Congratulations to Bob Drogin for writing an informative well-balanced article (March 16), "Last Minority/Disabled: Success in Workplace." The fact that this appeared on the front page of a major U.S. newspaper is progress for the developmentally disabled, the mentally retarded. But there is a crisis developing in the community. Where will the retarded adults live as their parents grow older and die?
As a board member and past president of Assn. for Retarded Citizens-Southwest, I have seen this crisis developing. The mentally retarded of "workplace-age" are neither children nor kids. They are adults. The 200 retarded served by ARC-Southwest span the ages of 20 to 60 with an average age of 30.
Public policy is moving toward complete de-institutionalization--"return them to the local community!" But who will receive them? Those now coming out of the institutions are the more profoundly retarded, a more difficult population to care for.
The immediate problem is not financial. But rather it is society's difficulty in adjusting to the reality of the mentally retarded living in its midst. Assuming they have a suitable daytime activity:
--Where do they go at night?
--Who sees that they are fed?
--Who looks after them on weekends?
--Who cares for them when sick?
--Who guards them against unwanted pregnancies?
--Who takes them to their daytime activities?
The higher functioning will make it on their own. But the great majority of the 200 served by ARC-Southwest will need someone to look after their continuing needs. And there are many similar populations throughout the state and the nation. If we are to continue de-institutionalization, then small group homes in the local community with paid supervision is the answer. It makes no sense to move them from a state institution to a local institution.
Group homes must be purchased, licensed and staffed. Since it takes 10 months to obtain approvals and pacify the neighbors, about $100,000 of up-front money is required. And while some governmental funding is available for ongoing operations, it usually falls short by about $20,000 a year. Where does the money come from? The volunteer organization. These costs could be halved. But it takes time for society to make the adjustment and the bureaucracy is slow.
Even now the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing the case of the City of Cleburne, Tex. vs. Cleburne Living Center. The city claims that it is constitutional to place special and unusual restrictions on the location and specifications for a small group home for the mentally retarded. While California law prevents this, an unfavorable ruling by the Supreme Court would soon draw a challenge to the California statute.
Most people in our society are kind and considerate. They simply do not recognize the large number nor the needs of retarded people. And by their very nature the retarded are a silent minority. Their local population is increasing. Their parents are growing older. The state institutions are closing.
What will you do with them?
Palos Verdes Estates
I want to commend you on the article by Bob Drogin. People who are disabled, both physically as well as developmentally, can be employable and thus become a part of our society. You have only to check with our schools in California to find programs that train our students who are disabled to become employable. What we lack are funds to send personnel with these students to the workplace to help train them.
I was glad to see that the article mentioned the disincentive in our laws controlling Supplemental Security Income. Parents do not want their children to work because the children would lose the funding as well as the medical benefits. It is the medical benefits that they fear losing, since many of the jobs that people who are disabled would get will not carry any medical benefits. Also, most of these people are not insurable because of their disabilities.
I think that the federal government should change the laws pertaining to SSI so as to create an incentive for these disabled people to work. They do want to work. It seems to me that it would be a big savings for the federal government and the taxpayers to guarantee medical payments for life to these people and encourage them to seek employment for as much as they can earn so that they can feel that they are part of the mainstream of society.
Most of the disabled can not find employment independently, but with help they can be employed. It seems to me to be cost-effective to create an incentive for them to work and to pay for their medical insurance.
They have as much right to work and be a part of our society rather than a tax burden for the rest of their lives.