Thursday, March 24, 2016

Busy Times Indeed!

There are a lot of important things happening right now, and I want to keep folks up to date:

First, the correct date for the DDS budget hearing is Monday, April 18 at 10 a.m.  I apologize for broadcasting a different date earlier ("As Budget Time Approaches," 3/14/16).  So brush up that testimony and have it ready by April 15!

Second, there is a new hearing on the Evans lawsuit scheduled for April 20.  I don’t yet have the details but will communicate them when I do.

And finally, Laura Nuss has been persuaded to remain in her post through April 22 (not April 8 as she announced) in order to accommodate these two extremely important events.  Bravo!  

Monday, March 21, 2016

Turning the Page at DDS

No sooner had I sent my earlier post today than I learned a piece of late-breaking news that’s important to our whole community.  Today Laura Nuss announced she will leave her post as director of the Department on Disability Services in a short two weeks.  Here is the verbatim text of her announcement: 


I have been honored to serve in the Department on Disability Services for the past 8 and 1/2 years; first as the Deputy Director for DDA and then as of May, 2010 as the Director.  We have accomplished more than anyone could have imagined, and I am proud to have worked side by side with all of you to achieve this progress.  However there is a season for all things and spring is a time for change, which for me means  that I will be leaving DDS in the upcoming weeks. 

As you know, we are on the cusp of achieving final compliance with our last 5 exit criteria in the Evans v. Bowser class action after 40 years!  Regardless of the outcome of our Certifications of Compliance, our path forward is clear.  The new CMS requirements demand that all people with IDD receive services in an environment like people without disabilities, and, that we move aggressively forward on assisting people to gain employment and engage in learning in inclusive environments.  That will take all of DDS, other District agencies and our community partners to work together to make this goal a reality for all of the people we serve.  The District has a transition plan in progress and our provider community will need to take very seriously the changes that will need to be made in support of those CMS requirements.  I know DDS will be doing its’ part to ensure our continued success.

While I would have enjoyed being here especially when Judge Huvelle dropped the gavel on the Evans case, my tenure with DDS was about more than the Evans case.  I have always said "systems change" is not dependent upon one person.  It is about working together to support the development of a sustaining system of services, built on policies, rules, training, staff development, leadership, cross-agency collaboration,  funding, performance management systems, technology, customer service, commitment, teamwork and enthusiasm.  That sustainable system has been established, and now it simply must remember to follow the tenants of a learning organization and always strive to improve.

I have decided that my tenure with DDS has run its' course, and coupled with my family obligations I have decided resign my post as  Director of the Department on Disability Services, and accept another position that will allow me to continue my contributions to the field but with a bit more flexibility.   I know I have worked hard, am proud of what we have achieved, and will always be committed to the people of the District and the team at DDS.  I am confident that each one of you will also continue your commitment to serve the people of the District of Columbia.

My last day will be April 8, 2016.  I look forward to talking with many of you before then to personally thank you for all that you do and for making these last 8 plus years easily the most meaningful of my professional life.


Even though she correctly states that “ ‘systems change’ is not dependent upon one person,” anyone who listened to the Austermuhle broadcast last week knows how central she has been to the turnaround in D.C. disability services in recent years.  She has worked hard to get systems in place, and she has gotten some strong people in leadership positions around her.  One of them will surely step into her role on an acting basis, but the next move will be Mayor Bowser’s.  These are very big shoes to fill.

So Much Accomplished, So Much More to Do

Last week was a great one for shining a light on all that’s been accomplished for persons with developmental – mainly intellectual – disabilities over the past decade.  As I reported in my last post, WAMU-FM (88.5) broadcast an entire four-day series by reporter Martin Austermuhle focused on the road the District has traveled since Forest Haven, “From Institution to Inclusion” (  I hope everyone will take the time to fully explore all the written, audio and video materials accompanying the series.  You’ll come away with a very good historic understanding of the road D.C. has traveled and the meaningful progress that’s been made.  In addition to that series, on Thursday of last week Kojo Nnamdi interviewed Laura Nuss, DDS director, and Tina Campanella, CEO of the Quality Trust ( – though unfortunately too briefly to allow for call-in questions.

