Rhode Island's New DD Leaders to Meet Public at Community Forum In Warwick Next Wednesday

By Gina Macris

Rhode Islanders with developmental disabilities and their families will get a chance to meet the new leaders of the state Division of Developmental Disabilities next Wednesday, Aug. 17.

The forum will run from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Buttonwoods Community Center, 3027 West Shore Rd., Warwick, according to an announcement from the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH).

The upcoming session was discussed at a meeting of the Employment First Task Force Aug. 9 as part of a broader conversation on communication strategies in connection with implementing the 2014 federal consent decree that mandates integration of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Next Wednesday’s session is aimed at consumers and their families, but it is open to the public, according to Mary Madden, the state Consent Decree Coordinator.

She said the goal of the session is to introduce Jane Gallivan, the Interim Director of Developmental Disabilities; Tracey Cunningham, the new Employment Specialist, and possibly Anne Leclerc, newly hired as a program improvement chief. Cunningham’s and Leclerc’s positions were created in response to the consent decree, reinforced by a recent court order.

Part of the order required the state to come up with a comprehensive communications plan that included “efforts to gather information from the community” in various ways, like the session planned for Wednesday.

At the Task Force meeting on Tuesday, Claire Rosenbaum, Adult Services Coordinator at the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College, said one week’s notice is not enough for family caregivers to plan to attend a meeting.

Madden said, “From my perspective, I see this as the beginning of a series of conversations.”

“There’s a lot pent-up demand. The more these things happen, the more opportunities there are” for the community to be heard, she said. She envisioned regional meetings in the future.

Part of next week’s forum will be devoted to issues and concerns expressed by the audience, according to the BHDDH announcement.

At the last community forum, in late April, state officials encountered forceful pushback from parents and other family members who challenged the very premise of the consent decree:  that community integration is good. 

During that session, it became clear that in more than one case, the senior officials’ messages about integration were not the same ones being delivered by front-line staff to families and consumers.

In the consent decree, the state agreed to shift to supported employment in the community and integrated daytime activities from a system that made it difficult for service providers to offer anything other than sheltered workshops paying sub-minimum wage and segregated day programs.

The consent decree resulted from findings of the U.S. Department of Justice that Rhode Island’s developmental disability service system violated Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act. According to the 1999 Olmstead decision of U.S. Supreme Court, Title II requires developmental disability services to be delivered in the least restrictive environment that is therapeutically appropriate.