By Rhonda Frederick
A recent front-page article in The News focused on the heartrending rescue of a woman, who is developmentally disabled, by her nephew from reported miserable living conditions furthered by another family member.
The News described the 66-year-old woman as living in a barn, subjected to both physical and mental abuse, and suffering from malnourishment.
Fortunately, the woman is enjoying a new life being cared for by her nephew and his wife. But this story also makes us stop and think about the plight of those who are developmentally disabled.
As our population in Western New York continues to skew older and aging caregivers become no longer able to support their loved ones, there will be an increasing need for senior individuals with developmental disabilities to receive the care they need and deserve.
We are fortunate to have varied services in Western New York. In fact, we are considered a leader in offering legal, medical, financial, housing and community integration services that help maintain the dignity of life.
But this effort is becoming increasingly more difficult. One way to help is to remove the state moratorium on creating and staffing new group homes where individuals with disabilities receive around-the-clock staff support and supervision.
Because of this, more than 1,000 individuals with disabilities in Western New York alone are on a waiting list for openings that carry the highest critical needs as eligibility criteria.
While the state and the federal governments aggressively pursue managed care for individuals with developmental disabilities with the intent of transitioning many of them from institutional settings to community-based housing, we must be cognizant that no single option is the best for everyone.
One example is another state moratorium, this specifically stopping funding for new admissions into sheltered workshops where disabled individuals perform contract work for area businesses. This is the first step toward integrating both disabled and non-disabled individuals into a company’s workforce.
Lack of employment opportunities and the accompanying benefits of increased satisfaction and self-esteem will affect those individuals with disabilities who are now able to enter the workforce – especially those graduating from high school this year.
We must all do our part to ask the governor and our legislators to eliminate these moratoriums so that individuals with developmental disabilities, especially those without family members or those with aging caregivers providing daily care, have the opportunity for much-needed assistance that can result in fulfilling and productive lives.
Rhonda Frederick is COO of People Inc. and president of the Developmental Disabilities Alliance of Western New York.