Big Disability Elephant in the Room

I just returned from the Association for Persons in Supported Employment (APSE) Conference. [More information about the organization is available at One of their initiatives is Employment First which establishes the idea that integrated competitive employment is the first option for all individuals regardless of disability level or support needs. It is exciting that this new public policy is gaining increased momentum both at the state and federal levels. It also begs the question about Washington State: What is happening with institutions in our state? While we are moving away from sheltered employment and segregated service to services in the community we still have 5 state institutions. The move to the community is a good trend that we have embraced wholeheartedly for many years now. But doesn’t it fly in the face of all national and state policy trends to maintain institutions? Washington is noted for its progressive supported employment movement – as a matter of fact we are first in the nation. So how can we reconcile the fact that we still have 5 state institutions for individuals with disabilities?

The governor proclaimed that community based services are the preferred options and suggested the state close some of the institutions. So what is happening? What is the hang up? Is it the unions? Is it a reticent administration? Is it battle weary legislators? If the residents want to live and work in the community, and believe me they do, what is stopping us from making the move? Why are we holding back? So to the policy makers and people in the position to change let’s show some courage and be brave about this after all courage is the power to let go of the familiar. And the opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice, it is conformity. We don’t need to study the issue to death like everything else in this state what we need is a band of people to act, to move this forward. To this I say “Sign Me Up”. I am ready to serve. I am ready to move forward. It should and can happen. And soon.


CEO Viewpoint is published by Jim Larson, CEO Morningside

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