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Wisdom Award: Exemplifies Disability Rights Wisconsin’s value of Dignity – advocating so people with disabilities can exercise and enjoy their civil rights, free of abuse or neglect. Honors a person or firm who has made an extraordinary contribution to advancing the civil rights of people with disabilities by changing hearts and minds through community engagement, litigation, or public policy advocacy.
Co-chairs Nancy Gapinski (Glendale), Marion Holmberg (Waukesha), and Julie Burish (Brookfield) will accept the award on behalf of all those involved with “Save IRIS”.In 2015, Wisconsin’s state budget contained a proposal to radically alter the state’s stand-alone self-directed long-term care program, IRIS (Include, Respect, I Self-Direct), to instead become part of a fully-integrated managed long-term care program. Tens of thousands of frail elderly and people with physical and developmental disabilities would no longer have a stand-alone self-directed care option.

Almost instantly, a group of self-direction advocates and allies, including IRIS participants, families, guardians, and caregivers came together. “Save IRIS” immediately engaged multiple stakeholders and influencers – legislators, the long-term care community, the media, providers and concerned citizens – to ensure that the choice and control available through IRIS would not be lost. IRIS uniquely offers individuals full budget and employer authority for home and community-based waiver services.

All of the group’s leaders were graduates of Wisconsin’s “Partners in Policymaking”, an advocacy and systems change training program. So despite lack of prior experience leading a major public policy initiative their passion and resourcefulness resulted in a fast and effective communications strategy. Among them: a website, information pieces, talking points, fact sheets, a strong social media presence, broadcast interviews, newspaper articles, letters to legislators and newspaper editors, advocacy during listening sessions, and other forms of outreach.

Ultimately, the proposal to redesign Wisconsin’s long-term care system and eliminate IRIS as a stand-alone program was withdrawn. IRIS continues to serve more than 14,000 Wisconsinites.

Today, “Save IRIS” remains in full force. The unfunded, all-volunteer group meets regularly with officials at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services to influence policy and make recommendations for continuous program improvement; Save IRIS members have met with legislators about proposed changes to Medicaid; continues to provide advocates and the public with information that might otherwise go unnoticed; and conducts workshops on self-direction.