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Michigan's treatment of developmental disabilities has come a long way, still more to be done

Jul 13, 2015

The Lapeer State Home was originally opened in the late 1800s as the Lapeer State Home for the Feeble-minded and Epileptic.
Credit Flickr user Don Harrison / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

One of the most profound changes in Michigan has been the way we care for and treat people who are developmentally disabled.

In 1970, there were 14,000 people living in 13 institutions in Michigan. Today, there are no institutions in the state with the last one being closed in 2009.

Dohn Hoyle is the Executive Director of The ARC Michigan and has been a leader through the decades of struggle for inclusion for developmentally disabled people.

Hoyle describes the ARC's mission "to ensure that people with developmental disabilities become full, participating citizens in their community."

The state has come a long way since the widespread use of institutions that Hoyle describes as "horrific" in their ability to separate residents from their family, friends, and simple experiences in the outside world.

Now, there is still a widespread use of Adult Foster Care homes, or AFCs. Hoyle says that these are an improvement because of their location within a community, but he still doesn't feel they are fully integrated enough.

Hoyle describes the Americans with Disabilities Act as outlining a policy against segregating people with disabilities, but he still sees many instances where those with disabilities are not included in their community.

"People living in their own room or space, is not the same thing as people sharing an apartment building with people without disabilities," he says.

Instead, Hoyle advocates for the ARC's approach of person-centered planning. Person-centered planning is based on the idea of providing choices to people, and support where they live, rather than making them move to receive necessary aid.

Person-centered planning also provides the ability for people with disabilities to focus on what they are good at, rather than their shortcomings.

"People with disabilities should also get a chance to work on getting a life, not just on overcoming the deficits that people perceive they have because of their disability," Hoyle says.

As for the future, Hoyle still sees a wide problem with how we approach education. Many people with disabilities are still sent to separate schools or classrooms than their peers.

"The danger in that is not only do you teach the person with the disability they're supposed to be separate and only with other people with disabilities, you teach the rest of the world at large to say, 'Well, they have to be there.'"

Hoyle says he has seen successful changes to education implemented in other states that add the extra help from special education classrooms to traditional classrooms. This could help not only students with disabilities, but all students who can benefit from having more attention from instructors.