Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Gov. Evans & the Idaho Council on Developmental Disabilities

The Council on Developmental Disabilities was signed into law by then-governor John Evans in 1978. Perhaps it comes as no surprise that the loudest advocate for its continued funding is Governor Evans himself. In an opinion piece penned by Evans running today in the Idaho State Journal, it ran much earlier in other papers across the state, former Governor Evans reminds readers why the Council is important and how it has assisted Idaho government in the past.

Not ignoring the perilous economic times we find ourselves in, Evans lays out the reasons for which we should not phase out funding of needed services like the Council on Developmental Disabilities:
"[In] our efforts to economize, we must not eliminate those programs that ensure citizen involvement and create transparency in government. In times like these, it is may be [sic] tempting to cut these programs, but it is precisely these programs that make the services system better and more responsive to the people."
Apparently, in times like these it is not only tempting to small government folks, it is a gift wrapped opportunity to slash programs they do not believe fit the criteria for government's proper role. We can talk about liberal politics and policies all we want, but the truth of the matter is that John Evans is a conservative Democrat. As a state senator he represented the conservative views of his constituents in places where he spent plenty of time--Malad and Burley--and as governor he operated under the same conservative mindset. John Evans understands the merits of small government, yet he also understands that when needs are met for certain demographics in the population it is good for Idaho families and Idaho's pocketbook.

On the matter of Idaho's pocketbook, let's discuss an instance when the Council saved Idaho money. It is highly likely that the Council would continue to save Idaho money if allowed to remain a state funded council:
"Ten years ago, the council compiled information from across the nation and advised the governor and the legislature to not embark on constructing 120 new beds at the Idaho State School and Hospital [ISSH, in Nampa] and to invest in services in community services instead. Their advocacy results in policymakers building half the number of beds proposed, saving the state millions in general funds."
What Governor Evans is too polite to say is that if not for the Council on Developmental Disabilities and similar non-profit organizations that advocate for the disabled, here in Idaho we would have continued on a path of only "warehousing" the developmentally disabled right into the 21st century. Not only would we have continued adding on to facilities like ISSH, we would have continued telling young families that they best way to deal with having a child with a developmental disability is to lock them away somewhere. It isn't pleasant to read, but it is the truth.

In our public schools, if the disabled were allowed to attend them and not schools specifically designated for the disabled, we would never have integrated those students at all. Why do I say this? Because we haven't evolved that much. When I was in elementary school in the early 90s, the developmentally disabled or "special ed" kids that attended my school never so much as entered the main building and public areas of the school (i.e. gym, cafeteria, library) when regular students might be out of their classrooms. They had their own separate facility and aside from the occasional appearance at assemblies, they were out of sight. They came over to the main building to lunch an hour before the rest of the school ate and their recesses were never synchronized with ours. And, they rode a completely separate bus than the rest of us students. In the 90s!

I spoke of "warehousing" knowing fully well that people who might read that term would be either repulsed or defensive. Those who are defensive generally offer an argument that we haven't done that since the 50s. Not true.

Also when I was in elementary school, a young teacher I knew was pregnant and learned as her due date neared that her child would be born with Down Syndrome. Of course, in southern Idaho there was no discussion of abortion at any point and strangely enough, very little discussion about how this young mother might raise a Down Syndrome child. What was discussed is how long until that young mother would send her child to a facility like ISSH in Nampa. In the 90s! Unlike my great-grandmother who gave birth to a beautiful Down Syndrome boy in the 50s, this young mother in the 90s had the services available to her to raise her child at home. My great-grandmother was never given that opportunity, she was simply told to lock her little boy away and she did at the then State School and Colony for the Feebleminded and Epileptic in Nampa for the first nine years of his life. He happened to be born with a disability that is physically recognizable, unlike the hundreds of children that were "warehoused" in Idaho in the 20th century who were later found to have been born with no medical developmental disability, but by the time of that horrific discovery had social and developmental disabilities perpetuated by their childhood environment.

Idaho's history, like that of almost every state in the nation, is particularly unfortunate when it comes to the rights and care of the disabled. Undoubtedly, the Council on Developmental Disabilities, as signed into law in 1978, was a turning point in how the state approached the rights and needs of the disabled. Governor Evans explains where we are seeing these great strides:
"If the council is doing its work and doing it well, they are invisible. What are visible, instead, are people with developmental disabilities working in real jobs, individuals getting the supports they need to live independently in their communities, and children with disabilities included with their peers in classrooms with well-trained and supported teachers."
I can say without hesitation that the Council must be doing its work and doing it well because my older brother who is developmentally disabled was able to graduate from high school after having spent several years integrated into regular classrooms with his peers. Today he is able to attend a facility where he interacts with others like him as well as others out in the community. I can say without hesitation that what they're doing is working because some of my closest friends, siblings really, who have various developmental disabilities are able to hold jobs, utilize public transportation, and do any number of things out in the community. They are just as productive as many of us, often better at using public services than the rest of us, and ultimately happy to be included.

However, just because we've made incredible strides since the Council was created in 1978 does not mean the Council's work is done. As state Medicaid funds have been routinely cut over the years, individuals with disabilities and their families or care providers have had to find creative ways to get by. Just as state workers are taking furloughs, many in the disabled community who attend Medicaid-funded day training are as well. In a perfect world these individuals would be well-suited by a six-days-a-week program, but are getting by with four days. There are still corners of this state that do not understand what is trying to be accomplished by integrating the disabled in their communities. There are still those in this state who try to explain away their prejudice, prejudice that has led to direct discrimination of those with developmental disabilities. While we're making strides in some parts of the state, we're still turning back the clock in others.

I can attest to the successes Governor Evans has cited today in his op-ed. I can attest to the fact that this isn't about politics for him, for me, or for the thousands of Idahoans with developmental disabilities and their families. I, like Governor Evans, urge the Idaho Legislature to think very carefully about following Otter's lead on this and instead of phasing out funding for the Council for Developmental Disabilities, recognize its place in good government. If we can't and won't do what is best and right for those who need it most in our midst, who will?

1 comment :

TileGuy1 said...

I have a son with Down syndrome and Autism and I live in Colorado. I found this blog while searching for info on opportunities for developmentally disabled people in Idaho, as I might have to move there. It's great to see someone such as yourself with so much passion about this subject. Idaho is much like Colorado in respect to dev. disabled folks. It's a constant struggle for us to get the schools to work with our son academically, and to be inclusive even in the best school district. Throw in a rotten economy and it makes matters worse (though it shouldn't). Great post and keep fighting the good fight with your talent. Mark