By Jo Ann Simons, Ruderman Family Foundation Disabilities Advisor and CEO Cardinal Cushing Centers
Congratulations are in order for New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, who recently announced sweeping legislation to create the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs, which would investigate and prosecute allegations of abuse and neglect against people with intellectual disabilities. The Center will have broad powers to independently investigate private and public facilities that receive funding from the state. It will be the largest agency in the country established to protect people with disabilities. This is in response to the widespread reporting of abuse, deaths and even homicides throughout the service system in New York.
While this news was positively received by advocates for people with disabilities, I viewed it from slightly different perspectives.
First of all, why did it take rampant abuse and even death for New York to come to the aid of persons with disabilities being systematically abused? No other minority group would have had to wait as long as people with disabilities in New York are waiting for legal protections. Other states have been quicker to establish these kinds of safeguards.
The press releases emphasized the size of the new structure and while, as a Bostonian, you might accuse me of criticizing everything New York, it is the quality and effectiveness which will be important to me. Not the bragging rights of the biggest.
From what I can tell, only those programs and facilities that receive state funding will come under the scrutiny of this new Center. If we are serious about eliminating abuse against people with disabilities, we must hold entire communities to the same standards. While the assumption seems to be that caretakers are the only ones that abuse people with disabilities, facts and police reports tell a different story — families and friends can abuse, too.
Investigation and prosecution are important tools but, if we want to protect people with intellectual disabilities, we must prevent abuse from occurring. This will only happen when people with disabilities are truly equal members of our communities who live, work, play and pray with us.
— Jo Ann Simons