This year, we’ve heard a lot about shrinking budgets and tightening belts. As the brother of two young men with developmental disabilities, I worry that these budget cuts will diminish my family’s options and my brothers’ opportunities.
Like many siblings of people with disabilities, I’ve witnessed my parents fighting tooth and nail to get a scrap of support for my brothers. And as parents and siblings get older, the squeeze on families gets tighter. Most people with intellectual disabilities (76 percent) live at home, not in long-term care, and 25 percent live with a parent who is over 60. Those figures are from a decade ago, and are only going up.
Many of us went to school with our siblings, only to see them graduate to a society where there is little perceived opportunity for them. The Bureau of Labor Statistics unemployment rate for people with disabilities is 15.8 percent. If you count people who aren’t participating in the work force at all, it soars to 80 percent. We’re told that the government no longer has money for services that could support them in finding paying jobs. But how will they move out from under mom and dad’s umbrella with no job? Where are they going to go?
The Massachusetts Alliance for 21st Century Disability Policy has led the charge in advocating for the Real Lives Bill, which is now being debated in our State House. This bill gives people with intellectual and developmental disabilities the chance to make meaningful choices. This might mean the choice between living at home and living elsewhere. Or it might mean the choice between having a fulfilling job and staying home all day.
My brothers and other citizens with disabilities need options, not handouts. In the end, cutting budgets doesn’t solve real-world problems. So instead of focusing on budget cuts, let’s remember what these government programs were intended for, retool them, and get creative. We can start by supporting the Real Lives Bill.
John Kramer is a National Institute for Disability and Rehabilitation Research Fellow at the Institute for Community Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts Boston.