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Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011 08:32 pm

Victory in court nears for developmentally disabled

Illinois to offer more choice of living arrangements

Rick Wilson of Springfield never thought it was asking too much for his daughter, Jennifer, who has cerebral palsy, to live in a comfortable environment. But when the Wilsons asked the State of Illinois to place Jennifer in a supportive living arrangement for adults with disabilities – instead of an institution – they were repeatedly denied.

“We don’t feel an institution is right for her,” Rick Wilson says. “She’s lived in a home with a few people. She’s had her own room with her own things. We didn’t want her to be institutionalized. We just wanted her to transition from one home setting to another home setting.”

Frustrated with a system that overwhelmingly favors institutionalizing people with developmental disabilities who receive state aid, the Wilsons joined a class action lawsuit against the state, and their persistence is about to pay off.

The 2005 lawsuit, known as Ligas v. Maram, alleges that Illinois violates the federal Americans with Disabilities Act by not allowing people with developmental disabilities a choice between institutionalization and community-based living arrangements. A federal judge must now approve an agreement between the lawsuit’s nine plaintiffs and the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, the Illinois Department of Human Services and the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The proposed agreement allows people with disabilities who receive state aid to choose from a variety of living arrangements.

“It’s very unfortunate that our state was absolutely considered to be dead last, of all states, in providing needed services to the developmentally disabled,” Rick Wilson says. “I think there are some people who would have told you 10 years ago that we’re way behind.”

Illinois is currently ranked 51st among all states and the District of Columbia with regard to placing people with developmental disabilities in small community-based settings, according to Equip for Equality, an Illinois-based disability advocacy group that helped file the lawsuit. The state currently favors Integrated Care Facilities (ICFs) – large institutions where upwards of 100 people live in a nursing home-like environment – while many other states have moved toward much smaller group homes and apartments for the developmentally disabled. About 6,000 people with developmental disabilities are housed in Illinois’ 240 ICFs, and an estimated 3,000 more live with family members while waiting for services, according to Equip for Equality.

Barry Taylor, legal advocacy director at Equip for Equality, says community-based living arrangements are actually more cost effective than ICFs, offer more targeted services for residents and more meaningful human interaction, Taylor notes.

Now, Rick Wilson says he hopes the state is aggressive in telling people with disabilities about their choices.

“I think there are people in the state of Illinois who won’t receive the services they may want because they may not know,” Wilson says. “The communication of what services are available to the developmentally disabled in this state is so limited, and that shouldn’t happen.”

Wilson says he anticipates a final settlement in the case by early summer.

“We’ve got a lot of people with smiles on their faces,” he says. “We feel like we’ve received what we’ve asked for. I think we’re pretty confident that we’re going to put this behind us and move forward.”

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com
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