I remember when I first heard Dylan, I was young enough to think progress was an inevitable fact of life. Now I’ve lived long enough to understand that progress takes a lot of work.
I’d like to take the opportunity, then, to salute all of those who made it their business over the past 40 years to bring the District out of the dark days of Forest Haven, through the many years of poor services and stalled reforms, to the recent years of determined efforts and political will – to bring the Evans case, at last, to a close. This accomplishment, and the new roads ahead, were a major focus of the performance hearing on February 15. You can find the archived video, including many important witnesses and some very good Q and As from the new committee chair, councilmember Brianne Nadeau, and others, at www.dccouncil.us. If your time or patience is short, here are some specific pieces of written testimony you’ll definitely want to read: Andy Reese, DDS director, https://tinyurl.com/gnqq6mw, and Jimi Lethbridge, Quality Trust, https://tinyurl.com/jj3aulh.
I had serious laryngitis that day and was preserving my voice for the D.C. Statehood Coalition’s Lobby Day on the Hill (http://www.dcvote.org/events/statehood-coalition-lobby-day), so I didn’t testify in person. I did, however, submit written testimony, and this time I chose to focus on an issue near and dear to all our hearts: employment. One positive way in which things are changing, as you see from Reese’s testimony, is that employment is becoming a much more prominent focus of efforts on behalf of local citizens with disabilities. Still, we have far to go, and based on my family’s experience up to now, I offered these specific recommendations to the committee:
- The need to redouble efforts to reach DCPS students – even those in out-of-state placements – with effective RSA transition assistance, since it is infinitely harder to recoup delays after the school years.
- The need for RSA and DDA to pay particular attention to the needs of young adults in their 20s who may not be students but who are nevertheless still establishing their direction in life and need substantial support in these efforts.
- The need not only to pursue customized employment, but also to customize the ways in which RSA and DDA conduct “discovery,” tailoring it to the particular needs of the individual in order to help build confidence and let the person lead with their skills rather than being overwhelmed with bureaucracy.
- The need for DDA to clarify for providers of Individualized Day Services the exact parameters of what they can and cannot do to assist people with career exploration.
- The need for DDA to think very carefully about proposed deadlines on the duration of employment-readiness services under the waiver, in order to ensure sufficient flexibility in extending those services where that is clearly in the best interests of the person being served.
- The need for DDS provider agencies to be aware of the full array of D.C. community resources and to ensure that front-line Direct Support Professionals receive this information and put it to use on behalf of the people they support.
- The substantial work yet to be done through No Wrong Door and other DDS efforts to sensitize other departments of the D.C. government about their role in offering volunteer and paid work opportunities to D.C. citizens with disabilities.
I know readers have their own views about this topic, so feel free to join the conversation by commenting. (You’ll need a Google email address.)