Keep Options Available for Adults with Disabilties

Mary Kessens, President and CEO, Riverfront, Inc.

Wisconsin citizens face a crossroads in how we support people with disabilities. A recently released plan by the Department of Health Services (DHS) designs a roadmap to eliminate all facility-based work centers so all adults with disabilities will be placed into community-based employment.

While we completely support DHS’s plan to increase community-based services, as experts in our field, we know and understand that 100% community placement is not a realistic goal. While many individuals can achieve this goal, a “one-size fits all” approach to employment cannot serve individuals with a diverse range of abilities. Riverfront is a leader in supporting people with disabilities in the community. Twice as many Riverfront participants work in integrated community employment than in our work centers.

Many adults employed at work centers have profound disabilities, and will never achieve productivity of more than 10-20% of a non-disabled person. Their disability will prevent them from finding community-based employment. Furthermore, many individuals require one-to-one personal care assistance with basic daily needs such as eating and toileting.

The move for change is coming from a federal level, so Wisconsin is not alone in examining employment services. Massachusetts, New Jersey and Mississippi have chosen to maintain their full range of services. Other states have closed all work centers in favor of a singular focus on integrated community employment, and consequently, adults with the most significant disabilities suffer. They become isolated and typically work few hours, if at all.

Incomplete federal guidelines are driving changes at the state level. As a result, Wisconsin’s plan has ambiguities and calls for more direction from several federal agencies, leaving Wisconsin adults with disabilities and their families in limbo. We believe that once the DHS receives the additional guidance and updates the plan, there should be an additional 30-day public comment period.
The deadline to act on behalf of Wisconsinites with disabilities is just weeks away, September 2, so please contact DHS, your legislator and Governor Walker today and tell them to:
1) Preserve the full range of options for people with disabilities, including the option to attend and access a facility-based vocational and day services.
2) Recognize that because of incomplete federal guidelines, the current DHS plan is incomplete.
3) Request that the State open another 30-day comment period after the federal guidelines are complete and the Wisconsin plan is amended.

If you would like to learn more about how work centers serve a need for adults with disabilities, please contact Riverfront for a tour at info@riverfrontinc.org or 608-784-9450. Visit www.ateamwisconsin.org for up-to-date news and contact information for DHS, your legislators and Governor Walker.

Your voice is important to the future of Wisconsin’s adults with disabilities. Please make your voice heard and comment before September 2, 2014. Thank you.