Self-Advocacy Helps MO Residents with Disabilities Live Fuller Lives
Thursday, June 22, 2023
Almost one in three in Missouri lives with a disability, which can sometimes make navigating the world a challenge.
People First of Missouri has been helping them advocate for themselves since it was formed in Kansas City in the 1990s.
Roger Crome, president of the group, said the mission is to help people live the life they want in the community. He thinks what makes the most difference for members is the relationships they form with others at all levels of self-advocacy, leading to what he calls a "natural mentorship."
"You've got some that come in that don't even realize that they can really speak up -- don't feel like they can speak up, in the beginning -- and then they become leaders on projects in the organization," Crome pointed out.
Most of the 20 People First chapters across the state meet once a month. They may have a guest speaker, discuss legislation, or identify local issues to bring to the attention of the statewide steering committee. Crome noted the organization also identifies priorities to make its members' daily lives more manageable. Currently, they are focusing on affordable, accessible housing and accessible transportation.
He called People First an "inclusive community," run by and for people with a wide variety of disabilities.
"We embrace everyone and believe in the power of supporting one another to build leadership, to build self-determination and empowerment," Crome outlined. "However you view that for yourself. "
Anna Montaldo a disability advocacy leader in St. Louis who was born with cerebral palsy, said being open about your disability can keep others from avoiding you out of fear.
"You're actually helping yourself have a better life by being proud of who you are, and not hiding it," Montaldo explained.
Montaldo wishes fewer adults were inclined to discourage children from looking at or wondering about people with disabilities.
"If we're going to do that in society, how will disabled people be able to live a normal life?" Montaldo stressed. "Because we need open people, in public, seeing us."
Montaldo is a 2023-2024 Self-Advocacy Resource and Technical Assistance Center or "SAR-TAC" Fellow, one of only six selected nationwide, and is developing a leadership training program for people with disabilities.
July is Disability Pride Month.
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