, a community support initiative and to support a Senate bill that establishes a rate review process for community programs.
Lynnette Haas, a Key Coalition member, care coordinator for Hope Community Resources and Dennis' wife, was at the Kenai rally alongside representatives from other disability agencies like the infant learning program and Access Alaska waving and shouting to passersby to promote awareness.
"As long as there's just one person on that wait-list we're going to do this every year," she said.
Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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