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Gainesville man reappointed to state civil rights board
0406CIVIL.Justin Pressley
Justin Pressley

Gainesville resident Justin Pressley has been appointed to a second two-year term on the Georgia State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

The latest representatives on the 14-member committee were announced in March and held their first meeting April 1 to discuss priorities and goals for the next year.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is an independent, bipartisan agency that studies and advises the president and Congress on civil rights issues.

State advisory committee members produce reports and recommendations to the federal commission about local civil rights issues, such as voting, discrimination, housing and education.

“We live in a time when there is great tolerance and diversity,” Chairman Jerry Gonzalez said in a statement. “But threats to civil rights still exist and we always need to be vigilant about that.”

Pressley, 42, has been active in the Gainesville and Hall County community for years, advocating on behalf of disabled persons and trumpeting the advantages of independent living care.

After suffering a spinal cord injury in a motorcycle accident in the 1980s that left him quadriplegic, Pressley co-founded the Disability Resource Center in Gainesville, a nonprofit organization that provides independent living support.

During the committee’s first meeting, Pressley said he proposed developing a report on civil rights issues related to disabled persons.

In recent years, the state committee has evaluated civil rights issues related to immigration and voting. Pressley hopes that the same attention and concern will be given to disability issues.

But the committee has finite resources, and a lack of funding makes it difficult for the advisory group to meet very often. Pressley said committee members often work and communicate with one another from home.

But despite the obstacles, Pressley is determined to give voice to the challenges facing disabled persons. For example, he wants the committee to focus its attention on how well businesses and governments are meeting the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Compliance with the ADA over the last 24 years has been sorely lacking,” Pressley said.

Pressley also hopes to address new restrictions on voting that are sweeping the nation, including mandates that require photo identification to cast a ballot.

Many disabled persons do not drive, and therefore lack a photo license, the most common form of identification. Additionally, Pressley said, there is a lack of accessible transportation for disabled persons to acquire an ID. For example, he said, many public transportation routes do not have stops at local DMVs.

“It’s really going to make it hard for people with disabilities,” Pressley said. “I really see that as an issue for persons with disabilities, as well as minorities.”

Another civil rights issue on Pressley’s mind is what he calls the “institutional bias” present in the nation’s Medicaid system, which he believes has not been reformed by the Affordable Care Act.

Pressley said that health care insurers push disabled persons into nursing homes, hospitals and other institutional settings because it benefits their bottom line.

But this hurts the dignity of disabled persons, and also costs taxpayers dearly, Pressley said.

“Study after study shows that home community-based services are much cheaper than nursing home or hospital care,” while also affording a better quality of life, he added.