Autism Acceptance Month: Disability Justice
Mini Course Lecture Series Presents State Representative Jessica Benham, speaking about Disability Justice
April 13, 2021
A disability justice framework understands the following:
- All bodies are unique and essential.
- All bodies have strengths and needs that must be met.
- We are powerful, not despite the complexities of our bodies, but because of them.
- All bodies are confined by ability, race, gender, sexuality, class, nation state, religion, and more, and we cannot separate them.
Video recorded 4/13/21
Keynote Lecturer: State Representative Jessica Benham
State Representative (D) Jessica Benham (District 36) is the former Director of Development for the Pittsburgh Center for Autistic Advocacy (PCAA), a grassroots self-advocacy project run by Autistic people for Autistic people. After moving back home to Pittsburgh following college, she co-founded PCAA, which is the only LGBTQ Autistic-led advocacy organization in the Greater Pittsburgh Area. Jessica is an advocate for Autistic rights, interested in creating sensory-friendly spaces, increasing access to Individual Education and 504 Plans for Autistic children in public schools, helping parents, teachers, and healthcare professionals better understand Autistic people, and reducing barriers to employment for Autistic adults.
Through her work at PCAA and elsewhere, Jessica has worked to ensure that individuals with disabilities are treated fairly in the legislative process. She has provided feedback and consultation for legislation as varied as Pittsburgh City Council's recent gun legislation, healthcare efforts at the state level, and the effort to create autism designations on license plates and driver’s licenses.
In addition to her work and academic career, Jessica is also a deeply and actively engaged community member in District 36. She has been a member of the Zone 3 Public Safety Council since 2016, serving in a number of leadership roles over the past several years and attending community meetings throughout the Zone, which covers much of District 36. She is an active community volunteer, doing everything from greeting attendees at South Side Park's Goat Fest to serving as co-captain of the East Slopes Block Watch. Jessica was elected and has served as Judge of Elections since 2018.
Jessica has B.A. degrees in Political Science and Communication Studies from Bethel University, an M.A. in Communication from Minnesota State University, and an M.A. in Bioethics from the University of Pittsburgh. She lives in the Southside Slopes with her husband, Karl, their two cats, Ravi and Neal, and their dog, Winston.
Panel: Young Professionals, Disability Advocates
- Imani Barbarin, Disability Rights Pennsylvania
- Damon Johnson, Disability Resources and Services, Temple University
- Heather Kerstetter, MSW, Temple University.
- Maxine Lomax, MSW, Temple University. Office of Student Accessibility Services, Accessibility Specialist, Western New England University
Good morning everyone. This is the Institute on Disabilities, this is, this morning's mini course lecture series with state representative Jessica Benton, we're going to be get started in a moment for allowing time for other people to join us.
Well wait, just one more minute.
Good morning. My name is cape yokel ski. And with the Institute on Disabilities. Welcome to this morning's mini course lecture series.
Just a few things to let you know before we get started. First, we do have ASL interpretation.
And we have zoom live transcriptions that are turned on so you should be able to use the live transcriptions as well.
Now I'm going to turn it over immediately to our Director of Public Policy, Jamie Riley and Eddie, Jamie.
Thank you very much, Kate as Kate mentioned my name is Jamie Ray Lionetti, I am the Associate Director of Policy at the Institute on Disabilities at Temple University.
It is my pleasure today to be part of this mini series with Kate, and with Representative venom.
And as we get started This morning I would like to recognize a few other guests that we have on our call.
Today we're joined by our executive director at the Institute, Miss Sally gold Taylor, and we are also joined today by George Kenny from the government affairs office at Temple University.
So, at this time, along with Sally and myself and Kate, I would like to extend a warm welcome to state representative Jessica better state representative them was elected in November 2020, and sworn in as a new representative for district 36.
In January, 2021, formerly representative Bantam was the Director of Development at the Pittsburgh center for autistic advocacy, a grassroots Self Advocacy Project, run by autistic people for autistic people.
After moving back home to Pittsburgh following college, she co founded the Pittsburgh center for autistic advocacy advocacy, which is the only LGBT q autistic led advocacy organization in the greater Pittsburgh area.
Jessica is an advocate for autistic rates interested in creating sensory friendly spaces, increasing access to individual education and 504 plans for autistic children in public schools, and also in helping parents, teachers and healthcare professionals,
better understand autistic people, as well as reducing barriers to employment for autistic adults, for work at the Pittsburgh center for autistic advocacy and elsewhere.
