If you want to make Larry Biondi laugh, introduce him to people he hasn’t previously met as a “troublemaker.”
Born with cerebral palsy and confined to a wheelchair, the advocacy coordinator for the Progress Center for Independent Living in Forest Park proudly wears the badge of troublemaker, or advocate for people with disabilities.
Evidence of Biondi’s advocacy is revealed in the work he has done recently to promote the passage of the Disability Integration Act (DIA), or HR 555, which aims to ensure the state provides individuals with disabilities the long-term services and supports necessary to lead an independent life.
Biondi insists that the DIA is not a request for charity but an attempt to legislatively protect the civil rights of people with disabilities. The Congressmen who drafted HR 555 agree with Biondi. A sentence in the bill declares, “For the promise of the ADA to be fully realized, States must approach these decisions from a civil rights perspective.”
Clark Craig is a community organizer at the Progress Center and a co-troublemaker with Biondi. He said it was ironic the state tends to institutionalize people with long-term disabilities, since that tactic often costs taxpayers more than if those people were well integrated into the communities in which they live. The DIA estimates that institutionalizing those with long-term disabilities costs the United States “billions of dollars in unnecessary spending.”
One tactic Biondi and his co-workers at the Progress Center use to promote bills is to travel to Washington D.C. and Springfield, educate legislators as to why the bill is important and then recruit them as co-sponsors. Congressman Danny Davis (D-7th) has signed on as co-sponsor of DIA, along with seven other representatives in the Progress Center’s service area, including Reps. Mike Quigley (D-5th), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-8th), Jan Schakowsky (D-9th) and more.
The Progress Center has partnered with another disability advocacy group called ADAPT to advocate the legislation.
“Our target date to pass the DIA out of the House is July 26th, which marks the 29th-year anniversary of the ADA,” said Biondi, referring to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Prompt Payment-Late Payment Act, or HB 2600, which, like the DIA, advocates for the rights of state employees to receive support for funding long-term conditions, was recently introduced in the Senate.
“The state version HR 555 was written by a parent of a kid with a disability,” said Biondi. “Unfortunately it died in committee a month ago, but we’re confident that the bill will be re-introduced next year.”
Gary Arnold, program director at the Progress Center, explained how the nonprofit promotes its political agenda.
“The Progress Center,” he explained, “receives funding from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and from the Woods Fund. These grants were awarded based upon an application from Progress Center in which we said we would use the support to educate the public and legislators about legislation that supports the independence of people with disabilities.”
He added that the Progress Center’s core services are funded by a General Revenue Fund Grant from the state, and that the state is aware that a core service of all independent living centers is advocacy, specifically self-advocacy.
“Self-advocacy,” he explained, “includes calling legislators, meeting with them and urging them to support legislation that supports independence.”
Biondi explained why it is so important to create legislation that promotes the integration of people with disabilities into the mainstream of society. “Currently,” he said, “without legislation like the Disability Integration Act, there’s an institutional bias, i.e. the ease of which people can receive institutional services compared to community-based services. In the United States, this results in the warehousing of people with disabilities.”
The DIA would shift funding from spending on institutional care to what they refer to as a support “infrastructure.” Biondi explained, “This legislation, when passed, would mandate that each state would create an infrastructure of support services so that people can live in the community and thrive.”