The Christie Administration’s Flawed Policy Regarding Adults with Developmental Disabilities May be Born of Desperation
Sunday, December 11, 2011 • 5:05pm
The plight of New Jerseyans with developmental disabilities has received considerable media attention in recent weeks. Perhaps the most immediate burning issue regarding this population is the housing problem. In many cases, the parents of adults with developmental disabilities are elderly and unable to continue to care for their offspring with special needs. Most tragically, the parents often die before alternative living arrangements can be made. In fact, the current State Administration inherited a waiting list for housing for adults with disabilities. Such adults can expect to wait seven or more years before such housing become available.
The State, in attempting to deal with the situation, has set a policy in which the home of the parents of the disabled person will be made more accessible, in lieu of an outside housing placement. The obvious problem is that the parents continue to become older, more frail, and inevitable pass away with the vulnerable, disabled person without housing. As this occurs, the waiting list continues to become longer and longer, as additional applications for housing are made.
The Governor’s office has attempted to ease some of the financial burden by attempting to close as many of the large residential institutions for the developmentally disabled as possible, and sending the residents to community settings. The next obvious problem, however, is that there are not nearly enough appropriate community settings available to serve these individuals.
In attempting to transfer residents of the large institutions to community settings, the Governor’s office has cited the “OLMSTEAD” Supreme Court decision. The famous “Olmstead” case may be the most misinterpreted and misrepresented case by governmental officials in the history of civil jurisprudence.
Olmstead v. L.C., 527 U.S. 581 (1999), was a case originally filed by the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Inc., that eventually made its way from Georgia’s State courts to the Supreme Court of the United States. In essence the Olmstead decision declared that the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibited the involuntary commitment of adults with disabilities in segregated institutions if they request community placement and if it can be ascertained that their needs can be met in the community. Nowhere in the Olmstead decision does it say that all people with disabilities must be transferred to the community. The ‘Least Restrictive Alternative’ setting that is mandated by the United States Supreme Court is based on the unique needs and degree of disability of the client.
Disability Rights-NJ (formerly NJ Protection and Advocacy, Inc.) filed suit in response to the State’s failure to meet the needs of New Jersey’s disabled population, In response, the Christie Administration has spent an inordinate amount of taxpayer money to hire private law firms in order to fight the action. In addition the Administration has cited Olmstead and incorrectly stated that the Supreme Court has ordered all large residential institutions to be closed. It is perhaps more obvious that those who have drawn such an interpretation of Olmstead have never read the Supreme Court decision,
People with disabilities are unique and no two individuals are alike. Not all can have their needs met in the community. Furthermore, making the homes of parents of adults with disabilities more accessible will not address the lifelong needs of such individuals after the parent’s age, become infirm, and pass away.
It is obvious that the Christie Administration is overwhelmed by the financial expenditures required to solve this problem However, simplistic solutions that do not address the problem will eliminate all reasonable problem solving.
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