by Andy Rausch and Joe Reinecker
ADAPT (Americans Disabled for Acessible Public Transit) is a national grassroots community that organizes disability rights activists to engage in nonviolent direct action, including civil disobedience, to assure the civil and human rights of people with disabilities to live in freedom. When ADAPT first began in 1983, its primary mission was to assist the disabled in getting quality public transportation. Since that time their goals have changed, becoming broader. Today they strive for equal rights for the disabled in just about every arena possible.
The Kansas ADAPT group was established in 1991. At one time SKIL, like many other Kansas centers for independent living, was heavily involved in this grassroots activism.
“At one point by the late 1990s to the early 2000s, Kansas had one of the biggest groups in the country,” explains Mike Oxford, national organizer for ADAPT. “We had four different state sub-groups, and we were very active with these different groups. But frankly, around the time of the Great Recession of 2008, the budget were a big harm. Then behind that came changes to the largest funding streams that the centers were using—the Medicaid self-directed kind of services—and those things changed the way the centers had previously had income and operating budgets, which hurt their ability to help fund grassroots efforts like ADAPT. Combining with that has been our modern era of the Brownback Administration and things like Kancare and managed care and all of that... Those things created a climate and conditions where centers didn't feel like they had the ability to donate money and engage in grassroots activism the way they had previously.”
Today, Oxford says, Kansas ADAPT is starting to reemerge in the wake of government-orchestrated threats to the disabled community. “A lot of these centers are coming back to these grassroots movements and working through this,” Oxford explains. “So I'm really excited. We've been through a lot, but we still maintained a presence. We still maintained our ADAPT identity here in Kansas. We're still very well known and respected. I'm just looking for being in a zeitgeist where we're going to go the other way, where centers are now going to feel like they have to reengage in activism and they want to get involved in this. Because we're fighting for our lives right now. There are threats such as cutting Medicaid to trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act to threatening Medicare. Over the years I've seen that the real grassroots groups rise up when they feel threatened, and right now the threat is real and the need to fight back is very big.”
This past year Kansas ADAPT held a protest outside Senator Moran's office in Pittsburg in an attempt to convince the senator not to vote for the dismantling of the ADA. “That was one of the best protests we saw here in Kansas this last year,” says Oxford.
There are talks of a reemergence of ADAPT at SKIL in Parsons. Parties interested in getting involved can go to the Kansas ADAPT page on Facebook for more information or contact SKIL to express their interest directly.
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by Andy Rausch
Fort Scott resident Joe Reinecker, 59, suffers from Cerebral Palsy. The condition was first diagnosed when Reinecker was four. “I’ve found out that the older I get, the worse my Cerebral Palsy gets,” says Reinecker.”I wish someone would have told me at the time that when you get older, when you’re almost age 60, this is gonna get worse and you’re gonna have to handle it this way or that way.” But no one did, so as the years have passed, Reinecker has had to constantly readjust the way he approaches things due to the evolution of his condition.
One of the changes has been an increased difficulty in mobility. “I walk a lot slower now,” says Reinecker, who now uses forearm crutches to assist him. “When I was a kid in school I could run and I could get somewhere fairly quickly. As I get older, I’m not fast at all. It’s a lucky day if I can go fast from the living room to the bathroom.”
Reinecker has found a valued ally in SKIL, which he first discovered when the organization purchased KSEK in Pittsburg. After sixteen years as the assistant to the Director of Community Relations at Fort Scott Community College, Reinecker was seeking a new career path. “The radio station was looking for someone to help on the air,” recalls Reinecker. “I’d always wanted to work in radio, so it was perfect for me. When I was 10-years-old I used to sit in my house and play records and dream about the possibility of becoming a DJ. I had always loved radio, so this was right up my alley.”
Reinecker applied to work at KSEK and was eventually hired as a board operator during high school sporting events. That job soon evolved into an opportunity to work as a disc jockey, allowing him to finally achieve his childhood dream of being an on-air personality. “I did a rock-and-roll show from six to nine a.m.,” Reinecker explains. “I got to play classic rock, like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.”
In 2015, SKIL sold the radio station to a new owner. “Everybody who worked there lost their job except for me,” says Reinecker. “The reason I didn’t get fired is because SKIL thought I could do the Resource Central podcast for their website. [Business Manager] Bill Cochran told me, ‘We think you can do this because people will be able to look at disability issues through your eyes.’ That’s why they kept me around, and I’m extremely thankful.” The podcast eventually died an untimely death in early 2018, but Reinecker remains a SKIL employee, working in public relations and generating material for the agency’s website.
His relationship with SKIL ultimately led to his receiving assistive services through the Working Healthy program. This program allows him to have in-home assistance with daily activities, such as house cleaning, meal preparation, and grocery shopping. “I wouldn’t have known about the Working Healthy program if it hadn’t been for my becoming affiliated with SKIL through my work at the radio station. I’m extremely thankful for both SKIL and the Working Healthy program. It has been instrumental in my being able to continue living a quality life in my own home.”
by Andy Rausch and Joe Reinecker
Human Resources Manager Susan Schulze of Parsons is a long-time SKIL employee. She started work for the agency on May 15, 1996. At that time SKIL had a slightly different name (SEKIL), was housed in a different building, and Schulze herself had a different last name.
