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'I want to just be able to live my own life' | UGA-bound freshman says state hasn't delivered funds for disability accommodations

Jake Branan plans to use the funds for a 24-hour personal care aid.

ATLANTA — Jake Branan is three days away from moving into college but he can't do it alone -- he needs a 24-hour personal care aid. 

Branan uses a wheelchair to get around due to a physical disability he's had since birth. He was accepted to attend the University of Georgia in the fall but the experience comes with the caveat of his accommodations.

As Branan's move-in date comes closer, he's hoping the state will come through with the money it already approved for him, so he can have his support and live independently during this next stage of his life.

Branan has always excelled at school, his mom keeps the proof, but he said life outside of academics is growing more complicated as he pursues higher education.

"I didn't think there was going to be so much extra stuff," he said. "I want to just be able to live my own life. Maybe not like a person who doesn't have a disability but as close as I can get."

Branan has been on a waiting list since the ninth grade to apply for state help.

In Georgia, families can apply for the New Options Waiver Program (NOW) and the Comprehensive Supports Waiver Program (COMP). The Medicaid waivers provide financial help to people with intellectual, developmental, or physical disabilities. Historically, Georgia has had thousands of people on waiver waitlists, according to the Georgia Council of Developmental Disabilities.

After years of waiting, Branan hasn't received any funds -- and he's supposed to move into UGA Friday.

"The barriers to getting a child with a disability to a university setting are frustrating, demeaning, degrading, exclusionary, and so difficult," said his mother Debbie Branan. 

RELATED: Advocates call for Georgia lawmakers to address Medicaid waiver waitlist for people with Down syndrome

Right now, there are 7,000 people in the state who have been approved for similar funding but are still waiting to actually receive the money. Some have been waiting a decade.

"The language is so convoluted, the system is almost there to make you fail, make you give up eventually," Branan's mother said. 

However, she refuses to give up and said her son should get the opportunity to go to college -- an opportunity he deserves.

"I think what our society tends to do with people with disabilities is to focus on the deficit and not on the bounty. And I would like him to be able to focus on the bounty and take advantage of that and have a good life," she said. 

She said she has taken out a personal loan and started a fundraiser to help pay for her son's needs as they wait to see if their funding will come through in time.

11Alive's Kaitlyn Ross reached out to the state to get answers in Branan's case -- but has not heard back yet.

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