RICHLAND — Teresa Payne smiled as someone handed her the bullhorn that would carry her voice to the dozens of people huddled around each other in John Dam Plaza in Richland on Thursday.
It was her idea to bring together the group of people with disabilities, their families and their advocates for a candlelight vigil to tell the Tri-Cities community what is going to happen to them when the state cuts money for services that help them find jobs, pay for medications or stay out of institutions.
Payne raised the bullhorn to her lips as daylight waned in the plaza.
"This is awesome," she said. "We're making a stand."
Payne is a client of The Arc of Tri-Cities who is legally blind and has a cognitive disability. She also is an example of how someone with a developmental disability can be just like anyone else with support. She volunteers as an advocate, worked for Columbia Industries for a number of years, and is in the process of buying her own home.
And that's what the stand taken by Payne and others was about on Thursday -- not just for essential services they need to live, such as access to affordable prescription drugs, but for the right to live with dignity and to be productive members of the community.
Sharon Adolphsen, coordinator for the Benton Franklin Parent Coalition, said state budget cuts proposed Wednesday by Gov. Chris Gregoire could put families at risk and would mean people with developmental disabilities end up in costly institutions when their parents lose resources they need to care for their adult children.
Adolphsen used herself as an example -- she gets paid using Medicaid funds to act as a trained caregiver for her 25-year-old developmentally disabled daughter, who cannot care for herself.
But one of the cuts Gregoire has proposed is a reduction to the number of in-home care hours people with disabilities can receive. For Adolphsen, that means a reduction in her income and the loss of her medical insurance if her paid hours drop below a certain threshold.
The income is crucial for Adolphsen's family because her daughter's disability prevents her from working outside the home.
Other families can use the Medicaid money to bring in a caregiver so that they can hold jobs, and reductions in hours could mean those families no longer are able to work, she said.
"These are not optional services," Adolphsen said. "These are essential services for life."
Kay Hamilton, director of program operations for Columbia Industries, is concerned about cuts to funding for programs that put people with developmental disabilities to work.
Columbia Industries employs 76 people and helps another 60 to 80 people with job placement, she said.
And having jobs gives them a sense of pride, productivity and self-worth -- something every individual should have a right to feel, Hamilton said.
"People are at risk of losing their essential rights and services," she said.
Sen. Jerome Delvin, R-Richland, said he planned to take the message to Olympia that people with developmental disabilities should be supported.
"These are some of our most vulnerable," he said.
But it could be months before anyone knows whether legislators have gotten the message. Although Gregoire proposed a budget, each house of the Legislature will propose its own budget, then negotiate a final budget to be adopted for the state -- and anything could change between now and then.
"The process starts January in Olympia," Delvin said. "We'll have to see the approach the majority takes and see where it goes from there."
* Michelle Dupler: 509-582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org