Report: Pa. improving services for disabled
By supporting more people with disabilities living in home and community-based settings, and having fewer people on waiting lists for services, Pennsylvania has improved its policies that aid people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, according to a new report from two national advocacy organizations.
The annual report, “The Case for Inclusion,” ranks state performance for people with disabilities in five areas: promoting independence, promoting productivity, keeping families together, serving those in need, and tracking health and quality of life.
The report ranked Pennsylvania 19th among states in efforts to promote inclusion.
“Pennsylvania is making good strides,” said Nancy Murray, president of The Arc of Greater Pittsburgh at Achieva.
The state scored poorly in two areas: the relatively high number of disabled individuals still living in staterun institutions — more than 900 people — and a decline in the number of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities — or I/ DD — who have competitive employment.
“Individuals with I/DD, including the young and the aging, want and deserve the same opportunities and quality of life as all Americans. Yet some states do much better than others in demonstrating the needed political will and implementing the sound policies and focused funding necessary to achieve this ideal,” the report states.
Pennsylvania still has four large institutions for people with disabilities where hundreds reside: Ebensburg Center in Cambria County, Polk Center in Venango County, White Haven Center in Luzerne County and Selinsgrove Center in Snyder County. It closed Hamburg Center last year.
A bill introduced in the House during the last legislative session would have required the state to plan to close all remaining institutions for intellectual disability by 2023, though that bill never received a vote.
Collaborations between government agencies and nonprofits in the Pittsburgh region have led to some progress in addressing the demand for housing and competitive-wage jobs for people with special needs, said Heather Sedlacko, the director of programs for people with disabilities at United Way of Southwestern PA.
“We appreciate we’re all working toward the same goals,” Ms. Sedlacko said.
In recent years, United Way’s 21 and Able project has been the force behind matching affordable housing and jobs with individuals with disabilities.
A local partnership to match people with housing was launched by 21 and Able three years ago. Called the Allegheny County Housing Connector, it brings together the county Department of Human Services and the nonprofits Action Housing and FISA Foundation. The housing connector helps people navigate through the housing application process, Ms. Sedlacko said. Each individual has a unique combination of housing needs and support services.
“That is so important. … It is one of the most innovative things going on,” she said.
The report also penalized the state for having fewer people working in so-called “competitive employment” — meaning an integrated setting of people with and without disabilities working together and earning a market wage.
The state has pushed for more individuals with disabilities to work in competitive settings, as opposed to traditional sheltered workshops.
According to the report, 17 percent of disabled individuals work in competitive employment in Pennsylvania, a decrease from 2016 and below the national average.
Ms. Sedlacko, of United Way, said her nonprofit acknowledges the importance of government services to help people find rewarding jobs.
“The Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation is our close partner for all our employment work,” she said.
The eight employers who are partners in the 21 and Able career transition project, started in 2013, offer competitive wages and cultivate a supportive workplace, with the help of disability professionals. Giant Eagle was the first company to test the project, part of the company’s long history of hiring people who are “differently abled,” a term preferred by Jeremy Shapira, head of special projects inclusion and diversity for the supermarket firm.
In an interview last year, Mr. Shapira said the idea was to “help bridge gaps in understanding how the company works and to help make the best job match as possible.”
“There’s an increasing focus on helping people who are differently abled, to lead independent and successful lives,” he said, “but there are still huge challenges ahead of us.”
In Pennsylvania, employment opportunities vary in different parts of the state, Ms. Sedlacko said.
“Certainly there are more job opportunities in urban areas, more public transportation,” she said.
“Allegheny County, in particular, draws people from more rural areas,” added Megan Grabski, manager for the career transition project.
The report, from the ANCOR Foundation and United Cerebral Palsy, was released last week. ANCOR is the American Network of Community Options and Resources, a nonprofit trade association representing providers of services to people with disabilities.
The report also noted that Pennsylvania and many other states are hampered by a shortage of direct support professionals, workers who care for disabled people in community settings and aid them with a host of medical and household tasks, often for low wages.
“Without the professional staff needed to provide the supports and services that enable people with I/DD to be integrated into the community, provider agencies have little hope of maintaining and expanding on any progress they’ve seen in the past decade,” a statement from ANCOR Foundation CEO Barbara Merrill said.