Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A New Year, A Chance for New Beginnings

It’s been a busy start to the New Year, which fortunately has brought some positive changes for our son’s care.  December was a real low point, but a personnel change at my son’s supported-living agency and more energetic efforts at DDS to coordinate his care are helping improve the situation, slowly but surely.

I’ve also been busy, as some of you already know, trying to get my viewpoint on “The Citizens with Intellectually Disabilities Civil Rights Restoration Act” (B21-0385) before a broader public.  I don’t share the negative views of Mr Connelly, the lawyer who wrote in the Post last month opposing the bill (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/peril-for-intellectually-disabled-dc-residents/2015/12/23/6d0b1ebe-a8ed-11e5-8058-480b572b4aae_story.html), and I was happy the Post agreed to print my response today  (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-district-should-move-away-from-court-ordered-services-for-those-with-intellectual-disabilities/2016/01/18/750d39bc-bbd5-11e5-85cd-5ad59bc19432_story.html).

So you know my position, but I do understand the concerns of the person who commented on my blog post “Overdue Change for the District” (November 15).  I don’t think it’s quite fair for the writer to say that s/he only learned about the bill from lawyers, since DDS disseminated information about a series of briefings back in October which I also broadcast in an email on October 29.  Still, the writer expresses a heartfelt worry that I know is shared by many people whose family members or other loved ones have been receiving services in D.C. for a long while.  I believe that the reforms and progress in DDS over the past few years have come more from solid leadership than from judges’ orders.  At the same time, I realize change is frightening, especially for people who experienced the poor quality of services that used to be delivered by the District’s disability agency.  The closure of Forest Haven didn’t magically produce a high quality of supports for people with intellectual disabilities, and some of you reading this feel it’s only the legal system that has held District officials to account. 

I listened hard to folks who expressed worries about the bill at Shaw library back in November and more recently I’ve talked with others struggling over whether to support or oppose this bill.   If you’re leaning against it, please remember this:  anybody who’s now getting services through civil commitment can keep those services.  This bill will only lift the system of civil commitment for those who don’t now receive services in that way and for those who become eligible in the future.  Already, the majority of D.C.’s intellectually disabled citizens get their services without any court involvement whatever.  Also, across the rest of the country the courts don’t routinely order community-based supports for people with intellectual disabilities, either.

Whether or not someone gets services through civil commitment, organizations such as the Quality Trust and University Legal Services will continue to play their central, and essential, monitoring and oversight role.  Active self-advocates in Project Action! will continue demanding better services and responsiveness from DDS.  Involved family members and friends like those who show up at the Supporting Families meetings will continue to stand up for those they care for – through guardianship, powers of attorney, or the new supported decision making agreement that also would be established under the bill.   There have been vast improvements in DDS itself over the past decade, but there are also better watchdogs. 

Watchdogs – advocates – don’t have to have law degrees.  I truly believe that D.C. has left the dark days behind and that we need to move forward now with confidence to establish a system that doesn’t require court involvement.  Please, if the current system is working well for your loved one, then keep it.  But I hope you won’t impose civil commitment on others by asking the council to oppose this bill.

Whatever your position on the bill is, though, I’ll see you at the hearing on January 27 at 11:00, room 412 of the Wilson Building.

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