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Story Last modified at 11:17 p.m. on Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Rally highlights needs of disabled residents
As Key Coalition marches in Juneau, locals add their support from home

Alaska Star


Nick Wood shares a sign he helped make as part of the first-ever Eagle River Key Coalition rally, held Feb. 24 at Eagle River Town Square. The event's aim is to raise awareness of, and support for, the needs of those with developmental disabilities.
STAR PHOTO by Melissa DeVaughn

As members of the Key Coalition of Alaska held their annual Key Campaign rally in Juneau last week to educate legislators about disability needs, locals close to the issue also added their support from downtown Eagle River.

Waving handmade signs and chanting "no more waiting list!" members of the FOCUS After School Program and Connextions Day Habilitation Center – both Eagle River organizations that assist the developmentally disabled – garnered the attention of passersby on Business Boulevard Feb. 24.

It was the first-ever Key Campaign rally in Eagle River, said FOCUS care coordinator Snejana Ivanoska, who helped organize the event.

"All these signs were made by the kids," she said at the afternoon rally, held at the Town Square Center, across from the FOCUS offices. "Businesses have been very supportive."

Ivanoska kicked off the rally to the shouts and chatter of at least 50 participants, including caregivers, parents and those experiencing disabilities ranging from high-functioning autism to severe cerebral palsy.

Ivanoska said there were several "key" issues she wanted to address at the rally, the highest among them being the long waiting list for services. The federal government partially funds Medicaid waivers for eligible participants, which are designed to help those with special needs receive the care they need within their community rather than be forced into institutions. The state assists in this waiver process.

"In 2010, the number from the waiver waiting list went from 972 people to 838 only," she said. She said the Key Coalition's goal is to bring that waiting list down, "with a hope that in the near future there will be no more waiting for people that need services. There are so many families torn apart because they have not been able to get the support they need."

The Key Coalition of Alaska has supporters in Juneau, primarily Sen. Bettye Davis of Anchorage, but also Chugiak Rep. Bill Stoltze, who has helped Coalition volunteers as they prepare for the rallies in Juneau in the past.

"The Key Campaign comes down here," Stoltze said in a Jan. 31 interview about the FOCUS group. "I still have one of their pins they make, a ceramic fish that has FOCUS (written) on it."

While in Juneau, Key Campaign representatives gave a presentation to the joint Senate and House Health and Social Services Committee.

Ivanoska said the Key Campaign volunteers in Juneau are spreading the same message that groups such as FOCUS and Connextions are talking about locally.

"We don't want our children out of state. We want them here, with their family and friends, with their community," she said. She added the group is seeking better insurance coverage for individuals with autism.

"Most insurance policies specifically exclude coverage for treating autism, even when the services are otherwise covered by (a person's health plan," she said. "And autism is treatable."

This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, March 2, 2011.