Special Ed: Options for Disabled Adults
the past decade, colleges, universities and other institutions
have been required, under the Americans with Disabilities Act,
to provide reasonable accommodation for the persons with disabilities
whom they employ and serve. Most schools comply with the federal
legislation through an office of disability services charged
with providing everything from texts in Braille to a note-taking
assistant for a student with a broken arm. The recent spat over
the College Boards decision not to flag the SAT scores of students
who take the exam under accommodated circumstancesextra timeis
evidence of the breadth of the field of special education and
the diversity of students served. The concerns of a college-bound
dyslexic student, after all, are vastly different from those
of the parents of an autistic child.
children do not graduate at age 18, says Carol Kasmin of the
League School. Typically, says Ilysa Kramer, Clinical Director
of the Morgan-Stanley Day Treatment Program at the League Center,
this population says in high school until theyre 21 or 22. They
age out rather than graduating.
when these more severely disabled special education students
do leave the system, where do they go?
as long ago as one would like to think, developmentally disabled
persons were often institutionalized in places such as the infamous
Willowbrook School in Staten Island, which closed its doors
in 1987. Geraldo Riveras television cameras caught images inside
its doors that sparked a public outcry across the nation, forcing
politicians and policy makers to take action. In 1983, Governor
Cuomo stated that Willowbrook, where living conditions amounted
to human rights violations, must close its doors. In 1975, the
State passed the Willowbrook Consent Decree, sparking a wave
of reforms in the state and across the country.
change could not come quickly enough for persons trapped in
these inhumane conditions, today, less than two decades after
Willowbrooks closure, deinstitutionalization has taken a firm
hold in the field.
shrinking education budgets, developmentally disabled persons
and their families can now choose from a variety of programs
to suit their individual needs. Increasingly, the goal of social
workers, clinicians and counselors is not only to bring these
persons to the greatest level of independence that they can
reach, but also to help them become active members of their
lower-functioning persons who need constant supervision in a
more structured environment, a day treatment program is usually
the best option. Terri Ross, of the Queens Center for Progress
(QCP), formerly United Cerebral Palsy of Queens, explains that
many of these consumers need hand-over-hand assistance in completing
the most rudimentary daily tasks. Because their disabilities
have left them physically contracted, special attention is paid
to the act of eating. One of the problems, says Ross, is [that]
people aspirate food and get food in their lungs and get pneumonia.
The staff does not, however, devote entire days of instruction
to chewing and swallowing. We want to do it creatively, says
Ross. Physical and speech therapy sessions are supplemented
with music, art and even horseback riding, all activities designed
to benefit physical and emotional comfort.
amazing to watch people who have severe contraction get on the
horse and watch their limbs loosen up with the movement of the
horse, comments Ross.
with behavioral problems might also benefit from the highly
structured environment of a day treatment program. The League
Center runs a program for adults, ages 18-65, who have a dual-diagnosis
of a developmental disability and a psychiatric conditionautism
and depression, or retardation and schizophrenia, for example.
get the people who dont make it in other programs, says Kramer.
We focus on the behavior that comes out of that [diagnosis].
Consumers work on daily living skills, such as personal hygiene
and cooking, at the same time that they learn the ropes of basic
social interaction. When one man politely shook hands and introduced
himself, the staff praised his progress.
now out-of-vogue in the field, the League Center continues to
make use of time-out rooms, where consumers can take out their
aggression on the padded walls before their behavior escalates
to the point that they might hurt themselves or others. Constant
supervision and meticulous documentation assure that the type
of isolation and abuses that occurred at Willowbrook will not
such emotional difficulties are inherent to their conditions,
some of this aggressive behavior has been learned in institutional
settings. Among the consumers that the League Center serves,
several are former Willowbrook residents.
consumer, recalls Kramer, was working with a staff person, naming
different objects depicted on flashcards. When shown picture
of a ruler, he quickly identified the item: Thats what you use
to hit me.
such damage can be a lengthy process, and success is a relative
term. Many day-treatment program participants are eventually
able to move on to less restrictive settings, while others remain
in the program for years. The ultimate goal, says Kramer, is
to get them out into the community.
next step is often a day habilitation program, in which consumers,
supervised by trained staff, spend more time outside their treatment
centers, using public transportation and doing volunteer work,
such as gardening or sorting clothes for the homeless. Another
option is what is called a sheltered workshop, in which consumers,
under supervision, complete piecework tasks for modest pay.
At the League Center, consumers sat grouped at tables, listening
to the radio as they assembled ballpoint pens. Their modest
earnings, notes Kramer, allow them to take part in the local
economy while at the same time increasing visibility of the
least restrictive option, next to unsupervised competitive employment,
is a supported work program. A staff person accompanies a consumer
to the workplace and provides the necessary support while he
or she adapts to the new working environment. Supported work
might also take place in a group, with one staff person supervising
several consumers in the stockroom of a clothing store, for
whole vocational rehabilitation movement started after the Second
World War, to rehabilitate veterans, explains Charles Houston
of QCP. In the last twenty years, it has become the dominant
model in programs for disabled adults. What most agencies like
us are doing right now, says Ross, is done through a supported
government agencies that fund and supervise us are encouraging
supported employment, she adds, because its a more integrated
the great majority of these consumers live in residences run
by organizations such as the League Center, QCP and others,
gone are the days of cloistered institutional life. Even seriously
handicapped individuals can find programs that allow them to
get out into the city and perform some kind of work.
funding covers the cost of these programs for the consumers,
who are also usually eligible for SSI benefits. Families who
are looking for help in transitioning a young adult from a special
education program or occupational training center can contact
the office of Vocational Education and Services for Individuals
with Disabilities (VESID). Because the State Department of Education
is responsible for both special education in the schools as
well as services for adults, the transition from the schools
into an adult program is a fairly established process.
lists can be long, but the good news, according to Ross, is
that metropolitan New York is a very service-rich environment,
enabling many people to find a good fit with a program in their