Updated: Sep 8, 2021
You can expect to see Olean Center participants out and about in the community more in the coming months.
As envisioned by the ADA more than 20 years ago, the focus of all Rhode Island centers serving those with intellectual/developmental disabilities will increasingly be on community integration rather than center-based programs.
What caused this change?
Part of the answer is the pandemic and part of the answer is that it’s simply the way it should be.
The Olean Center has always worked to get participants out into the community, but this kind of one-on-one or small group service is more costly. Large-group, center-based activities are far more economical, but they run counter to the 1990 ADA mission, which is to
“…make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.”
As Karen Babik, Director of Adult Services puts it, … “this change is long overdue."
“It will provide a more natural world for people to live in whether it’s getting out in the community or doing more for themselves at home,” she said. “Individuals will have more focused attention so they can do the things they want to do and work on the goals they want to work on rather than sharing resources and staffing.”
At the core of this change, however, is the Consent Decree issued by the U.S. District Court in 2014 and signed by then-governor Lincoln Chafee outlining requirements and a timeline for the state to abide by the ADA by 2024. The decree was the result of a lawsuit brought against the State by the federal Department of Justice on behalf of all residents with developmental disabilities.
Among other elements, the decree calls for increased wages for those who work directly with disabled residents, and for the State to reverse its reliance on segregated settings, which the U.S. Department of Justice found violated the Integration Mandate of the ADA. While some progress has been made, the U.S. District Court Judge overseeing the decree indicated recently that the State is not making satisfactory progress toward compliance and took steps to ensure the State continues along the path of integration. On July 12, the judge scheduled a five-day “show cause” hearing for Oct. 18 to 22.
While these formal proceedings are underway, the dedicated professionals who work daily to support those with developmental disabilities continue their work to improve community integration and increase opportunities for independence.
“The main goal is integration of our individuals into the community and that may not always involve a staff person,” Babik explained. “If someone wants to join the Westerly Chorus or a church chorus or workout at the Y, perhaps they have a friend in that group who can take them just like you or I might make arrangements to ride with someone else.”
The ideal approach is for Olean Center staff members to offer support in an area that a participant truly cannot handle on their own, but then to provide support toward independence.
“If we’ve done our job well, many participants will no longer require the help of a staff member to be involved in community activities,”
Babik said. “Once we show them the routine of getting to the Y or their church of wherever, many will be able to take it from there.”
Executive Director Ruth Tureckova explained that each Olean Center participant has an Independent Support Plan, which is similar to a student’s Individual Education Plan. Each participant has interests and goals, and that plan outlines how the individual and Center staff can work to attain those goals.
“Our goal is to help a participant build a natural support system that goes beyond their family to include friends and community members, anyone who can help them be active members of the greater community,” Ruth said.
The emphasis on more individualized programming increased in April 2020 when the pandemic forced an end to large group settings. “It gave us the opportunity to switch from isolated programs at the Center to integration with the community,” she said.
To keep the momentum going, Ruth has connected with Maturity Works, an internship program for adults re-entering the workforce. Our Maturity Works staff member will gather information on community assets to match them with the interests expressed by Center participants. Karen explained that this effort, referred to as community mapping, should result in new opportunities for more participants.
“Our direction was always supposed to be community based, and the least restricted setting was always our goal,” she said. Now, the Olean Center is much closer to realizing that goal, which means participants are much closer to realizing their goals.