"Rewriting the Myths, Redefining the Realities"
by Homer Page
On Friday, September 14, Margi Ness and I drove to Greeley to do research for this article. We listened to the prayer service from the National Cathedral in Washington and shared the pain of the week’s events. We wondered how it would feel to talk with the others about their programs, frustrations and joys. We wondered if we could make any sense of it, or find any meaning in our own work. We realized that at times like this much of what any of us do seems rather insignificant. Yet, in the commitment and dedication that we found, we discovered a story that should affirm us all in this difficult time.
We visited Connections for Independent Living (CIL) and Centennial Developmental Services, Inc. (CDSI). CIL is the center for independent living for a seven county area that stretches from Greeley to Fort Morgan and Sterling. CDSI is the community-centered board for Weld County. We encountered in each of these programs a commitment to providing services that promote independence and honors the right of persons with disabilities to choose for themselves the services that they will receive. We found in these programs the understanding that even the most severely disabled persons deserve the right to make choices about the things that determine the quality of life that they will experience.
Greeley is the largest urban area in what otherwise is an agricultural sea that spreads across northeastern Colorado. Connections for Independent Living serves this large diverse area. Beth Danielson, the Connections director, lives on a farm outside Greeley. “The rural area that we serve presents a challenge,” said Danielson. “There are very few services available for persons with disabilities. Undoubtedly, one of the greatest barriers to independence is the almost complete lack of accessible transportation. But there is also a great need for accessible housing, home health care, and employment opportunities in rural parts of the state. We try to help people find these services and we advocate with them for the support they need to live independently.”
Connections staff members specialize in deaf services, housing, independent living, and services to the older blind. The staff says that advocacy is a central part of everything they do. They also conduct education and training programs, administer low-income housing vouchers, provide sign language interpreters, and offer peer counseling and independent living planning. Staff at Connections says that the Greeley area has a long history of acceptance of persons with disabilities. They give high marks to the community for its physical accessibility and positiveattitudes. The fixed route bus system is singled out for its usefulness to the disability community. Staff also point out the receptiveness of local elected officials. However, once one leaves Greeley, accessibility quickly deteriorates.
Patty Ziegler, Coordinator of Services to the Older Blind, works with over 80 consumers. Ms. Ziegler collaborates with service providers throughout northeastern Colorado to make them aware of adaptive equipment and promotes a positive attitude toward the capacity of older blind persons. She also works directly with blind consumers, teaching independent living skills.
Often Patty becomes an advocate for her clients. She told us about a gentleman who is trying to free himself from a nursing home. She is trying to locate home care, straighten out his Social Security, and alleviate his fears about living independently.
Beth and Patty sponsor community meetings in small towns throughout their seven county area. They invite community leaders and human service professionals to meet with them. They get acquainted and raise the awareness of the community regarding the needs of older blind individuals.
Connections administers 50 low income housing vouchers. Sarah Gallegos determines if a person is eligible. Then she locates a landlord who will participate in the program. She does follow up when needed and monitors the unit to ensure that all works well. “The shortage of accessible housing is one of the major problems facing persons with disabilities in northeastern Colorado,” Gallegos says. “I am actively involved with city and county housing authorities to try to increase the supply of accessible housing.” The Connections staff considers advocating for accessible housing to be one of their most important activities.
Cindy Storment coordinates interpreter services. She calls upon a pool of contract interpreters to serve a broad range of community organizations. The Connections sign language interpreter program gives the deaf community in northeastern Colorado the opportunity to fully participate in the life of the community.
Brad Taylor coordinates independent living services at Connections. He and his colleagues are especially frustrated by the lack of home health care available in the region. They look forward to a day when consumers will be able to manage their own care but, for now, personal care assistance must be managed by home health care agencies. There are very few personal assistants’ services in northeastern Colorado. This, of course, creates genuine barriers to establishing an independent living life style.
One cannot visit Connections without feeling the commitment and caring of a fine staff, but one also feels their frustration. They struggle to serve over 300 clients per year in an environment which has a shortage of accessible housing, transportation, and home health care. The staff is deeply involved in the effort to bring change. They are advocating for the system changes that can bring more resources into the creation of services and opportunities needed to sustain an independent life style for the northeastern Colorado disability community. They believe that they are doing what a quality CIL should be doing, and we agree with them.
The second agency that we visited was Centennial Developmental Services, Inc. (CDSI). It is the community center board for Weld County. CDSI offers services to persons with developmental disabilities in an environment that permits the consumer and the consumer’s family to make real choices.
CDSI serves over 500 clients per year. It offers an array of services ranging from a comprehensive program for the most severely disabled adults to an advocacy and planning service for children and youth. It sponsors an early intervention program for the very young, and employment programs, residential support, socialization, and independent living services. It also operates an integrated after school program for elementary age children. The after school program is operated in two local school buildings. CDSI additionally provides a small respite program which offers some relief for families who have a member who is developmentally disabled.
CDSI has a separate department which is responsible for guaranteeing that each consumer has genuine choice in his or her service plan. A consumer consultant is available for each client. The consultant and the client work with the CDSI planning department. Together they develop a plan which includes the services that will be received and the service provider that will deliver them. In many cases, CDSI provides services that are in competition with other community based organizations. The consumer may choose to receive services from another agency. If another service provider is chosen, that choice is affirmed.
CDSI receives $12 million from the complex state and federal developmental disabilities funding system. Approximately half of the funding passes through to other community agencies.
Don Coloroso, Director of Support Services, explains, “The consumer goes to the location where the services are offered and has a chance to see how it feels. When appropriate, family members are included. Everything is done to ensure that an informed choice is made.” Some have raised the question, whether or not CDSI should both be a service provider and also develop the service delivery plan. “Even though there might be the appearance of a conflict of interest, the system seems to work well,” Coloroso says.
Kim Osborne, Coordinator of Family Support Services, works with children who are 3 to 14 years of age. She and her staff act as advocates for the children with the schools. There is also a program for youth over 14. The purpose of these programs is to ensure that children with developmental disabilities receive a quality education. CDSI staff participate in the development of the IEP (Individual Education Plan ) and monitor its implementation. They also work with the school and parents to involve the children in recreational and other community activities.
Jamie Breitzman is Director of Adult Services. He coordinates a fleet of 20 vans that provide transportation to adult consumers. He also coordinates an employment program that engages 52 clients in work in the community. The community living department provides support to consumers living independently.
“Our purpose is to keep families together, to integrate persons with developmental disabilities fully into the community, and to provide the maximum amount of choice for our clients,” said Coloroso. “Things have really changed in the last few decades. We used to place children with developmental disabilities in institutions. We sponsored large residential homes for adults, and the idea that persons with developmental disabilities could participate in planning for their own lives was just unheard of.”
In spite of limited resources, especially in the rural areas, one feels that persons with disabilities receive a great deal of respect from the programs that serve them in northeastern Colorado. Both Connections and CDSI strive to free their clients from institutionalization. There is a pervasive philosophy of choice, independence, and self-actualization that characterizes both programs. Both agencies are strong advocates for their clients. We applaud the depth of commitment on the part of the staffs at CDSI and Connections. In a time when our values are under attack, the work of Connections and CDSI demonstrate why freedom and the worth of each unique individual provides the content for a set of beliefs that is truly admirable.
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Copyright 2002 A&H Publishing Corporation