Election Day candidates talk issues specific to disability community

Oct 17, 2019

Election Day is getting closer and on Wednesday, an array of candidates was in the basement of a building in North Buffalo pitching their campaign themes and taking questions from disabled voters.

Every demographic group holding candidate events is interested in different issues. Some questioners ask about regular campaign issues. Many in last night's group at group at the Independent Living Center asked about what can be done to make sure there are adequate services for psychiatric patients, help for the disabled entrepreneurs to start businesses and hiring people with disabilities.

Bobbi DeBose was there to mix the two.

"Just to get some background on the candidates, where they stand, how they could benefit me and my family and where I work," DeBose said.

About 15% of the population have a disability. Independent Living Policy Officer Todd Vaarwerk said good care for those in the community can save tax dollars.

"Accessible housing affects the Medicaid budget. You wouldn't think those two things go together, but if you stop and look at how the dominoes fall, it turns out to be exactly that way," Vaarwerk said. "For every person who's in a nursing home that wants to be back in the community, that we couldn't get affordable and accessible housing for. Every year they are in a nursing home, it costs the state $124,000 to keep them in a nursing home."

Erie County pays 15% of that cost, nursing home or affordable housing. Independent Living CEO Doug Usiak said treating people with disabilities helps everyone.

"For every barrier that you reduce, you create the environment for people to excel," Usiak said. "Myself, as a person who lost his sight in the Army, if it wasn't for the rehabilitation that I went through, I wouldn't be the CEO of an organization that provides paychecks for 2,700 people."

The candidates speaking to the packed room ranged from Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz to city and town council candidates. Maura Kelley asked Amherst Councilmember Deborah Bucki about her role on the town's Disability Committee.

"You say you're part of the disabilities center or committee, what do you do for people with psychiatric disabilities?" Kelley asked.

Bucki is a nurse and college professor who did her master's degree in psychiatric nursing. She talked about what the committee does and doesn't do. It doesn't provide care for patients, but tries to help in a bureaucratic sense in town government.