Not Again

I think by now you know I am old. I don’t feel old but when I tell people I started in this business in 1973, well it’s been a long time – over 38 years. I remember my uncle telling me that in this business over time the pendulum swings back and forth around programs, required documentation or philosophies. Never would I believe that we would swing from individualized, integrated services back to congregate segregates services but that is what the legislature wants to do in the House version of the operating state budget for 2011-2013. Luckily the Senate changed their position to maintain integrated community based employment as the primary service. Now we need to get it passed and enacted.

I am not clear on the impetus behind the House budget but I surmise that it is parents who want something “nice” for their son or daughter to do. I’ve talked with many parents of children with disabilities in the K-12 Special Education system and often times find they often don’t even consider work when discussing their son or daughter’s future. They apparently can’t conceptualize their son or daughter working. When I mention we have worked with individuals with multiple or profound disabilities or challenges they either don’t think it applies with their child or are totally shocked and want to probe the issue in greater detail. I am thrilled when a parent says “Wow, that’s fantastic, I want my child to experience the same thing!”

The problem is that people take a paternalistic stance leading to a position of we decide what is best for individuals with intellectual disabilities without really asking them what they would like to with their time and life, even into adulthood.

When I worked in Ellensburg, Washington many years ago we were having a staffing for Danny, one of the persons coming out of a children’s group home. I was representing adult employment services. There sat this large group determining what was best for Danny who was soon to graduate from the special education program. Danny didn’t fit everyone’s paradigm. He didn’t need the services of an adult group home yet no tenant support services existed at the time. The discussion was quite intense. I was lucky enough to be seated next to Danny. As I was taking it all in and, trying to get to know this person, I noticed a look of bewilderment on his face. I suggested it was time we heard from Danny. To that point in the conversation Danny was in the circle but he wasn’t even being noticed. The debate raged around him. I asked Danny a series of questions and in the end it was clear what he wanted. He wanted to live in an apartment and work at a job he had held while in work study. It was our job to make it happen. So we put together a program. It required many people filling in the holes or pieces where needed but it ended by making Danny’s dream a reality – not our dream for him but his dream. I tell this story because everyone at that meeting knew exactly what Danny needed even though no one had ever asked him.

When we were contemplating closing the sheltered workshop we employed the services of an outside consultant to ask the clients what they wanted. 80% said they wanted to work in the community. I am glad we asked rather than assume the segregated, sheltered employment was the best option. As a result of their leadership look where we are today. We support over 200 people working in jobs in the community! We need the legislature to continue to support people leading inclusive, self-determined lives.


CEO Viewpoint is published by Jim Larson, CEO Morningside

This space is intended to share my thoughts and update the community on issues concerning Morningside and its clients as well sharing inspirational employment stories.

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Posted in Advocacy, Disability Policy, Inclusion