A school year’s conclusion is usually met with great anticipation of the future by thousands of students and families across Western New York and New York State. However, as a retired special education teacher I am greatly concerned about students with severe intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) who will graduate in June. Hopefully, these students have applied to the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities Front Door which is a person-centered approach for individuals with I/DD to prioritize their choices, needs, and desires.
As wonderful as this process appears on paper, there is currently a roadblock of catastrophic proportions facing graduates with I/DD and their families. Statewide the not-for-profit agencies that provide so many of the day services for these graduates are in the midst of an overwhelming staffing crisis. While a student may be approved by the Front Door for services upon graduation there is no guarantee that the services will be available due to the lack of safe and proper staffing by Direct Support Professionals (DSPs). The graduating student will sit home and wait for staff to be hired, trained and put into place. Students with I/DD who attended school, many of them through age of 21, and worked so diligently now face regression of their attained skills and a period of in-home institutionalization.
Sen. Robert Ortt recently stated in his Direct Care Worker legislation, “There is no reason that an individual working at a fast-food restaurant should be making more than direct support professionals serving the not-for-profits do in our state. The levels of responsibility and contribution between the two professions are not even close to being comparable.”
Quality DSPs must be retained, attained, and compensated a living wage to provide safe and appropriate services for our most vulnerable graduates.