Elimination of Sub-minimum wage in Seattle

The Seattle Commission for People with disAbilities  has made a recommendation to the Seattle City Council to eliminate certificates which enable employers to pay people with specific disabilities a commensurate wage.  I know that there are discussions all across the country that are looking at issues of employment and wages for people with disabilities.

This is a quick update on this very heated discussion.  From what I can assume by the articles that I read and the correspondence I have had with at least two of the commissioners regarding this issue vie Facebook,  there has been little research or collaboration with those in our community who may be, now or in the future, affected by this proposal.

Attempts to offer insight, requests for research, transition plans and funding plans have been ignored and people who expressed concerns have been rudely and aggressively mistreated by at least one of the commissioners.

Seattle Commission for people with disabiltiies Shaun Bickley and Cindi Laws

Below is the first letter that I submitted on the Facebook page.  This led to the Facebook page administrator blocking me from further comments or reacting to any posts – and this post was removed.

I am the parent and guardian of a young adult with significant intellectual/developmental and mental health disabilities – all of a degenerative nature and I network with many other families, caregivers, guardians and people with IDD who totally disagree with the assumptions that you and others are making about those with disabilities.

Yes, the members of the commission may have disabilities but is the specific population of those with significant intellectual/developmental disabilities represented?  The population which identifies as disabled is extremely heterogeneous and we need to have choices available to ensure that all have a chance and opportunity to work. We are all very concerned regarding this issues. For many of these people who work under these certificates it’s not about making a living wage – it’s about having a job and being a member of the community, participating, sharing experiences and having daily goals and activities – basically adding meaning to their lives. 


Unfortunately, my son and others who experience some of the same types of issues he does, are not able to articulate their ideas, attend meetings, and speak in coherent sentences – even with the help of assistive technology, and so their voices are not heard. 


You do not speak for them – in fact, it is quite the opposite because you deny the people who know, love and understand them, the opportunity to provide their ideas and choices. These people are their friends, families, guardians, caregivers, coaches, case managers, co-workers. These are the people who are all better equipped to fill in and be a proxy for their voices. 


The fact that you make assumptions that you are speaking for all people with disabilities without taking into consideration those who are affected by this issue is an act of discrimination and devaluation of their personhood. 


We need these certificates to ensure choice – remember the saying “nothing about us, without us” – Please take it to heart!

Mr. Shaun Bickley, one of the commissioners, took offense with my letter, stating “”nothing about us, without us” refers to disabled people, not to parents, siblings, neighbors,  co-workers and other allies”.  He wrote that they (the commission) were all disabled and therefore can speak for all people with disabilities – whereas, guardians’ concerns are only self-serving.  He wrote that all people, even if they can just move one muscle, can make their choices known – regardless if others understand them or not.  (I am very confused by this since if others do not understand, how are their choices known?)

In looking at the members of the commission I noticed that several are lawyers, a few have PhDs and several others have a variety of advanced college degrees, one is a filmmaker and an artist,  one is a medical doctor  – I’m curious which one has an intellectual/developmental disability?  This is the question that got me blocked from the Facebook page as it was seen as using “degrading language and making people feel unsafe.”

More to come – letters have been sent to The Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities, the Mayor’s office, the Office of Labor Standards and to each member on the Seattle City Council.

 

Senate Health Committee Hears Bill which looks to close ICF/IDD

Today SB 5594 was had public comments in the Senate Health Committee (Washington State)

There are actually some wonderful new ideas expressed in this bill (Federally Qualified Comprehensive Community Healthcare Clinic!!) but plans  to consolidate  from a combined campus of a skilled nursing facility and an intermediate care facility to just a skilled nursing facility is troubling.  This is  not explicitly written in the language but it is clear this is the goal.

The bill states a building at Fircrest must be remodeled and updated to serve as a skilled nursing facility.  Other steps must be taken to consolidate other buildings and ensure residents are provided the opportunity to stay at Fircrest or move into the community.

Given that Fircrest will only have a skilled nursing facility, what will happen to the residents who are not eligible for those services but choose to stay at Fircrest in an ICF/ID?  The bill does not address this population that currently resides at Fircrest.

“Former Fircrest School residents who fail to succeed in the community may, after repeated failures, remain in the community or may choose to move to another residential habilitation center; however, former Fircrest School residents may not return to Fircrest School.”

The other HUGE issue is that the community is far from ready to be able to accommodate the needs of the number of residents who may choose to live off campus.  Already there is a long waiting list for housing, staff and other services.

The critical issue that needs to be addressed before any changes can be made is that of supported living wages and supports.  These wages and supports need to be appropriately funded to provide the services.  This is the system that will provide stability, success and sustainability to community residential settings and is the issue that needs to be addressed as a first step to any issues of consolidation of the intermediate care facility.

