Ten people, some using wheelchairs, were blocked from entering a public meeting of the Missouri Governor's Council on Disability last Wednesday in Jefferson City, MO where Gov. Matt Blunt was delivering a speech on the Americans with Disabilities Act. The activists who were barred from the speech -- members of the Show Me ADAPT group, who have participated in several protests critical of the governor's Medicaid cuts -- say they are planning legal action, contending that Blunt violated both the state's
"Sunshine Law" and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
According to Michelle Krajewski of The Whole Person independent living center in Kansas City, MO, "a security guard claiming to be under orders from the Governor's staff told the people waiting to enter the meeting room that it was full and they would not be allowed in.
"The governor gave the speech at a regular meeting of the Governor's Council on Disabilities, and there were approximately 20 Council members there, many of whom had disabilities, some who used wheelchairs," said Krajewski, adding that there were another 15 onlookers in the room, four of whom were wearing "Show-Me ADAPT" T-shirts and who "managed to get in before the room supposedly became 'full'."
Show-Me ADAPT members chained themselves to the door of the Missouri House of Representatives in May to in protest of the Medicaid cuts, Krajewski explained. (See photos of that protest)
Krajewski, who was in the room, says "there was almost an entire row of empty chairs on one side of the room and 10-15 feet of empty space on three sides of the tables where the Council members were sitting. There was plenty of space in that room."
Another witness, who declined to be identified, saw the guard opening the door and looking into the room "at least three times." The guard said he had been told to keep people out by a member of the governor's staff.
The people who were denied entrance were not allowed into the room until the governor left and the meeting adjourned, said Krajewski.
One woman who was barred from the room said she had overheard a man who appeared to be with the governor's security detail informing the security guard that there was no more room in the meeting. "All we wanted to do was go in and listen respectfully. I told the guard that we had a right to be in there and that we had no intention of disrupting the meeting." The woman, who declined to be identified, and her nine companions were all wearing T-shirts identifying them as members of Show-Me ADAPT.
"This is scary, because this was a government body, supposedly open to the public, and some people with disabilities were prevented from entering simply because they wore T-shirts identifying them as advocates who have been critical of the governor's draconian Medicaid cuts, said Krajewski. "The governor refuses to meet with any disability advocates, and is downright paranoid about running into them in uncontrolled situations."
Krajewski elaborated. In May, a wheelchair user sitting in front of an elevator at the Capitol was noticed by two security guards who, she says, "stared at him and then spoke into their walkie-talkies," reportedly telling the governor to take the stairs because "there's a person in a wheelchair here, so the elevator is not secure." Prior to a speech by the governor at the March of Dimes in St. Louis, Krajewski said, his advance staff "swept through the office beforehand, peering into every nook and cranny" and reportedly telling staff "that the governor would drink only bottled water on which he had himself broken the seal.
"This governor is paranoid about disability advocates, to the point of violating the law, apparently," said Krajewski.
Those kept out of the ADA speech, says Krajewski, had no intention of disrupting the speech. "The Governor's Council on Disabilities is a good thing and we all know people on that Council," said Krajewski. Because of that, the group didn't raise a ruckus when they were told the meeting was full, she said. But she noted that the Governor's Council on Disabilities is a public governmental body whose meetings are required to be open to the public under the Missouri Sunshine Law, and added that "the Council is required by Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act to make its programs and meetings accessible to citizens with disabilities." She said the group has contacted an attorney.
More on the incident from the
More news about Missouri disability activism.
Background on Medicaid cuts in Missouri from the National Health Law Project.
Posted July 25, 2005.
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