Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Symposium

The Governor’s Office of Disability Affairs hosted the ADA Symposium at the Claiborne Building on July 26, which was the 27th anniversary of when the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law. The ADA Symposium was free to attend and featured national accessibility expert Kristi Avalos, CEO/President of Accessology.  Over 140 people attended the ADA Symposium and were able to participate in one of the breakout sessions for Higher Education, Employment, and Local Disability Awareness which allowed attendees to network, collaborate, and discuss next steps. Communications Directors Shauna Sanford spoke at this event on behalf of Governor John Bel Edwards to express that accessibility is an important concern for his administration. The Governor’s Office of Disability Affairs presented Ms. Avalos with a certificate of appreciation for her participation in this event.


National Council on Independent Living Conference

The Statewide Independent Living Council (SILC) Executive Director Jessica Lewis and SILC vice-chair Steven Nguyen traveled to the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) conference in Washington D.C July 23rd—28th.  They also participated in the ADA march to Capitol Hill on July 25, 2017 to spread the word of Disability rights. Hundreds of individuals from all across the country with disabilities and advocates participated in this historical event. After the march, there was a disability rally to support efforts to not cut Medicaid in the United States.  At this rally there were some dynamic Senators and Representatives that support the independent living movement. Ms. Lewis and Mr. Nguyen visited the offices of Sen. Bill Cassidy and Sen. John Kennedy and spoke with their aides. They shared legislative booklets on the independent living movement and personal stories of constituents in our state. The effort was to show the vital importance of keeping Medicaid and funding services to transition people into their own homes by $200 million. The funding increase would restore devastating cuts to the Independent Living Program, make up for inflation cost; address the increased demand for independent living services, and fund transition. Independent living saves taxpayers dollars through  home and community based service accessed through Medicaid or the private sector, and by allowing people with disabilities (including the ever-growing senior population) to remain in their own homes rather than living in costly nursing homes or other institutions.


Louisiana Disability Advocates traveled to DC to Advocate for Healthcare

Earlier this month, Trach Mommas of Louisiana organized a trip to Washington D.C. to oppose the devastating cuts that were proposed to be made to healthcare. Several mothers, advocates, and children with disabilities went on this trip as well as Bambi Polotzola, Director of the Governor’s Office of Disability Affairs. The group arrived in D.C. to visit U.S. Sen Bill Cassidy and was granted a brief meeting with a staff person from his office.  Senator Duckworth from Illinois, a retired U.S. Army Iraq War veteran who lost both legs due to severe combat wounds, met the group in the hallway outside of Senator Cassidy’s office and offered her encouragement for their efforts.  Also, they visited the Republican National Committee headquarters because of their concern about the Republican healthcare bill, but they were locked out and no one with the RNC would speak to them. The trip was covered by several media outlets, including CNN  and Time, and got significant national attention and coverage.



As discussed in our June 2017 newsletter, the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act by Rep. Franklin Foil, which is now available for open enrollment, enables individuals with disabilities to save up to $14,000 a year in an ABLE account without jeopardizing their eligibility for critical public benefits, including Medicaid and Supplemental Security Insurance. The funds in the account can be used for disability-related expenses that assist the beneficiary in increasing and/or maintaining his or her health, independence or quality of life. The LA ABLE program focuses efforts to ensure minimal costs associated with establishing or maintaining an ABLE account. The LA ABLE program has an initial minimum contribution requirement of $10 and no annual fees to manage the account.  However, many individuals with disabilities and their families may not be aware of the benefits and rules involved with ABLE accounts or that these accounts are now available. Therefore, the ABLE National Resource Center (ANRC) has developed a nationwide ABLE awareness campaign called #ABLEtoSave. In August, the ANRC will work with state ABLE programs and many national disability organizations to blanket the country with information about ABLE accounts. We anticipate August 2017 being proclaimed #ABLEtoSave month by Governor Edwards to increase awareness of the program and join other states that are part of the national campaign. For more information on the LA ABLE program, go to LA ABLE's website.


Congratulations Partners in Policymaking Graduates

The Governor’s Office of Disability Affairs would like to extend congratulations to the twenty-three individuals who recently completed the coursework and requirements to become the 26th graduating class of Louisiana Partners in Policymaking. The 2017 class graduates were Randall Brown, Jr. and  Stuart Simon (members of Louisiana Developmental Disabilities Council), Lacie Whiddon-Doris, Lawren Sherman, Maria Caserta, Ja’Les Henry, Denise Auzenne, Jamie Dupelchine (member of the Statewide Independent Living Council), Melanie Kennedy, Mylischa Lewis, Michelle Roberie and Mike Billings (members of the State Interagency Coordinating Council for Early Steps), China Guillory, Ashley Nielsen, Katie Corkern (member of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Disabilities Affairs), April Young, April Ducuing, Elaine Harmon, Rachel Pirela, Mike Holmquist, Jeffery Jackson, Annie Cummer, and Melvin Porter (member of the Special Education Advisory Panel).