Jessica has worked to ensure that individuals with disabilities are treated fairly. In the legislative process. She has provided feedback and consultation for legislation as varied as Pittsburgh City Council's recent gun legislation, health care efforts
at the state level and efforts to increase autism designations on license plates and drivers licenses, just to name a few things.
Jessica has a badge, has Bachelor of Arts degrees in political science and communication studies from Bethel University, a Master of Arts and Communication from Minnesota State University at a Master of Arts in bioethics from the University of Pittsburgh.
She lives in South Side slopes with her husband Carl. There are two cats Robbie and Neil, and their dog Winston.
So who better to join us during April autistic
acceptance and Awareness Month.
At this time, it's my pleasure to turn this program over to state representative Adam.
Thank you for joining us today.
Thank you so much for having me. I so appreciate his invitation to talk with you all this morning.
It has been an absolute honor to represent the 36 districts and Pennsylvania State House, and also to know that so many other artistic people and LGBT q people and young people working class kids and women, see themselves reflected in the work that I
do in Harrisburg, and back home and the district as well, because growing up, I just so rarely if ever saw myself reflected in leaders whether elected or business or in community organizations.
And if you had a younger version of me if I would ever run for office that version would have laughed at you.
And, in fact, when people asked me to run for office I did laugh at them like Yeah, okay.
sexual artistic woman should definitely run for office.
You know, huge joke real funny, having a job at the assets to girls expense.
But as it turned out they were being serious. And so here I am.
I hope that many LGBT q people and autistic young people look at me and know that they can serve and lead in their communities. And I know that the stigma and bigotry and able to some pens, a lot of that, that I face.
But as I fight through it today I know that it will be lessened. for those who come next autistic people and disabled people broadly belong in the halls of power, where decisions are made that impact our lives.
And this month, April is autism except it's a historically difficult month for me because it seems to be one in which the voices of parents and service providers are prioritized over the voices of actually autistic people.
And so I asked you to instead continue to lift up the voices of autistic people, and I appreciate the invitation to speak today which does do exactly that.
But I also encourage you to listen to the voices of disabled people who are not in positions of power. Those who are more marginalized than I am. Because as a white sis person who now occupies a position of leadership, I lived experience is simply not
reflective of the experiences at the majority of disabled people.
So I encourage you to listen to black and brown disabled people to trans disabled people to poor disabled people to non speaking disabled people, and so many more, because that's the only way you'll even start to understand the full diversity and the
phone needs our community.
I'm grateful to be here today in conversation with a panel of experts, rather than alone because frankly given the position of privilege that I occupy, even as I learned more and more I will always fail to adequately cover the topic of Disability Justice.
I want to talk for a moment about my new job and how weird and uncomfortable and difficult, and yet rewarding. It is to be a legislator as the person Daya.
The literally gilded halls of Harrisburg, leave me anxious and uncomfortable because as a working class kid I just, I know I don't belong, I don't fit.
And it's not easy to legislate in a space where some of my colleagues, don't see me as fully human.
It's not easy to know that some of my colleagues have dismissed the deaths of people like me from coven 19 because of pre existing conditions as though, that makes our lives, somehow less valuable.
And it's not easy to lead at a time when once again, people like me are losing generation elders.
As a queer person.
I know that we've lost an entire generation of elders. And now to coven 19, we've lost a generation disabled, our mentors, our leaders, and our it just breaks.
It's not easy to walk into that capital, and to see armed guards and police everywhere. Knowing that so many of those who are killed by police are disabled people.
Though here too I acknowledge the many ways in which my whiteness protects me.
And while none of this is easy, nothing worth doing is, I know that my fight will make it easier for the next generation of disables and queer theaters.
And so I fight forward on the issues that matter to my district, and to our communities.
The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed the year I was born, I'm about six months, younger than my pockets. And it's one of those pieces of legislation that just provides this broken patchwork of civil rights protections for people like us.
People with disabilities including myself are disproportionately impacted by lack of healthcare by environmental hazards and by lack of access to economic opportunity, which is part of why I'm driven to solve the urgent problems facing.
Everyone in my district but also in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
And today I've been asked to focus specifically on a state legislative platform that moves us closer to a just world for disabled people. But I also have to acknowledge that Disability Justice is not located in, and cannot be found through electoral and
legislative politics. Before I ran for office I co founded the Pittsburgh center for autistic advocacy with Corey Frazier, and through PCA, we had worked outside traditional systems to provide support services and community for autistic people always
in pursuit of a more just world. Corey continues to take that back.
