Justin Martin '19 leads a fairly typical college student life. He shares a campus apartment with several close friends (and a friendly kitten), thrives in his classes, helps run an improv group, the Ballpit Whalers, and writes poetry — and comic book scripts — in his spare time.

But Martin, who has cerebral palsy, couldn’t do any of these things without around-the-clock assistance from four full-time independent home-care providers, who help him with everything from dressing himself to getting in and out of his wheelchair to use the bathroom. So, when the English major should have been focused on studying for final exams his sophomore year, he was afraid that an obscure legislative rule working its way through state government would force him to withdraw from Kenyon. The rule would ban independent home-care providers, who are paid through Medicaid, from working more than 40 hours a week, creating a 14-hour gap in Martin’s schedule during which he would be on his own.

When Martin heard about the proposed rule, he posted a plea on Facebook, asking friends if they would be willing to speak on his behalf before the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities. If the agency understood exactly what he meant to his college, and what his college meant to him, he reasoned, then maybe they’d rethink this rule.

The Kenyon community responded with a groundswell of support, and 21 students, professors and staff members offered to accompany Martin to the Ohio Statehouse. In the days leading up to the trip, which they made in three College-rented vans, Martin commandeered a booth at Wiggin Street Coffee and held testimony-writing “office hours” for his friends.

“When you are a disabled person, this idea that you are excessive, or a burden, or too much, it gets accidentally, or sometimes on purpose, drilled into your head,” Martin said. “The idea that people would want to help me and testify for me, not just for a charity case but because they actually value me as a three-dimensional person, is still something I’m learning how to internalize.”

The idea that people would want to help me and testify for me, not just for a charity case but because they actually value me as a three-dimensional person, is still something I’m learning how to internalize.”

Justin Martin '19

The testimonies given by Martin’s friends were so powerful that Disability Rights Ohio published excerpts in an aptly titled booklet, “Medicaid Matters: Justin Martin Rallies His Community to Defend Waiver Services.” The organization then honored Martin with a Courage Award for his activism on Medicaid. A few months later, when it was announced that the proposal was being pulled — a victory for Martin and everyone who fought with and for him — Martin breathed a (brief) sigh of relief.

“It’s a great, perpetual and preventable tragedy that so many disabled Ohioans still feel, with good reason, that their rights and dreams could be robbed of them if the political climate changes again,” said Martin, whose advocacy efforts most recently caught the attention of the Huffington Post and New York Times. “If it does, we’ll be there. We’ll be sighing, we’ll be angry — but we’ll be unsurprised and we’ll be there.”

Web extra: Read HuffPost's June 2017 profile of Martin and his fight for access to health care.

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