On Jan. 5, a man with autism died when he left his South Austin group home and was fatally shot by a neighbor who mistook him for an intruder.
Like recent examples of other recent tragic incidents in Austin and Corpus Christi demonstrate, whether an individual with intellectual and developmental disabilities resides in a state facility or in the community, bad things can happen.
When programs do not have the resources and expertise to provide the appropriate care and supports for individuals, bad things are inevitable.
Although we are not privy to all of the details regarding this recent incident, it has opened a larger discussion about the services and supports that Texas provides for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
When tragic events like this occur, our first response is often to decide who to blame.
The Arc of Texas challenges you to use this unfortunate incident as an opportunity to discuss and take action on how we as a state fund and provide services and supports to Texans with these disabilities.
The health and safety of Texans with intellectual and developmental disabilities must be safeguarded whether they live on their own, with family, in a group home or in a state supported living center.
Of the estimated 1.3 million Texans with intellectual and developmental disabilities, approximately 48,000 receive long-term services and supports.
Less than 3,400 of these individuals are in state-supported living centers.
The majority of people with these disabilities live and want to live in and participate in the community, not in segregated institutions.
During the 84th Texas Legislature, which began on Jan. 13, state lawmakers have an opportunity to make decisions regarding services and supports for these individuals.
Policymakers need to make it a priority to responsibly reform the long-term service delivery system for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities so that our system is up to date with national policies and best practices in the field.
During the last legislative session, under SB 7 authored by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, policymakers began a process of reforming the system and doing so in a comprehensive and responsible manner.
Continuing that process and further evaluating the needs of the system must include:
▪ Increasing funding so more Texans have services they need;
▪ Ensuring sufficient recruitment, training and appropriate pay for the personnel who provide needed services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities;
▪ Increasing the number of providers statewide to provide residential and community based services for persons who are medically fragile or have intensive support needs;
▪ Ensuring appropriate oversight and accountability of all long-term services programs and institutions; and
▪ Facilitating the maximum independence of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The Arc of Texas stands ready to work with state lawmakers to reform the service delivery system for Texans with intellectual and developmental disabilities in a way that is meaningful to these individuals.
Amy Mizcles is executive director of The Arc of Texas, a statewide nonprofit that creates opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to actively participate in their communities.