30 years post ADA, I take my cue on where we go next, from the black and brown women and families who coined the phrase Disability Justice, which includes leaders like Patty burn me and Mendes and Stacey Melbourne Disability Justice centers the lived
experience of disabled people of color and prompts us to ask questions like, which people are more often, the targets of state and institutional violence, and what kinds of people are more often disabled or the systems in which we live.
However, an outline the Disability Justice framework that early organizers created which emphasize things like the leadership of those most impacted cross movement organizing, recognizing the wholeness of disabled humanity, working in solidarity against
so called disability categories and enjoying the struggle to create collective access. So I want to talk about a few of the issues that I think about that intersect with Disability Justice educational justice is Disability Justice as a disabled kid, I
frequently found myself in the principal's office, through what felt like flaws in the system, not built to support kids like me, rather than through my own faults.
I was a victim of school push out, and here's my privilege my mom was able to pull me out, and homeschool me to better meet my needs.
In the greater Pittsburgh area and facts throughout the Commonwealth students with disabilities especially black and brown kids are suspended and pushed out of schools at higher rates than those without disabilities.
That's why I'm fighting for early childhood programs that meet the needs of all kids, including kids with disabilities, and why I'm fighting to ensure that pa schools are well resourced by state dollars so that kids are getting an equitable education
regardless of their zip code.
It's why I've introduced legislation with Representative Dan Miller to make funding for special education more equitable between charter and public schools.
And it's why I've signed on to legislation banning school suspensions justice for workers is also Disability Justice.
One of the reasons I so passionately worked to organize a union as a graduate student at Pitt, is because disabled workers are better protected and unionized workplaces.
It's why I fight for programs that increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities. So I fight for fair paid for the people who are providing direct services to kids and adults with disabilities.
That's why we need universal paid family and sickly policies, I could go on and on.
Environmental Justice is also Disability Justice, or one of the group's most impacted by pollution and yet so often we're left out of conversations about the environment, and about emergency management planning, about our infrastructure, which continues
to be inaccessible to people with disabilities. It's why I'm committed to bringing together, labor unions disability advocates and environmental organizers to the same table to ensure that we're fighting together for a clean environment for family sustaining
jobs, and for what people with disabilities need to thrive. Common ending mass incarceration is also Disability Justice. I'm hearing from a lot of folks who are running for judge, these days, and so few of them are thinking about incarceration, as an
issue of Disability Justice, and yet when I look at our county jail here in Allegheny County, at least, 75%, of those who are in prison, there have a documented disability and frankly if you include trauma because did channel is inherently traumatizing
that's, that's 100% right there.
that's 100% right there. And that's why I'm committed to working to end mass incarceration which disproportionately impacts black and brown people with disabilities. It's why we ought to increase funding for school therapists and counselors and for the
implementation of restorative justice practices to end the school to prison pipeline.
Health justice is Disability Justice, so often we reduce the issues that people with disabilities face to issues of health care, but that is part of what we face is just not the sum total.
And so as someone with a pre existing condition, I am terrified of losing access to health care, or that my health insurance won't cover what I eat.
And that's why I think it's critically important that we not only ensure that everyone has access to health care at is tricky at the point of access, but that we're working to end the waiting list.
disabilities who are waiting to receive services. We also should be viewing. People who use drugs, through the lens of public health, and not as an issue of criminalization, and we should be working to fund programs that support people who use drugs who
have public or no insurance for him and such programs just are rare if they do exist at all. reproductive justice is also Disability Justice state legislators my colleagues, we ought to be protecting the rights of all people to make decisions about their
health, but also supporting policies that make it easier to care for kids with disabilities and easier for people with disabilities to parent.
We should be implementing policies like those proposed by the black commerce matter Alliance to address the ways in which we have failed, like parents and children.
We recently had hearings in the Pennsylvania has health committee about abortion. I leverage my personal experience as a disabled person for him pregnancy could be quite dangerous and potentially fatal to ask pointed questions about what life actually
means to anti choice people, and whose lives. These anti choice doctors, supposedly truly happy.
And I'll end by talking about one of the biggest pieces of legislation, I've been working on, which is a bill that representative Dan Miller and I just introduced together, that would create the Department of accessibility and inclusion.
