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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

Remarks of Bob Williams at the NCIL 2016 Conference

Good afternoon, NCIL. It is great to have spent time with many of you here. I my staff and others from ACL richly appreciate the work you do and the opportunity we have had to learning from those from Centers and SILCs throughout our country as well as independent living leaders from many other parts of the world. I look forward to working with Kelly, Judy Heumann and leaders from here and throughout the globe on making the international summit on independent living a reality and success in 2017.

All of you should be bold and justifiably proud, insistent and wise in the role you play in preserving and advancing the fundamental human and civil rights of children, youth, women and men with significant disabilities of every race creed station and circumstance in America and across the globe.

And while I am on the subject of being proud…. Some of the best moments of this conference for each of us have come in listening to learning from, being in awe of and, yes, sometime being humbled by leaders of ADA Generation here this week. So join me in showing them our everlasting love, pride and esteem.

And give it up for the NCIL Board. Kelly and his team. The planners. The presenters. And most importantly all of you for making this conference a success and such a remarkable launching pad for continuing to strive Towards Independence for All.

Victor Hugo said it best: By sharing a dream we create the future. I know I speak for all of us when I say to our young sisters and brothers abroad in the land we are both proud and honor bound to share in your dream. Of what true American independence must come to look like within this decade. And, we are proud and honor bound to work by your side to create that better future for the ADA Generation and all that follow.

Paying it forward has always been at the heart and soul of Independent Living and so have hard work and continuing change. On July 22, 2014 just two years ago last Friday President Obama signed the Work Force Innovation and Opportunity Act into law. WIOA I believe is every bit as transformational as the ADA. Both in the way it will enable our country to best prepare and support American workers with and without significant disabilities a like to succeed in the global economy.

And In the way that it will bolster the capacity and resources of Centers and SILCs. To do what you do best enable someday all of us to exercise our most precious birth right our independence and all the freedom, responsibilities, risks and opportunities that comes with it.

My staff all of you our colleagues throughout ACL and many others have invested nothing less than a herculean amount of time, sweat, creativity and commitment in laying a strong foundation for realizing the full vision of and implementing the changes to the Title VII programs embodied in WIOA. Thank you all for being on both the initiating and receiving ends of it all. Because even for those of us for whom change and innovation is the dynamo of our DNA it has seemed daunting at times.

Just think about it. In a blink of our eye, the two lead agents in the federal government for advancing independent living — The Title VII programs and the National Institute on Disability Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research — not only had their missions and authorities expanded, but both of these agencies, along with the staff knowledge, expertise, technology, and more they rely on were transferred from the Department of Education to the newly created Administration on Community Living in HHS. With this transfer ACL has grown geometrically in its size the number of staff as well as the depth and breadth of the community living programs we administer for those with significant disabilities of every age. From the youngest-young to the oldest-old.

I joined ACL this past January, as the director of the Independent Living Administration as well as the Deputy Commissioner of the Administration on Disabilities for two reasons. The first is that a friend and colleague, Jamie Kendall had recently passed away far before her time and I wanted to carry her aspirations for these programs forward. And I joined up because of my strong belief that Centers for Independent Living and State Independent Living Councils are and must increasingly become what sparks our FIRE. That is our increased:

  • Freedom,
  • Independence and civic integration,
  • Rights and responsibilities, and
  • Equal opportunity to live and contribute to the common good, our families, communities, nation
  • and planet.

And now with your indulgence let me highlight some of the steps we are taking over the coming months and years to advance this aim.

As you know, we issued a NPRM last fall and received public comments from NCIL, of you and others in January. Based on the comments we received I believe it is fair to say that while there were concerns raised about some of what we proposed, most of the comments we received on the NPRM were supportive of the direction we want to take.

On issues on which differences or concerns were raised we received several comments and suggestions which we incorporated or addressed in some other way consistent with the statute. Of course as with every set of regulations I am certain some questions and concerns will exist once the rules become final. This is to be expected. But to the greatest extent possible we are committed to continue to discuss and address such issues through guidance or other means.

Here is where things stand today. We sent the rules over to the Office of Management and Budget in late April. OMB had 90 days to review them. That period ended on July twenty-sixth. We will continue to work to publish rules as soon as possible. It is impossible to know when this might be however. So hash tag: Please-stay-tune.

We also are soliciting comments on draft Indicators for State Independent Living Councils that we have worked and will continue to work with all of you to ensure that these indicators reflect and advance the vision values and goals of IL. I ask that you take time to review and comment on the draft. WIOA equips State Independent Living Councils with the authority levers tools and flexibility to be the catalyst for independence and greater equal opportunity in your State and collectively across our nation by:

  • Convening coordinating and collaborating with a wide range of public and private partners,
  • Growing and strengthening your IL Statewide networks,
  • Driving system change,
  • Developing resources,
  • Leveraging public and private funding streams,
  • Educating policy makers, and,
  • Partnering with ACL disability and aging programs and other federal agencies

A top priority of ours going forward is to do all we can to leverage all that SILCs can offer. It is important therefore to get these indicators right. So when you get home, please Google “State Independent Living Council indicators”. A link to the ACL website will pop up. Go to it to read and comment on the draft and urge others to do so as well.

