In 1988, about ninety people gathered in Salina, Kansas for the 1st Kansas Disability Caucus. Attendees identified issues of concern and those issues were brought to the forefront in the 1988 legislative session. Results from the 1989 legislative session passed a Self-Direction law, K.S.A. 39-7,100, which allowed the establishment of the first consumer directed personal assistance services in Kansas history. This legislation, known as House Bill 2012, required the cooperation of the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services to provide the program. When people unite toward a common cause, it does make a difference.
The 3rd Disability Caucus was held in the capital city of Topeka, Kansas in 1993. Over two hundred people united to express their concerns on issues facing people with disabilities. Their main concern focused on the need for a national personal assistance program.
There were over five hundred participants at the 5th Kansas Disability Caucus held in 1997 in Topeka, Kansas. Who can forget the emotional impact when the members of a labor union made an impromptu stand and crossed the street to join the rally at the Greyhound bus station that was being staged to bring attention to the need for accessibility in transportation.
In 1999, the overwhelming message from participants at the 6th Kansas Disability Caucus was people with disabilities wanting to work, but fearing loss of health care coverage. As a result, the 2000 legislature approved a Medicaid Buy-In program for people with disabilities. This program is now known as the “Working Healthy” program.
As more Kansans with disabilities were participating in community life, it appeared, in 2003, at the 8th Kansas Disability Caucus that parents with disabilities were experiencing discrimination solely based on their disability. Legislation was later passed to prohibit any type of discrimination in child in need of care (CINC) cases based solely on a parent’s disability.
In 2009 and 2011, the focus of the Caucus was employment. There were many initiatives worked toward, such as the “Employment First” law, which Kansas was the first state to eventually pass. In addition, Kansas Health Policy Authority (KHPA) announced the start of Work Opportunities Reward Kansans (WORK), a program that promotes employment of people with significant disabilities, making Kansas one of the first states to have such an innovative program. The WORK program includes assessments, personal assistance services, independent living counseling, and assistive services in a “package” of services that support independent living and employment.
In 2015, there was consensus that priorities need to be voting, education of our communities and advocates, employment/training, and advocating for our rights.
Starting anew, the theme for the 2018 Caucus was “Moving Forward: Turning SETBACKS Into COMEBACKS!” Almost 200 disability advocates gathered at the Ramada Inn Downtown in Topeka for this 14th annual event. The 2018 Caucus focused on celebrating past achievements and strengthening the resolve of the disability community for the future.
In August of 2020, over 200 disability advocates experienced a Disability Caucus like no other. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and limits on social gatherings, the Caucus was moved to a virtual platform and attendees experienced sessions and speakers on Zoom over a period of three days. The 15th Kansas Disability Caucus focused on two central themes relating to the rights, responsibilities, and lives of Kansans with disabilities around voting and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Each Caucus has had its own unique highlights and topics of discussion over the years, ranging from attendant care to employment, from transportation to health insurance. The Caucus is held every two years.
In 2018, the Kansas Disability Caucus, Inc. was established with its own incorporation, tax exempt status, and run by a volunteer Board of Directors made up of a majority of people with disabilities. After only holding a large event every two years, the Caucus began providing training sessions on important topics to educate people with disabilities, advocates, and stakeholders to further advocacy efforts.