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      Special needs advocates discuss services with lawmakers

      COLUMBIA (WACH) -- Special needs advocates gave state lawmakers an idea what it is like to be in their shoes on Wednesday.

      Hundreds of people with disabilities were at the Statehouse for the 24th annual Disability Advocacy Day. Events were held throughout the day giving residents a chance to meet legislators and discuss the need for avoiding spending cuts in special needs.

      Chaqueta Stuckey was one of those people. The Florence County woman suffers from a developmental disability and suffers from seizures; but has not let that stop her from being an advocate.

      "We know we are empowered," Stuckey said. "We have the power. We can't let other people go ahead and bring us down because of our disability."

      Stuckey says she knows what it is like to suffer. The services she received helped her growing up when times were tough.

      "Having people teasing me or picking on me, telling me I can't do stuff because of my disability. That really hurts bad. I don't want others to go through the same thing I went through," said Stuckey.

      But organizers did not just tell lawmakers the importance of receiving care; they showed them by placing almost 1,000 shoes on the statehouse steps. Organizers say each pair of shoes represents eight South Carolinians that are disabled; and are on a waiting list for services like day programs, personal and respite care, supplies, and nursing care. It totaled about 8,000 people.

      South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley proclaimed March as Disability Advocacy Month. She said help is on the way.

      "In our executive budget, we added $5 million more to the disabilities budget," Haley said. "We are going to continue to support and sustain that in any way that we can."

      Stuckey could not attend college because of her condition. But she hopes that with more funding, others will get that chance.

      "Keep your head held high. Keep the power, and know that we have the power."

      A feeling she hopes will stick with lawmakers when it is time for the budget ax to fall.