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Capital Briefs: Walkers march to bring awareness to persons with disabilities

WINDOW ROCK

In the cold weather, the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services with persons with disabilities — some in wheelchairs – marched to the Navajo Nation Council session Oct. 20 to bring awareness and attention to the issues and topics to improve programs for individuals with disabilities, according to a news release from the Department of Diné Education.

Walking along the roadside from the Chevron service station to the Council Chambers, marchers held up signs with messages of reminders that the government still has an undaunted obligation to fulfill. One sign read “Diné with disability lives matters” and another aimed at the lawmakers to comply with the law “Compliance with Navajo Nation Vocational Rehabilitation Act”.

“People with disabilities are people too,” said Jonathan Hale (St. Michaels/Oak Springs).

Speeches resonated the need to continue with funds and programs for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services that works closely with persons with disabilities. All this is summarized in the recent quarterly report the Council received.

OSERS reports problem areas that make it difficult to assist persons with disabilities, such as:

1. Job placement and job development for persons with disabilities are very difficult due to the 48.5 percent rate of unemployment and poor economy on the Navajo Nation. Unemployment is at an all-time high on the Navajo Nation.

2. Local employers are not willing to hire individuals with disabilities due to personal assumptions; some do not understand the on-the-job-training concept.

3. Some agency offices do not meet the American with Disabilities Act requirements for the public and seek renovation to meet ADA standards.

4. Transitional programs for high school students are limited and non-existent in most high schools.

5. Lack of adequate and accessible office accommodations in agency offices and the lack of rehabilitation teachers and ASL teachers/coaches who speak Navajo on the Navajo Nation.

6. Since 1998, the Workforce Investment Act is not reauthorized where tribal VR programs amendment request is continuation funding and set aside for independent living funds for tribes and cost reimbursement to tribes of social security recipients.

Begaye proclaims third week of October disability awareness week

WINDOW ROCK — Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye signed a proclamation declaring the third week of October to be Navajo Nation Disability Awareness Week.

“Despite their contributions to our society, people with disabilities face discrimination and limited access,” said Begaye. “This administration will work to strengthen protections against disability-based discriminations Our people should not fear discrimination in disclosing one’s disability.”

Supporters and advocates for disability awareness set out on a march on Tuesday morning from the Navajo Shopping Center in Window Rock to the Navajo Nation Council Chambers.

The Navajo Nation has enacted laws to protect the disabled. The Vulnerable Adult Protection Act, passed two years ago, says that any Navajo with a disability should not be abused, neglected, abandoned or exploited.

The Vulnerable Adult Protection Act, also known as the Doris Act, is named after Doris Dennison who faced disability injustices after being injured in a car accident that left her wheelchair bound.

Losing her ability to walk opened her eyes to the challenges that disabled people face on a daily basis. As an advocate for disability rights, Dennison has served as the Board President of Assist to Independence.

“The work isn’t done. Since I’ve been advocating for accessibility, the main issue I want to see is the reconsideration of the Navajo Nation Vocational Rehabilitation and Opportunities for the Handicapped Act,” Dennison said.

The law, which was passed in 1984, requires that both public and private entities provide reasonable accommodations for the special needs of persons with a disability.

“Some of the things this act addresses are the accessibility to buildings and employment,” she said. “We want this act to be reconsidered and for the whole Navajo Nation to comply with it.”


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About The Author

Bill Donovan

Bill Donovan wrote about Navajo Nation government and its people since 1971. He joined Navajo Times in 1976, and retired from full-time reporting in 2018 to move to Torrance, Calif., to be near his kids. He continued to write for the Times until his passing in August 2022.

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