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News >  Idaho

Rallies encourage freedom of those with disabilities

A brain injury slowed Kristi Laney’s development, but it didn’t incapacitate her. With her mother’s help, Laney attended Coeur d’Alene High and graduated in 1991. She served nine years on the Idaho Council on Developmental Disabilities.”I liked being around people, learning about legislation,” Laney said Wednesday.

Laney, 33, needs help with her everyday living, but she doesn’t need someone thinking, choosing and deciding for her. That’s why she supports a new program through the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare that offers people with developmental disabilities the freedom to run their own lives.

“People with disabilities should be able to stand up for their rights without fear, work with legislation without fear, live out in the community, own their own homes,” Laney said. “Basically, we have a choice how we want to live our lives.”

Laney is among dozens of self-determination supporters who will share their beliefs and experiences throughout the state this week in “Be Determined” rallies. The Idaho Council on Developmental Disabilities organized public rallies in 35 communities to spread the word about the new service available. North Idaho rallies will start in Georgia Mae Park in Bonners Ferry at 10 a.m. Friday, then move to Sandpoint’s City Beach Park at 1 p.m. and Post Falls’ Falls Park at 4 p.m.

Laney will attend Coeur d’Alene’s rally in Sunset Park at 10 a.m. Saturday. The rallies will move on to Kellogg’s City Park at 1 p.m. Saturday and St. Maries’ City Park at 4 p.m., then head south next week.

“It’s an awareness tour,” said Ron Enright, a program specialist with the developmental disabilities council. “We have people living self-determined lives who will be at the rallies. We’ll give away fliers, business cards, vinyl bracelets that say ‘Be Determined,’ even refrigerator magnets.”

The nation began rethinking its treatment of people with developmental disabilities about 25 years ago. Until then, people unable to care for themselves primarily lived in institutions. In the late 1970s, the federal government started a move away from institutions by allowing smaller agencies in communities to offer aid services for people with disabilities.

Populations in institutions immediately shrank. After people were allowed to provide services from their private homes, institution populations shrank even more. Now, 40 homes statewide care for about 460 people with developmental disabilities, Enright said.

In 1994, the state’s Medicaid program began offering people with developmental disabilities the option of living in their own homes and getting institutional-level service from state-licensed agencies in the community. About 1,700 people seized the opportunity, Enright said. Eligible people had varying degrees of problems with daily living and working skills, achieving economic self-sufficiency, learning and communicating.

Family and friends – support teams – helped with choices.

Now, Medicaid is lifting one more governmental control over the lives of people with developmental disabilities. Under the new self-determination option, Medicaid will give eligible people a budget to spend on their care. People who qualify can hire service providers licensed through the state or can hire a friend, neighbor or family member. Any caregiver outside family will undergo background checks, Enright said.

He said a banking agency that hasn’t been chosen yet will manage accounts for people in the program, showing clients each expenditure and having them sign bills. The self-determination option will start later this year as a pilot program in a few areas of the state. Those areas haven’t been chosen yet.

“We’re starting on a small scale, building and fine-tuning,” Enright said.

Decision-making is a new concept for many people with developmental disabilities, said Amy Dreps, coordinator of the Disability Action Center’s Coeur d’Alene office.

“In the world of developmental disabilities, there’s always been the assumption they can’t make decisions for themselves,” she said. “We work on helping individuals break down those barriers. We definitely support this new option.”

Laney, who serves on the State Independent Living Council now, said she’s trying to talk other people with developmental disabilities into the self-determination option.

“It’s important because it keeps people involved in the community,” she said.

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