Advocacy for Texans with disabilities requires a collaborative spirit

Providing a level of advocacy that meets the needs of people with disabilities often takes cross collaboration across a variety of disciplines, all focused on a common goal. But many times, the first step requires identifying the challenges ahead and offering solutions.

That’s what’s been happening in Texas with UnitedHealthcare’s Statewide Advisory Council. The council helps bring organizations throughout the state to the table to:

  • Review new programs
  • Discuss new, pertinent policies from Texas Health and Human Services (HHS)
  • Analyze legislative topics of interest

The council convenes about two dozen statewide organizations concerned with the health, well-being and advocacy of people.

Dennis Borel, executive director of the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, has been on the council since its inception about 13 years ago. He noted that the group has always had a collaborative and proactive spirit, where it’s less about “checking a box” with disability advocacy, and more so focused on ensuring people with disabilities have a voice.

“I’ve always found it to be valuable,” he said. “Every time I’ve participated in one of these meetings, I’ve left with something that I can use. Also, I feel heard. It’s not for show. This is not play acting. It’s very common for someone to circle back.”

More recently, UnitedHealthcare has created two smaller working groups to address specific needs for the disability community, as a result of feedback from council participants:

  • Community Attendant Recruitment & Retention Workgroup: This is a partnership with Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, American Disabled for Attendant Programs Today and the Personal Attendant Coalition of Texas. The goal of the working group is to identify opportunities for recruitment and retention of community attendants, who are often crucial participants in the lives of people with disabilities, in assisting with activities of daily living (grooming, bathing, meals, and so on).
  • Promoting Independence in Community Settings: This workgroup addresses continuum of consumer directed services (or CDS), which allow people with disabilities to choose their own path when it comes to their care. CDS can offer greater flexibility and empowerment with services.

Marian Cabanillas, CEO of the UnitedHealthcare Community Health Plan of Texas – South Texas, helped create the original advisory council, and has loved watching it grow.

“We have the opportunity to hear how we’re doing as a health plan with our stakeholders,” she said, “and where we have opportunities for improvement. But it has also been an opportunity to keep the stakeholders in the loop as to what we’re focused on and get their feedback.”

She said the council continues to evolve — moving from more of a reporting and updating function and becoming more informed with a spirit of collaboration, focused on reaching common goals.

The advocacy groups, although relatively new, will continue to hone and foster the needed change and innovation in the state for people with disabilities.  

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