Sunday, March 9, 2008

Washington Post spotlights independent living

A March 8 Washington Post story profiles several people with intellectual disabilities who are now living on their own. The story explains the efforts of the revamped D.C. Department on Disability Services, which has moved more than 80 people into supervised apartments and small homes since July 1, 2007.

Happily, the story made the cover of the Post's B section and its Web site has several photos of the two men profiled in their new homes.

The government official behind this move to independent living is Judith Heumann, a longtime disability rights activist who served as Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services in the Department of Education during the Clinton Administration and is now director of the D.C. Department on Disability Services.

Heumann, who is a wheelchair user due to polio, explained the importance of independent living for people with disabilities: "I think one of the biggest problems that disabled people address is how they see themselves and how others see them -- see us. And when you live in a community in a more integrated setting like other people, you begin to be seen less as the oddity and more like a member of the community."

My only complaint with the Post article is the use of the term "mental disabilities" to refer to the two men. That terms incorrectly merges two disabilities, mental illness and intellectual disabilities. But other than that, it is nice to see the Post give prominent play to a crucial issue for many people with disabilities.