Partners is a national leadership training program for people with disabilities and parents of young children with developmental disabilities. It provides the most current knowledge about disability issues and develops the competencies that are necessary for effective advocacy to influence public policy at all levels of government. The goal of Partners in Policymaking is to achieve productive partnerships between people needing and using services and those who make public policy and laws. The program is designed to provide knowledge and skill building so that participants may work to obtain state of the art services for themselves and others. The Partners in Policymaking program also serves to educate participants about current issues and best practices as well as familiarizes participants with the policymaking and legislative processes at the local, state, and federal levels. Some of the topics covered in the program by nationally-known experts include: history, philosophy and values, assistive technology, inclusive education, the legislative process, supported employment, supported living, community building, community organizing, and systems change advocacy. The Louisiana Developmental Disabilities Council is accepting applications for the 2018 Partners class.


Remembering Laura Nettles

Laura Nettles served Families Helping Families of Northeast Louisiana as the Special Education Specialist and Assistant Director for 24 years before retiring in June 2017.  She served the children and families of the special education and disability community in northeast Louisiana for 24 years with service, love, and dedication.  Those who knew her say that there is not a family that she met whose life was not made better by her work and the extra mile to which she went to ensure that no child was left behind.  Laura’s love for God flowed into her love of people, as she stepped up to the plate for those who needed it most in every avenue of service. Most assuredly, her life and legacy will never be forgotten.  Laura passed away on July 27, 2017.



State Representative Julie Stokes has been a strong advocate for people with disabilities, as evidenced by legislation she authored in the 2017 legislative session, which was featured in our June Newsletter. These bills included HB 337/Act 270 which dealt with tax credits and barrier-free dwellings for individuals with physical disabilities and HB 179/Act 292 which expanded the “Right to Try Act” dealing with the prescription of investigational drugs for people who are terminally ill. While Rep. Stokes has been a fighter for people with disabilities, she is now faced with a battle in her own life. Recently, Rep. Stokes was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer that requires chemotherapy treatment immediately. This diagnosis came just one week before Rep. Stokes intended to qualify for the election for State Treasurer. On July 12, 2017, Louisiana residents across the state wore pink in honor of Rep. Stokes and to bring awareness for breast cancer.  Candidates who were qualifying for local and state elections in the fall wore pink attire and ribbons, and there were photos from across the state on social media of with people offering their support while donning pink, all using the hashtag #FightLikeJulie. Even before her cancer diagnosis, Julie Stokes was a fighter. She said she believes something very productive and good will come from this journey.  We offer our support to Rep. Stokes during this battle of her own and encourage everyone to #FightLikeJulie. Supporters also encourage people to support the Susan G. Komen Foundation in Representative Stokes’ honor.


GODA Executive Director Recognized as an Ambassador for Life

On July 18, 2017, Executive Director of the Governor’s Office of Disability Affairs Bambi Polotzola was recognized as an Ambassador for Life by the Louisiana Black Advocates for Life at the St. Landry Dinner for Life event. Bambi was recognized for her ongoing commitment to persons with disabilities, and their families, and to the development of programs and policies which promote a culture of life in our community. Louisiana Black Advocates for Life is an organization that seeks to encourage the meaningful participation of members of the Black community in the process of building and maintaining a culture of life in Louisiana. They aim to reduce the number of abortions among black women and those pregnant with children with disabilities through empowering education, cultivation of community support networks, and access to tangible resources.


Women’s Empowerment Conference

The Family Strong Foundation's  5th Annual Women's Empowerment Conference was held on Saturday, July 29, 2017 at Opelousas Civic Center. The conference was geared towards women of all ages from all backgrounds. This year’s theme, “I am woman. Hear me R.O.A.R!, which stands for Revolutionary, Open, Authentic, and Respected.  The conference focused on the physical, mental, spiritual, and financial empowerment of women.  Agencies from all over the state hosted presentation on various topics.

The keynote speaker was Bambi Polotzola, Executive Director of the Governor’s Office of Disability Affairs. 


GOLD Awards to be Held on November 15; Deadline to Nominate is October 2

The Governor’s Office of Disability Affairs (GODA) will host the Governor’s Outstanding Leadership in Disabilities (GOLD) Awards on November 15, 2017, at the Old State Capitol. The GOLD Awards recognizes extraordinary individuals and organizations who have contributed their time and talents to benefit the lives of people with disabilities in Louisiana.   Two new awards this year are the Elected Official of the Year and the Public Servant of the Year.  The deadline for submitting a nomination is Monday, October 2nd, 2017.  Click here to download the nomination packet.


Inclusive Art Contest

To bring greater awareness of the importance of inclusion in today’s society, the Governor's Office of Disability Affairs (GODA) encourages you to participate in the 2017 Inclusive Art Contest. GODA will be accepting entries that illustrate or describe ideas related to this year’s theme and accompanying definitions of inclusion of persons with disabilities; this year’s theme is “Together We Succeed.” Award medals and special recognition from Governor John Bel Edwards will be presented to the artists who submit winning artwork on November 15th, 2017, at the Inclusive Art Show at the Old State Capitol. The Inclusive Art Contest is open to all residents of Louisiana. Contestants are encouraged to use art as a means to share their vision, experiences, and talents to demonstrate this year’s theme. Click here for the registration form.