Guest Editorial: We need to integrate people with disabilities into our communities

By on February 2, 2012

by Tony Paulauski
Executive Director
The Arc of Illinois

I commended Governor Quinn on his plans to close state institutions in Tinley Park and Jacksonville. While this move is expected to save taxpayers $20 million annually, that pales in comparison to opportunities this will open for people with disabilities.

This historic change in public policy embraces freedom, independence and choice. Our current system is antiquated. Only two states warehouse more people in institutions than Illinois, and 14 states have closed all public institutions. More than 30 national studies show that community living provides the most safe and effective care. Yet Illinois ranks last in the nation in the number of available community settings.

Community living offers around-the-clock care, and unlike institutions, it allows people with disabilities a personalized care plan where they can live close to family and friends and be part of a community. This is about making sure people with disabilities enjoy the same freedoms and opportunities as everyone else.

Four state institutions will remain open, warehousing 1,400 citizens. This is the first phase in transitioning people with disabilities out of institutionalization and into community care and one in which we have experience.

About half of those currently living in a community setting came from an institution or nursing home. They are proud, happy and productive members of their communities and proof that it can be done. We are committed to making sure every person makes a safe, organized and enjoyable transition into community living. Working with our partner agencies, we have dedicated staff on the ground already working with families.

We applaud Governor Quinn for including stakeholder groups like The Arc in determining a responsible blueprint to move this obsolete system into one that supports people based upon their individual needs. This is a well-thought-out plan and a victory for people with disabilities and their families.

The Arc of Illinois represents more than 220,000 people with disabilities and their families. The Arc is committed to empowering persons with disabilities to achieve full participation in community life through informed choices.