Friday, October 25, 2013

More housing projects for people with autism and other disabilities

"The Architecture for Autism" by Michael Tortorello is an article from the New York Times, 10/9/13, about new parent-initiated housing projects for people with autism.

An new template for building housing and communities for people with autism was developed in 2009 by Kim Steele and Sherry Ahrentzen who collaborated on “Advancing Full Spectrum Housing,” a comprehensive design guideline for housing adults with autism.

According to the article,  "Perhaps the first development to closely follow their template is Sweetwater Spectrum, a residence for 16 adults whose abilities and disabilities span the full range of autism. The innovative $10.4 million project opened in January in the heart of California wine country, and its founding families and board hope to make Sweetwater a model for like-minded experiments across the country."

"…Sweetwater’s mission statement lays out some ambitious principles. Residents will be able to age in place. The community should 'accommodate a broad financial spectrum,' subsidizing residency for a quarter of its tenants. And attendants (who are not Sweetwater employees) should be offered incentives to encourage stable, long-term care relationships."

Here are some of the details about how houses are designed and equipped to accommodate people with autism:

  • "'..there is a floor drain in every bathroom. As Ms. Maytum explained, 'Water can be a really interesting activity for people with autism.
  • "Safety and security were other concerns. The kitchens use induction cooktops to limit the possibility of burns. And while the perimeter fence is slotted ..., solid planks span the bottom few feet. Residents are free to walk out the front gate, but it’s probably best that they not treat the fence like a ladder. 
  • "A bigger design challenge was to see a house through the eyes of an autistic client. For example, the layout of all four dwellings is identical: a neighbor’s place should feel like home. And multiple seating options encourage an individual to be near the action without necessarily plunging into the fray.
  • "Another way of limiting noise annoyance was to place pairs of bedrooms on opposite sides of the house, instead of in a dormitory-style row…
This, like other planned housing for people with disabilities, is an open-ended experiment. Cost is one barrier to making it available to a large number of people. "…families pay $39,000 a year for a child to live at Sweetwater. That expense, said Ms. Steele, the researcher, 'will preclude people who don’t have a trust fund or wealthy parents from living there.'" Sweetwater does, however, provide scholarships for a number of residents.

Another housing project is Airmount Woods in Bergen County, New Jersey.  Airmount Woods is "a new eight-unit residence developed by Bergen County’s United Way and operated by the service agency New Horizons in Autism."

"The twin four-bedroom houses will use some of the latest concepts in building for autism. But the real innovation may be the way it promotes special-needs housing as a community asset. That term is not just a stock phrase. Airmount Woods belongs to a nonprofit group called Ramsey Housing Inc., formed by the Borough of Ramsey. The mayor, Christopher Botta, sits on the board, and he dropped by on a recent morning to show off the project. Almost every one of his constituents knows someone with autism, the second-term Republican mayor said. This isn’t housing for strangers."

Here are two innovative housing projects for people with developmental disabilities in Michigan: Benjamin's Hope and Harbor House Ministries

LTO Ventures, is a non-profit organization with information about housing and planned communities
for people with autism around the country.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

HUD: Housing for hearing-impaired has too many deaf residents

"It's nice to have a life that's equivalent to other people that are not deaf," said resident Linda Russell. "This building is designed for deaf people, by deaf people, and we know what is best for our needs. And people that don't understand our needs, should not be putting themselves in decision-making positions for us." Resident of Apache ASL Trails senior housing project.

According to a report from, 10/21/13, "Feds try to eliminate housing for the deaf -- at complex built for hearing-impaired", the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is telling Apache ASL Trails in Arizona, a housing project for deaf seniors, that they are discriminating against the non-deaf.

A memo from HUD on the housing project says, "A preference or priority based on a particular diagnosis or disability and excluding others with different disabilities is explicitly prohibited by HUD's Section 504 regulations…There is no legal authority contained in any of Apache Trails funding to permit such a priority or preference." 

Even though HUD approved the apartment building project in 2008 and helped fund it,  HUD is now "…threatening to pull all federal housing aid to Arizona unless it limits the number of hearing-impaired residents to 18 people." 

According to the report, "All 74 units at Apache ASL Trails accommodate wheelchairs. Blinking lights signal when the doorbell rings and when utilities like the garbage disposal and air conditioning are running. A video phone lets residents 'talk' with friends." Ninety-percent of the units are currently occupied by deaf and deaf-blind seniors, but HUD wants to impose a quota of only 25% hearing-impaired residents.

The dispute over the Apache senior housing project is a continuation of HUD complaints covered in an article on April 28, 2013 in the New York Times:  "A Haven for the Deaf Draws Federal Scrutiny Over Potential Discrimination". 

One rationale used by HUD in claiming discrimination by the Arizona housing project is Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act .

According to the HUD website on people with disabilities:

"Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 states: No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States. . .shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program, service or activity receiving federal financial assistance or under any program or activity conducted by any Executive agency or by the United States Postal Service. (29 U.S.C. 794). This means that Section 504 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in any program or activity that receives financial assistance from any federal agency, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as well as in programs conducted by federal agencies including HUD."

