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Jackson Hosts Disability Megaconference

By Jeffrey Hess | Published 21 Jun 2013 09:40am | comments

Less than 3% of Mississippians who are on social security disability are currently employed. That's something a group of people with disabilities and their advocates want to change. Hundreds are gathering in Jackson for the second annual disability megaconference.

 Disabled people, their families, and advocates from around Mississippi are in Jackson today to focus on some of the major problems facing the disabled community.

 One of the biggest challenges is employment since less than three percent of residents on disability insurance are employed.

 For Serena Lowe, who is with the US Department of Labor, a lack of transportation and a societal trend to institutionalize disabled people is at the heart of the problem.

 "Many times we are counseling individuals and their families that the first thing they need to do is go apply for social security and go apply for Medicaid. And that is not the message we need to be sending. We need to be sending the message of, look you may have some challenges ahead of you but need to have a game plan for what type of career path you want to pursue," Lowe said.

 Scott Crawford is confined to a motorized wheel chair due to severe Multiple Sclerosis.

 He says it would be nearly impossible for him to hold a job because there is no way he can get to and from work and bristles when state leaders say there is not enough money for adequate public transportation.

 "But then I go and look at the infrastructure that we have for automobiles. And we go and widen I-55 and we widen I-20 so that commuters can get to work in their single occupancy vehicles but we won't build pubic transit and we won't build sidewalks," Crawford said.

 Advocates say a major first step would be to declare Mississippi an 'employment first' state and make jobs a first option rather than a last resort.

 Senator Terry Burton of Newton sponsored just such a resolution during the recent legislative session.

 "As the system stands right now we have a tendency to attempt to provide all kinds of services to persons with disabilities without actually encouraging them to get a job, or help them get a job, or train them to get a job so they can be contributing members of society," Burton said.

 The 'Employment first' resolution failed, but Burton says he will try again.

 The conference continues through today.





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