Re­port: Pa. im­prov­ing ser­vices for dis­abled

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Front Page - By Kate Gi­ammarise and Jill Daly

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.

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