School to Work – Successful Supported Employment

King County Developmental Disabilities Division School to Work (S2W) program has been very successful in transitioning youth from school to jobs.  Students with more intensive support needs were not finding the same success – many were not referred to the S2W or if referred, often did not obtain an employment contractor to receive services. Therefore in all reality, these students with more intensive support needs were essentially excluded from the very successful S2W transition program.

I had inquired about participation for my son, Thomas, in years past.  One administrator from Developmental Disabilities Administration told me that my son would not be eligible since the program tended to “cherry pick” those students who they believed would be the most successful – a method used to show a higher percentage of employment.  I was also told that since my son did not live in “the community” he would not be eligible to enroll.

Luckily, with persistence and the development of a pilot program, King County together with several other agencies collaborated and initiated the High Support Needs S2W program in 2014.  Ten students participated and 7 of those had jobs within the first year, 5 of those were employed before they graduated from their school programs.

Thomas was a ground breaker in this program – being the first participant who lives in an Intermediate Care Facility for those with Intellectual Disabilities (ICF/ID).  Not only was he the first participant but he was also one of the 5 who had a job prior to graduation.  He works 2 hours in the mornings (Monday through Friday) at Lowes in North Seattle.  He absolutely loves his job!  We hope that his success will lead others to have similar success stories.

This year KCDDD  celebrated their 10 year anniversary for the School to Work program. A video was made highlighting a few of these employees on their job sites.  Please do view the whole video as it is quite inspiring to see these young adults doing such great work.  Thomas’ section starts at 16:30 into the video.

In meeting with other families in focus groups at the end of the first year, it was generally agreed that the employment vendor and employee coach was the person who could make or break the success of the program.  Listening to the stories of how the employee coaches got to know the students and find jobs which utilized the students strengths and abilities was so inspirational and a huge thanks needs to go out to these dedicated providers.

Personally, we can not say enough wonderful things about those at Provail who have worked with Thomas.  It has been a blessing to work with the team and be involved in this life changing event for Thomas.  Having this job has greatly increased his quality of life and helped transition him from school to work and other life events involved in becoming a young adult.

S2W High Support Pilot –

When does “choice” mean “restriction”

Many things are changing in the name of “choice” but is this all really choice or is it putting more restrictions on people?

By micromanaging definition of words such as “community” and “employment” our government and advocates are actually reducing the alternatives by creating restrictions on how funds are spent.  Reducing alternatives which greatly benefit many of our loved ones means they lose the ability to make choices.

Having these strings attached to federal funds, funds which are critical to our most vulnerable citizens, forces them into situations which may not be in their best interest.  Is this what choice and alternatives are about?

The fact of the matter is that many do want to live in community settings with similar people, share supports and be able to walk independently outside their home to a friends, an event, or to shop. The other fact is that by eliminating “sheltered workshops”, without replacing with an alternative, forces the people who work in those jobs to be shuttered away in a home, isolated from their community.  Is this what choice is about?

Chris Collins, R-Clarence, represents the House of Representatives’ 27th District, which includes about half of Ontario County, New York, writes about this issue with regards to sheltered workshops.

“The federal government is not in a position to direct all disabled people to join competitive employment. Ultimately, the choice to stay in a workshop should be an employment option for the disabled who are not yet ready to make their transition to a competitive environment. Parents and providers are concerned about finding jobs in this tough economy, especially when non-disabled unemployment rates remain high and stagnant.”

Read more: http://www.websterpost.com/article/20131126/OPINION/131129736/?tag=1#ixzz2mH2WjH46

“Choice of employment” in this situation means the choice to not work since in reality many of these people would be unemployable in a competitive employment market.  There are not enough funds to provide the needed support for these folks to hold a job in a competitive job market and the reality of the situation is these folks will be left  with nothing – is that choice?

 

Please support real choice and real alternatives!

 

Closing Institutions

Many of our supportive communities are being destroyed.  People are being evicted from their homes and dispersed to isolated housing in the name of “inclusion.”  The reason this is happening is because people and agencies are being misguided with inaccurate information, both with regards to costs and with respect to the 1999 US Supreme Court Decision Olmstead.

It is for this reason that I am providing this information in my attempts to clarify what the costs are and what choice means to those of us who care for our loved ones who have  limited abilities to make their own safe choices.

When looking at costs, direct care costs are the most logical cost to compare since this is a cost that is needed in all types of supportive residential settings.  This is the basic cost and the one that is most often reported for the cost of care in community residential settings.  The costs reported for supportive communities (Intermediate Care Facilitates/Intellectual Disabilities (ICF/ID), Nursing Facility/Intellectual Disability (NF/ID) and Residential Habilitation Centers (RHC) ) are generally very comprehensive costs and by the very definition will be more expensive than the direct care costs reported for community settings.  Below are the lists of services that are included in the comprehensive costs for the supportive communities.

