News Article Details

Q&A: Democratic Disability Caucus head Adam Brabender highlights importance of access

Wisconsin State Journal - 8/25/2019

Aug. 25--For Adam Brabender, the co-chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party's new Disability Caucus, breaking down barriers that those with visible and invisible disabilities face is key.

It's the invisible ones that Brabender, 43, has personally faced.

Brabender, who has autism, is looking to use his new position with the caucus to push for more accessibility statewide, bring individuals with disabilities to the table and call on others to run for public office.

And he's also looking to encourage people to educate themselves about the issues, listen to individuals like him who have dealt with disabilities and work to lessen the stigma surrounding disabilities in general.

Now a Stoughton resident, Brabender himself ran for Dane County Board in 2016 but lost in the District 1 primary.

While he's not ruling out another bid for office in the future, Brabender said he's currently busy shaping the new Disability Caucus and working on getting his bachelor's degree in social work from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, after receiving his associate's degree from Madison College in 2009.

For the last year, Brabender has been working to form the now 88-member Disability Caucus. The group officially came together in June at the state Democratic Party convention in Milwaukee.

Tell me more about yourself. What are you studying at UW-Whitewater?

I'm studying social work with political science as minor. My focus is on mental health. Some of the subjects I enjoy are public policy, learning about different therapeutic techniques and interviewing skills.

How long do you have until you graduate?

Right now, I'm at senior standing. But I'm taking a couple classes each semester. Due to my disability, I find it challenging to take a full (course) load.

Are you involved in other activities outside of school?

I volunteer at the Yahara House (in Madison). It's a clubhouse for people with mental health problems. I'm on various committees and the Wisconsin Clubhouse Coalition, when I have time for it.

What are your goals in the short-term and after graduation?

My goal is to get a bachelor's of science degree in social work in the near future. Due to the fact that I have a disability, I can relate to others who are going through similar circumstances like bullying, harassment, dealing with mental health issues. At a young age, my parents and I were told that I probably would not amount to much, but with hard work and a lot of challenges along the way, I had to prove to others and myself that I could do it. I'm tired of being told that I can't do something when they should be saying to me, "You can do it." ... I might want to get my master's degree in social work. My goal with this degree, I would like to change laws by being an advocate to give a voice to the under-represented.

Transitioning to the Disability Caucus, can you tell me why it was important to get it started?

It will give Wisconsin a major spotlight during the upcoming DNC convention coming in 2020. I would like to have more people involved in the party, specifically a Disability Caucus so that people with disabilities can get their voices heard in the process. ... There are many laws, policies and programs that have a huge impact on people with disabilities and people with disabilities are poorly represented.

This is why there are cuts to vital programs: Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and other assistance programs. These cuts lead to people not getting the assistance they need, oftentimes requiring people to move to nursing homes, group homes. They go without food, medications or even housing. It may even result in hospital drips, increases in crime and even death. We need to be represented and protect people with disabilities.

What are you hoping to accomplish through the caucus?

I want to see friendlier legislation passed into law (surrounding) accessibility. In regards to visible disabilities (I'd like to see at) the (DNC) convention: large screens, interpreters and closed captioning. As for invisible disabilities, more funding for the treatment programs ... I would like to see more clubhouses started ... A lot of (autism treatment) services are geared towards children, from personal experience. I was diagnosed at age 19 and didn't find a lot of support.

I had never heard of the word autism. It was scary. I had a hard time adjusting in the beginning by hanging out with unsavory, unsavory people, without getting into specifics. I wanted so badly to be cured. I finally adjusted to the word in my late 20s and early 30s by working full-time.

Anything else to add?

Just make sure that we listen to people. Just make sure that we can help people in society break down the stigma of people with disabilities, either visible and invisible disabilities. We need to break down barriers with the current environment.


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