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Breaking Barriers: Our Journey to Independence and the ADA's Call for Change

Introduction


In a world that champions freedom and equality, it's disheartening to think that, not too long ago, I was told I couldn't live independently because I was "too young, too disabled, and too inexperienced." My name is Jensen Caraballo, and my story is just one of many that highlight the pressing need for change in how society views and treats disabled individuals. Together with countless others, we are advocating for our right to live independently in the community, and we are armed with a powerful ally: the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).


A Journey Through Institutionalization


At the tender age of 15, I found myself thrust into a nursing home. Five years, ten months, and five days later, I finally transitioned into the community. It wasn't a decision made willingly, but rather one imposed upon me. For years, I was denied the community-based services and support I needed to live a life of my choosing. The reasons for these denials were heartbreaking—being deemed "too young" or "too disabled" to venture into independent living.


The Turning Point


My turning point came when I engaged with the Center for Disability Rights (CDR). They opened my eyes to my civil rights as a disabled American. With their unwavering support, I embarked on a journey to prove that I could not only survive but thrive in the community.


The ADA and Our Right to Independence


The ADA, enacted in 1990, was a groundbreaking piece of legislation that aimed to dismantle barriers for people with disabilities. It wasn't just about physical access; it was about ensuring that every disabled individual had the opportunity to live their life on their terms, free from discrimination.


Forcing people into institutions is not just a violation of the ADA; it's a violation of our basic human rights. The ADA affirms our right to live in the community, exercise control over our services, and lead independent lives. It's a call to dismantle the institutional bias that persists and provide Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) as a genuine alternative to institutionalization.


The Latonya Reeves Freedom Act (LRFA)


To address these issues head-on, the Latonya Reeves Freedom Act (LRFA) was introduced. Named after a courageous individual who, like me, was at risk of institutionalization due to the lack of necessary services and supports, LRFA seeks to create a path to freedom for disabled people.


LRFA aims to:


1. Clarify federal protections for individuals eligible for Long Term Services and Supports (LTSS), affirming their right to receive services and supports in the community.

2. Require states and LTSS insurance providers to deliver services that promote community integration, individual control, and independence.

3. Establish comprehensive planning processes to ensure access to HCBS, addressing disparities in provision.

4. Mandate the availability of affordable, accessible, and integrated housing independent of service delivery.


Conclusion: Our Fight for Independence Continues


Our stories are not unique; they are shared by thousands of disabled individuals facing similar battles. But it's time for this to change. The ADA, our ally in the quest for equality, reminds us that disability rights are human rights.


We stand united, advocating for the passage of the Latonya Reeves Freedom Act (LRFA), which would provide disabled people with the freedom to live independently in the community with the necessary services and support. Together, we can break down the barriers that have held us back for far too long, and in doing so, we can ensure that no one else faces the unjust violation of their rights by being forced into institutions.


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