An op-ed in the TC Palm earlier this month calls on the state of Florida to devote more resources toward equal access to contract services opportunities for people with disabilities, citing the financial and emotional strain placed on the families of these individuals once they are out of the school system.
As a former vice president of an aerospace company, Anthony J. Mancuso is presumably not in a position where providing for his family is a concern. But in his capacity as a volunteer case worker for families of individuals with disabilities in the Palm Beach community, he no doubt encounters many instances where parents are faced with the difficult choice of giving up their job or giving up their child.
Mancuso begins his column by saying it’s “inexcusable” that the only options available to many families of children with disabilities, once they reach age 22, is having them live at home or sending them to live in a group home. The end result in either scenario increases the burden on the state, he says; either through the loss of a taxpayer who gives up his or her job to stay at home and provide care for his or her son or daughter, or by turning them over to the care of the state.
According to the United Cerebral Palsy’s data, the cost of housing just one individual with a disability in one of Florida’s five institutions is $182,865 annually. The emotional cost of such a decision is incalculable.
The impetus for Mancuso’s article is the advent of his own son, Adam, turning 22. The op-ed includes a photo of Adam taken by his father at Wabasso School, a public school in the Indian River County School District that educates children with disabilities. In it, Adam is seen at a table, intently focused on piecing together items of different shapes. He is learning the assembly skills that would enable him to find work at a service center, also known as a sheltered workshop. Mancuso says the state of Florida expanding access to service center programs can provide immediate assistance to families of people with disabilities:
Florida provides a waiver program that provides funding and opportunities to those fortunate enough to have been placed on the program. Yet, as of this writing, there are more than 21,000 special needs individuals who are on the waiver waiting list, and have been for years, with little hope of ever sharing in those opportunities. Of these, 8,000 are between ages 23 and 59. It would be unrealistic to believe that they all could be placed on the waiver program at this time; however, some fundamental intervention could save many of these individuals and families from failing and breaking apart.
Mancuso cites many benefits for his suggestion, including the job skills people with disabilities can acquire through service center programs and the revitalization of communities by expanding the program into properties that are currently vacant. But it is his appeal for preservation of the family unit that strikes a chord here; what can help make life matter more than that, after all?