Schulze, then Susan Wiseman, came to SKIL after graduating from Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, Oklahoma, where she earned a degree in Sociology. At the time Schulze was hired to be a receptionist for one of the directors. She then moved to the Personnel Department, where she worked for a number of years. After that, she was asked to assume the role of HR Manager.
When asked what the duties of an HR manager is, Schulze jokes that she does “just about everything.” Her duties include tracking employee benefits, such as sick time and vacation time, as well as new hire orientations. “When new hires come onboard, we do the paperwork together and watch tutorial videos,” explains Schulze. “I also introduce them to the staff in our office.”
She also keeps track of employee information in a database so it can be easily accessed during an audit. Schulze also assists the Payroll Department with garnishments and child support orders. She also works closely with Independent Strides.
Schulze says her favorite part of the job is “getting to talk to people and finding out what they want to achieve with their positions within the company.”
During Schulze’s time at SKIL, she has seen the organization evolve in terms of its goals, scope, and size. (When she first started, SKIL was a tiny operation. At its peak, it employed approximately 170 people.) “When I was first hired, there was a lot more advocacy going on,” explains Schulze. “There was a lot of advocating for people with disabilities to our legislators, business leaders, and landlords. It was interesting to see how that advocacy worked. SKIL even advocated for me since I don’t drive. They advocated and worked with public transportation to get them to expand their hours so more people could use that service. That was a big eye-opener. Unfortunately, we don’t see that as much now.”
Schulze says it was interesting to watch the growth of the organization during her first fifteen years or so. Since that time, the organization has suffered some and has had to decrease in size due to massive budget cuts at the hands of the Sam Brownback administration.
“I pray a lot and ask God to help our agency and show us what direction the agency needs to go,” Schulze says. “I sincerely hope that whoever the next governor is, they will allow us to assist people with disabilities at the level we have in the past. Hopefully there won’t be as many cuts that affect people with disabilities who really need the services we provide.”
Schulze believes one of the better things that separates SKIL from other competing organizations is a sense of family. “Our CEO Shari Coatney likes SKIL to have more of a family atmosphere than a business atmosphere,” says Schulze. “We want our customers to come in and feel like they’re welcome here and that they’re part of a family.”
Schulze says when she was initially hired that she never would have imagined she’d still be here almost 22 years later. “One year turned into five years, and then five years turned into 10 and then 20,” says Schulze. “It’s like, ‘How did we get here?’” Schulze says she enjoys her work and appreciates the services SKIL provides for its customers. She says she can’t see the future and doesn’t know how long she will ultimately work for the agency, but she says she has no plans to leave in the foreseeable future.
With budget cuts galore, these are tough times for the disabled, many of us having less income than we might like. With this in mind, it’s important to save a buck or two wherever and whenever possible. Programs like the Homestead Refund and LIEAP (The Kansas Low Income Energy Assistance Program) are designed to assist people like us. Can these programs help you save some money? What are they?
First let’s talk about the Homestead Refund. What is the Homestead Refund? The Homestead Refund is a rebate of a portion of the property taxes paid on a Kansas resident’s homestead. A person’s refund percentage is based on their total household income. The refund is a percentage of a person’s general property tax excluding specials. Tax on property valued at more than $350,000 does not qualify. The maximum refund is $700. Filers eligible for the Kansas Property Tax Relief claim receive 75 percent of their property tax with no minimum limit. Individuals are only eligible for one claim.
“You have to be a homeowner to be eligible for the program,” explains SKIL volunteer Independent Living Coordinator (ILC) Judy Blunk. “If you are renting you would not be eligible.”
According to Blunk, people who are interested can file now. Applications must be in before April 1st. “It would be best to go ahead and get it done as soon as possible,” says Blunk. “I am assisting people with their filing already.”
Anyone who is seeking help filing for the Homestead Refund or has questions about their eligibility can contact the Parsons SKIL office at (620) 421-5502 and ask for an independent living coordinator. “Any one of the coordinators will be more than happy to assist you,” says Blunk.
So, how long does the application process take? “If they have all the paperwork right there in front of them, it wouldn’t take but a few minutes,” says Blunk. “If the person doesn’t have their paperwork with them, it might take about thirty minutes to complete the application.”
LIEAP is another valuable option for Kansas residents. This is a federally funded program that provides energy assistance to low-income families in the state of Kansas. Through this program, the state of Kansas has been able to ensure that no household lacks heating facilities and fuel especially in the cold winter season. Benefits of the program are provided based on the household size, household income, type of dwellings, and type of fuel used by the particular household.
“The program helps pay a person’s electric or gas bill,” Blunk says. “They can have it split in half to pay towards both of them, or they can have all the money put into one.”
SKIL also assists people with filing for LIEAP and the determination of eligibility. Blunk says she can assist people living near the Columbus area. She can be contacted at (620) 429-3600. She says the independent living coordinators in Parsons can also assist. That number again is (620) 421-5502.