Council promotes program for developmental disabilities

By Jennifer Wheeler

In the Sept. 12 edition of The Daily Illini, in a story titled “New housing program proposed for disabled,” the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities was misidentified as the Illinois Council on Developmental Diseases. The Daily Illini regrets the error. The following is the corrected version of the story.

With the fall veto session in Springfield approaching, members of the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities are working harder than ever to promote their newest program: Blueprint for System Redesign in Illinois.

Blueprint is a plan created by the Council and the Human Services Research Institute that would give Illinois residents with developmental disabilities a better opportunity to live an independent lifestyle.

At a town hall meeting in Champaign on Tuesday, the program’s intentions were voiced by Sheila Romano, director of the Council. She said Blueprint is working toward implementing people with developmental disabilities into local communities rather than state operated developmental centers.

“It represents a plan for freedom and independence,” Romano said. “Freedom to choose the way they want to live. Freedom to choose their pursuit of happiness.”

There are currently nine public Illinois institutions housing people with developmental disabilities. However, the state announced last Friday that it is in the process of closing one such center due to neglect-related resident deaths, Romano said.

Blueprint hopes to move individuals from these institutions into residential areas with six or less people. Residents would live in a self-regulating environment with support from community members. To achieve this, four of the remaining eight public Illinois institutions that house these people would close over a seven-year time span.

Romano said the government spends approximately $125,000 on services per institutionalized individual. The Council believes this number could be cut in half, saving taxpayers money, if these individuals were offered communal housing. Communal housing residents receive funding for services that only pertain to their individual needs, eliminating unused services that the government provides to all institutionalized individuals.

Although the Department of Human Services said they agree with Blueprint’s concepts, there are situations in which they believe state institutionalized living would be more appropriate for people with developmental disabilities. Those cases include individuals who cannot perform daily tasks or cannot socialize without the help of a personal assistant.

“We support the concept for the program and the trend towards moving people to the community,” said Tom Green, spokesman for the Department of Human Services. “And the reality of the state budget and the reality of the logistics would prevent the state from completely supporting the Blueprint as it’s laid out.”

Green did not comment on how Blueprint could improve its plan to make this idea more attainable.

Romano said she believes fear of reversing the status quo and lack of information has prevented this program from being put into action. She said Blueprint works toward dispelling myths surrounding developmental disabilities by sharing personal stories from people who have lived in both institutions and local communities.

“I want people to put power behind me and believe that I can do stuff. Then I have the power to say, ‘Hey, this isn’t your life, it is mine,'” said Robby Stephens, who has recently transitioned into a communal home.

The Council and Blueprint advocates will continue their tour in Illinois by speaking at town hall meetings through the fall veto session. At the veto session the General Assembly discusses legislation that the governor had previously vetoed. A three-fifth’s vote is needed by the General Assembly to overturn the veto. The Council invites Illinois residents to send petitions to Springfield asking for legislature to recommend that this resolution be enacted. If passed, the state’s funding structure will be reorganized so that people with developmental disabilities are given more options to live within communities.

“Being ranked 51st in the country in community-based housing is embarrassing,” Romano said. “We can do better; we need to do better.”