An article in The Florida Times-Union (jacksonville.com) reports on a project by The ARC of Jacksonville to build a 32-acre community for people with developmental disabilities:
"The Hodges Community would include independent and semi-independent living, as well as recreational and transportation opportunities and a community center. It is set to break ground in 2013 and would take five to 10 years to build."
The land was donated by a group of families in 1969 with the stipulation that it go to help people with developmental disabilities.
The article also says that, "Plans for the community will include different types of housing, including condominiums, apartments and houses and a few small group homes. Families will be able to choose from a 'menu' of options depending on the person's need." The Jacksonville ARC also contemplates having facilities such as soccer fields for use by the general public to encourage interaction with residents.
Parents and the ARC of Jacksonville enthusiastically support the plan. Apartment-living has not been successful or possible for many adults with DD and parents hope that the support of a planned community will increase the likelihood of success.
There have been objections to the plan from an organization called Henderson Haven that provides advocacy and community services to people with developmental disabilities. Lee Henderson, executive director of the organization, complains that this is a step backward toward segregation. Full inclusion with supports should be the goal, rather than another form of accepted segregation, as he characterizes the planned community approach.
Objections have been raised with similar projects in Florida and other states. In my opinion, the objections to housing and services that group people with disabilities together do not hold water. Communal living situations are not necessarily discriminatory and segregating as critics claim, if they are appropriate to the needs of the individual and freely chosen over other options. Even the choice of an institutional option (an Intermediate Care Facility for the Mentally Retarded/Intellectually Disabled - ICF/MR) is supported explicitly by the Supreme Court Olmstead decision.
The use of the Medicaid Home and Community Based Services waiver that allows states to provide services in the community for people who are otherwise eligible for an ICF/MR, must give the individual the choice of an ICF/MR or have the written consent of the eligible individual or the person's legal representative to "waive" the institutional option.
The idea that all people with developmental disabilities can be successfully served using community resources in community settings is at best unproven and at worst demonstrably false. Abuse, neglect, and exploitation can happen in any setting, not because of the size of the setting or how it is organized, but because people with developmental disabilities are especially vulnerable to abuse, neglect, and exploitation. That mistreatment, criminal or otherwise, occurs in community settings is documented in grim detail here.
In Florida, there is a waiting list of around 20,000 people with DD who go without services. According to the Web site Left Behind in Florida, the waiting list makes up 40% of all families who have a family member with DD who is eligible for assistance.
A planned community is one more option from which families may choose and should not be seen as competition to fully inclusive settings that many people can benefit from. Projects that originate with the individuals and families who need services and garner support from a wide variety of community organizations are the most likely to succeed, the most likely to use resources wisely, and the most likely to be accepted by the community at large. Here is an example.
There is no shortage of ideas for improving the lives of people with developmental disabilities, but advocacy groups that deliberately narrow the choices based on their fervent belief in an unproven ideology are an impediment to a system that can truly meet the needs of the full range of people with DD, especially those who are either not served at all or inadequately served by our current system.