Looking at only direct care costs across many residential settings and support needs – there are two very clear facts that can be seen:

1.  The cost of care increases as the support needs for the person increases – those needing more support have a higher cost for direct care.

2.  The Economies of Scale come into play – in supportive communities, even when the support needs are high, the cost of direct care is lower per person, on average, than in isolated homes.

In Washington State, this became especially evident with the closing of Frances Haddon Morgan Center, one of our state’s RHCs.  In addition to looking at the Economies of Scale in action with the downsizing and closure of one of our RHCS, we were also able to obtain the average daily cost of care for community residents with the highest support needs. The chart below illustrates that as the size of community decreases, the average cost per resident for care increases.

economies of scale

2010 direct care costs

2011 direct care costs

2012 direct care costs

The cost difference between 49 residents and 9 residents for Frances Haddon Morgan Center is astounding.  Moving these residents from their homes proved disastrous for several of these residents, death to one, hospitalizations and crisis to others – all for what was assumed to be a cost saving measure.  This experiment failed on many levels.  It’s time to actually look at the real data, understand what the data represents and move forward.

cost centers 1 cost cetners 2

Life Long Learning

I have been involved in networking with families and support groups for life long learning programs.  These programs are intended to keep people active, engaged and involved in the community, focusing on activities which are meaningful for the person involved.  This is not job training and finding a job is not the goal of this type of program.  The goal is for the person involved to build relationships and participate in meaningful activities which are based on that person’s interests and desires.

By focusing on life long learning and engaging the person with their interests, we are experiencing true integration and inclusion.

The Building Blocks of Life Long Learning

How to Provide for Community Integration

Supported employment is becoming the only program that will be available for people with intellectual disabilities after the age of 21.  This program is replacing the sheltered workshops and in so doing is eliminating a very important part of many people’s lives. Please do not misunderstand the issue that I am trying to convey – read the story before making comments.

While supported employment is also a needed and critical program, it does not best serve the needs of many of our loved ones – particularly those with a dual diagnosis of Intellectual disability and mental illness of mania, psychosis or schizophrenia.  The population with a dual diagnosis is in need of a program which provides a stable setting every day of the week for several hours.  They do not do well in settings in which they only have support a few hours a week and then are left to their own devices to manage the rest of their time.

As a parent of one of these people with a dual diagnosis, I know that the supported employment program will not be the program that serves his needs.  There are so many opportunities to include him in community activities in other programs but if all the funds are used in the supported employment programs, there will be nothing left for those who need another type of program to function optimally.

I was recently at a local meeting area which has several eateries which serve a commons.  I witnessed a young man who was being supported by a “coach” in his job.  He clearly had no interest in the job, was spinning around, looking at the ceiling, while the coach would take a tea bag, put it in his hand and then he would drop it in the correct bin.  The coach was attempting much hand-over-hand work with him but it really was her doing the work.  She then picked up the bin of dirty dishes; put it on the push cart and then they both pushed the cart out of the commons.

This scenario made me feel really sad.  If a person has only so much support to enable them to be out in the community and experience life, I would much rather have my son experiencing opportunities that he enjoys and which get him out with people in a more natural way.  These activities are going grocery shopping, going to the library, going to a restaurant, walking to the park, going to church – these are all normal activities which he greatly enjoys and interacts with all types of people.  These are activities which he needs a 1:1 support person to help him.

Other activities that my son greatly enjoys are meeting with people and being in groups.  This is what the “sheltered workshop” provides for him.  No, he doesn’t do much work there and it’s not training him for a future job but it does provide stability, group activities which he craves, interaction with people, and structure to his day.  These are all critical components to his care which will be gone if the sheltered workshop is closed.  The sheltered workshop is not a sweat shop nor is it slave labor.  He does learn skills and is capable of some work with 1:1 support at all times. He gets paid for the piece work that he is able to accomplish but that is definitely not his motivation since he does not understand the economics of having a job and supporting himself.

If my son was only allowed 5 hours a week of a support person, it would be much more beneficial to him to use that for activities which he enjoys and activities which he chooses rather than a type of “employment” that means nothing to him and is only there to make others feel good that they are accomplishing something.  This type of “employment” would be torture for my son.

My son and many like him are not going to be cured and will not be “getting better”.  Yes, they are able to learn but will always need a high level of support.  They are not people who can be taught a skill and then be sent off independently to do that skill.  Even when they know how to do something, they need the constant support to maintain focus and follow through.

People like my son are very much like people with Alzheimer’s disease.  A similar condition is dementia.  Dementia, which my son has, is a brain disorder which obstructs and diminishes cognitive performance such as memory, judgment, personality and social function.  We need to be realistic in the choices that we make with services.