I think you know so often when we talk about disability justice reform focused on policy issues that are critically important but I think we also have to think about it.
administratively and systemically the systems through which we access services through which policies are made. And so this idea that we could have a department of accessibility and inclusion that we could have a secretary of cabinet level position in
governor's office solely focused on policies impacting disabled people would be incredible. I'm also excited because this department would centralize the vast majority of services that people with disabilities access through the state in one place, which
would have really positive implications for service provision efficiency and effective, all that to say I think I could go on and on about the ways in which all justice intersects with Disability Justice justice for LGBT q people justice for immigrants
to truly progressive community centered anti racist and anti able us approaches to stop it gun violence, and so much more. And I could continue to talk about these issues and the ways that they impact our community, because our liberation, our survival,
our justice is all bound up.
So thank you all for again inviting me to speak today I'm really looking forward to the conversation. We're going to continue to have
state representative Jessica Banham speaking on Disability Justice, and today's Institute on Disabilities mini course Lecture Series state representative Behnam again I want to thank you so much for joining us today and joining us in this conversation.
Just a word for everyone in the audience. I'm going to now be bringing in panelists to be in conversation with state representative phenom. And if you have questions and you'd like to join the conversation, please use the q amp a feature, or the chat
feature. Thank you so much and give me just a second, to bring everyone else into the conversation.
I'm going to be spotlighting you now so Maxine Damon and Amani if you could turn on your video. Thank you.
Again, welcome to everyone this is the second part of our conversation where we'd like to be in dialogue with state representative venom. My name is Kate feel Kalki I'm the director of academic programs at the Institute on Disability I identify with disability
is part of my culture. Part of my family and part of myself and I'm very excited to participate in this conversation today.
I'd also like others who are going to join us in the panel to introduce themselves so first Amani Would you like to introduce yourself. Tell us a little bit about yourself, and why this topic is of interest to you.
Hi, my name is a money Barbara and some of you may know me as crutches and spice, I am a disability advocate. And I also serve as the Director of Communications and outreach for Disability Rights Pennsylvania.
I write a lot of times in the intersection of being a black disabled woman and so Disability Justice.
I think of it as proactive rather than reactive and creating space and place for the disability community, as well as creating support systems that we could tap into to eight one another in the path forward.
And so that's why Disability Justice really appeals to me.
Thank you so much money.
Damon Would you like to go next place or.
My name is Damon Johnson I am the Associate Director for Disability Resources and Services at Temple University.
I identify as a person who is, African American, as well as blind.
My career, in and of itself has been dealt with disability related
Before I came simple I was the director of the district Minister for the Bureau of Labor services, where I served individuals who were primarily blind to seek employment.
So, I never heard of Disability Justice before until yesterday.
And I'm curious, and I'm excited to learn all about Disability Justice and how it can save and help anybody with disabilities, most importantly individuals who are blind and visually impaired because of that population is so small.
Damon Thank you so much. And Max, not last not least, would you like to introduce yourself and tell us why this topics of interest to morning everyone.
populations in the past I've served as an academic coach for youth aging out of foster care. I mentor for students with disabilities, and a clinician, or grieving children.
Currently, I serve as the accessibility specialist at Western New England University of Massachusetts, and while education access is a passion of mine, my lived experiences as a queer personal color fuel my dedication and my passion to achieving truths
of justice for all and transactional persons.
Terrific, thank you and welcome to the conversation.
So, we have a great opportunity here to be in conversation with state representative venom. I'd like to just remind everybody if you want to join the conversation, we're checking out the q amp a board and also the chat.
And let's start with some of the panelists. So if you have a question for State Representative phenom on Disability Justice, please.
Let's start with someone's question. The money did you have a question,
yes I did the same representative better, I was curious about how your disability informed your ability to run for office, and I'll no able ism intersected with politics you know you could have navigated that system in order to Clint your seat essentially.
Oh, yeah. Um, I it's been interesting to me because I would say
it's hard for me to separate out what was sexism versus what was homophobia versus what was able so much. I know you know because you talk about the ways that we can't separate those things out and ourselves that's I think it's a tough one, but when I
think about autism specifically, there were definitely times where people questioned by competency in in ways that I think we're specifically about me being autistic.
yeah i mean i i think that bothered me more than the slurs, you know, because people would say all kinds of cool things about me on the internet or behind my back.
But I think to my face when people were questioning whether or not I could do that, the job. that was really hard because I came out of a space where we saw competency, as part of basically what it means to be human.
