It’s not just about curb cuts
Yesterday I went to one of the disability forums scheduled across the state until August 4th. The public meetings are sponsored by the Governor’s Commission on Disabilities, which uses the testimony to inform its priorities for legislation in the coming year.
This meeting was at the Warwick Library and the room was packed-102 people signed in on the attendance sheet and 26 testified. Organizers say it was the biggest meeting they’ve seen in the 10 year history of the forums.
I was there to record sound for a feature I’m producing for Friday morning. My father has been in a wheelchair since 2005, so I thought I knew what the major issues would be, at least for Rhode Islanders like him.
I expected testimony on streets with curb cuts on only one side of the sidewalk or none at all, the lack of wheelchair accessible taxis (something the state is actually working on) and general complaints about how complicated it is to get around in a state with aging infrastructure and historic buildings created hundreds of years before the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Well, I was wrong. There was absolutely no testimony on curb cuts. What I heard was a lot of fear.
One women started crying as she described losing state funds to help take care of her 21 year old son. She says the loss means she might lose her house.
A man who works at a residential facility for people with disabilities said the company is being asked to do more with less money. That means cutting staff or cutting salaries in an industry that doesn’t typically pay that much.
An elderly man grabbed the microphone. He said he’s the parent of a 49 year old daughter with developmental disabilities and he’s been advocating for people like her since the 60s.
In the early days we seemed to be more effective in advocating for the people we represent. There is something wrong with the way we may be advocating. We go to the state house year after year after year, we talk to our legislators and the cuts remain, the cuts are deep and the cuts are impending, they’re coming more and more.
I asked Lorna Ricci, the moderator of the forum and the executive director of the Ocean State Center for Independent Living why I wasn’t hearing the accessibility testimony I expected. She said,
Because of the economy, because of the way the cuts are happening in our state right now, we’re getting back to basic need. If you remember Maslow’s hierarchy, we’re at the basic needs right now. We’re not thinking high level, oh, let’s make the world a perfect place with access and curb cuts and ramps. Yes, we need that, absolutely. But what’s happening now is we’re back to basic shelter, being able to take care of our basic needs. These are the cuts and the services that are in jeopardy.
I’m embarrassed to say I don’t know the extent of all of those cuts, despite my work covering health care in the state.
I’ve put some calls out so I can get a better sense of what services are in danger or suffering. I have learned that the 2012 state budget for adults with developmental disabilities is 20 million dollars less than it was last year.
Here’s the budget for fiscal year 2010-2011 (search for “Developmentally Disabled”)
Total – Services for the Developmentally Disabled 232,150,971
And here’s the budget for fiscal year 2011-2012 (search for the same term)
Services for the Developmentally Disabled
General Revenues 97,336,360
Federal Funds 110,679,602
Restricted Receipts 2,006,522 total =210,022,484
As the state cuts back in what it pays providers, providers turn around and offer less to their clients. That could be one of the major reasons why everyone feels so anxious and confused, as those cuts are rolling down hill now.
This would have been an easier story to report if it was just about ramps and curb cuts, but now it’s seeming more important.