ADAPT Montana Young leaders

Young leaders with ADAPT Montana - Kelly Sellars, Maddy Halland, Jenny Montgomery, Heath Montgomery and Joe Stone - have their photo taken at the Missoula International Airport. 

The month of May brought turbulence to our community with the passing of our disability rights mentor, leader and friend Bob Liston. By month’s end, jubilance swept in as young leaders with ADAPT Montana met with lawmakers in D.C. to bring aboard more legislators in favor of the Disability Integration Act (DIA).

Bob would happily exercise his choice to spend a couple of nights behind bars in a act of civil disobedience to represent the thousands locked away in institutions without choice. It is this civil protest that has brought social justice for many individuals with disabilities seeking equal access to public transportation, education, employment, housing and everything granted under the U.S. Constitution. Still, what should be granted isn’t always granted when it should be.

A lot of times the choice to live in the community is met with a waiting list for a coveted slot granting community supports and the right to live in the community. Until then, loved ones can be housed in an institution waiting for several years for the community supports to come available. The DIA aims to change that.

With heavy hearts and thoughts of Bob on their minds, our young leaders (Heath Montgomery, Kelly Sellars, Joe Stone, Jenny Montgomery and Maddy Halland) gathered at Missoula International Airport to embark on their journey to Washington, D.C. Adversity struck first as Delta, even with prior notice of the travel party, scheduled a smaller airplane that could not accommodate either power chair. The delay caused our intrepid leaders to arrive in D.C. in the early hours on Sunday morning, and Delta had to deliver the power chairs the next day on a bigger plane. Despite this huge inconvenience, and being completely exhausted, our leaders rented power mnobility and kept their spirits up. A date with the ADAPT Fun*Run and D.C. lawmakers still awaits.

ADAPT Fun*Run is designed to celebrate disability activism, raise funds towards community integration, and bring forth advocates to Washington, D.C., to engage lawmakers. Bob, always heavily involved in the planning and execution of the event, brought with him every year a Montana contingent that charged the Northeast with Big Sky passion and energy. Though this year was different, it marked a special opportunity to carry forth Bob’s legacy and inspire our nation take the next step of securing access to independent living throughout one's life. Our young leaders marched together, chanting, “Our homes, not nursing homes!” Their mission: to acquire more congressional support for DIA.

The Disability Integration Act does just that. It makes sure that anyone who wants to live in the community can do so without the strings attached of having to obtain a community slot for support services and the pending waiting list to overcome. Introduced by Sens. Charles Schumer, D-NY, and Cory Gardner, R-CO, in the Senate and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-WI, in the House, DIA garners bipartisan support and further protect our constitutional civil liberties to live in the community.

“Our homes, not nursing homes!” Our young leaders march on, determined and hopeful to bring aboard Montana lawmakers to support DIA. With strong support from Sen. Jon Tester, D-MT, our young leaders pursued buy-in from Sen. Steve Daines, R-MT, and Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-MT. Although support from Senator Daines is pending, Representative Gianforte was moved by the testimonies shared by our young leaders and agreed to support DIA. An incredible accomplishment!

Thanks to Representative Gianforte and Senator Tester for your support. Thanks to Heath, Kelly, Joe, Jenny and Maddy for your perseverance, advocacy and leadership. We salute you!

As we remember and honor Bob, let’s do so as Americans who value choice and independent living.

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Darren Larson is a disability advocate who lives in Missoula. He can be reached at oped@missoulian.com

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