And so to go from a space where disabled competency was a huge thing for particularly for folks, and about folks with developmental and intellectual disabilities to a space where all of a sudden, those things we're seeing in conflict with each other I
think was was hard I mean I knew, I knew that, but that was the thing because I have lived in this warehouse.
But to go from spending my time majority of my time in incredibly supportive artistic community to spending most of my time not in that space was really hard, and certainly that played out in really practical ways.
When I think about the support that I did not receive from my county Democratic Party I think quite a lot of that was about being seen not as a conventional candidate, and whether that was about me being a woman or clear or disabled.
Who knows but there, there was definitely that factor. And then I mean I think now in in the house, there is quite a lot of tokenism.
So, you know, it's, and I think even even about this, for example, and I'm happy to come in and talk about Disability Justice and about autism acceptance.
And I get that as you know the autistic rap The one who talks about coming from the disabled community that I'm going to get those invitations.
But I'm also not the most qualified person to be talking about those things, all of the time. So, you know there's there's tokenism, and then there is just outright hated discrimination so I found most of that is about being queer.
So like this past week, when I was really sticking up a lot around the ban of transforming from playing women's sports, which happen to be in that fight which we weren't having it but always you know always going to be fighting that fight.
The amount of explicit and implicit homophobia, not just anonymously in my inbox or on social media but from my colleagues is pretty intense. So I think it's hard for me to separate out you know what was about, you know, what aspect of my identity but
it's it's certainly not easy, though, very worth it.
Thank you so much. Hey, I just want to turn the question back on the panel.
So you guys also have been trying to break through spaces, and make spaces more welcoming in your professions.
We've all seen, heard live the experiences of people with disabilities breaking through into an employment setting.
So do you have any comments anything that you want to answer on this what is your experience, and who can you bring to the table in your identity and who do you feel you have to leave behind.
Damon, or answer door to bring to the table I bring two people who are supportive, who is who looks at, not the disability per se, but look at the ability of an end of a person who identify who was blind trust myself or any of the any of a hidden disability.
I leave those individuals who are behind who are negative, who doesn't see the future. I'm being approached, same with a disability and it's difficult to prove yourself.
When you, so I'll give a prime example, I didn't think that I would go to get a doctor degree because honestly I didn't want one, but I didn't know how many individuals who are disabled, more importantly, who are blind who sought out to get a doctorate
degree in my experiences reading, you know, different things I realized a lot of people who are blind go get law degrees or like master's degrees. So I took the bull by the horns and I went to apply to temple to get my doctorate degree, and has it been
a walk in a park, know.
It's been very challenging, but to the contrary.
I'm almost done. So, I was able to overcome that. And as far as like my employment is concerned.
When you work.
When you work in the field of disability and my experiences. We people who are non disabled tend to look at the disability and say how can you prove yourself How can you do this, how can do that.
So, when I worked in the field of vocational rehabilitation. I had to fight twice as hard to make it to the top, if you will, because I felt.
And then people wouldn't don't, while we work in the field of disability they don't believe that you can do the job. So when I climbed the ranks I had to prove to them that I was able to do the job and do it well.
And thank you, money. Yes, this is the money speaking.
I have to say you know I can move a little bit of a different school in that I have no desire to prove to non disabled people that I'm worthy of their time or interest.
I possess value inherently regardless of what they decided they want to think of me that day.
And I think that when we talk about building space. We all will a lot of times we, we perform actions or we kind of cater our, our identity is disabled people towards the gaze of non disabled people who I mean especially during this pandemic a proven
quite viciously that it doesn't matter what they think, because they're going to do what they're going to do regardless.
And so, in building space I want people to claim their disabilities and claim the parts of them that people tell them that are disposable because they matter regardless, and in building space you have to take account.
This, the gaze of of the majority, and I don't, I try not to center too many people who wouldn't care if I'm a library that To be honest, you know, I think that it's really, you know, and it's hard because I work in a lot of times as a Disability Justice
You know, I think that it's really, you know, and it's hard because I work in a lot of times as a Disability Justice based but also the Disability Rights space.
And people say well we want to make sure that people feel validated, I want to be validated in my wholeness, not in the pieces that you want to see if me.
And so whenever we we build out community for the disability community we have to take that in mind that there are different. There are different perspectives about disability.
But that people should be welcomed their whole being should be welcomed on top.
