From the LifeMyWay blog…
Advocates triumph at “It’s My LIFE Rally”
By Jen Knapp, LifeMyWay Contributor and Lead Organizer of The Alliance
More than 300 self-advocates gathered in Bloomington, Illinois for the “It’s My LIFE” rally on August 31!
Sponsored by the Illinois Self-Advocacy Alliance (“The Alliance”) the event drew self-advocates from all over Illinois who wanted to let the state know they want self-directed supports.
“Self-direction means we are the boss of our lives! We have our own budget based on our needs. We choose the services we get. We have a “support broker” to help us,” said Courtney Buchanan, a self-advocate from Rock Island.
One of the morning’s highlights was a skit comparing self-direction to the current system. Alton residents Scott Zaken and Michelle Spurlock, Lynn Heath of Decatur and Tia Nelis of Chicago acted out scenes from a workshop and group home, and then compared them to scenes from a person’s own job and apartment. The audience made their voices heard, booing the current system in unison and shouting “Yeah” for self-direction.
Music to their ears
Eight self-advocacy groups also shared their talents on the theme of “It’s My LIFE”. Speak Out of Rock Island sang “Change”, while Ray of Hope Self-Advocates sang “I Believe I Can Fly.” Sertoma United spray painted over a discrimination sign. The Monticello Sages shared what I-T-S M-Y L-I-F-E means to them. A group from Beardstown sang about how their names are not Willi (the name of the diagnosis). Advocates for Change sang an original song called “It’s My LIFE”. Changes to Independence Altogether (CIA) read a poem, and DSC Self-Advocates acted out a skit about self-direction. Everyone performed wonderfully!
Rally for Change
Everything came together in the afternoon when Lilia Teninty, Director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities, showed up to hear what the self-advocates had to say. Mary Suggs, a self-advocate from Alton, introduced the 8 foot tall LIFE display.
“This spring, we went to 10 places across Illinois and learned about self-directed supports through an activity where we could buy different services with our money,” she said. “In the afternoon we made squares and shared our stories of what we want for our lives. The squares represent what we want. We put all the squares together to spell the word LIFE because it represents our life!”
Sonia Reyes, a self-advocate from Joliet, then shared with Lilia why self-direction is so important to self-advocates.
“Self-directed supports means that you decide yourself what you want and need. It means that you are in control,” she said. “We want this because it’s our life – I want to be in control of my life. I want to be like my friends and family. They get to be independent and responsible, and I would like to be more independent and be more responsible.”
Each self-advocacy group then demonstrated their support of self-direction. Beth Davis, a self-advocate from Alton, asked Lilia to sign a giant agreement declaring her agreement to help self-advocates in Illinois get Self-Directed Supports.
Their efforts and advocacy were successful – Lilia signed the agreement! Then the whole group went outside to release balloons, signaling the start of the movement for self-direction in Illinois.