State Views: Comment on plans to alter work rules for those with disabilities

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Mary Kessens
Saturday, August 16, 2014

Wisconsin citizens face a crossroads in how we support people with disabilities. A recently released plan by the state Department of Health Services 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 the department’s plan to increase community-based services, as experts in our field, we know and understand that 100 percent community placement is not a realistic goal. While many individuals can achieve this goal, a one-size-fits-all approach to employment cannot serve people 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 percent to 20 percent of a person without disabilities. Their disabilities 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 using restrooms.

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 Department of Health Services 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, Sept. 2, so please contact DHS, your legislator and Gov. Scott Walker today and tell them to:

1)        Preserve the full range of options for people with disabilities, including the option to attend and access facility-based vocational and day services.

2)        Recognize that because of incomplete federal guidelines, the current Department of Health Services 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.

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.

Mary Kessens is president and CEO of Riverfront Inc., based in La Crosse. Riverfront serves individuals with disabilities in Rock County through services including community employment, onsite employment, day services, adult family home care, behavioral support and benefits counseling. It operates a facility at 1107 Barberry Drive, Janesville. Readers can contact Kessens at 608-784-9450 or at Info@riverfrontinc.org.

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