By Mike Hyland, President and CEO
The end of the year tends to be a busy time. The holidays are upon us, there are seemingly endless tasks and errands, high school seniors are planning the next steps in their lives, and Old Man Winter makes his annual return. This is also the time of year when Congress tries to wrap up business. In 2017, that means tax reform, which we all know is an unfailingly complicated business. In addition, this year Congress will also take up the chore of confirming (or not) a new Secretary of Health and Human Services. With all due respect to the enormity of the work happening in Washington D.C., we should be careful to ensure we don’t leave people who need help, and those who provide that help, behind. In other words, let’s make sure we keep the promise.
It is most important that we remember that massive change has the potential to inflict unintended consequences on various groups. As such, our Congress has a responsibility to be sure that any legislation or action does not inadvertently harm people with disabilities or the professionals who work tirelessly to help them. The cost of providing quality services to people is not cheap, and it’s not supposed to be. An automobile with front and side airbags costs more than one with pillows stapled to the steering wheel because it’s safer for people, and that’s what provider agencies do: we keep people safe. Providing supports that allow people to live vibrant lives with dignity and choice is the minimum of what we should require as a society. And this is not just a responsibility at the national level either. Individual states must also ensure that we don’t lose the gains we’ve made over the years.
Massachusetts is one of a number of states now moving under the auspices of managed care entities the fiscal oversight responsibilities for many of the services provided to people with disabilities The goal of reducing redundancy through better coordination of care is appropriate and even admirable. That goal, however, is dwarfed by the responsibility to make sure that no one who currently receives community supports is forced to make do with less. We must take great care to guard against the pitfalls experienced in states such as Texas, where many severely disabled children have seen a horrifying reduction in vital services, or Kansas, where some families have been asked to sign blank treatment plans that ultimately called for drastic cuts to supports that keep loved ones in the community. Massachusetts has always been a compassionate leader in the provision of social services and that commitment must remain absolute in the face of any systemic changes that may take place
As politicians struggle with the need and pressure to reduce runaway costs in certain areas, they owe it to everyone who receives community based-supports to remember just what people with disabilities (and their families) were told to expect when such supports were moved out of institutions and into local communities. They were promised that people would be safe. That is a promise that needs to be kept. It’s everyone’s responsibility to see that it is.
This week has been designated as National Direct Support Professional Recognition Week, and we would like to take a moment to recognize the dedication of our agency’s Direct Support Professionals. DSPs are highly-trained, compassionate professionals who provide a vital contribution to their communities – supporting those who need assistance with essential daily needs. The work they do allows our society’s most vulnerable members to live safe, fulfilling lives while being part of a community of their choice.
Direct Service Professionals support individuals with some of their most basic daily needs, such as preparation of meals, helping with medications, bathing, dressing, and transportation. DSPs encourage meaningful community integration, help individuals maintain relationships with family and friends, and help identify recreational interests. These staff members are not only daily caregivers – they assist with communication, medical care, and more. At Venture, Direct Support Professionals are the lifeline of our agency, and we honor the work they do every day.
For more information about Direct Support Professionals Week nationwide, please visit ANCOR’s National Advocacy Campaign website. For more information about local celebrations of Direct Support Professionals, check out The Caring Force.
Assistive Technology can best be described as a variety of items which can help an individual work around functional limitations imposed by a disability. Some of these items include wheelchairs with adaptive trays to hold a person’s iPad, a brace for a person to be able to hold an eating utensil, a built-up handle of a spoon, or a communication device. These items are essential to improving the quality of life and level of independence for people with disabilities. Other examples of such equipment might be lifts, swings, tricycles, tablets, computer software, shower chairs, specialty writing utensils and so much more. These items can help individuals with mobility, communication, sensory, recreational, or social needs.
With the increasing specialized needs of the individuals we support, Venture has developed an Assistive Technology Committee to help effectively meet these needs. Key employees have been attending conferences and trainings to learn how to develop a program that will help assist individuals access the resources available. Currently, the committee is in the process of conducting assessments to determine what equipment would be most helpful to the individuals in our programs.
In keeping with our mission to enrich the lives of those we serve, we are very proud to announce our partnership with Tantasqua Regional Vocational High School in their commitment to assist people in their community by creating individualized and innovative assistive technology. This fall, we will be working with Ray Rousseau from the Manufacturing Department and Bruce Tranter from the Computer Technology Department to assist us in developing creative approaches. We are looking forward to teaming up to expand our services and we are thankful to the many students who will be dedicated to helping with these projects. Stay tuned for updates!
Morgan’s Wonderland, the country’s most accessible theme park, has opened the world’s first inclusive water park. Morgan’s Inspiration Island offers the excitement and fun of a water park to children and adults of all abilities, and offers complimentary waterproof wheelchairs (including air-powered power wheelchairs), warm-water splash pad, beautiful interactive water playgrounds, cabanas for relaxing, and a river boat ride. Spacious accessible changing rooms, reasonable ticket prices, sensory-friendly environments, and handicapped-accessible everything make this water park an incredible experience for everyone – especially those who haven’t had the opportunity to enjoy an amusement park due to physical disabilities, developmental disabilities, ambulation difficulties, or medical conditions. Admission for those with disabilities is free of charge. This park has truly thought of everything!
The park’s creator, Gordon Hartman, is a philanthropist who created the amusement park and water park after being inspired by his daughter Morgan, who has developmental disabilities. In addition to funding the parks, the Gordon Hartman Family Foundation offers grants to organizations that help people with special needs. Let’s hope that others around the country take the lead of Morgan’s Wonderland and make recreational opportunities available for everyone!
For more information, check out their video.
On Monday, Venture representatives attended a Disability and Health Care Forum with Congressman Joe Kennedy hosted by the Association of Developmental Disability Providers at the Boston Marriott in Newton. The event was attended by staff members and leadership from human service agencies, self-advocates, and family members of people with disabilities. Kennedy shared his commitment to “recognizing the potential in every person”, regardless of their physical or intellectual disability.
Congressman Kennedy expressed his concern about the American Health Care Act and how it will affect the rights of people with intellectual disabilities, with $1.4 trillion in cuts to health care. He shared his concerns regarding threats to social security, affordable housing, food stamps, and even Special Olympics. He pledged his commitment to the disability community, saying that we cannot support “cuts to services that we will all likely use someday, or be used by someone we love”. In addition to thanking attendees for their activism, he encouraged the group to continue advocating and raising their voices. He asked advocates to contact friends and family in other states and encourage them to find one more Republican Senator to oppose the AHCA.
Recently, Congressman Kennedy addressed Congress, rebuking The American Health Care Act. Watch the video here.
Congressman Joseph Kennedy III represents the 4th District of Massachusetts and is a member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee. For more information, visit his web site.