Community provider agencies for people with developmental disabilities are based on the principle of ensuring meaningful and effective integration into the community. In order to prepare for the closure of Woodbridge and North Jersey developmental centers, the Department of Human Services has pledged to assist families in finding the most appropriate setting in the community equipped to serve even those with the most complex needs.
Community agencies have developed a system of comprehensive care, and will continue to do so as more people leave developmental centers. Segregating our vulnerable citizens in developmental centers costs more than identical care in the community. It’s not logical to spend exorbitant amounts of money to disallow certain citizens a normalized life.
New Jersey is notorious for its high rate of institutionalization (second only to Texas). Consequently, many are becoming aware of institutionalization’s inefficiencies as more people with developmental disabilities live contentedly within communities across the nation. If community care were to truly be a threat to the well-being of people with disabilities, then states across the country would not be making a determined effort to deinstitutionalize. When will New Jersey fulfill its commitment to the Olmstead Act and eradicate the unnecessary segregation of people with disabilities?
Community agencies strive to improve professionalism and quality of care each day through training, conferences and other means. Imagine the potential if we were to leverage the role of community staff and make their pay equal to that of staff in developmental centers. We should also make every effort to guarantee that staff in developmental centers can transfer their jobs into the community.
Criticizing the governor because he acknowledges the humanity and rights of people with disabilities is tasteless. We should direct our attention to the fact that many politicians are failing to honor the rights of hundreds of their constituents. Bottom line: No person transitioning or relocating from closing developmental centers will be left at the curb.
Rather than pushing legislation that maintains a developmental center in each region of the state, politicians should be aiming to develop nearby supportive housing by giving community agencies incentives to expand their area of service and working alongside public and private housing markets.
Stakeholders should cooperatively work together to reap the ethical and economic benefits that the initiative will produce and fulfill their commitment to serve every citizen, with or without disability.
Gillian Speiser works alongside individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She coordinates advocacy activities and assists those who seek to participate in the political process. She works with the nonprofit, nonpartisan New American Movement for People with Disabilities (nampwd.org).