Disabled residents should be welcomed

I am responding to your article “JP home to many facilities, controversies over the years” by John Ruch that ran in the June 8 Jamaica Plain Gazette.

The residents of a home for individuals with mental disabilities in Jamaica Plain should be welcomed as members of that community who can live wherever they choose without any prior notification—just like any other person in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Most of us have a family member, a neighbor or a friend who has a disability. We know many of them are stigmatized and discriminated against. We must make sure our family, friends and all in the community receive the care they need, the opportunities they deserve and full protection of their rights. They deserve to live in a community of their choosing and enjoy the same right to privacy that all across the state so closely cherish.

The state has long helped persons with mental disabilities by providing important, high-quality care for them and passing laws that mirror federal fair housing laws—to protect them against discrimination. Such laws, including General Law Chapter 151B, make it illegal for a town to discriminate against individuals with mental disabilities in such matters as employment or housing. These rights are written for the individuals served, not the organizations that provide housing and programs.

Being in a home-care setting gives these determined individuals a better opportunity to live a fuller life, become a member of that caring community and enjoy new freedoms that become available to them. The joy they receive by being a part of a community such as Jamaica Plain is something that cannot be duplicated if they lived in a more restrictive setting.

Allowing these residents to live in the community in the least restrictive setting possible is a win-win situation for them and for the community, and it has been mandated by the Supreme Court in the Olmstead decision. The new residents can begin to enjoy fuller lives by becoming a part of a community and the longtime residents can welcome them, knowing well trained staff members at our human service member organizations are helping to provide them with the highest quality services. This model offers structure and support while safeguarding everyone’s privacy.

The Providers’ Council, the largest statewide membership association for community-based organizations providing social, rehabilitation, education and health care services, represents numerous organizations that help people living incredible lives to reside in the least restrictive setting possible. Helping them achieve independence and live fuller lives is something we believe all citizens should support and embrace.

Michael D. Weekes, M.S.W.
President/CEO, The Providers’ Council

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