JUNE 14, 2006

More Voices, More Choices: New Directions in Supports and Services in NYC 


The first issue of Developmental Disabilities Watch, a new publication of the Center for New York City Affairs, reports on barriers and opportunities for more individualized services for people with developmental disabilities in New York.

Thirty years after the Willowbrook exposes, New York's $3.3 billion Medicaid-funded services system for people with developmental disabilities remains below the radar of political leadership and the media. State officials can point with pride to the steep decline in the numbers of men, women and children who live in large, state-run institutions and spend their days in restricted, routine activities. But despite strong rhetoric about community living, many New York City residents with disabilities still struggle with segregation and lack of choice over their daily lives.

Our reporting finds only a handful of city residents with developmental disabilities hold the lease to their own apartments or have the option to choose their roommates. And, at a time when poverty and unemployment rates for people with disabilities are climbing, state supports intended to encourage wage-paying jobs for people with disabilities are not creating many new options for employment.

Consider that:

  • As of January, 2005, only 1,934 people with developmental disabilities were enrolled in "supported employment" services in New York City as compared to 10,071 enrolled in day programs that did not involve paid work.

  • In 2005, at most about 1,500 city residents with disabilities received housing assistance for small, two or three-person residential settings while more than 7,400 live in more traditional group homes and institutions. Just eight people were participating in the state's Self-Determination program, which allows people with disabilities and their families to choose their supports and services and direct their own Medicaid budgets. (That number is expected to grow to 31 by the end of this year).

  • The $137 million the state has awarded in five-year pilot contracts for new consumer and family-driven services to-date, statewide, is a tiny fraction of the $2.98 billion it spent last year alone on services and housing programs for New Yorkers with developmental disabilities.

This inaugural issue of Developmental Disabilities Watch reports on housing and employment programs for New York City residents with developmental disabilities and the state's latest efforts to encourage consumer-directed services. It also contains recommendations for moving the services system in a more "person-centered" direction.