Yeah, I agree with you Imani so I came to a place in life, where do you accept me holistically at all except me at all. Could be having a disability is just a part of the identity, not the whole package deal is just a snippet of a person's being you,
we as people are human beings, and we should we need to be in a place where we need to look at the human perfect a holistic view not just a portion of, you know, the situation.
Thank you, Damon x i can't tell did you want to say something, If you don't, that's okay.
No Okay, I have a couple of questions that have popped up on the q amp a and also there are a couple of people who have their hands up on the, on the attendees.
So let me start with one of the questions on the q amp a board.
I'm state representative Banham I think that this question is for you. It's from Alicia Weiss, thank you for your work. What is the status of interagency collaboration in Pennsylvania between the Department of Education and the Department of Human Services.
How effective in the meeting and meeting the whole person needs of the person with disabilities in K 12
And it does happen, we do have interagency collaboration.
But I have heard from a lot of folks who specifically work at the intersection of.
Basically, education, and kids with disabilities, essentially, that it's not great, and particularly has not been great throughout the tech. And so, you know, one of my big concerns is making sure that we are addressing the needs of students with disabilities,
in a way that doesn't just see them as medical problems, which is oftentimes the ways in which kids with disabilities are positioned at the intersection of DHS and PB, which I said, we provide medical services through the schools.
I want to make sure that kids with disabilities are seen as whole human beings who have needs, just like every other kid.
And that we're ensuring that the services that we are providing to students with disabilities in whatever area that may be our comprehensive fully funded and well coordinated.
So we have a lot of work to do, I think especially as we come out of this pandemic. But I also know that people are working really hard to try to address the currencies that we're seeing in education for kids with disabilities.
Thank you very much, so committed to that. So, it's funny you said, collaboration, I just did my dissertation on interagency collaboration between vocational rehabilitation and the school districts.
And one of the things that I found out is communication is a big key. How are things being communicated how our students being communicated. What, what are you how are you how are you presenting the students, you know, to the partner to both on both sides
of the table. That will that's a big issue that I found in research, you know, how things are being communicated.
Follow up with another, another thing, and consistency was another thing that was an issue that could be addressed related to interagency collaboration across the board.
Thank you, Damon, I appreciate your contributing to that. Thank you.
I'd like to take a question from, from the audience. So I'm going to turn on the microphone for Dan ocho, Dan, I hope that you're there. If you have a question please.
Uh, thank you very much I hit the button I apologize, it's a wonderful lecture and I, as someone who's with family with disabilities. It's wonderful to have a new voice advocating for disabilities in Harrisburg, we don't even have an accessibility advocate
for the capital itself like other states so thank you very much for what you guys are doing, and thank you represented.
That was it. Thank you, it takes me a second to click all the different buttons on the screen. Sorry about that.
Um, okay so I think it's time to ask another question from the panel so panelists Do you have another question, or something that you'd like to discuss.
Let's go around another time.
Maxine. Yes, I'll give my question this is for representative Burnham. Um, I was wondering how you will use your position in your platform to promote partnership with the Black Lives Matter movement, and how you will maybe retrain police to engage with
people with disabilities and especially people with disabilities.
That's a good question, and I think that it is critically important when we're thinking about partnering with the Black Lives Matter movement that for me it's more about following the lead of as a white disabled person I definitely don't view myself as
like an equal partner in that, in that conversation. I'm somebody who is listening and learning and backing up and showing up and doing what is being asked by people who are most impacted, I think.
And so in that sense I don't know that there is any training that we could ever give to a police officer to address the white supremacy, that we are seeing in our police forces I don't think that you can train in white supremacy, or racism or able as
a police officer I'm not sure that that's something that you can reform, out of an institution like that. There are certainly efforts to do so and the Pennsylvania house.
The black Legislative Caucus has put together a whole list, I, at which really starts very much with addressing and breaking the power of the Fraternal Order of Police, which prevents us from in many ways, holding officers accountable.
But to me, you know I always say, we need to decrease the amount of times that anyone ever sees a police officer.
Because at the end of the day, for most situations, a police officer is not the right response.
Maybe it's a social worker. Maybe it's an unarmed traffic enforcement officer, but an armed police officers, from my perspective very rare.
But on the other hand, I think, you know, when people talk about replacing police officers with social workers, we have to grapple with the racism and able to summon white supremacy that's prevalent in the discipline of field of social work as well.
And frankly, you know I think throughout our, our society. And so those are the things that I'm thinking about when I am hearing folks talk about the changes that we so desperately need to see in our society.
