Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Kalamazoo Promise: Genorosity trumps the pervasive mood of mean-spiritedness

These are gloomy days for anyone trying to understand where and when we took a turn for the worse and began to see dependence, unemployment, poverty, disability, and mental illness as an affront to our way of life, worthy of scorn and contempt.

People with developmental disabilities are not immune from this meanness of spirit, even within the "disability community". Federally-funded disability advocacy groups along with our misguided U.S. Department of Justice, seem hell-bent on bringing down the infra-structure of specialized services and residential options, especially those for people with the most severe disabilities, in the name of freedom and integration. Parents, other family members, and friends are dismayed by the seeming lack of understanding and compassion for their loved-ones. They are casually dismissed as interfering with the judgment of professionals, left out of decisions affecting their family members, and even blamed for keeping people with permanent life-long disabilities in a state of dependence.

This story from the Detroit Free Press,  "Kalamazoo Promise has changed more lives than just the students'" by Bob Jorth, 5/24/14, has nothing directly to do with developmental disabilities, but it is an example of how a small city in southwestern Michigan took on the daunting challenge of providing their children who graduate from Kalamazoo's public high schools with scholarships to any of Michigan's state colleges and universities. 65% to 100% of tuition, depending on the number of years of attendance in the public school system, is paid by anonymous donors to the Kalamazoo Promise .

According to the Detroit Free Press article, the Kalamazoo Promise benefits more than just the students:

"… Students graduating from Kalamazoo Public Schools will be graduating with the Kalamazoo Promise and its assurance that they can go to any of the 43 state-supported universities and community colleges tuition-free. This gift will allow them to focus on their dreams and passions rather than concentrate on how to pay for their education. To date, about 40% of Promise graduates are earning their degrees debt-free, and the median debt for others is less than $5,000

"We’ve seen improvements in K-12 test scores, average grade-point average, behavior and attitudes of students, parents and school staff and a decline in the drop-out rate. There is a 20% improvement in student performance at Kalamazoo Valley Community College, where many first-generation students begin. And more than 90% of all graduates are now starting college in a district where 70% of its students receive free and reduced lunch." [emphasis added]

"…Measuring the full impact of the Kalamazoo Promise has just begun, and the work is difficult at best. Enrollment in the Kalamazoo Public Schools has increased nearly 25% since the announcement of the Promise."

And that is how generosity of spirit overcomes the impulse to turn away from our problems and lash out at our fellow citizens.

More on the Kalamazoo Promise from the New York Times, 9/13/12: "Why These Kids Get a Free Ride to College" by Ted Fishman.

Monday, May 5, 2014

H.R. 831 : Protecting disabled workers or eliminating options for DD?

H.R. 831 is a bill in the U.S. Congress that would phase out special wage certificates under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 under which individuals with disabilities may be employed at subminimum wage rates.

Workers with disabilities who are able to engage in competitive employment, with or without supports, should not be exploited in workplaces that profit off their labor but pay the workers sub minimum wages. The special wage certificates that are now issued, however, allow people with more severe cognitive and other disabilities to work at their own pace in skill development centers (sheltered workshops, usually in community settings) and receive pay adjusted to their abilities and how fast they work. To eliminate the special certificates would apparently, in effect, also eliminate this important option for people who can and want to work but would otherwise be unlikely to obtain employment in regular competitive workplaces. In the opinion of many who benefit from these programs, too little consideration has been given to what will happen to these people other than many more of them sitting at home with nothing to do.

This is an Action Alert from ACCSES, a national provider organization for employment programs for people with disabilities that opposes the bill:

Action Alert
NFB Push on H.R. 831

Next week, the National Federation of the Blind will be coordinating several action days to rally support for H.R. 831.
  • Tuesday, May 6 – Twitter Tuesday
  • Wednesday, May 7 – Call Wednesday
  • Thursday, May 8 – Email Thursday
We strongly encourage you to get the word out to your parents and allies regarding these action dates. Organizations like the NFB do not speak for all people with disabilities. Let your representatives know that skill development centers are needed and wanted and that you do not support H.R. 831.

We also want to alert you to a free webinar featuring New York Times columnist Dan Barry that will be taking place on Tuesday, May 6th. This webinar is hosted by the National Center on Disability and Journalism and will cover Barry’s recent New York Times piece, “The Boys’ in the Bunkhouse.” Barry will be discussing how he developed the story and will be offering “advice for others covering disability issues or people with disabilities.” While Mr. Barry produced an outstanding article, we are deeply troubled by the media’s negative focus on skill development centers and want to ensure that journalists in attendance know that the full story is not being told. The types of abuse that occurred at Henry’s Turkey Farm and in Rhode Island is already illegal and should be investigated and the organizations and individuals responsible should be punished, but that if legislation like H.R. 831 is passed, they will be telling an equally troubling story about jobs, paychecks, and social networks for people with the most severe disabilities disappearing.

More DD News from Detroit/Wayne County Michigan

These are excerpts from the May 2014 Newsletter from Ed Diegel of DDadvocates of Michigan. Ed is responding to a survey that went out to people who receive services through the Detroit/Wayne County Mental Health Authority (DWCMHA). The questions are specific to Wayne County, but many of Ed's answers apply more generally to people in other parts of Michigan.

...Areas of concern:

  • The current Recipient Rights process does not require [providers or provider networks] to make systemic improvements. If a [provider] refuses job supports to an individual, and the RR process requires the individual to be served, the [provider] is under no obligation to serve all the others they have refused but who have not raised a claim.
  • Currently the Authority relies on [provider networks] for performance metrics; these metrics tend to be quantitative not qualitative. The only way to measure success or failure is for the Authority to have its own set of metrics collected from the persons being served. In today’s world we have the absurd situation of a senior [provider network] executive offering a family to reconsider its refusal for day supports IF the family agrees to not submit a rights claim ie raise the issue with Authority...
  • CLS [Community Living Services] is allowed to take a ‘high ground’ stance against congregate settings…(avoiding or minimizing funding for workshops and other settings like the PEP Center) but is not required to develop and support meaningful options...
  • I understand the political and philosophical posture to reduce sheltered workshops and AFC settings but it has to be done with the understanding that this may be done for persons who have the ability and the desire to move into less restrictive settings. I know persons in these settings who love where they live and work and it should be their choice to stay or to move on, regardless of how many of their friends live or work in the same building.  Everyone should have the right to try something and have it succeed or fail, but if they have no choice in the trying, or in the staying, then it is not a right at all—it becomes living according to the will of another which becomes the most basic of concerns. [emphasis added]...
  • I challenge the [CMH] Authority and the [provider networks] to quit pontificating on these issues and to start creating the environment that we want for the people we serve.  This environment needs to include a full range of supports – required for each person from the most needy to the most independent. Don’t defund and push people out of workshops, draw them out with better more successful programs. In the meantime, make the workshops the best they can be for the persons using them. [emphasis added]
What suggestions do you have for the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority as we move forward?

Operate in such a way that in 10 years when your grandchildren ask what you accomplished in your tenure, you will be able to say that “I listened to the persons with developmental disabilities and their families and acted accordingly.”

Ed Diegel,
Advocates for Persons with Developmental Disabilities in Wayne County.
and now at