Developmental Disabilities council holds roundtable discussion

ALBANY, Ga. -- With the recent closing of a Cordele health care center that serves families and individuals with disabilities fresh in the public's mind, the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) held a regional roundtable discussion to share ideas and discuss critical issues impacting the quality of life for persons and families living with disabilities.

Wednesday's roundtable discussion and Thursday's public forum were part of the independent state agency's quarterly meeting throughout Georgia to collaborate with citizens, public and private advocacy organization and policy makers to positively influence public policies that enhance the quality of life for persons with developmental disabilities and their families.

"We want to make sure that people get information that they need and become better advocates for themselves and their families," said Eric Jacobson, executive director for GCDD, Wednesday afternoon at the roundtable discussion in Cordele.

Tom Seegmueller, chairperson for GCDD, said a regional public forum is important because it allows the council the chance to hear what programs and services are needed within the disability community.

"What it does for us is it exposes us as a whole to what challenges the state is facing -- to hear from the community what is working and what is not working," he said.

Jacobson said the information gathered from citizens at the public forum will assist the council in advocating for policy changes in the state legislature.

"We (the council) believe our role is to act as a systems change and do that through a lot of policy work. We promote the development of communities so that they become productive for themselves. We do not provide any direct service. We work to change or create policies to create a better place for individuals and families living with disabilities," he said.

According to GCDD officials, the agency funds numerous advocacy and public information programs and activities to empower Georgia families living with disabilities.

Programs like Unlock the Waiting Lists! is an advocate-led movement to reduce and eliminate waiting lists for home- and community-based services for thousands of people with disabilities and their families.

"Currently, there is not enough money to provide community- or home-based services to these individuals," Jacobson said. "There are 6,000 people waiting for services currently. What happens to those individuals and those families who don't have access to these services?"

One of the GCDD pilot programs is Real Communities, in which the council works with communities to provide services to everyone in the community -- not only those with disabilities.

"Rather than create a separate program for people with disabilities, we try to bring the community together by connecting with formal and informal leaders and exploring what issues the entire community is facing," said Jacobson.

Seegmueller said the council is finding that the concept of "one-for-all" is working within a lot of the communities that have adopted the program.

"It's not people on a white horse coming in and saving communities," he said. "The community is working to save itself, and it doesn't focus on the negative -- what I think is the strength of this program. When people come together and realize the same needs and the same goals, the differences fall away and there is now a common ground."

The roundtable discussion also included information about the agency's Partnership for Success and Project Search programs and issues that the Crisp, Dooly and Dougherty county areas are facing.