"I told that photographer earlier to ignore my junky office. It's a mess. He said, 'It's a sign of someone who's busy.' I'll take that!" Mary Troupe, a native of Booneville, Miss., who has lived in Jackson for more than 40 years, now explains.
Even if Troupe's office didn't have files and papers littered across her desk, as soon as she begins to talk about her work, it's obvious that she's a busy woman. As the executive director of the Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities, formed in 1989, Troupe is a passionate and vocal advocate for change for disabled citizens. "If you don't give us the opportunity to have education, and jobs, and homes, and transportation, then we can't have (the American dream)," she says.
Troupe's job was particularly demanding immediately following Hurricane Katrina, and even though the storm hit almost 18 months ago, it hasn't slowed down much since then.
"There are provisions made for individuals with disabilities and seniors, but the information isn't getting out to those who work with people one-on-one. When you have a person who can't drive … and you say 'evacuate,' how do they?"
Even when people with disabilities managed to evacuate the Coast, they faced new challenges when they returned.
"As trailers were coming down the interstate," Troupe says, "we asked (FEMA representatives) what percentage of accessible trailers are there." FEMA had not prepared at all for the needs of disabled people, according to Troupe, and might never have addressed the problem without prodding from advocates.
Troupe's coalition also helps individuals with mental-health counseling. "We're seeing a climb in depression, domestic violence, and suicides are up 200 percent," Troupe says. Troupe says the slow pace of recovery has robbed people of a sense of normalcy, which exacerbates mental-health problems.
Troupe and her staff fight every legislative session to get state support for accommodations to the disabled populace. Troupe hopes that policy makers will be more receptive to such efforts and less beholden to special interests. "efore we start cutting services, consider what and who those agencies are there to provide for," Troupe says, noting that when people with disabilities are given an opportunity to contribute to society, they usually respond with unparalleled enthusiasm and dedication.
"The consequences to cutting much-needed services for some of our people in need is a detriment to our state," Troupe says.