Also acknowledging that my role as a legislator is somewhat limited and implementing the kinds of changes that we need to see, there's some things that we can do at the state level, there's a lot of things that have to happen to me the support level in
terms of the changes we need.
Thank you both. I'm going to go to a question on the q amp a board judith miller President Biden's infrastructure proposal seems to have a lot of funding for Disability Services and the care economy.
Do states have a role in how federal dollars are used with that funding help integrate services in Pennsylvania.
Yes. Um, so the state does have a role in how the federal dollars are used, and so we do have, have a role there, and so certainly that kind of funding could be particularly helpful and making sure that we take folks off of the waiting list and their
are budget proposals that are currently circulating in the house take house of the State Senate for how we would use that money and I was thrilled to see that supports for bringing large numbers of people off of waiting lists for example, for raising
wages for DSP or consider his priorities, and I apologize because I assumed you were going to turn the question back on to the other panelists earlier before because I would really love to hear what the rest of the panel thinks in terms of how legislators
should be working to uplift the Black Lives Matter movement and support and partner with the Black Lives Matter movement, and what changes, we need to see when it comes to policing.
Do you guys want to jump in and answer that.
So I think yes.
So, I understand there is no training, they can you know help with, quote unquote, white supremacy or white privilege, if you will, but we can change the narrative of the way it's presented.
And with that being said.
Give it. That's perfect has been going on for some time, but we're in an age where we need to put that to the side and just work together. Um, I do agree that um,
social workers can assist with de escalating certain situations, related to police.
I don't want kind of brutality brutality, if you will.
Yeah. I'm gonna money. This is the money.
I think that legislators should not just be doing action items but also be facilitators, because I feel like with, especially police brutality it's such a gender, sexual issue that people only think of is one dimensional that we don't really harness the
true power of different agencies groups and advocates, and I've been telling Disability Rights Advocates this for a while now is that we do think about Disability Justice is also being intertwined with racial justice and not just thinking of it as one
dimensional and so I feel like there's so many groups that could be involved in that just aren't that aren't collaborating with black lives matter that are not working together.
And it's his it's ridiculous because we're It feels like every single time we have this conversation. We're starting at point zero, every single time.
When in reality there are so many different people that are invested in making sure that disabled people of color and, you know, black people and can survive.
He can literally survive that the fact that we don't think about it that way, is as policymakers of advocates is disturbing to me because disability rights, our civil rights, you know, black rates are civil rights, why not why are we not working together
and so I think they'll see representatives to be facilitators and bringing the conversation
and bringing the conversation out in so many different groups and making sure that we are in a position to collaborate and talk about it and come together and create action items in goals, that, that, that are they work for so many different communities.
I love that. Absolutely, it really bothers me when white people like disabled people, and particularly white wheelchair using disabled people co ops Disability Justice to be just about disability completely ignored, like ignoring that it comes out of
black, and particularly the movements put together by black women in fact that that is the whole foundation and root of it, and we're, we're seeing that co-option happen over and over and over again and that completely divorces it from the context of
talking about the ways in which all of those issues are bound up together and that we should be working together, so I love the idea of facilitating, I think it's.
Yeah, it's a great concept and a critically important thing for legislators be doing on any number of issues.
And this is Damon again, Bob, and by facilitating, you know, this you. There's a lot of agencies out there who specializes in different field if you will so you know if there's an issue, we you know as a representative and other state representatives
know where to turn to for support, as opposed to not knowing.
I'd like to turn this over there's another person who's had their hand raised for a really long time. And so I would like to give them the opportunity to speak, Daniel writer, writer, I apologize Daniel writer, I'm going to unmute you.
Danielle Do you have a question.
Yeah, I have a question. Hi, I'm a master Social Work student and a crisis counselor at a suicide hotline text based and it's really difficult for people, you know with disabilities walk around to feel safe reaching out for help, you know, active rescues
for imminently suicidal people is like, much more dangerous than you know just, oh you know I, you know, well, regular welfare check because they also might be escalate you know also might be escalated.
So, you know, how can we provide greater access for people with disabilities you know when when they need, they need to active rescues because we can't de escalate everybody sometimes we, you know, I mean like, I don't like active rescues either but we
just we need to find some way of keeping people safe when we intervene when we have to intervene because they won't agree to a safety plan. Right.
Thank you for your question Danielle. Is there someone on the panel that would like to, to answer Danielle's question.
