Legislative Session Brought Gains for People with Disabilities

by John Gregory | 04/21/14 3:21 PM

Among the bills signed into law this legislative session was a measure designed to protect vulnerable adults from abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Senate Bill 98 will establish a registry of individuals with substantiated claims of abuse and neglect, which employers can access to check the backgrounds of prospective employees.

Chastity Ross and MaryLee Underwoood with the Commonwealth Council on Developmental Disabilities (CCDD) joined KET's Renee Shaw to discuss the law on this weekend's edition of Connections.

Underwood, a public policy adviser with CCDD, says the agency has worked for five years to get this legislation passed. She explains that many abusers are never prosecuted because it can be hard to document the offense. For example, victims who have difficultly communicating may be unable to report the incident, or law enforcement may not take their claims seriously. If an abuser did lose a job, he/she may simply find work in another community or with another adult care services provider.

When the new law takes effect this summer, employers will be able to check a database of people who have substantiated claims of abuse against them. The registry will be a resource to companies that employ caregivers and to individuals who need to hire in-home help.

State Budget Provides Additional Services
Underwood says the recently adopted state budget included more than 1,200 new Medicaid waiver slots. These slots ensure people in the most intense medical circumstances will receive services above and beyond what Medicaid normally provides. To qualify, the individual's situation must be so dire that they would otherwise have to be institutionalized to receive the care they need.

According to Underwood, the slots are designed to help people stay in their communities and lead meaningful lives. Those receiving waivers can access additional therapy or personal support services, or receive additional medications. Although the expense can be substantial, Underwood says it's still cheaper than paying to institutionalize a patient in need of extra care.

Underwood explains that demand for the slots has outpaced supply in recent years, creating a waiting list of those hoping to receive one. The new slots funded in the 2014 - 2016 state budget will be phased in over two years.

Embracing High Expectations
Although born with only one leg and one arm, Chastity Ross attended Eastern Kentucky University and works with CCDD as well as serving as a crisis and case management supervisor with Bluegrass.org. She says her family had high expectations for her, and she encourages parents of disabled children to do the same. "Grow them up with that expectation of 'I want you to be as independent as possible.' And all of these services and waivers and things that we have are there to help make that very, very possible."

Ross admits that it’s difficult for those with physical or cognitive impairments, but she says people with disabilities shouldn't be pigeonholed into working menial jobs at Wal-Mart or McDonald’s. She argues that those with disabilities should be allowed an equal opportunity to explore the career they'd like to have.

Underwood concurrs, saying a mindset that helps a disabled individual find a good job and earn income improves their quality of life and puts fewer demands on the social safety net.

"It may not be possible for all people to work at their dream job," Underwood says. "But it is possible for all people to think about what they might want to do with their lives and how they might be meaningfully and gainfully employed."

Watch the full Connections program.