In 1995, I wrote an annual update on Labor Source, outlining the fundamental philosophy of the organization. Labor Source was to be an organization for the community by focusing on the needs of the community as well as the needs of people who have a disability. Here’s more of what I wrote:
By accepting the definition of community membership as having similar interests and requiring contribution to common goals, we have established direction for a service that contributes to the common good of the community. Contributions by those we support verifies community membership. This direction for service and support contributes to further acceptance of people of all abilities.
The power of financial earnings is realized through greater opportunities for choice and enhanced quality of life. By utilizing our available resources to support this venture, consumers of our services, through their purchasing power, ultimately contribute dollars back to the community. Everyone benefits. People who have a disability exercise a greater degree of choice, and the community benefits from their role as true consumers.
Those words mean as much to me now as they did 15 years ago.
In those early days of Labor Source, we had a fundamental purpose that drove everything we did: engaging with the community so all could benefit. That purpose determined hiring decisions, directed program development, and ensured that all of our efforts included all interested parties including staff members, consumers, and the community at large. Our system of funding back then gave us the freedom to use that purpose as our guide.
But a significant change has taken place in funding for service delivery since then, and that change has made the fundamental goal of true community membership and partnership much more difficult to achieve.
Now, I believe service delivery in the DD world has much more to do with meeting Medicaid regulations than it has to do with providing community opportunities and involvement. So the purpose of what we do is completely backwards from what it used to be.
If our fundamental purpose now is to meet Medicaid requirements, success will soon be measured by how well we are able to bill for our services, instead of how many opportunities we are providing to our consumers. The community will be taken out of the equation, and we will begin to isolate and segregate individuals with disabilities. Bureaucratic-based decisions will outweigh people-based decisions.
We’ve been down that road before, and I don’t think anyone of us wants to go there again.
Then again, what do I know?