Ricki Ritt said he feels unheard and unseen by the government. He was one of about 80 participants Wednesday in the My Work My Choice rally.
“To me it’s like the government is slapping me in the face. Like they don’t acknowledge us because we do have disabilities,” Ritt, 55, said.
The rally is an effort to bring awareness to a proposed federal rule that would shift funding away from facilities, like Northwoods, that offer job skills training and employment for adults with disabilities.
The proposal from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid would halt Medicaid dollars from going to such programs, based on the argument that they discriminate against the disabled population in a segregated work environment.
If the proposal goes through it could affect 110 adults with disabilities from attending day programs and prevocational training, said Jeff Aerts, CEO and president of Northwoods Inc. of Wisconsin.
The stark rally T-shirts stood in contrast to the electric colors on the signs and the energy from the crowd. When semi trucks or cars went by on Highway 51 participants raised their arms and signs into the air.
“A lot of horns and people are signing,” said Norma Juarez, 22. She’s worked at Northwoods for two years and is in the process of obtaining a job.
A bullhorn within the crowd kept the chant going, “My work, my choice” while music pumped from speakers nearby. The electronic Northwoods sign flashed with notification of the rally and petitions to sign.
The rally occurred in the morning, afternoon and evening. Participants rallied in shifts that included case workers, parents and clients of Northwoods.
“We’re out here, but our friends are working inside,” Ritt said, so they were representing a lot of people by being in the rally.
Several people said they were at the morning rally and planned to stay until the evening. Sen. Jon Erpenbach came to the early gathering to show his support, according to Aerts. However, Rep. Keith Ripp ended up not attending. Representatives from Sen. Ron Johnson and Rep. Fred Clark were expected to attend the evening rally.
Cindy Bergh works at Northwoods and at Grothman & Associates by cleaning at the office in Portage. She took the petition letter to the local business, Bergh, 46, said.
“They took a copy and promised me they would sign the letter and send it to the senators,” she said.
Bergh said her presence at the rally encompassed several others.
“I’m supporting myself, Northwoods, my second job and my friends,” she said.
Janet Atkinson stopped by the rally in support of the Zydowsky family, she said, who have a son, Jake, who works at the Poynette Piggly Wiggly and Northwoods.
“I’ve been a supporter of Northwoods for years and I did sign the petition. If we don’t support the most vulnerable how does that reflect on us as a people?” Atkinson said.
Awareness makes the issue relevant to the public, she said, and Atkinson plans on sending the petition to channels within the Madison Diocese.
Politicians on both sides of the aisle support the rally and Northwoods, but it shouldn’t be a government issue, Atkinson said. She’s a Constitutionalist Conservative.
“It’s not a political issue. It’s a human issue. It’s an issue of the conscience. We have to help these people,” Atkinson said.