What a great day at ACL! We just finished a full day of back-to-back meetings with executive directors from Centers for Independent Living, State Independent Living Councils, and state designated entities from as far away as Washington state and as close by as Maryland (and many, many states in between). And before the week is out, ACL leadership and staff will have met with independent living program leaders from more than half the states in our nation.
As Commissioner for the Administration on Disabilities, I popped in to most every meeting today that staff were having with grantees and I can tell you: each conversation I joined focused not only on the opportunities of today but on the optimism we have for the future of the IL programs. We are sharing a few photos with this blog post, but I also want to take a moment to highlight some of what we heard today.
First and foremost, I heard from individuals that relationships matter – they are the driving force to breaking down barriers to growing CILs and strengthening SILCs. It starts with the coordination between CILs within states and territories, but expands to other community and state-based groups and organizations. And when CILs partner together, they have stronger State Plans for Independent Living and more innovative approaches to diversifying revenue and improving resource utilization.
Second, we heard that some issues are regional or state specific, but other issues cut across the network and need continued focus and leadership at all levels of the program. We know that when individuals with disabilities have accessible and affordable housing, reliable transportation, and the peer support they need, they can begin to pursue all aspects of community living. And that includes competitive, integrated employment. As our grantees are improving and increasing employment-related services (and today I specifically heard some great approaches related to pre-employment in particular), we know that it means we need to talk about all areas of support together.
Finally, in most every meeting I dropped in to today I heard about funding: not just what can get done with ACL grants, but what is unleashed when CILs add to their resources through private and state grants, partnerships and collaborations, and business development.
Looking ahead, there is much work to do so that every American with a disability can access the resources and supports they need to live independently in communities, pursue their dreams, and contribute to the families, schools, and places of work across our nation. Days like today are critical to our ongoing efforts to realizing this vision. At ACL, we need to know what’s working (and what’s not) and how we can better lead at the federal agency level. And, we know that our grantees need our ongoing support, feedback, and technical assistance.
I’m looking at my calendar and see many more meetings on the calendar this week – I can’t wait! And I hope that all of our grantees continue to reach out when they are in Washington, DC to set up time to come by. We look forward to seeing you soon!