Friday, May 20, 2011

No longer dying at sea

Ignorance and fear of the 15th century led to practices such as the “Ship of Fools”, which launched people with severe disabilities out to sea, sometimes to their death.  “Progress” then moved us into the “The Great Confinement” of the 17th through 19th centuries where families placed people with disabilities in institutions where there was gross abuse, starvation and negligence.

Better than dying at sea, but hardly a good life.

Thankfully, the practice of segregation and abuse of individuals with disabilities slowly began to fade away in the 20th century as advocacy for civil rights became more commonplace.

By the mid-1970’s most state governments had committed to de-institutionalization, and when on June 22nd, 1999, under enforcement of the Olmstead Act, (Olmstead vs. L.C.) it was agreed that the “unjustified institutionalization of people is a form of discrimination”, individuals with disabilities were finally given the choice of a fully integrated life within their communities.

Or so we thought.

As the cost of medical services rises throughout the United States, state governments are struggling to meet the health needs and the increasing price tag of health care for their neediest residents with disabilities. New and more creative models such as the New York State 1115 Waiver, (‘People First Waiver’), a system of reform that has been developed in order to “safely, effectively and efficiently support individuals with developmental disabilities in the community by improving coordination of care across the state’s numerous service systems that support individuals with developmental disabilities.”

It’s a re-affirmation that people want to live like people – in the community and make their own choices.

The ‘People First’ project proposes that improved health care coordination can be reached through better organization of care, and that a long term care delivery system that considers individual needs, choice and satisfaction.

The system improvements through the 1115 Waiver are responsible and responsive to the changing needs of New York State consumers. These proposed modifications are community-based and are centered on an individual’s needs. They are simple to understand as well as flexible and endorse personal choice with a focus on the service needs and well-being of consumers.

People with disabilities are no longer suspended voices living in the darkness on those infamous “ships that pass in the night”. Oliver Wendell Holmes once wrote, “I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving, - we must sail sometimes with the wind, and sometimes against it - but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor.”

As we all work towards constantly moving closer to the processes that enable people with disabilities to attain their own personal freedom, we ask for your support for the ‘People First’-1115 Waiver.

It’s much better than dying at sea.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Teen Employment Crisis and Violence Connection

A few weeks ago, in east Utica, approximately 75 youth congregated at a local intersection. They were armed with clubs, knives, and assorted other weapons. Thankfully for all involved, police arrived before a battle commenced. The youth ranged in age, with some below 16. A few of those who were older were taken into custody by the police.

Unfortunately, this was not an isolated occurrence. Local law enforcement authorities, as well as those around the country, have noted a substantial up-tick in the numbers of youth involved in street gangs in the last few years. Is there a connection with the lack of jobs available for youth in the local community as well as elsewhere in the country?

The Great Recession that began in 2007 brought the overall unemployment rate to 10 percent. In fact, according to a report in the on-line journal Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity teen employment has declined more than 25 percent since 2006. “For teens from low income families, summer employment provides not only income, but also work experience that can distinguish teens within a competitive urban labor market and signal competence and professionalism to potential full-time employers.”

Entry level employment such as fast food, retail, landscaping, and grocery store work can provide skills that are critical to future employment. Youth learn to show up on time, listen to their boss, consider a customer and the fundamental principle of exchanging time for money. Futhermore, these early work experiences encourage school completion, create connections with other working teens, and help lower risky behaviors. RCIL’s Main Street program works to put at-risk youth on a path toward a job and/or further education. Linking high school students to occupational training with technical schools and/or community colleges has proven successful. Also noted in the Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity, “Career Academies establish partnerships with local employers to provide work-based learning opportunities to improve student preparation for the workforce as well as college attendance. These programs have been shown to be effective for at-risk youth.”

We should advocate for substantial increases for government funding in support of these initiatives. It should be available to both young women and men who can certainly all benefit. When one looks at the huge recidivism rates for our prison system (over 40 percent), and the cost to society both financially and emotionally from crime, the cost effectiveness of such funding is clearly apparent.

- Dave L.