For most of us, inclusion in our schools and recreational programs is highly important. We see the potential social effects for children with and without disabilities. We build communities where children value diversity and want to learn about each other’s differences. Students learn from each other, and they are more willing to recognize that every one of them has specific strengths and weaknesses. But once these children grow up, where do they go? What inclusive opportunities are there for them through adulthood? Unfortunately, not as many as we would like. Though there is a demand to continue services and supports in inclusive environments, inclusion is difficult to find for adults with disabilities. Many individuals with disabilities do not live in their own homes or in community-based settings. They instead live in nursing homes, where they receive institutionalized care.
For adults with disabilities, a turn towards inclusive services and supports may be coming soon! For many years, Medicaid has preferred to provide coverage of nursing home placements over community-based home placements for adults with disabilities. The lack of ability for individuals to choose their living situation has become apparent through a report developed by a committee in the Senate, led by Senator Tim Harkin (D-IA).
Senator Harkin has proposed a new bill which would really change the availability of different housing options for adults with disabilities. The Community Integration Act, Harkin’s proposal, would remove Medicaid’s bias toward institutions or nursing homes when community-based settings are equally, if not more, appropriate.
Currently, Medicaid offers more funding for nursing homes and other institutionalized living settings than community-based care for adults with disabilities. About a year ago, Senator Harkin published a report that stated that over 200,000 working-age adults were being segregated in nursing homes. Fifteen years ago, Senator Harkin reminds us, a case called Olmstead v. L.C. led to a Supreme Court decision that, under ADA, individuals with disabilities and their families have the right to receive services in home or within the community instead of institutional care. The findings of Senator Harkin’s report served to prove that states are not fully providing people with their right to choose. The Community Integration Act would provide adults with disabilities more options to receive their support in places more natural to them– their homes and communities.
A lot of work has already been done to include individuals with disabilities in their communities, and they are encouraged to work within certain organizations. However, the full vision is not yet complete. Someday, adults with disabilities will be employed, and they will participate in their community regularly. Each individual’s job experience will vary on their unique interests and needs, but their work will provide a service or product for others and will hopefully be a viable source of income. Additionally, they will engage in their communities in some way. Many adults find purpose through religious groups, community service opportunities, fitness classes or clubs, and continuing education opportunities like cooking classes.
If we want to build an adult community and workforce that is inclusive, though, we need to prepare typically developing children to grow into roles as accepting adults who celebrate differences. These little people will be the business owners, managers, and community leaders who run our communities. If we want communities to be truly inclusive, these future leaders are the ones who will need to be willing to invite adults with disabilities into their community activities and employ them in their businesses. The earlier these leaders learn inclusion, the more they will value people of differing backgrounds and abilities.
Inclusion from an early age serves a valid purpose for children who are typically developing. Tolerance is not the only thing these children learn. They also appreciate the benefits to themselves when they are in diverse settings. If children are taught to value diversity from early on, they will likely continue to value diversity as they grow older, collaborating with each other and individuals of varying abilities to create and maintain a truly inclusive society.
The way I envision an inclusive adult community is one where adults with disabilities participate in regular activities with typically-developing people. These activities may include grocery shopping, fitness, and community service acts. In order to get to this vision of inclusion, we must prepare all of our students. Let’s work together to build mindsets of understanding and appreciation of all kinds of people!
–Written by Elise Hopkins, KIT Blog Editor.
Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.