Report: Arizona First In Services For People With Developmental Disabilities, But Still Work To Be Done

Published: Monday, October 3, 2016 - 2:21pm
Updated: Monday, October 3, 2016 - 4:41pm

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Arizona is the best state in the country when it comes to services for people living with intellectual and developmental disabilities, according to a new report from United Cerebral Palsy.

The Case for Inclusion report tracks state-by- state community living standards for people with developmental disabilities.

“Arizona has always been the number one or the number two state for the life of these rankings,” said Tarren Bragdon, the researcher who has written this study for the last decade. “That’s because the state really prioritizes those adults with developmental disabilities with helping them live in the community, safely participate and be a part of the community.”

The report highlighted that Arizona does a great job of keeping families together, supporting families caring for children with disabilities at home; that Arizona has shorter waiting lists for services than most states; and that people with developmental disabilities in Arizona say they feel safe and have a wide range of relationships.

But, the most important factor, according to Bragdon, was the state’s perspective on people with disabilities.

“A lot of states really look at having a bias towards larger institutions, and so that might be larger group homes, anywhere from 6, 12, 20 people living together,” he said. “Whereas, what Arizona does is it looks at focusing on individuals either living in family foster care or in very small settings like an apartment.”

Bragdon said people with developmental disabilities don’t want anything different than the rest of us:They want to live normal lives, have a home to live in and a job so they can contribute to our community. But, those things are often difficult for them to find. But, there is still a lot of work to be done, according to Bragdon.

Challenges remain for larger disability community

Larry Wanger, the executive director of the State Independent Living Council in Arizona, pointed out that the Case for Inclusion report is specific to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

And, he said, when you broaden this out, and talk about the wider community of people with disabilities, the picture isn’t always so bright.

“I don’t want people to mistakenly get this information and think, ‘Oh, well there’s no need in our state, we’re doing so well,’” he said. “That’s not the case.”

Wanger said many people have worked hard to get Arizona to where it is in the national rankings today, but there are still challenges to the larger disability community. And, he said, in his experience, many people who have developmental and intellectual disabilities also have secondary, physical disabilities.

The State Independent Living Council is responsible for going around the state and holding forums to discuss these issues, according to Wanger.

“And, year after year, when we do these, we hear about three specific issues, and it never changes,” he said. “So, that would be transportation, so access to transportation, that would be access to employment opportunities, and access to affordable and accessible housing.”

Transition services for young people with disabilities as they leave high school are also an area where there is “definitely room for improvement,” according to Wanger.

“Making sure that prior to folks graduating from school, they’re getting information about options, you know what choices they have before they leave the school environment,” he said. “We know that a lot of youth who have disabilities don’t get this information.”

When it comes to employment services, Wanger said the issue is bigger than just Arizona.

“Nationally, we hear a statistic that roughly 70 percent of working-age people who have disabilities are unemployed,” Wanger said. “In Arizona, we have … now, over 550,000 persons with a variety of disabilities between the ages of 21 and 64. So, you can kind of look at that and say, well, 70 percent of that is about 380,000. And so, that is a significant segment of population between the ages of 21 and 64 that’s unemployed.”

And, when it comes to addressing these issues, Wanger said the problem is in funding and also in improving awareness of what services are available.

For example, he said that for the past several years, Arizona’s state legislature has not provided the level of funding that would result in them being able to fully fund our state Vocation and Rehabilitation Services program, which provides job training and assistance for people who have disabilities in our state.

“It’s up to each state to provide enough funding to draw down their share of federal funds and we have not done that for years,” Wanger said. “And the result of that has been that thousands of folks have been on a waiting list for years to get assistance from this agency.”

That funding increased some during the last legislative session, he said, and he’s hopeful it will continue to go up as our state’s economy improves.

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