assistive servicesEver since it started, one of the major goals of the disability rights movement is to have individuals with disabilities to live as independently as possible – with the appropriate support.  That means the aid of assistive technology. Or, it means assistive services which entails someone coming into the home to help with basic daily living needs.  Or both.

In my other role with Solutions for Independence, we have been working with two of our consumers so they can experience that dream for themselves.  Unfortunately, it is extremely hard to expand that dream to everybody due to the length of the waiting list.  The official term for that list in reference to the multitude of programs that we rely on for assistance is referred to as the Registry of Unmet Needs.

Assistive Services to Live Independently

Good news and bad news.

I’ll start with the bad news first.  These waiting lists have been around since even before I started my advocacy work.  For example, when I first got on the Innovations program, which enables me to attain help in my house, I had to wait several years before that came to fruition.  Even though I was lucky enough to have support from my family during my mom’s fight to get me those services (including assistive technology), I had to wait several years.  Thankfully, that was so long ago for me, that I don’t remember my life without having my services coming into my house to help with what I needed.

Many other people aren’t so lucky.  The average wait time is about 10 years.  Moreover, if you were to get on the list today, there would be about 15,000 people ahead of you (that’s just North Carolina alone).

Rising to the Challenges for Independent Living

The good news is that there’s finally an effort to start addressing some of these challenges on multiple fronts.  NC is working on developing an Olmstead Plan.  Olmstead is like the Brown vs Board of Education but applied to the disability community.  It basically means people like me should get the services in the community that we need.  As opposed to having to be in a large institution, like a group home/hospital/intermediate care facility.

I am honored to be part of the Olmstead Stakeholder Advisory Group for NC.  For several months, we have been meeting to provide input to the state as they develop their official plan.  So far it seems that most of the people seem enthused and engaged constructively in the process.  Although, it’s going to be up to our elective representatives to determine what happens.  Ultimately, it comes down to as it always does – funding.

I will be watching our representatives to see where they decide to put their priorities.  In the past, I and many other disability advocates have seen an institutional bias.  That means that more money is given to those group homes and facilities rather than to programs which support hiring people to assist individuals to live in the community of their choice.

Affordable Housing for People with Disabilities

That leaves another big challenge.  In order to live in the community, there needs to be affordable housing.  Just like the larger community, there is a lack of affordable options for people with disabilities.  I’m just now getting into that realm now that I’m working for Solutions for Independence. But, I do have all the solutions.   We do have the ability to refer people to a housing program called the Target Unit Program.  However, yet again, there’s a 3-5 year waiting list, depending on where you are trying to live and the options available.  Unfortunately, that’s another 8,000-person list.

We are at an inflection point.  If the state chooses to fully embrace the Olmstead planning process and puts the money behind it, we can begin solving both issues at the same time as they are both tied to Olmstead.  If our legislators do not take the opportunity to follow our advice, our entire system is in deep trouble.

We will just have to see which direction we go.

That’s how I roll….

Bryan Dooley

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