I’m extremely happy that Austermuhle did such a comprehensive and thoughtful series, heard throughout the city.  However, as he wrote in an “Author’s Note” to the introduction:  “Intellectual disabilities are a subset of developmental disabilities, but not all people with a developmental disability have an intellectual disability.”  This is very true, and for that reason I was quite disappointed when he didn’t acknowledge that only those found to have an intellectual disability are eligible for waiver services in D.C., leaving those with different types of developmental disability left out of the system.   For more on this topic, see my earlier posts labeled Past Reforms and Advocacy, in particular “As Budget Time Approaches“ (3/14/16), “It Takes Money to Make Things Run” (4/18/15), and “Thirty-five Years and Counting” (12/19/14).

This leads to my second misgiving about the series – namely, it was so focused on progress made since the dreadful days of Forest Haven and group homes that it glossed over significant current challenges with service delivery and the lack of access to services by so many in D.C.  No question that employment is an essential issue, but the sudden shift in the story to employment programs in Washington state left the impression that there are just two sides to the coin:  deinstitutionalization and employment.  We know it’s much more complicated than that.  While there were a few broad references to the complexity of community integration in the report, the hasty conclusion left so very much unsaid.  I hope Austermuhle will do a follow-up before too long which takes a broader and longer-range view of D.C.’s challenges going forward. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

As Budget Time Approaches

The DDS performance review hearing before the Council’s Health and Human Services committee took place on March 10.  And first, I want to say how happy I was to see some of you there.  Secondly, I wish more folks had been there to testify.  It’s hard to overstate how important it is for the council to hear from individuals who are touched by DDS, either directly or as family members/friends. I hope some of you sent written testimony even though you couldn’t be there.  You’ll have another opportunity when the same committee hears testimony on the DDS budget for fiscal year 2017 on April 20:  let Malcolm Cameron ( know if you plan to testify or submit testimony. 

There was a substantial amount of discussion at the hearing about bill B21-0385 (“A New Year, A Chance for New Beginnings,”  January 19), and in her remarks Chairperson Alexander seemed to favor the naming of a DDS ombudsman as a way to alleviate some of the concerns being expressed by the families of people who now receive services under court commitment.  No mention was made about rescheduling the hearing that was cancelled due to the January snowstorm, but on the fringes of this hearing Kenyan McDuffie, the chair of the judiciary committee, which also has jurisdiction, was meeting separately with people who favor that bill (as I do).  Please reach out to your council member to express your viewpoint on this important piece of legislation that will help shape the future of disability rights in the District!

The majority of the questioning by council members Alexander and Nadeau – the only members who came, although Grosso had staff there through most of it – was about RSA issues, particularly transition services, staff counseling and caseloads.  There was also questioning about DDA, although less than last year it seemed to me.  I was personally disappointed that, although last year she was very engaged on the subject, Chairperson Alexander seemed much less energized, even a bit confused, on the issue of expanding D.C. waiver services to include people with a developmental but not an intellectual disability.  It also was disappointing that DDS director Nuss, in her response on that matter, was not very up to speed herself about the estimated number of people affected or the status of the updated needs assessment which DDS and the Developmental Disabilities Council are working on.  Luckily the DDC director, Mat McCullough, was able to shed some light on this topic in his testimony later in the day.

The video of the full day of hearings is at:  I testified on the panel that starts about an hour and 15 minutes into the video, which included very informative testimony by University Legal Services about DDA and RSA, as well as testimony about the self-advocacy group, Project Action!  Among other things, I discussed the emerging tension between person-centered thinking and the way in which community-based day programming is being implemented.  If this is a concern for you, I urge you to view and comment by March 21 on the pending D.C. state plan at

Testimony by Laura Nuss begins about three hours into the video, and questioning of her and her two deputies – Andy Reese for RSA and Jared Morris, now formally named as deputy for DDA – about three and a half hours in.  If you can only watch part of the video, I strongly recommend that you watch this question and answer portion.  Incidentally, if you’re interacting this month with DDS, be aware that the agency is preparing to move toward the end of this month to a new location, at 250 E St SW.

Finally, this week WAMU-FM (88.5) is marking Developmental Disabilities Month with a four-part series, Tuesday-Friday at 6:50 and 8:50 AM, by Martin Austermuhle on “struggles of  D.C. residents with developmental disabilities.”  Also, Kojo Nnamdi will interview Tina Campanella of the D.C. Quality Trust on Thursday at noon.  These should be well worth hearing, and I hope you'll tune in.