When I joined the DRO Board of Directors in 1981, the topic of passionate discussion was the Fairview Training Center. Fairview was the largest institution of its kind in the nation, housing thousands of individuals with disabilities. Data showed high levels of abuse and neglect. Residents were not permitted to leave unless they were first sterilized. Housing babies, kids, adults and the elderly, Fairview was the only mandated service available for individuals and their families.
Shutting Fairview Forever
Three years later, DRO filed a class action against Fairview for failing to protect the safety of self-injurious residents. A year later, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a civil rights case against Fairview for failing to keep all residents safe. DRO joined that lawsuit as the representative for all residents. As a result of these cases, Fairview was closed in 2000.
A 7,000 Person Wait-List for Community Supports
When Fairview closed, there was a wait list of over 7,000 people who needed support services in the community. DRO filed a lawsuit against the state asking that any person who was eligible for Medicaid-funded community supports be provided them swiftly. The case, known as “Staley” after the lead plaintiff, Karen Staley, resulted in the creation of a new “brokerage” service system for all Oregonians who were eligible for intellectual and developmental disability services.
Today every child with an intellectual or developmental disability in Oregon is eligible to receive in-home supports because of the “brokerage” service system that the Staley case helped to create. These services help many children stay in their family home, have richer experiences, and live adult lives of greater independence. Oregon promises that all families whose children experience intellectual and developmental disabilities have the right to stay together.
Closing the Doors of Segregated ‘Sheltered Workshops’
A dozen years later, many people receiving supports in their community were still being segregated in “sheltered workshops” where they were paid far less than minimum wage for their work. DRO again filed suit, arguing that the ADA does not allow the state provide vocational services in an unnecessarily isolating environment. After years of litigation, DRO settled the case and this resulted in a significantly more robust Employment First program that allows people to find regular jobs in their communities.
The Fight is Still not Over
Now, we face the question of whether we, as a society, are willing to fund the community-based services and supports needed to allow people to be more integrated in their community and keep the most vulnerable people out of crisis requiring restrictive and expensive institutionalization. Community services rely upon funding and policies at both the state and federal levels. That’s what the fight to preserve Medicare and Medicaid is about. That’s what the state budget fight is about.
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Thanks to our work, Oregon has gone from a state where people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are denied the opportunity to build a life for themselves to a place where everyone has that chance.
We’re proud of these historic milestones. We’ll never forget them. But many more fights remain.
Together, we can build on our successes. Give today.
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