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Disability Rights Group Makes Voice Heard in Utah

Andrea Smardon
Members of ADAPT demonstrate at the federal building in Salt Lake City. (Sept. 30, 2015)

A large crowd of disabled-rights activists has been making their presence known in Salt Lake City this week, blocking traffic and occupying the governor’s office, in an attempt to bring attention to their cause.

If you were driving in downtown Salt Lake City on Tuesday, you might have been stuck in traffic for several minutes, as a couple hundred people walked or mostly rolled in wheelchairs up Main Street towards the Capitol. They’re from ADAPT, a national grass-roots disability rights group. Jerry Costley is with the Utah chapter, and he says the message is simple.

“People with disabilities have a civil right to live in their own homes in their own neighborhoods in their communities, surrounded by friends and family,” Costley says. “That’s really what we’re here to fight.”

Costley says the group is trying to pressure Utah into adopting the Community First Choice Option, which allows people with disabilities to remain in their own homes with services rather than be forced into a nursing facility. Erin Stone Cowley is a student at the University of Utah, who has a genetic disease which requires her to use a wheelchair. She lives independently now, but she’s afraid for her future, and doesn’t want to go to a nursing home. Cowley says this is the first time she’s taken action like this.

“Coming to a crowd of nearly 200 people with walkers and wheelchairs and attendants and service animals, everybody coming together to fight for the rights of disabled people was absolutely incredible.”

Organizers say about 150 disability activists from across the country flew to Utah for the cause. They came ready to be arrested for civil disobedience, but no one was. Costley says they were able to secure a meeting with Governor Gary Herbert as well as the state Department of Health and Human Services. He says if they keep their commitments, he considers the event a success.

Andrea Smardon is new at KUER, but she has worked in public broadcasting for more than a decade. Most recently, she worked as a reporter and news announcer for WGBH radio. While in Boston, she produced stories for Morning Edition, Marketplace Money, and The World. Her print work was published in The Boston Globe and Prior to that, she worked at Seattleââ
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