Tag Archives: community integration

What Does It Mean To Move To Community Living?

After years of investigating the conditions at Central Virginia Training Center, in 2011, the Department of Justice reached its conclusions.  While DOJ did find that conditions at CVTC violated the constitutional and statutory rights on the individuals living there, the more significant violation was Virginia’s failure to provide adequate options for individuals to live in less-segregated settings.  Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, state governments are required to provide services in the most integrated setting possible, and Virginia was not doing that when it came to services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

A year later, the Commonwealth of Virginia reached an agreement with DOJ, in order to avoid having to go to court over the findings of violations.  The agreement called for dramatic improvements in many aspects of community living.  In order to be able to comply with all the requirements, Virginia decided it would need to close four of its five very costly institutions.

Three of those four training centers have closed.  Central Virginia Training Center, the original subject of the investigation, remains open, but at a dramatically reduced census.  Virginia expects to close it completely in 2020.

What about all the people who lived in those institutions?  We were delighted to read an article describing one person who lived at CVTC and the amazing changes that have taken place in his life.

According to Billy King’s sister, Mr. King’s transition from CVTC to the community went more smoothly than they ever imagined, and his life since than has been dramatically better.  Of special note to me was the fact that Mr. King, now for the first time in his life, can go to church with his family.  He can go to the church where his father is the preacher.  That may be a minor event to some people, but to Mr. King and his family, it was previously unimaginable.

You can read the full article here: http://www.dnronline.com/news/rockingham_county/family-describes-man-s-transition-out-of-cvtc/article_e7470f08-a7d5-5418-80a8-63f9e6e54212.html

Living in the community  — living in integrated settings — means different things to different people.  For Mr. King, it meant going home.

Does Virginia Need Training Centers? — Continuing Discussion

In the 2014 session of the Virginia General Assembly, the legislature passed Senate Bill 627, which instructed the Department of Behavioral Health to convene a work group to consider options for expanding the number of training centers that remain open in Virginia.

That work group has now met twice. It is clear that the Commonwealth remains committed to supporting a community based service system. There are many advocates on the workgroup who support that commitment, especially in light of the growing numbers of people who are on the waiting list for services. It is equally clear that a small group of parents are resistant to that service system shift.

Read more about the information being considered by the workgroup at this link: http://www.dbhds.virginia.gov/ODS (Scroll down about half way to the section called “announcements.”)

If you want to comment on the Commonwealth’s commitment to community based services for people with intellectual disabilities and the prospect of keeping more training centers open, you can email to sb627@dbhds.virginia.gov

or send your comments by hard copy to

SB627 Work Group
1220 Bank Street, Room 1323
Richmond, VA 23219

The next meeting of the work group will be on September 5, 2014 at 10 am. The group meets in the capital building in downtown Richmond.

Does Virginia need Training Centers? part 3

First, let me thank all of you who have shared comments about this series, either directly here on this wordpress blog or through our dlcv facebook page. I do intend to try to respond to the comments before I complete this series, but first, let me throw another consideration into the mix:

Virginia, more so than many other states, has a bad case of inertia. Here in the Old Dominion, we are resistant to change. Remember that although women got the right to vote federally in 1920 with the passage of the 19th amendment, Virginia rejected that amendment in 1920. We did not subsequently ratify the 19th amendment until 1952 — thirty two years after women had been voting. So too, with so many other areas of civil rights progress. The Commonwealth’s history of accepting racial civil rights is scarred with one act of defiance after another. We don’t like change.

Likewise with the Integration Mandate. The Integration Mandate was a key component of the Americans with Disabilities Act, passed by Congress in 1990, almost 25 years ago. That law requires that state and local governments must operate all of their programs in the most integrated setting possible. The Supreme Court issued its clarifying decision, LC v Olmstead, in 1999. That decision made clear that states must serve people with disabilities in the most integrated setting possible, and must move towards greater integration at a pace that does not seek to keep institutions open. Now, fifteen years later, Virginia continues to resist that change and seeks ways to keep its institutions open.

