By Sandi Rosenbaum, Special Education Advocate, Littman Krooks LLP
Will everyone be free on Independence Day? As COVID-19 cases have dropped and New York has opened up, region by region, people with developmental disabilities have been left out. The New York State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) has not updated its March 24 guidance suspending all home visits and community outings for residents of certified group homes. Residential schools serving developmentally disabled students have also followed OPWDD guidance. Families are organizing to change this, through the newly formed New York Alliance for Developmental Disabilities (NYADD) The group has organized several rallies, including one in Rockland County on July 9: https://www.facebook.com/events/716011089198037/ and another in Albany on July 13: https://www.facebook.com/events/2109763905815336/
Since June 18, when OPWDD issued long-awaited guidance permitting family to visit residents at their group homes consistent with safe social distancing practices, many people with DD have been able to receive family visitors again, however, the guidance is not binding https://www.lohud.com/picture-gallery/news/coronavirus/2020/06/30/new-yorkers-visit-loved-ones-group-homes-after-coronavirus-ban/5349732002/image/5349651002/?fbclid=IwAR1WE0JewOzfa0tvm1fB8vrP70yVGE_yPLSC9y7OE19D6vnxl0bLga0Ye4k#slide:5349651002
While most facilities have afforded their residents outdoor time, this has been for short supervised stints on property or walks around the neighborhood. In some cases, staff shortages have limited residents’ ability to access the outdoors; this has been particularly acute in homes designed for part-time staffing, where residents previously could come and go as they pleased.
These most vulnerable New Yorkers, who depend upon the state not only to keep them physically healthy but mentally healthy, continue to have their movements severely, unreasonably and indefinitely restricted, in violation of applicable law. They are subject to the same restrictions as nursing home residents, although their residential facilities are much smaller and in many cases they do not have underlying physical health conditions. In the meantime, the heroic essential staff at these facilities have not had their rights restricted due to the same safety precautions, so OPWDD is hardly maintaining a protective “bubble.” OPWDD speaks of “person-centered” planning but has imposed a harmful and restrictive one-size-fits-all policy. While keeping OPWDD residents physically healthy is of paramount importance, the importance of socialization to their well-being, and their rights to community access and to supports facilitating that access, are being unreasonably discounted.
Families are important advocates for their loved ones with I/DD. LK encourages them to do so.