One of the difficulties of living with a developmental disability — or living with someone living with a disability — is the feeling of being alone.
That’s why Kevin Harper wanted to get as many of those folks together as he could.
“The objective was to bring everyone together — to introduce them to the vendors who offer these services,” Harper said during Tulsa’s first Developmental Disabilities Awareness Rally at the Guthrie Green on Tuesday evening. “A lot of people really don’t know what’s out there.”
Several hundred people moved among the vendor booths, were entertained by the Owasso varsity cheer squad, watched an introductory video from U.S. Sen. James Lankford and danced with Miss Oklahoma, Addison Price. They also heard from several agency clients.
One of those was Katy Lew, who said she worked many years at Saint Francis Medical Center.
“People with disabilities can do things when given a chance,” she said. “We may look different and act differently, but we all have the same parts.”
Harper, director of marketing and business development for A New Leaf, said a recent survey showed that Tulsans in general don’t know much about the area’s developmentally disabled people and the agencies that support them.
“For instance,” he said, “A New Leaf has been around 40 years, and people don’t know about us.”
A New Leaf, like the other vendors, helps individuals with a wide range of disabilities achieve their potential and live more independent lives. Many people don’t know about such services, Harper said, or can’t afford them.
“Only about 50 percent of people with disabilities have a family that can support them,” he said.
That is a particular challenge in Oklahoma, where more than 10,000 people are on a waiting list for state aid for the developmentally disabled. The Legislature has taken steps in the past year to reduce that list, and Gov. Kevin Stitt has promised to bring it down significantly during his tenure.
But it is a daunting task.
“There are 29,000 people with disabilities just in Green Country,” Harper said.
Before joining some of the clients in a group dance, Price told them she understood how many of them felt.
“Everybody here can relate to that feeling of insecurity,” she said.
Price has talked openly about her early struggles with dyslexia.
“I was so shy I wouldn’t order off a menu in a restaurant,” she said. “I would tell my mother what I wanted, and she would have to order for me.”
Eventually, Price said, she decided that “I wasn’t weird, I was just different. … I hope as you listen to stories tonight you hear little pieces of yourselves.”