April 2023 in Review

“It is hard to believe that I officially earned the title of Ms. Wheelchair Ohio 2023 just over two months ago. My life has been enhanced in ways that I never imagined it would be. In all honesty, I am late writing the April review blog because I have been so busy, but I could not be more grateful for the fact that I have had so much to do.

I had the opportunity to speak to two different classes in the Career X program at Greene County Career Center. Career X is a program that helps young people with developmental disabilities explore job opportunities that they are interested in. Students in both classes were very excited to meet me and seemed surprised that I would take the time to talk to them. The students’ reactions were both heartwarming and humbling. I loved seeing the way so many eyes lit up when my books were passed around for students to look at. Reactions like that motivate me to keep writing and creating inclusive adventures. In addition to speaking about inclusive literature, I shared some of the challenges I experienced growing up with the students and spoke to them about the importance of self-advocacy. [Watch Allison share her story and answer follow-up questions here: https://www.facebook.com/100090921376991/videos/141305938839316]

The students had many questions after I spoke. For example, some students in wheelchairs who have made the decision to pursue college instead of getting a job after high school had questions about finding and managing Personal Care Assistants while in college. I did my best to give honest answers that would not discourage them while simultaneously not sugarcoating my responses. When my presentations were over, I wasn’t sure how much I had gotten through to the students.  I am happy to say that since my presentations some students have sought permission from their teachers to friend me on social media. I am very excited about this because aside from getting the word out about my books and inclusive literature, the reason that I wanted to be Ms. Wheelchair Ohio is to be the mentor that I did not have growing up. I want youth with disabilities to know that it is okay to have a disability and that they can live their lives to the fullest with their disabilities.

I delivered a very similar message to some students in the special education program at Xenia School a few days after I spoke at Greene County Career Center. Many of the students were surprised to hear that my husband and I have been married for six and a half years and live independently. I love the fact that simply by living my life and sharing my story I can be an example to future generations of advocates with disabilities. Staff at Xenia High School repeatedly told me how inspiring I was after I spoke to the students. Again, I find this very humbling because I am just trying to be the best version of myself that I can be on a daily basis and serve as a positive example of disability. I appreciate that my story is able to move so many people and will always be grateful for how many people the Ms. Wheelchair Ohio title has allowed me to share my story and connect with 

One entity I have been able to connect with recently is the Ohio Statewide Independent Living Council. I was invited to join the council’s Education and Outreach Committee which I am completely jazzed to do. The committee is currently focusing on brainstorming ways to spread awareness of Centers for Independent Living to rural communities in Ohio. Fortunately, as a disability resource expo co-coordinator, outreach to rural communities is something I have experience with. I am really excited to bring my experience and knowledge to the Ohio SILC Education and Outreach Committee.

I also attended two meetings of the Breaking Silences Advocacy Committee in April. During the first, we discussed the Medicaid Buy-In for Workers with Disabilities. Currently, workers with disabilities ages 16-64 are eligible for the buy-in. Advocacy efforts to remove that age limit were specifically discussed. Removing the age limit would make life a great deal easier for older individuals with disabilities who receive retirement but still need to work because they do not have enough money to live with a disability. If you feel strongly about this issue,  please tell legislators to support the Senior Care Act. [Watch Alison’s testimony to legislators here: https://www.facebook.com/100090921376991/videos/14130593883931]

We also discussed income limits and how to calculate the Medicaid Buy-In premiums that people may or may not have to start paying once the public emergency is declared over. The Medicaid Buy-In for Workers with Disabilities is still one of the best-kept secrets. A great deal of advocacy still needs to be done regarding increasing awareness and utilization of the buy-in, but I am hopeful that things will continue to improve.

During the second meeting, we discussed a new care provider and individual platform being offered to individuals with disabilities who receive care support via the Ohio Department of Medicaid Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) called PCG Match. The platform was developed with the goal of addressing the growing gap between the individuals who need HCBS and the number of providers available to meet that need. Jennifer Wilkens, Senior Operations Manager with PCG, was the guest speaker at the meeting. She did a wonderful job of answering questions the committee had regarding the platform. While some initial kinks need to be worked out, I am also hopeful that the PCG Match platform will allow individuals with disabilities to live independently in beautiful communities throughout Ohio.

In addition to appearances, I also improved my fundraising efforts in April. On a few different occasions, I wore my crown and sash and went around to local businesses asking for monetary and/or in-kind donations. I’ve received a number of in-kind kind donations in the form of gift cards. I put some of those gift cards into baskets that were included in a basket raffle fundraiser I held at Rahn Salon and Day Spa at the end of the month. A friend of my sister-in-law’s works at the salon and was kind enough to ask the owner if they could open it on a Sunday to hold a fundraiser specifically for me and my Ms. Wheelchair Ohio Advocacy work. I am grateful for their generosity and support of my cause. I am pleased to say that the basket raffles went well and that $400 was raised.

I am also happy to report that throughout the month of April, I continued my next inclusive adventure which features a unicorn in a wheelchair. Look to my May blog for further updates on that as well as to read all about additional appearances I have coming up. Thank you all for your encouragement and support.”