Tuesday, December 14, 2010

IU institute helps shape Indiana policy for people with disabilities

From Indiana University:

What do Hoosiers with disabilities want? Pretty much the same things that other Indiana residents want: rewarding jobs, comfortable and affordable housing, decent health care, high-quality education and transportation to get where they need to go.

Those are among the initial indications of a project by the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community to get input on government services from people with disabilities, their family members, and community service providers across the state.

Commissioned by the Governor's Council for People with Disabilities as part of a five-year revision of Indiana's Disability Plan, the project includes a series of town meetings, an online survey of several hundred people, focus groups, and help with compiling and analyzing data.

"The goal is for people to feel some ownership in the development of the plan," said Vicki Pappas, director of the institute's Center for Planning and Policy Studies and the coordinator of the project. "Our job is to make sure there's a consumer perspective guiding the writing of the plan."

Institute staff, including Sharon Hauss (standing), a research associate with the Center for Planning and Policy Studies, gather input at a town meeting in Evansville.
The Indiana Institute on Disability and Community is a research, education and service center affiliated with Indiana University Bloomington, committed to providing Hoosiers with disability-related information and services that touch the entire life span, from birth through older adulthood.

Institute staff held town meetings in Indianapolis, Terre Haute, Gary, South Bend, Fort Wayne, Richmond, Evansville and New Albany in the first phase of the project. They made use of the Collaborative Work Lab, an electronic meeting room fitted with lap-top computers and specialized software that can be taken on the road to support information-gathering, brainstorming and priority-setting.

Participants in the meetings, Pappas said, were invited to "share their vision for what they'd like life to be like in five years -- and brainstorm how to get there." They divided into groups focusing on topics such as education, employment, housing, transportation, health care, leadership development and community participation and access.

"Transportation is always a big concern," Pappas said. "There just doesn't seem to be enough transportation for people with disabilities to do the things that families and communities do, especially during evening hours and on Saturdays and Sundays. If people want to go to church on Sunday and they don't have a car, they need a way to get there."

In the area of employment, she said, "What we heard is, 'We want employment tailored to our needs and interests, real jobs.'" Potential employees, she said, "want employers to be more aware of the value of people with disabilities, how easy it is to accommodate them and what good employees they are."

Parents of children with disabilities want their kids to receive the services and supports they need in inclusive school settings. And people would like to see more flexibility in health care, especially in the government-funded Medicaid program.

Some 216 people took part in the town meetings from August through November, and an invited town meeting was held Monday for board members of Self-Advocates of Indiana.

The online survey about state services, part of the annual Disability Poll for Indiana, has collected 370 responses so far and will continue through January. It is available at http://www.thepollingplace.org.

The board of the Governor's Council for People with Disabilities will review the input from the project in mid-January and identify policy directions to be included in the state disabilities plan. Then project staff will convene focus groups to gather ideas about how to implement the policy directions, determine solutions and identify potential collaborators.

While Indiana's budget problems have caused funding cuts for social services, the institute staff has kept the project focused on the future, Pappas said. "We worked very hard in the town meetings to structure them so they would not be complaining sessions," she said. "We asked the participants to think about, 'What would you like to see that would make life better for you or your family in the next five years?'"

One surprise from the meetings was that they attracted people with disabilities and family members who hadn't been aware of state services or connected to advocacy groups. "Time after time, we heard people say, 'We never knew there were these supports; we never knew there were other people we could connect with," Pappas said.