Junior Allie Petracek from Overland Park, Kan. is an advocate for individuals with developmental disabilities. Growing up, Petracek’s parents were very passionate about politics.
“My mom really loves politics, and a good friend of mine got me more involved in the activism part of it,” Petracek said. “Knowing them got me into it.”
When it came to being involved in advocating for those with developmental disabilities, Petracek’s family friends led her to become involved. The family of her good friend, who has Down Syndrome, is highly involved in politics that affect the developmental disabilities community.
Petracek says that her goal is to advocate for those with developmental disabilities, so they can experience things that those without developmental disabilities are used to. In this case, Petracek’s mission is specific to education along with spreading awareness.
As part of advocating, the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) organizes a yearly event called the National Buddy Walk Program. First established in 1995, the purpose of the Buddy Walk is to celebrate and spread awareness for Down Syndrome.
Typically held yearly, there are Buddy Walks across the country at local levels, with the main event taking place in Washington D.C. This main event is known as the Buddy Walk on Washington Advocacy Conference.
According to the NDSS website, “The NDSS Annual Buddy Walk on Washington is an annual two-day advocacy conference that brings the Down syndrome community together to advocate for legislative priorities that directly impact the lives of people with Down Syndrome and their families.”
On the first day of the conference, advocates are given training. On the following day, the advocates go to Capitol Hill where they are able to meet with members of Congress and their staff. This allows advocates to discuss legislative issues that would help in advancing education and healthcare opportunities for people who have Down Syndrome.
Petracek herself has attended the Buddy Walk Conference in D.C.
“I went in 2017,” Petracek said. “It was interesting, because on the first day you learn to advocate, and on the second day you get to advocate yourself.”
Among some of the members of Congress that she got to meet, Petracek was able to speak with former Kansas Congressman Kevin Yoder.
Petracek says that one of the biggest goals while she was there was to increase access and eligibility toward 529 plans. According to the SEC, “a 529 plan is a tax-advantaged savings plan designed to encourage saving for future education costs.” A 529 plan is important as it allows parents to save money for their child’s college education that grows tax-free.
Prior to the ABLE Act being passed, those with developmental disabilities struggled to get a 529 plan.
According to the IRS, “The Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act of 2014 allows states to create tax-advantaged savings programs for eligible people with disabilities. Funds from these 529A ABLE accounts can help designated beneficiaries pay for qualified disability expenses.”
To be able to get an ABLE account, an individual must be diagnosed before the age of 26 to be eligible. Petracek says that advocates desire this number to be changed to 46.
Petracek and many others are advocating for this requirement to be increased, so those with developmental disabilities have equal opportunity to attend college.
Petracek believes that it is important that everyone has access to education, and the ability to save for it.