By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – Oklahoma resident Katie Wehmeyer will be honored as the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services’ (DRS) Client of the Year on Tuesday, March 12 at People with Disabilities Awareness Day (PDAD). The annual event will take place from noon to 4 p.m. at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City.
This event is an opportunity to engage lawmakers and help them understand what programs are critical to Oklahomans with disabilities. The day’s events are coordinated by the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services.
Awareness Day will kick off at 11 a.m. with the People First’s Developmental Disability Rally on the South Plaza of the State Capitol complex.
Registration begins inside the Capitol’s 4th floor rotunda at noon. At 12:30 over 70 exhibits will open and visits with lawmakers will begin.
Wehmeyer will a featured speaker on the South Plaza during the awards ceremony that will begin at 3 p.m. People wishing to attend the event can register at www.okdrs.gov/pwdad. Registrations will also be accepted on the day of the event.
Wehmeyer was diagnosed as being bipolar and suffering depression. Wehmeyer sought treatment, but inconsistent care and prescribed medicines didn’t help. She later sought inpatient treatment at a Chicago-area care center.
After returning home to Oklahoma, Wehmeyer knew she would need a career to be able to care for her three children and herself.
By turning to the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services (ODRS) and its staff, she was encouraged to enroll in classes which would help equip her to find a position in the medical field.
“I feel in my heart I am meant for greater things,” Wehmeyer said. “DRS has helped me get to where I am. I am optimistic about my future. The main thing that DRS has given me is my dignity back and my self-esteem with work. With mental illness, you have days or weeks that you struggle.”
This year’s Awareness Day theme, “Front and Center,” is a call to all Oklahomans to share with state lawmakers the need to support programs that help citizens with disabilities to pursue independent lives and careers. During the event, participants will alert lawmakers to the need to help Oklahomans with disabilities reach these goals through support for critical services.
This year’s attendance goal is 775 people with 50 percent visiting state Senators and Representatives or their staff. Volunteers will be available to take participants on legislative visits and provide other assistance if needed.
“People with Disabilities Awareness Day 2019 is set for March 12 centered around Oklahomans with disabilities, their families and their supporters,” said DRS Director Melinda Fruendt. “These individuals are inspired to voice their success with legislators as well as promoting access for all, independence and employment aspirations.”
Organizers recommend that participants call to make an appointment with their legislators before the event. To find out who your legislators are, click here, or call 405-524-0126 for Senators, or 800-522-8502 for the House of Representatives.
EMBARK will provide a free parking shuttle for individuals with disabilities. The shuttle will run from 10:30 a.m. until 4:15 p.m. serving the Jim Thorpe Building parking lot and dropping off attendees on the south side of the Capitol Building.
The shuttle is expected to make the loop every 15 minutes. After parking, participants are asked to wait at the marked shuttle stop area directly west across Stiles Avenue from the Jim Thorpe parking lot. To catch the shuttle from the Capitol Building to return to your vehicle, look for the marked stop area next the drive in the south plaza. The shuttle will only stop to board or disembark passengers at these two locations.
EMBARK asks that the shuttle be reserved for individuals with disabilities and any personal care attendants traveling with them.
Last year, DRS served 83,540 Oklahomans with disabilities with career preparation, employment, residential and outreach education, independent living programs and the determination of medical eligibility for disability benefits. The agency helps job seekers with disabilities face barriers to employment, such as inaccessible worksites, lack of transportation or the need for specialized equipment or training.
To stand united, participants are encouraged to wear green. For more information, visit okdrs.org or call 405-951-3478 or 800-845-8476.