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  • Michelle Zeman

Holmes Continues Advocacy to See Florida's HCBS Waitlist Shrink


A green thought bubble with the words "About Us" in blue text, followed by "Not without us" in smaller, pink text.

"About Us" is a series of interviews with accomplished self-advocates in Florida.


JJ Holmes of Longwood has emerged as a strong advocate for disability rights in the Sunshine State. He was instrumental in pushing legislation during the recent 2024 session that will reduce the waitlist for in-home support services for people like himself.

 

JJ, who communicates through an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) device, started his advocacy work in earnest as a middle-schooler protesting at a 2016 rally for former President Donald Trump. Eight years later, despite challenges, his advocacy efforts have earned him the esteemed 15th Annual Idelio Valdes Leadership and Advocacy award.

 

Despite the gains in Tallahassee this year, JJ remains dedicated to addressing the extensive waiting list for Florida's iBudget Medicaid waiver program, crucial for individuals like him who rely on direct support services (HCBS). His unwavering commitment to advocacy, despite encountering discrimination, highlights his mission to secure fair treatment for people with disabilities throughout Florida.


JJ Holmes, a man, is sitting in a black wheelchair in front of a light brown wall. He has short brown hair and has a black round headrest on each side of his head. He is smiling and looking to the right. He has a grey iPad on a stand in front of his face. He is wearing a black t-shirt that says “Roll Model” with a graphic of a person in a wheelchair with eight white lines.
JJ Holmes

Question: When did you start to identify as a self-advocate and why?


JJ: In 2015, I watched a video of Donald Trump mocking someone with a disability. For almost a year, I badgered my parents to take me to one of Trump’s rallies to express my disdain. November 5, 2016, which was three days before the 2016 election, Trump was holding a rally in Tampa. I begged and pleaded with my parents to take me, and they did. When he walked out, I hit my communication device to play a chant. The people around me started booing. Unbelievably, Trump actually noticed me and told security to “get him out.” The whole crowd chanted “U-S-A!” and kicked my wheelchair as I was being taken out. Reporters surrounded us. Two days later, Donald Trump won the presidential election. Because of this, I decided I wanted to get involved in the effort to stop the Affordable Care Act being repealed. That led to me speaking out about other healthcare issues. Because of this, I am now known in Tallahassee as a disability advocate.


Question: What advocacy related issue is the most significant to you?


JJ: The waiting list for Florida’s MedWaiver/iBudget waiver program is the most significant advocacy related issue to me. It’s Home and Community-Based Services for people like me who, without help, would be forced to live in an institution. Unfortunately, Florida is 49th for funding this program and has almost 23,000 people (including myself) waiting for help. I’ve been waiting for over 17 years.


Question: Describe a time when you had to overcome an obstacle related to your disability.


JJ: The college I am now enrolled in, Seminole State College, initially said they would charge my aide a separate tuition fee, which is a textbook case of discrimination. Luckily, through the disability grapevine, Nicole Logan (a law student) offered to help me pro bono. As soon as she took on my case, the college backed down and did not take any further action.


Question: What did you find helpful in overcoming that obstacle?

JJ: Knowing my rights, having great people surrounding me who supported me, and staying focused helped me overcome that obstacle.


Question: How has your advocacy affected your career and personal life?

JJ: I am still at college but I spend about half my time advocating for disability issues. I never thought someone like me, who uses a communication app to talk, would end up speaking in so many hearings in front of lawmakers. I think everyone has a purpose in life, and mine is to fight for an America where people with disabilities have the opportunity to not just survive, but to thrive in the greatest country on earth. 


Question: What advice would you give to someone struggling to accept their disability?


JJ: Do not lose hope. You are not alone. One in four people has a disability and while we cannot change our disability, we can change the world around us and how we are treated.


Question: In 10 years, what would you most like to see changed in the lives of people with disabilities?

JJ: I’d like to see us getting equal treatment and that a level playing field is the rule, not the exception. Oh, and I’d like Florida to be first in the nation for spending on Home and Community-Based Services, not 49th!

The FSACentral staff would like to thank JJ for taking the time to participate in the interview. Let us know what you think about "About Us" on Facebook. If you know an accomplished self-advocate in Florida you think we should showcase in "About Us," contact us here or via Facebook.


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