Just a few months into meeting, the newly restructured Dubuque County Disabilities Council is changing the face of public disability advocacy in the county.
Ann Cameron Williams was appointed as the Dubuque County Mental Health/Disabilities Coordinator in 2020. When she arrived, the existing disabilities council was largely vacant and had no members who had actually experienced life with a disability or had a family member living with one.
After a serious recruitment drive, the council is now mostly filled — with 18 people — most of whom have a disability. The council features an amputee, someone born with limb deficiency, another who needs a cane and multiple members with cognitive disabilities.
Several others come with the perspective of a close family member. That includes the newest member, Kim Morarend, whose son lives with cognitive challenges and Autism.
“My experience comes from being his mother and how my husband and I have tried to navigate his whole life, help him be independent,” she told the group Tuesday. “I know that my family is not the only one that feels that — Who do we turn to? Who do we ask this question? Where are the answers?”
Williams is clear that she expects work and not just representation from the council.
“This is not a support group,” she said. “It can be a supportive group, though.”
During the August meeting, council member Kyle Stumpf gave a 20-minute presentation to the council about his experience growing up with Down syndrome, without using a verbal word.
“I heard it very clearly that this group seeks to make some amazing change in Dubuque County,” Williams said. “You are ambassadors. I’m not in control of empowering you. You are empowered by the Board of Supervisors. How far you take it is up to you. That’s the kind of group, the caliber of group this is.”
The council spent Tuesday afternoon finalizing its mission statement and beginning to develop a strategic plan. The areas members wanted to tackle were weighty — accessibility of public spaces and affordable housing, the creation of comprehensive resource guides for families, shifting cultural acceptance and competitive employment.
As they pursue these goals, the council does still have four membership openings, reserved for applicants of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.
In addition to having a membership inclusive of people with disabilities, the council’s meetings are also structured to better facilitate those individuals.
For those with physical disabilities, a lot of intention is put into where meetings are held. Tuesday’s was in the chapel at Hillcrest Family Services’ Asbury Road campus — ground level with an accessible sidewalk and entrance, and lots of light.
Those with cognitive disabilities are also considered. Each meeting agenda is available in text as well as a binary alternative language, one of contextual symbols and photographs, for those who communicate better without words.
The council meets monthly. Meetings are open to the public.