When I can certainly take a stab at it, which is to say that we live in an imperfect world with imperfect systems, and so there's not always going to be the perfect way to approach any given individual.
And as I understand it, the goal is basically to keep someone alive.
That, that is the goal of a of an active rescue and so we want to make sure that we're taking steps that allow that to happen we have seen over and over again that police officers intervening in a situation where someone is actively threatening harm to
themselves are often counterproductive to keeping that person alive. So I would say that, you know, armed police officers are not always or really ever the correct response to someone who is potentially going to hurt themselves.
And with that said, I understand that de escalation is also not always possible. And so I think it's about also creating a networks of mutual aid.
With our neighbors to ensure that there are trusted people around that we are creating those spaces in our communities to help prevent people from getting to that point where they are.
To escalated to be de escalated i don't know i mean i feel like it is a rare situation where given enough time, you could not de escalate someone.
So perhaps the constraint is time, I guess I I struggle with the concept on on its face that given enough time you could not effectively de escalate somebody, but the perhaps I am I am wrong there and there is a another limiting factor, I'm not sure it
other folks on on the panel have thoughts, because you know my general thought is de escalate as much as possible. I know and help your neighbors, and keep people alive.
Do you want to jump in. Yeah, this is Maxine. When I first heard her question.
My first thought was, I feel like police should kind of be a last best or maybe if you can get ambulance my, you know, fire, who had like a firefighter EMT experience, because how do when you're a kid and people teach you, who are the superheroes in your
neighborhood, those are typically, depending on where you live.
Firefighters paramedics and police but for a lot of people of color black people, police aren't superheroes does.
So if you can maybe bring like fire safety or EMT paramedics to inactive rescue, because I think those happen more calming like oh, this person is actually here to help me for my best interest and maybe if you want have police nearby out of sight to not
escalate the situation and use as a last resort. That would be my advice. Yeah, and I think that this is the money speaking and I think they like one of one of the one thing that I take issue with is that people consistently position, please.
Like, people think that even the presence of police is non threatening to us. just having them there is threatening escalates the situation there is no situation in which I is a personal color other black and brown disabled people who are in crisis look
at a police officer and think to ourselves. I'm safer because they're there. So the, just the mere fact that they're there is escalating the situation.
And so when people say oh there are escalating, you know, I don't know why they're escalating.
There's a reason it's because they're there.
And then we and then. Then there's this, this, like if something happens to them because of police being there that people like to fall back on. Well, they were escalating the situation, they were interacting with police.
Of course they weren't, of course that they were scared. The police were there, of course, that the situation was escalated once police got there and started interacting with this individual.
So, I like I take a little bit of issue with this idea that there's a a time limit on when you're supposed to be de escalating the situation and be, there's ever an appropriate situation in which police are necessary to de escalate somebody who was suicidal.
When we think about things like people with mental illness or more likely to harm themselves to anybody else.
We know that statistically. So the idea that they're escalating it that doesn't make sense to me like that they do that they're escalating into harming others.
Unless it's a domestic issue of domestic dispute. That doesn't make sense to me on the face of it.
And so this is Damon so I guess my question will be is there. Is there a way where there ever be a way to where we can change the narrative of the way police's are being printed police officers are being presented to help situation such as what we're
I mean, look, I'm a white person, and I have had a lot of bad interactions with cops, as a disabled person. So for me, you know, I do not generally find police officers to be a comforting presence.
I'm not sure that there is a way to overcome that kind of trauma.
And I think about that as someone who is generally fairly privileged in that kind of interaction. So when I see the generational trauma that black and potent people and their communities have experienced.
But that's, that's not something you can really overcome with training.
You know, let alone the structural issues of policing broadly that you cannot overcome with training.
And so, you know, I, it's it's a good question. Um, but looking at the history of the world that we have lived in, and the just continual trauma that police have inflicted upon our community is I'm, I'm not sure that's something you can overcome by training.
This is Kate, I need to, I'm sorry because I need to, I need to just step in for a second. As a moderator, we have less than one minute left.
And so I know that we will lose our cell interpretation and things start to magically unwind.
So I just wanted to say I know that this is a short conversation, and it leaves us wanting more of these kinds of conversations together. I so much appreciate our panelists coming in conversation today, Damon Maxine and Amani thank you so much for joining us. And of course, for initiating this conversation on behalf of the Institute Jamie Riley and Eddie who's our Director of Public Policy and myself Kate Fialkowski, I want to say to state representative Jessica venom thank you so much for spending the