To the Members of the Legislature and the People of Washington State

In a society where we cultivate personal freedom and quality of life for all members of our community, I am saddened that for some we insist on segregation and institutionalization. People with developmental disabilities continue to be “placed” in large congregate living facilities, when we have the ability and motivation as a community to support people in community homes where they can and will receive the highest quality support that is tailored to their needs and desires.

At a recent budget hearing, a middle-aged woman with developmental disabilities testified in favor of closure of one of these large institutional settings, in Yakima.  She challenged the senators at the hearing by asking them if they would want to live there.  She had lived in a state institution and chooses never to return.

Would you want to live in an institution? A place where food is delivered on a tray and there is little privacy, nor a yard, nor neighbors, nor opportunities to walk down your street and greet people. Would you want a beloved family member to live in an institution when there are options to live in your local community in a home he or she could call their own. Would you want to live with 16 to 85 other people that you didn’t choose?  Don’t you want to choose who and how many people you would like to live with? Wouldn’t you rather reside in a place where you can smell the food cooking in your own kitchen, go to local parks, shop for your own food, independently or with support if needed?

If you were choosing for yourself, a friend or a family member, perhaps because they had difficulty choosing for themselves, what would you choose?

Legislators have a choice to make. In these very difficult economic times, they have an opportunity to choose to close one of our state’s large, outdated and expensive institutions and provide those individuals (and families) a choice to move to the community or one of our other state institutions. The time has come. People with developmental disabilities have a rightful place in our communities. All but a select few still live in homes in the community, either with family or in small homes with services designed around their unique needs and desires, at less than half the cost of state institutional care. If it was your budget? What would you do?

For people with developmental disabilities and their advocates it is not all about money. The time has come to close the Yakima Valley Institution for People with developmental disabilities. The Arc movement across the country embraces the belief that people with developmental disabilities have a right to be a part of the day-to-day fabric of our community and our ability to provide high quality support in community homes has been proven. Change is hard, but now is the time to do the right thing.

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