The writer Ernest Hemingway once said, "Courage is grace under pressure." Hemingway, who traveled the world, is reported to have visited Hana in 1941. But I am certain he never went to a Maui Disability Alliance Legislative Forum like I did on Sept. 13.
If he had, he would have seen courage, grace and the dignity of those for whom life itself--the everyday actions we take for granted--presents pressures they refuse be defined by and which they rise above each day.
Patrick McGoldrick, 15, is a person of courage, although I doubt he would say so. He has autism and participates in the Best Buddies program that pairs people with a disability with someone who is not disabled. Patrick is a "Best Buddies Self-Advocate."
Members of the Maui High School Chapter of the Health Occupations Students of America gather for a photo before continuing to assist with the 17th Annual Maui Disability Alliance Legislative Forum held Sept. 13 at Maui Waena Intermediate School in Kahului.
Patrick stood up before an audience of over 100 attendees and spoke about his life with Best Buddies. He said that before Best Buddies, he spent most of his time watching TV and playing video games.
With the Best Buddies program, "We have fun," he said. "We go to dances and on hikes. I got to go to a dance and I slow-danced with two girls."
The 17th Annual Maui Disability Alliance Legislative Forum held in the Maui Waena Intermediate School cafeteria in Kahului was an opportunity for Maui legislators to hear true voices of concern and hope delivered with a thoughtful civility too often missing from the public dialogue.
Lisa Darcy, a transportation advocate, thinks that people with disabilities should be allowed to pay the same bus fare as students.
Speaking about the Maui County 2012 budget, she said, "I was told it would be put in the budget, but it did not pass I am really frustrated. What if they take away your car? How would you get to your job?" she asked a panel of elected officials, including Speaker Emeritus Rep. Joe Souki.
Souki did not duck the question. "We have to act like Solomon. We are working with limited funds that come with no increase in revenues. We have had to cut the budget over the past six years by over $2 billion. When we cut, that means services are lost."
June Davis followed up with a response. "We are not disabled by accident," she told Souki, "but by age. All of us understand about the budget and money because we are all on that crunch every day."
The lack of housing for people with disabilities was another subject for discussion. Daniel Awai introduced himself and said, "I am number 128 of 3,750 people waiting for HUD housing."
HUD housing is also known as the Section 8 program administered by Maui County that pays landlords a subsidy to provide affordable housing for those who could not otherwise afford Maui's high rents. According to Rev. Tasha Kama, as of August, the program was no longer accepting applications.
"I am a member of the Hale o Lanakila Clubhouse and the Menehune Aquaponics project at UH Maui College," Daniel testified. "These programs assist people with disabilities. When you see us in public, you would not know we have a disability. But we are affected by severe depression, anxiety and sometimes thoughts associated with schizophrenia. Like any disability, we have obstacles to overcome. For many of us, getting out of our homes or being able to overcome our medication's side effects is extremely difficult."
Daniel receives $643 a month in Social Security Disability (SSI) plus $125 in food stamps. If he budgets everything, he sometimes has $20 to 30 to spend on things other than necessities.
"I try to live frugally and I think I do a good job at it," said Daniel. "I literally don't waste any food and will eat all my leftover food. With this income, it's hard to live a healthy lifestyle. Buying fresh fruits and vegetables is difficult. Sometimes you have to decide what's more important this week--toilet paper or laundry soap.
"Often a crisis situation can send us to the hospital or cause some of us to be homeless," Daniel said. "For those with no family and nowhere else to go, homelessness is a reality and is common among those with mental health disabilities.
"Please, legislators, we appreciate any assistance you can give us. You do make a difference," he concluded.
John Tomoso, executive director of the Hui No Ke Ola Pono health program for Native Hawaiians, chaired the meeting as an enthusiastic advocate for those testifying and for the programs that serve those in need. These programs receive federal, state and county funding, but are forced to, as Rep. Souki said, "Act like Solomon" in the face of a need greater than the ability to meet it.
Next year, the Maui Disability Alliance will hold its 18th annual legislative forum. Alliance members are determined to continue supporting each other and educating their legislators. It's a meeting you might want to put on your calendar.