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Disability Action Center NW

Palouse man gives a lift to disability cause

Mark Leeper steps in to drive a specialized awareness-raising van from Calif., to Montana

Mark Leeper, executive director for the Disability Action Center NW, lowers a chair lift on the Caravan for Disability Freedom and Justice in Moscow on Tuesday. Leeper drove the van from Sacramento, Calif., to Moscow, and will continue the drive by handing it off to a group in Helena, Montana. Liesbeth Powers/Daily News
  • By Kali Nelson, Daily News staff writer Apr 10, 2024 Updated Apr 10, 2024

Mark Leeper flew to Sacramento, Calif., last Friday to drive the Caravan for Disability Freedom van to Moscow and on to Montana.

Leeper stopped in Lapwai on Monday and in Moscow on Tuesday to show off the van and provide information about the Latonya Reeves Freedom Act, bipartisan legislation that would clarify who is eligible for long-term services and require states and insurance providers to deliver those services.

“Our history with disability is to relegate it to the medical system that treats it as a disorder, when it can just be a part of life,” said Leeper, executive director of the Moscow branch of the Disability Action Center.

The bill is named after Latonya Reeves, who had been institutionalized as a child and later faced the risk of being sent back to an institution after Tennessee failed to provide services she would need to stay at home.

She moved to Denver in order to continue living outside institutions such as assisted living facilities. More information about the bill is available online at latonyareevesfreedomact.org.

“People need to have an option to stay in their communities,” Leeper said.

Leeper said the bill, which is seeking sponsors in the federal House and Senate, would build on the work started with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the U.S. Supreme Court’s Olmstead v. L.C. decision of 1999.

The van and its drivers started in Greenville, S.C., before meeting Leeper in California.

He drove it through Oregon, making a stop in Bend, Ore., before continuing to Lapwai and Moscow. He will be in Spokane today before continuing into Montana and handing off the van at Helena, Mont. The van will end its journey in October in Rochester, N.Y.

Leeper said he was not the original driver planned but stepped in to fill a vacancy. He said it was an honor to drive the van through this section of the trip.

he Caravan for Disability Freedom and Justice is a collective of people with disabilities and allies who are sharing information about how people can get involved in activism and create a community.

Steve Corr, self-directed services manager at the Disability Action Center, said he was happy to see the caravan come to the Palouse.

“It’s nice to see people come up and ask questions,” Corr said. “Having it stop here is an honor.”

Kali Nelson can be reached at knelson@dnews.com.