New Jersey has more people with developmental disabilities in state-operated institutions than any other state except Texas. The Christie administration has closed two and plans to use the federal funds to expand community housing. There’s overwhelming evidence developmentally disabled citizens do far better out of institutions. Executive Director of the Alliance for the Betterment of Citizens with Disabilities Dr. Dan Keating told NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams that individuals with disabilities have a right to live in their communities instead of institutions.
There has been hesitancy to embrace moving people with disabilities from institutions back into communities. Keating said, “Many individuals still hold the belief that individuals with significant disabilities, physical challenges, medical challenges cannot accomplish much in the way of improvement in their circumstance and so we set the bar very low and we put people in institutions because they don’t believe that they can accomplish things in the community.”
He said sometimes just giving information about the benefits of community resources isn’t enough. “However, experiencing the life of an individual in the community and truly getting to understand the environment and the expectations, it does improve,” said Keating.
Two New Jersey institutions have closed and some wonder if the funding for community services will be enough. Keating said while there’s always a need for more funds, two to three times more money is spent for an individual to be in an institution than in the community. “But the Department of Human Services has begun to change the percentages, lower the percentage of the institutions and increasing the money available to people in the community,” he said.
There are benefits to community living, according to Keating. “The first, most important thing is it’s a civil rights issue and people have a right to live in the community. And again, the expectations that can be placed on people are more person centered. They can be constructed so that people can do the things that they want when they want. In the institutions, in the developmental centers, very often we have to do things according to schedules and according to the needs of the staff to maintain the environment,” he said.
Keating said there have been positive steps taken to help those with disabilities live in the community. “We believe that we have been doing a good job for many years in providing adequate and quality supports for people in the community. Many of the people who have come out of those two institutions that are closed are living very inclusive lives in the community now,” he said.