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Past DRNC Board Chair Comments on Draft Olmstead Plan

Good afternoon. My name is Bryan Dooley, and I am a community inclusion specialist at Solutions for Independence in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. I also have the honor of being on the Olmstead Stakeholder Advisory Committee, and I have been giving valuable feedback since North Carolina established the committee last year.

I look forward to helping with the North Carolina Olmstead Plan even more in the future, but I must advocate for myself and the many people like me. I feel the Plan as written now does not go far enough to address long-term challenges in the North Carolina disability system. For many years we have known that the state does not pay our direct support professionals (DSPs) enough. And the waiting list for services is far too long. Right now, as you know, there are over 15,000 North Carolina citizens with disabilities waiting on services to enable them to become productive members of society. Yet, our Plan as it stands now only calls for 1000 slots per year to be added over the next two years.

This problem matters to me even more than it used to. I rely on paid support and have done so for many years. With the help of paid support, I went to college and graduated Summa Cum Laude from Guilford College. I won many scholarships and awards. Also, after graduation, I spent my life trying to make the lives of people with disabilities better. I am a former Chairman of the Board of Directors of Disability Rights North Carolina. I was appointed to the North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities by Governor Pat McCrory in 2016 and reappointed by Governor Roy Cooper in 2020.

Without my paid support, I would not participate in the important work I do on the state and national levels.  I have spastic, dystonic quadriplegic cerebral palsy. My disability affects my entire body, making it very hard for me to do almost every task needed in daily living independently. Yet, I allow my DSP to work odd jobs on the side because it’s easier for him to make far much more money on those couple of days here and there than it is to work for me full time.

There are efforts in the state right now to raise the wages of DSPs. Still, the Olmstead Plan is the perfect place to establish an ambitious vision of a more inclusive future for all citizens, regardless of disability. It should not be a plan to maintain the status quo, especially when the status quo is a crisis.

Without swift action on DSP pay and lack of services for all citizens with disabilities, I feel I may lose my DSP, with whom I’ve spent years developing a relationship. He loves his job, but I understand if he can get more money elsewhere, and I wouldn’t blame him for leaving the field and going into something more lucrative.

If it were to happen, that would be life-changing for me. Unfortunately, my central family support, my mom, recently passed away. I can stay at my mom’s old house, because of my well-trained aides. My nighttime aide is in school to be a nurse, so she can only work specific hours due to her school schedule. It took me three months to find her because the pay was so low.

I implore you to be more specific on how the Plan will address the DSP pay problem and lack of community services. I’m a great example of how a person with disabilities benefits from the Olmstead Decision, and I want to see others like me helped in the same way.

North Carolina has a famous toast containing the words, “Where the weak grow strong, and the strong grow great.” Let’s all live up to that by producing an Olmstead Plan that benefits all of North Carolina’s citizens. Thank you for your time and consideration.

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