On the website explaining the jurisdiction of HUD in answering complaints of housing discrimination there is an example of when a specific disability may be an eligibility requirement of participation in a program:

"HUD considers several factors in determining if it has jurisdiction to investigate the complaint. … the Department must determine whether the individual, or the person the individual represents, is a person with a disability as defined by Section 504. The Department also must determine if the individual is "otherwise qualified" for the program or activity alleged to have discriminated. …In some cases, disability may also be an eligibility factor. For example, if a housing program is set up under the Department's Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) program, and the complainant's only disability is a visual impairment, the person would not be qualified for the HOPWA project because that project is designed to meet the needs of persons with AIDS. [emphasis added] Therefore, HUD would lack jurisdiction to process this complaint under Section 504."

Under some circumstances, a specific disability is a criteria for eligibility for a federally funded program and people with other disabilities may be excluded. 

Other ironies abound: This is a senior housing project, but apparently there is no charge that younger people are being discriminated against. Although 90% of the residents at Apache are hearing-impaired, 10% are not, . How can the claim be made that non-deaf people are excluded? No actual person has claimed that they have been discriminated against by the project. It appears that only HUD has gone through the mental contortions necessary to justify a charge that actual discrimination is occurring at Apache ASL Trails housing project.

What's next? Hospitals discriminate against the non-sick? Jails discriminate against non-criminals? High Schools discriminate against 5-year-olds? Soccer leagues discriminate against the soccer-impaired?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Wyoming : Working together better than circling the wagons

..not circling the wagons
This editorial is from the Caspar Wyoming Tribune and appeared in the VOR Weekly News Update for September 27, 2013   

It also appeared in the Lander Journal (“Working Together,” 9/25/2013), the Gillette News Record (“Wyo. needs to do more for developmentally disabled,” 9/25/2013) and the Wyoming Tribune Eagle (“Families of the disabled must carry their torch,” September 20, 2013)

Connie Howard is VOR’s Wyoming State Coordinator. Connie’s son, Mark, has profound intellectual disabilities and has received high quality, specialized supports in both facility-based and community-based settings.  


We must work together, not apart 
by Connie Howard

September 21, 2013 
Casper Star Tribune
Casper, Wyoming 

I have been advocating for people with developmental disabilities for 53 years. By no coincidence, that’s also how old my son is.

Mark is developmentally disabled. While young, I never said “I want to be an advocate for people with disabilities when I grow up.” Like so many other families of individuals with developmental disabilities who daily advocate for their loved ones, my son has brought out the advocate in me.

While my advocacy is certainly motivated by my son and his needs, I also recognize that he is part of something much bigger. Mark is part of a population of developmentally disabled adults who are served by a complex web of state and federal programs all designed to ensure that he and his peers are adequately and safety served in settings of their choice. 

Calling on the general public to support the least-abled among us is the greatest moral test of our government and its people, as noted so aptly by Hubert Humphrey.

The compassion of the general public in helping to provide my son and his peers the supports they need is not lost on me. I recognize that what Mark receives is a blessing, not an entitlement.

But, the system is not perfect and that motivates me too.

The system allows aging parents to continue caring for their middle-aged loved ones with developmental disabilities long beyond what is reasonable. The system allows 600 Wyomingites in desperate need of services to wait. Worst of all, because it can hinder (or stop) progress, legislative debates about the system’s future encourage infighting among advocates for people with disabilities.

Recent proposals suggest that Wyoming’s main Medicaid programs for people with disabilities – the Wyoming Life Resource Center and community-based programs—must be cut (translation: individuals will lose services) to provide funding for people waiting for services.

Don’t get me wrong. People in need should not have to wait another day. But, how is “robbing Peter to pay Paul” a solution?

Yet, even as every advocate sees the injustice of depriving one segment of the population to meet the needs of another, it still takes a collective resolve to avoid “circling the wagons” in support our own programs.

On Sept. 26, Gov. Matt Mead, like many state officials and legislators before him, will visit the Wyoming Life Resource Center. I am encouraged by these visits. Too often, elected officials make policy “sight unseen.” Mead will see firsthand the wonderful care my son and his peers receive. He’ll see profound needs being served so compassionately.

If given the chance, I will use this opportunity to encourage the governor’s support for a broad continuum of supports, services, residential, and employment options that match the broad spectrum of abilities, needs and preferences within the disabled population. I vow not to “circle the Wyoming Life Resource Center wagon.” My support for WLRC will be clear but not exclusive. A continuum of service options is needed.

I will also continue my advocacy in Cheyenne, attending rallies in support of expanded community-based programs, while also speaking in support of the great need filled by WLRC.

I will also encourage many more fellow advocates to do the same. As Pastor Rodger McDaniel wrote in his blog, “The developmentally disabled, their families and advocates should flood the Capitol building. They should occupy the rotunda of the building, filling it with the faces of the people who will suffer the impact of the choice the Legislature made.”

Families of Wyomingites with developmental disabilities must carry the torch for our loved ones, and we must do all we can to carry this torch hand-in-hand. 

For if not us, then who?