RICHMOND — With her 14-year-old son Danté Herrera bundled up in his wheelchair next to her, Marlo Dean asked a couple of hundred people to put their fists in the air as they protested an 11,000-person waiting list for disability services.
“What do we do?” Dean said to the crowd gathered outside the Capitol of Virginia in the cold morning air Tuesday.
“We fight,” they said in reply.
“We fight to have what?” Dean said to cheers. “A life like yours.”
Dean was among a long line of parents, advocates and lawmakers who implored the crowd to keep fighting for services for people with disabilities.
Government “should be helping people that have problems, that have challenges, that have difficulties,” said Del. Tim Hugo, R-Fairfax. “We’re all God’s children and government has an obligation and a necessity to step up and try to help everybody, to make sure everybody can live life to the best of their capabilities.”
Virginia has for far too long relied on institutionalized care for people with disabilities, said Jamie Liban, executive director of the Arc of Virginia, an advocacy organization.
Even after the federal government intervened and required the state to provide care in the least restrictive settings possible — preferably at home rather than in institutions — the waiting list for services has been growing.
Advocates have urged the state to spend more money on disability waivers, or slots, which provide a variety of services to families in need, such as respite care or home modifications.