Enhancing the Lives of All Individuals with Disabilities
Who Is Together for Choice?
Together for Choice (TFC) is a nationwide advocacy organization consisting of families who have family members with a disability and providers that support these men and women. TFC’s primary focus is on those with significant intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) who require 24-hour care and support. TFC’s mission is to ensure that these men and women and their families have the broadest possible array of high quality options when selecting residential and vocational services and settings.
TFC was formed three years ago when it became clear to families that most disability rights organizations were not supporting residential and vocational options that best meet the needs of those with significant I/DD. These existing disability rights organizations advocate “one-size-fits-all” solutions for a disabilities community that has widely varying needs and desires. As a result, the policy solutions for which they advocate limit choice and options, potentially harming those with the most significant needs. TFC believes that it is critically important that the voices of those with the most significant needs be heard by policymakers and by those running for office.
What Does TFC Stand For?
TFC’s basic position is that the individual and their family know best what type of residential and vocational programs and opportunities best meet their needs and preferences. The role of government, federal and state, should be to support all quality residential and vocational options, allowing the individual and his or her family to choose the option they prefer. By doing so, the government treats individuals with disabilities the same as those who do not have disabilities. Those who do not have a disability get to choose where to live, work and recreate. Those with disabilities should have that same right. This is the essential message of the Supreme Court’s decision in Olmstead and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Both have at their core the fundamental principal that individuals with disabilities should have the same right as everyone else to choose the life they wish to live. The role of government is to support that choice, not to limit choice. TFC’s message has resonated. It has quickly grown into an organization that has members in all 50 states.
Individuals with I/DD Need A Wide Array of Residential Options
What does TFC’s message of choice mean in concrete terms? With respect to residential services, it means that government should support the individual’s right to choose from a wide array of residential options including, for example, their own home or apartment, small group homes in neighborhoods, campus settings, intentional communities, and farmsteads. Government policy should not foreclose these residential options that many have found so beneficial. Yet, that is exactly what many of the existing disability rights organizations advocate. The proposed Disability Integration Act, for example, would limit Medicaid home and community-based funding to settings in which no more than four individuals with disabilities live.
This proposal would deny federal funding to any larger setting such as campuses, intentional communities and farmsteads. Without federal funding, only the wealthiest are able to afford to live in these settings. TFC strongly opposes the Disability Integration Act. TFC agrees that those who wish to live in small homes should have that right. However, those that wish to live in larger settings should have the equal right to choose such settings. Many individuals with significant I/DD have tried living in their own home or apartment or in small group homes with supports, but have found these options to be isolating. Many of these men and women have moved to larger, more congregate settings such as campus settings and other intentional communities and have found these settings to be exactly what they are looking for. These settings provide the sense of community these men and women longed for while adequately meeting their significant support needs.
The government should not define “community” for the individual. Rather, it is the individual who should define the “communities” in which they wish to participate. All those without a disability have this right. Those with a disability should have the same right to choose their communities. TFC supports modifying the Disability Integration Act and other federal and state statutes and regulations to recognize the individual’s right to choose.
A Wide Array of Vocational Options Must Also Be Preserved
The fundamental principle of choice applies equally to vocational settings. Individuals with disabilities should have the right to choose how they wish to spend their days. Many of the men and women with the most significant disabilities cannot obtain or maintain competitive integrated employment at the minimum wage. Their intellectual, behavioral, and medical challenges preclude such employment, even with one-on-one supports. That does not mean that these men and women cannot be employed. In fact, these men and women, like the rest of us, get satisfaction from preforming a job and being a contributing member of a joint enterprise. However, the only way these individuals can be feasibly employed is under the special wages permitted by Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, where they can work at their own pace in an environment designed to meet their needs.
Again, the existing disability rights organizations fail to take into account the needs of this segment of the disabilities community when they advocate for the full repeal of Section 14(c) as proposed in the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act and Section 6 of the Raise the Wage Act. Repeal of Section 14(c) would actually harm men and women with significant I/DD by removing any possibility of their holding a job and enjoying the dignity of work. Instead, repeal would relegate this segment of the disabilities community to non-work activities, essentially adult daycare. There has been no comprehensive study of the impact of repeal of Section 14(c) on the men and women with the most significant I/DD, which is a segment of the population that already has very high unemployment. The limited empirical evidence from those states that have ended special wages for those with disabilities shows that those with the most significant I/DD lose their jobs and end up sitting at home watching TV or going to the mall. This is wrong and it is why TFC opposes the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act and Section 6 of the Raise the Wage Act.
The controversy over repeal of Section 14(c) is a perfect example of why “one-size-fits-all” solutions simply do not work for a community as diverse as the disabilities community. TFC strongly agrees that no one with a disability should be forced to work at 14(c) wages. All those who want competitive integrated employment should have that opportunity and be given the supports they need to achieve and succeed at such employment. At the same time, those who want to work in work programs designed for them, whose existence depends on Section 14(c), should have the same right to choose the employment option they prefer. There is a solution that accommodates all. Rather than a full repeal Section 14(c), TFC supports amending the statute so that it remains available only to those who have significant I/DD who affirmatively choose to work under a 14(c) certificate issued to a non-profit service provider that provides services to these men and women. Such a solution preserves options and choices and empowers the individual and his or her family to make the choice that best meets their needs and preferences.
TFC’s essential message is that there is no one voice that speaks for the disabilities community. This community is large and diverse and has many voices. This diversity also means that “one-size-fits-all” solutions simply do not work because such solutions will inevitably harm some segment of the community. TFC respectfully requests that your campaign approach disabilities issues with sensitivity and nuance and seek input from all segments of the disabilities community. Doing so will ensure that the rights and dignity of all are supported.
For more information, please contact Scott M. Mendel, Chairperson, Together for Choice at firstname.lastname@example.org.