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Push for more people with disabilities on Iowa boards, commissions

DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa’s government has 180 boards and commissions, with many consisting of appointed members, but advocates fear most don’t include people with disabilities.

An emerging effort aims to get more of these voices to serve on public panels.

The Iowa Developmental Disabilities Council recently adopted its latest five-year plan, which outlines the organization’s top goals. A new focus is increasing participation in local and state boards and commissions.

Brooke Lovelace, executive director of the Iowa Developmental Disabilities Council, said there has not been much tracking of the issue. While there are some disability-specific panels, she contended the community should push to be part of decision-making in all areas.

“Boards and commissions that folks with disability should be applying for and serving on and something that’s of interest to them,” Lovelace outlined. “Whether that be economic development, the art council.”

Lovelace argued not having influence can derail progress for the disability community, such as the recent election law adopted by Iowa. Among other things, it places restrictions on ballot drop boxes.

The council is having conversations with the governor’s office, which appoints members, about increasing inclusion. There’s also an online talent bank launched by the Human Rights Department in 2019, designed to encourage underserved Iowans to consider openings.

Monica Stone, deputy director of the Department, said the talent bank started shortly before the pandemic, so they have not been able to get a clear sense yet of how effective it is. But she added they are trying to increase awareness, noting a challenge is convincing those with disabilities they don’t have to have a lengthy background in a specific area to be considered.

“I think sometimes people think you have to be something more special in order to put your name in the hat,” Stone observed. “And the truth is, the people who serve on appointed boards and commissions are special because they choose to spend their time with public service, but they are everyday Iowans.”

Similar efforts have occurred in states like Pennsylvania, which launched the Inclusive Leadership in Action project.

The Iowa Developmental Disabilities Council believes it is still an overlooked issue, and said the Hawkeye State could serve as a leader in gathering firm data while boosting recruitment.

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