03 Jun We Are Worth It.
Imagine your life pre-1966 as an individual with an intellectual disability, then known as “mental retardation” – a negative sounding term for sure. Depending on the level of your intellectual disability, you could find yourself living at home with family or be completely misunderstood as someone unable to control their emotions/actions, be considered harmful to yourself or others and be placed in a state institutional setting – isolated from family and friends and with limited supports and services outside of basic shelter and food. Few individuals were afforded opportunities to live in privately funded facilities and no other public infrastructure existed for community living arrangements.
In fact, the prevailing policy was that segregation of persons with intellectual disability was recommended and preferred. Unfortunately, such isolation and “being out of sight/out of mind”
created situations of unimaginable mental and physical trauma through overuse of medication therapy, physical restraints, force-feeding, etc. The concepts of “respect” and “personal choice” for you were non-existent as a ward of the state. Large state-operated institutions warehoused and controlled you with the intent of providing safety and shelter, but not always with dignity as has been documented in numerous photos, documentaries, investigations and lawsuits.
Then, in the 1960’s, a public policy debate began questioning the appropriateness of institutionalized care. In 1966, Pennsylvania adopted a complete change of attitude towards you as an individual with special needs. No longer would the state be your primary caregiver through its large institutions and these institutions were to be phased out. The state’s role changed to funding and facilitating creation of supports and services to be provided in community-based settings by private organizations. You were given status as a partner in this process, along with your family or legal guardian, and empowered with legal rights by which to exercise freedom and choice of living arrangement and necessary services and supports to live in the community.
During the past five decades, a remarkable public/private partnership among you, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and hundreds of private organizations created an unprecedented model of public governance, individual choices, and private entrepreneurship that currently serves more than 50,000 individuals with intellectual disability and autism in thousands of locations throughout communities in every region of the state. As this process unfolded, you were given opportunities to either re-enter, or for the first time, engage with the community around you. Increased public awareness of you and other individuals with intellectual disability resulted in new understandings about the unique values and blessings you bring to the community conversation opening up even more opportunities for sharing, being employed, realizing new skills, etc. And, you began advocating and speaking out for yourself in the public arena making the point to celebrate our differences.
PAR (Pennsylvania Advocacy and Resources for Autism and Intellectual Disability) recently launched a multi-year initiative campaign called “We Are Worth It.” which celebrates this enormously successful public private partnership among the state, yourself and the private sector. In our diversity is our strength. In our strength is our future. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s public policy to provide community supports and services is the mission of PAR and all supporters of the rights of individuals with intellectual disability and autism to lead lives of value and dignity in the wonderful communities of this state. Follow this campaign on Twitter at @PARdotnet and Facebook. We Are Worth It.