Do we really need training centers? Or are we fearful of change? Are we simply resistant to the change in our communities, and our lives, that closing the training centers will mean?

Does Virginia Need Training Centers — part 2

When the question comes up, some argue that we need training centers for individuals with the most complex needs. Some believe that the people who currently live in training centers have a higher level of need than those who live in the community and that the community, at least the community in Virginia, is just not prepared to meet that level of need.

Is it true that the people living in training centers have more complex needs than those living in the community? According to the National Council on Disability, in a report entitled “Unfinished Business,” this claim is a myth. The report states that “More people with extensive support needs are served in the community rather than in institutions, demonstrating that all people with ID/DD can be served effectively in the community. While many people in institutions have very significant impairments and will require extensive supports to live in the community, many people with the same level of impairments are already successfully receiving those supports in the community. Many are living with families, with few paid supports.”

We actually know that, in Virginia, the community can serve people with very complex needs. For example, in 2010 a study was conducted by Human Services Research Institute, looking at the population living at Southeastern Virginia Training Center. The HSRI study compared residents of SEVTC with 521 people with disabilities living in community homes around the state. They found that while the needs of SEVTC residents were on average greater than their non-institution counterparts, the developmentally disabled with the most severe challenges were not living in institutions at all, but instead were living in the community.

The community does know how to serve people with very complex needs, and has been serving those needs for many years, even in Virginia. Yet, the belief runs deep that we need training centers, and only training centers, for those with the most complex disabilities. Where does that belief come from?

Does Virginia need training centers?

Virginia operates five large institutions for people with developmental disabilities, which we call “training centers,” and which have a total population of just under seven hundred people. In a few months, the Commonwealth will close just one of those institutions, Southside Virginia Training Center, in Petersburg. Four other institutions will remain open for a little while.

However, in order to improve services in the community, under an agreement with the United States Department of Justice, the state plans to close three more of the training centers over the next six years. Eventually, just one institution will remain, in Chesapeake, for no more than 75 people.

At least, that is the plan. And that plan has some people worried. Last month, some family members testified before the General Assembly, arguing that the state needs to keep its training centers open. Only in training centers, they argue, will their family members be safe and cared for. These citizens believe that their loved ones have needs that are far too complex to be served in community settings.

Is it true? Does Virginia need training centers? The General Assembly seems unsure. The House and Senate passed legislation, now on its way to the Governor, that calls for a stakeholder group to consider keeping more training centers open. What is happening in Virginia? Is this the right direction for us?

how’s the weather out there?

Some years ago, after a heavy snow storm, the church that I was attending had the parking lot plowed. The contractor dutifully plowed the whole parking area … and pushed the snow pile into the “handicap” designated parking spaces and on top of the access ramp. When I asked what was going on, the minister told me, “frankly, wheelchair users don’t come out in this kind of weather.”

What? People who use wheelchairs don’t have to go to work after a snow storm? Don’t need groceries anymore? Don’t want to go to church? Says who?

Well, I guess all the people who pile snow on the access routes are the ones who “says who.” (This was in a part of the country where snow piles hang around for awhile, too, so there would be no welcome at this church for weeks.)

So, as we are digging out of this recent snow storm, look around you. Are the accessible parking spaces filled with snow? Are the ramps and curb cuts still covered? If so, say something to the owner or manager about it. Speak up on behalf of people who use mobility devices, because, you know, they may not be able to speak up for themselves. They don’t come out in this kind of weather.

Visitability: balancing the market, part two

Is it true that there is not much of a market for homes that are visitable by people who use mobility devices? It is hard to know for sure.

One organization is trying to create a market counterbalance, encouraging accessible home design. The group, Easy Living Homes, offers a certification program for homes with easy access, easy passage and easy use. Although the certification program is voluntary, the program claims 14 participating builders throughout Virginia.

