The governor’s advisory committee to the Oklahoma Office of Disability Concerns met Tuesday hours after Gov. Kevin Stitt appointed Justin Brown as the new head of the Department of Human Services. Committee members reviewed the 2019 legislative session, discussed challenges facing disabled Oklahomans and celebrated increased appropriations — with cake.
The ODC is an outreach office designed as a resource for Oklahomans with disabilities. The agency and its staff help people find jobs and job training, advocate on behalf of disabled persons and conduct trainings for police officers and other professionals to better handle situations with disabled persons.
Amid a string of high-profile negative interactions between Oklahoma law enforcement and disabled citizens, ODC director Doug MacMillan said his office has trained every police officer in OKC on how to handle suspects who may have asthma, Parkinson’s disease or other conditions that prevent them from fully complying. In this way and others, the office strives to be an advocate for vulnerable citizens across the state.
“We don’t jump on tables and sing kumbaya,” MacMillan said. “We’re here to make sure Chuck can go to a movie.”
The office operates on a case-by-case basis in addition to their outreach, helping disabled Oklahomans with everything from job training to spurring district attorneys to address lax handicapped accessibility at the local level. In Fiscal Year 2019, the office resolved 96 percent of its cases,” MacMillan said.
Office looks forward
Robust discussions about future goals and outreach programs made up much of Tuesday’s meeting.
MacMillan floated an idea for an accessibility assessment checklist for Oklahoma towns that would sample places across the state and check how accessible various institutions are, such as town halls, post offices, municipal parks and on-street parking.
MacMillan said the idea would be to keep town names anonymous and use the data to create recommendations for the governor.
Additionally, the group discussed the possibility of creating an annual report on the of state disability rights in Oklahoma in 2020. Such a report would include facts, figures, trends and results of any studies the office undertakes.
Another priority of the office is encouraging and providing resources for disabled Oklahomans to rejoin the workforce. William Ginn with the client assistance program at the ODC spoke with NonDoc after the meeting.
“People with disabilities think, ‘OK, I’m on Social Security, and I don’t want to get off Social Security, and I don’t want all my government benefits to be affected,'” Ginn said. “But it’s possible to work at least part time and not have severe effects on your disability housing, daycare, whatever you’re getting.”
Ginn added that there are work incentives for people with disabilities that limit the cost of working. The Department of Rehabilitation Services has benefits coordinators who advise disabled Oklahomans about how working would affect their benefits.
Speaking on why it’s important for disabled people to work, Ginn said the topic is important “because of how much we get out of work in addition to just the money. A lot of people with disabilities could work, and they would find a tremendous amount of satisfaction.”
Earlier in the meeting Ginn said he was working on a short video designed to inform disabled Oklahomans of the types of job and job-training resources available to them.
‘We’re going to have to see’ on new DHS director
MacMillan also remarked on new Oklahoma DHS director Justin Brown’s impending move from the public to private sector and the new guidelines and rules Brown will face.
Stitt hires assisted living CEO as Oklahoma DHS director by Tres Savage
“My opinion is we’re going to have to see. There are lots of rules at DHS. There must be at least 50 rules to do one thing,” MacMillan said.
Lisa Holley with Sunshine Solutions, an organization that helps adults with disabilities, said she was optimistic about Stitt’s new DHS pick.
“I hear very good things about the new director, and his chief of staff is very disability knowledgeable,” Holley said. “That gives me hope that he really will do great things for the Department of Human Services and people with disabilities.”
Holley and others said Brown’s chief of staff will be Samantha Galloway, a health care advocate and lobbyist.
The next quarterly ODC meeting is scheduled to take place on Sept. 10.