Every year as young people prepare to go back to school, I have always encouraged them to be kind and inclusive. Bullying and divisiveness can be challenging among students in schools. There are some adults in our community who need the same inclusiveness.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have estimated that 1 in 4 adults in the United States display some sort of disability. This number is even greater among Arkansans at 1 in 3. As a result, my Assembly colleagues and I passed conducive legislation in this past session. We wanted to ensure that every individual had equal opportunities to participate and thrive in all aspects of their lives based on their best efforts and abilities.

Act 59 is the Achieving a Better Life Experience Program. We amended this act in order to allow Arkansans with disabilities to save up to $15,000 in an account without negatively affecting their public benefit eligibility. This act was also designed to ensure that disabled individuals would have the right to will that money to a beneficiary. Medicaid would not be able to seize such funds if they were designated for a beneficiary. We also passed Act 825 making up to $5,000 of the Achieving a Better Life Experience Program tax deductible.

In addition to passing legislation addressing mental health for the hard of hearing or deaf, we also passed Act 664. This Act mandates that a certified mental health professional also offer linguistic and culturally affirmative mental health services based in the client’s primary communication method. This law also mandates that Adult and Behavioral Health Services as well as the Division of Aging wings of DHS conduct the same allocation of services. This DHS division is also required to hire a coordinator to make sure linguistic mental health services are appropriate, accessible, and available in statewide capacity.

Students are also included. Arkansas Legislators passed Act 557 to protect the most vulnerable students in school districts. The Act states that school districts are not allowed to inflict corporal punishment on children who are non-ambulatory, autistic, non-verbal, or intellectually disabled.

The Assembly was also sensitive with passing laws to address communication efforts to the disabled. We all need to be cognizant of how we write and speak to people with disabilities. The goal is to make sure and try to avoid phrases that do not address needs that are individually specific or that disregard the dignity of the person we are addressing who has a disability.

For example, Act 1035 amended the law to include respectful language within all Arkansas code including the change from using the term mental retardation to developmental and intellectually disabled. Act 236 would allow the disabled to use special certificates and license plates containing a symbol instead of the word “disabled”. Let’s continue working together for a more inclusive Arkansas!

Finally, I like to share informative information that constituents might find useful. If you have questions about any legislation or the legislative process, feel free to contact me at my House of Representatives via email at [email protected] or by phone at 501-682-6211.