Sunday, April 6, 2014

Michigan Employment First Policy: One size fits all?

The Michigan Developmental Disabilities Council approved a policy called "Employment First in Michigan" in August of 2013 which was then submitted to the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) for consideration as state policy. [As a new member of the DD Council, I did not attend any Council meetings until September 2013 and did not vote on the policy.] The vote by the DD Council was not unanimous.

A meeting was held on November 20, 2013 with representatives of the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) to discuss the proposed policy where many good suggestions were made to make the language consistent with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Supreme Court Olmstead decision interpreting the ADA, and to honor the right to choice and self-determination.

The proposed policy, however, was not changed to reflect any of the comments from the November meeting. Bob Brown, a parent of an adult with developmental disabilities and a member of the DD Council wrote to James Haveman, the Director of MDCH, voicing his concern that if changes were not made, the document would lead "…to an outcome that restricts and diminishes an individual's choices rather than expanding them." Bob is most concerned that the policy as currently worded will be used to eliminate the choice, based on individual need and preferences, for programs where people like his daughter receive community-employment through a center-based program that also offers skill-building services for people with cognitive disabilities. 

I would further emphasize the broad spectrum of people with disabilities, many of whom can work successfully in integrated employment settings and others who, like my sons, are unlikely to achieve anywhere near this level of accomplishment without a miraculous recovery of functioning or some other unlikely medical breakthrough. High expectations and lofty goals for achievement can be inspiring for some, but demoralizing and damaging for others, taking the focus off appropriate services that help individuals achieve realistic goals and assure safety, good health, appropriate care, and well-being.

You can see Bob Brown's comments here. His recommendations include changes that are consistent with federal law regarding employment for people with disabilities. A Word version of the proposed policy, without comments, can be found here.

If you wish to support Bob's comments (or not) on the Employment First Policy or add comments of your own, address them to:

Mr. James Haveman, Director
Michigan Department of Community Health
Capitol View Building
201Townsend Street
Lansing, Michigan 48913

You can e-mail comments to Nancy Grijalva at or Sharon Danielis at in Mr. Haveman's office.

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