“Work is powerful. It is the key to participation in community life.”For those of you fortunate enough (or unfortunate enough, depending on your worldview) to be around during the 1980s, you know that there was a time when it was impossible to ignore the ubiquitous party anthem “Working for the Weekend” by a band that seemed to personify the 80s, Loverboy.
I was baffled at the time by the song’s success. Why did so many people like a song that (clearly) wasn’t very good?
Over time I have come to believe the song was successful because the sentiment was so universal. The ideas that we should have the right to work hard and that we deserve to be rewarded with a little bit of fun when the work week is done resonates with all of us.
Unfortunately, because of the way our current system of funding services for individuals with developmental disabilities is set up, we are denying a portion of our citizenry the opportunity to work for the weekend and, at the same time, contribute to their community in a meaningful way, no doubt to the extreme displeasure of Loverboy.
As you may know, a good portion of my career at Imagine! was spent working for Imagine!’s supported employment program Labor Source. The years I spent working with the Labor Source team were some of the most important in my life in terms of shaping my philosophy about services for individuals with intellectual disabilities – specifically, it convinced me that, done right, services provided can result in mutually beneficial outcomes for consumers and for the communities they live in.
Think about it. Supported employment offers people who have developmental disabilities the opportunity to develop vital job skills and become active participants in their communities.
Businesses employing consumers are able to reduce recruitment and training costs as they benefit from a diverse employee pool.
Just as important, but often overlooked, is the indisputable fact that the community at large benefits from supported employment programs. Consumers working through supported employment programs pay taxes and spend their hard earned money at local shops and restaurants. This means that the community actually gets a return on the investment they have made toward people with developmental disabilities.
Given a choice between providing services that require consumers to remain segregated, and unable to demonstrate value to their fellow citizens, or providing services that offer a genuine (and measurable) opportunity to contribute to society, it seems only logical that all interested parties would do everything in their power to enhance and support the latter type of services.
Sadly, we all know that logic isn’t always a driving force in our system of funding and delivering services to Colorado citizens who have a developmental disability. Despite the proven track record of successful outcomes from Labor Source and many other supported employment programs throughout the State, multiple onerous regulatory barriers have been placed on supported employment providers over the past 15 years that have effectively stifled any opportunity to provide these services to a substantial number of consumers.
Want to see the disheartening numbers that back that claim up? In 1997, 46.1% of consumers receiving services funded by the State of Colorado received at least some funding for supported employment services. By 2004, that number had dropped to 26.8%. The decline in the number of individuals receiving funding for supported employment services continues today. From 2008 to 2009, the number of consumers receiving supported employment services fell by 10%.
So, to recap: we’re facing an economic crisis in the State. We have far more individuals with developmental disabilities who need services than we have the resources to provide for those services. And yet, the State has created an almost impenetrable regulatory roadblock to a demonstrably effective service program that provides a tangible return on the State’s investment? I find that incomprehensible.
I have said before that I am not opposed to regulations that protect our consumers. But at a time when we need to examine every option on the table for service funding and provision, the regulations need to be written, coordinated, and enforced in such a way that they don’t hinder service programs that time and time again have been proven to be effective. Let’s let the folks we serve work for the weekend. We can even do it without subjecting them to the song.
Then again, what do I know?