Now I want to update you on an issue of important concern to all of us: The funding amount each Part C Center will receive for the new Fiscal Year beginning on October 1. As you know because of several factors, many CILs have been set to experience a modest reduction in their grants some reductions still will be necessary. The good news, however, is we are taking steps to lower these cuts and increase the funding we make available to Centers. We are continuing to explore all options to address this and we will be sending out further information on what this means and providing you a contact point you can go to if you have additional questions. Once you have read over the memo we will be sending out in the next few weeks.

I know this has created concern and confusion. We are sorry that it did. Far more importantly what this has underscored for my colleagues and I is the importance and of keeping things one hundred by keeping lines of communication open and keeping things transparent. And this is a principal commitment. Given our different role and responsibilities there will be times and reasons why we will disagree on things both large and small. The only way to keep things real, though, is if we all have access to the same set of facts and honestly engage each in conversation about what actions we are taking and our reasons for doing so. We need to do this on everything whether we agree or disagree to build collective clarity competency and trust we need to spark and nurture the fires of freedom, independence, rights, responsibility and equal opportunity for all.

There is much more I would like to share with you but let me end with these. I am thrilled and humbled to be able to work with you. I have worked for over 30 years both inside and outside the federal government securing the independence and full citizenship of people with significant disabilities of every age race creed region and station And I have in been in DC long enough to witness and help create the change made possible when stars align. The times we are in are fraught with peril. But they are ripe for transformation and progress as well. This is why I am at ACL because it is so clearly well positioned to make the stars align in ways they never have before.

And independent living is vital to making that happen. IL has much to gain from being part of ACL. But the real bottom line point for you and I is that independent living has even more to contribute to ACL and all the programs we administer. And, even more to the lives and futures of people with significant disabilities of all ages that they serve.

Many CILs and SILCs are increasingly working with and receiving some of their funding from developmental disabilities network in each State and other ACL programs such as aging and disability resource centers No Wrong Door, assistive technology projects, veteran directed HCBS program and the long term care ombudsman program. To date over one hundred Centers for Independent Living also have received Quality of Life grants from the Reeves Foundation’s Paralysis Resource Center which we also fund through the independent living Administration. We know where such partnerships and leveraging of resources occurs great results can take place. Perspectives change. Public policy, programs and supports change. People’s everyday lives change.

One of our top priorities over the next two to three years therefore is to work with you with other networks and across ACL, HHS and eventually the entire federal government to identify where these efforts are succeeding. Fix any glitches that get in the way of that. And build on and spread their effects. And I believe it is especially vital we do this in order to achieve the aims of the fifth core. One of the ways we will do this is by helping to realize the vision and goals of the Career Access initiative led by a coalition of leaders of the ADA Generation, the World Institute on Disability, NCIL, PolicyWorks, community development organizations States and others.

At a meeting we had earlier this week I was proud to commit to ACL serving as the catalyst For bringing these stake holders together with all the relevant federal agencies as well as foundations and others To devise And actively pursue the best way forward. We are doing this both because it is the right thing to do and because it is the IL Way. The more practiced we become at bringing all resources to the table, the more successful we will be at rising to and excelling at the challenges before us, which continue to stand in the way of far too many of our brothers and sisters. Sons and daughters. Mothers and fathers. Black brown and white. LGBTQ and straight. North south east and west. In the United States and around the world.

As Keri Grey and Allie Cannington challenged us in the opening plenary it is time for each of us to get woke and to stay woke by standing and acting in solidarity against the poverty, violence, prejudice and yes hate that is rife and targeted at the disability community and every other marginalized community and inter section of our being. For this too is the IL way – to make a career of humanity as Dr. King extorts us to do.

In 2018, just two years from now, the independent living movement will mark two monumental events in American history. 2018 marks the fiftieth anniversary of what has been called the Rolling Quads Revolt Led by Ed Roberts, Hale Zukas and others at the University of California Berkley in 1968. Rolling Quads I believe is our flashpoint of liberation. Our Montgomery. Our Seneca Falls. Our Stonewall. The spark that lit the fire of IL, ADA and far more.

2018 also will mark the fortieth anniversary of the creation a decade later of what has become the federal independent living program. The best way we have of remembering our history and the leaders and people that made today possible is by learning from our past with our eyes fixed on the dream we share and the future we will create together.

Beginning in October I am going to begin to cohost with Lex Frieden and other leaders a series of critical online conversations, which can focus us all on:

  • Where we have been
  • Where we are today
  • And most importantly, where We, the People of Independent Living, can and must move to both over the next two years as well as the next decade and more.

I believe these conversations are vital to clarifying and guiding the work we need to do together. And I need your help in framing what these conversations need to be centered around and what we need to be able to take away from them. In mid-August I will be reaching out in a Dear Colleague asking for your best thoughts and advice. I look forward to working together with you on this and all we have to accomplish.

I want to end where I began NCIL — Be bold, justifiably proud, insistent and wise. Lead on.