Tuesday, January 12, 2010

ASAN-VA Comments at General Assembly Budget Hearing

January 11, 2010

ASAN Comments at Virginia General Assembly budget hearing.

I’m Paula Durbin-Westby. I am representing the Virginia chapter of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, the leading autism advocacy organization whose leadership is made up of individuals who are on the autism spectrum.

First, a thank you to all the members of the General Assembly for your efforts to work with Governor Kaine’s budget constraints in this time of economic upheaval.

State policy for 40 years has called for Virginia to shift from institutions to community supports for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Now, Virginia chooses to continue to segregate individuals with these disabilities in state institutions, and seems to be making a choice to reverse those gains which have been made over the past few decades.

In trying to explain institutions to my young son, he asked “Are they like big warehouses where people store stuff?” For many of us, both people with disabilities and our families, the answer is an unfortunate “Yes.”

People with disabilities and our families have repeatedly requested “A Life Like Yours,” and the statistics are there to show that there are cost-effective community-based solutions to institutionalization.

At a time when massive cuts to much-needed services are being proposed, building yet another bricks-and-mortar “solution” is unconscionable. Rather than investing in another “warehouse”, the State of Virginia should divert funding away from what is essentially a big construction project, and toward the human services, community services, medical and support services that people with disabilities, and our families and communities, need. 6000 people waiting for waivers? Respite care slashed from 720 hours per year to one third that amount? Or, less than an hour of respite in a 24-hour day. This sort of decisionmaking will force even more Virginia families into warehousing their loved ones, and into financial and personal disaster.

In addition, Virginia does have responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the 1999 Supreme Court decision Olmstead v. L.C.

As Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Tom Perez, said in his recent installation speech: "Segregating people with disabilities in institutions is every bit as bad and illegal as segregating children of color in inferior schools."

In the name of human dignity and civil rights for all people, including people with disabilities, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network calls on Virginia to honor its stated commitment to include Virginians with developmental and intellectual disabilities, in our own homes, our own communities, from which many of us are now excluded, and Virginia society as a whole.

Thank you for taking the time to consider this urgent matter.

Paula C. Durbin-Westby
Board of Directors
Virginia Coordinator
Autistic Self Advocacy Network