I’m gearing back up and hope to be writing more often. This blog post will quickly be followed by one on several upcoming events and issues, so read both of them. I had planned to get that one out first, but I now realize I need to get an important issue before you today, because it’s evolving very quickly indeed.
As you know, the District is in Stage One (or Phase One, the terminology seems to keep changing), which has allowed things to open up somewhat for most of us. How soon we get to Stage Two is still unclear. But this issue has to do with whether people getting supports under the DDA waiver are able to enjoy the same rights as the rest of DC’s residents as we move through the different stages. I know this is a complex issue with many different facets, but we need to make sure we don’t throw out years of civil rights efforts in our zeal to keep people “safe.” I put quotes around the word “safe” because there are indeed mental-health aspects of continuing to be isolated which, as we all know firsthand, are unsafe in and of themselves.
As a parent of someone receiving supported-living services in DC, I’ve been grappling with this issue myself over the past week to ten days, instinctively feeling that Stage One should apply to my son but observing that this was not quite the message he was receiving in his ISP meeting, nor apparently in his day-to-day life. I sympathize with provider agencies who are trying to navigate this without clear guidance. Last Friday on the DDS call, one provider did ask this question, specifically with respect to people going out with family (we all know, or should, that visits BY family to people’s homes is still prohibited). I was very happy to hear Andy give the sort of answer I had hoped for: namely, people DDS supports have the same rights as any other resident of the District – to go out for any allowed activity and to any place that is open under Stage One, as long as they are respecting necessary public-health guidelines.
That is what Andy said, and I know his heart was in the right place. However, a verbal response during a Q and A is not definitive, and I’ve heard through the grapevine that some other issues are now coming into play – guidance from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that may or may not apply, other local guidance, as well as pending guidance from DDS itself. I know that all of this is a lot to absorb and analyze, but I hope DDS was already doing so, at least from the moment that Stage One came into effect on May 29. Folks cannot be flying blind at such a critical moment.
And it should go without saying that I hope whatever guidance DDS issues will tip clearly in favor of the rights of people with disabilities – they should be able to go out and do the same things the rest of us can, with the appropriate support and ensuring that necessary CDC and local health guidelines are being followed. We can’t let Covid erase the hard-fought gains of recent decades for people with disabilities – rights are rights. And I say this even as a frightened mother.
Let DDS know where you stand – firstname.lastname@example.org. And I hope you stand with me.