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Candidates debate state disabilities policies


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By Mark Keierleber



Advocating state funding for Hoosiers with special needs, state and federal candidates participated in a Candidates Forum on Disabilities on Tuesday evening at First United Church.

Moderated by WTIU Station Manager Phil Meyer, the debate followed testimonials from four individuals who have been affected by disabilities.

Presentations were also provided by Kim Dodson, assistant executive director of The Arc of Indiana, and Jill Bolte Taylor, IU neuroanatomist and president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Monroe County.

Dodson said the largest problem for those with developmental disabilities in Indiana is the unemployment rate. Of the 14,745 people in Monroe County living with a disability, 5,076 are currently employed, according to U.S. Census statistics.

Tuesday’s debate was sponsored by four local agencies that provide services to residents with disabilities, including Stone Belt Arc, National Alliance on Mental Illness Greater Bloomington Area, Mental Health America of Monroe County and LIFEDesigns, Inc.

During their three-minute arguments, Democratic and Republican candidates said they supported allocating more resources to education and social services associated with developmental disabilities.

“We have a system that is broken and does not work,” Bolte Taylor said.

Bolte Taylor experienced a stroke in 1996. Following her illness, she wrote The New York Times best-selling book “My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey,” which is currently being transformed into a feature film.

Bolte Taylor was honored as one of Time Magazine’s top 100 most influential people in the world in 2008.

“We’re going to spend the money one way or another,” Bolte Taylor said.

People spend an average of eight years, or 11.5 percent of their life span, living with disabilities, according to the World Health Organization.

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that one in four adults experience a mental health disorder in a given year. One in 17 Americans currently lives with a serious mental illness.

In Indiana, 799,586 people, or 12.5 percent of the population, live with a disability, according to U.S. Census statistics.

During his opening comment, Monroe County Commissioner Mark Stoops, who is running for Indiana Senate District 40 as a Democrat, said he supports a Medicare program in Indiana for all Hoosiers.

But his opponent, Reid Dallas, addressed Stoops on several occasions, mentioning that many Monroe County facilities are not in compliance with guidelines set forth by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

During her statement, State Representative for District 60 Peggy Welch said cuts in funding for disabilities programs will only cost the state more in the future.

“If we don’t provide that treatment and invest that money in taking care of folks, we’re going to be taking care of them because they are homeless. Because they are committing crimes, they are going to be in our jails,” Welch said.

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