The Easy Living Homes project seeks to encourage that homes are built with easy access for people who use mobility devices and, frankly, for everyone. Easy Living Homes builds on a concept known as “universal design” or “inclusive design,” which supports environments that are accessible to older people, to people who use wheelchairs and walkers, and to all people. You can learn more about the project at http://www.elhomes.org

Universal design is more involved, more extensive, than “visitablity.” For a home to qualify for the easy living certification, the main living quarters — kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and entertainment area — must all be on an accessible floor. That is more than is required for a home to be considered “visitable.” To be visitable, your home must simply have a zero step entrance, 32 inch doorways, and one bathroom that someone using a wheelchair can get into.

While the Easy Living Homes project offers a certification for accessible homes, what incentive is there for much more basic but equally important “visitablity” features?

Visitablity and the Marketplace, part two

Is it true that accessible homes are less “valuable” or less marketable on the open real estate market?

The statistics may not be on our side. According to reputable studies, only 2.6% of the population uses mobility devices, and the vast majority of those devices are canes. (Someone who uses a cane may appreciate accessibility features, but those features are much less critical to their ability to visit a friends’ home.) The study estimates that approximately as little as one half of one percent of the population under age 65 uses wheelchairs or scooters for mobility. When you include those over 65, the percentage rises slightly to .6 percent.

In Virginia terms, that means the total number of people who use wheelchairs or scooters for mobility could be fewer than 50,000. That number does not include people who are using mobility devices on a short term basis, perhaps after an injury or surgery. Still, even if we include temporary use in our totals, it is a relatively small number of people, across the Commonwealth, who need an accessible home to live in.

Those numbers are, of course, misleading. They do not account for the spouses, parents, children and housemates of people who use wheelchairs and need an accessible home to be able to live together.

And even more critically, they do not include the numbers of friends, work colleagues and social acquaintances who need an accessible home for visitors.

How can we calculate the number of people in Virginia who need an accessible home so that their friends and family can visit? And how can we, who need an accessible home so our friends and family can visit, become a factor to be considered in that open real estate market?

(Statistics from the US Census Bureau http://www.census.gov and from the University of California at San Francisco, Disability Statistics Center, http://www.dsc.uscsf.edu )

Visitability and the marketplace

In my neighborhood, most of the homes were built in the 1920s. Many have the charming feature of a wide front porch with broad steps leading upward. Charming, yes, but inaccessible.

There was one home in the neighborhood, however, that was fully accessible to someone who used a wheelchair. There was a beautifully landscaped, sloping area serving as the ramp to the entrance. The two story house had a small elevator inside, wide doorways and an expansive bathroom on the second floor.

But several years ago, this wonderful house was sold, and the new owner promptly demolished the sloping entrance, replace it with steps, removed the elevator and converted the shaft into closet space. The house was left with wide doorways and an oddly large bathroom on the second floor.

The conversion was done by a real estate agent, who bought the house in order to “flip” it. When I asked him why he would do something like that that, he explained that the changes made the house more valuable, more marketable.

How can we hope to achieve a society where homes are more visitable by people who use mobility devices, if the market itself is working against us? Any thoughts?

Come on in!

What do you know about “visitability?” The word looks like a typo, but it isn’t! Visitability is a nationwide movement to make homes accessible to people who use mobility devices. Homes should be accessible not merely as places to live but as places where people who use wheelchairs and other mobility devices can visit. With very few exceptions, if someone who uses a wheelchair wants to hang out with friends, he or she can only do so in their own (hopefully) accessible residence. In most Virginia homes, it is virtually impossible for someone who uses a wheelchair to visit a neighbor.
For a home to be “visitable,” it must have three basic characteristics: a zero step entrance, doorway widths of 32 inches or more, and a bathroom on the main floor that you can use with a wheelchair. Can your home pass?