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  • Katie Jones

BCI in DC: Takeaways from the 2017 ACCSES National Conference

Last week, I attended a national conference for agencies that support adults with disabilities. It is always interesting to hear the strengths and weaknesses of each state in addition to valuable keynote speakers.

A big focus was the ever-daunting subject of Medicaid. What is unfortunate is the lack of understanding that some legislators have in such a pivotal discussion. Medicaid changes, though they do not affect employment at BCI directly, could have changes for those who work here. Medicaid is feeling cuts in residential services, transportation and even our schools as we speak. Missouri is in the top tier of states that utilize Medicaid.

As we progressed our meeting to newer laws that have put restrictions on employment, I am thankful that we have a supportive VR (Vocational Rehabilitation) system. Nineteen states are suffering from roadblocks to admission for employment and deficiencies in compliance.

There are currently seven states that have ended “sheltered workshops”. So what has happened in those states?

Unfortunately, the answer is we do not know. Rhode Island was the first to go, and nine years later, they have placed 560 people into the competitive work market. What happened to the rest? Why did it take so long? Are they truly earning more money if they are not working a full week? Are they happy?

Consider BCI in comparison to the state of Rhode Island. We did not eliminate a work option but instead focused on building skills to increase opportunities in the competitive workplace. Our company alone placed 138 people in full-time jobs, in one year, competitively.

Rash decisions, based on one company’s errors, make a significant impact on the masses. Places that employee adults with disabilities should always be held at a high standard, but we need to create, not eliminate.

New York is transitioning to the “industrial business model”, which is also known as the “Missouri Model”. With the inclusion of New York, that will be a total of three states utilizing a NON-Medicaid business approach for successfully employing adults with disabilities.

Also at the conference, presentations by the Department of Justice focused on the targeted hate crimes and the high rates specific to adults with disabilities. Missouri has been doing several seminars at area agencies on “victimization” in addition to a special pilot project in Ferguson on police training specific to those with disabilities and mental illness, as over half of police shootings involve those who are in a mental crisis.

Tying the two together (states un-employing people with disabilities and increased victimization), I am interested to research how these two may correlate.

The week wrapped up by participating in the 27th anniversary of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) celebration and the US Business Leadership Networks Employment Summit. Most guests were from DC area or the East Coast, so it was a privilege to let others know St. Charles is also taking an active role in advocating for the rights of people with disabilities.

As what may seem as a world of instability politically, it is reassuring to know that we are offering something that no one can protest, an employment continuum of services for individualized needs. As I listened to other states explain their difficulties, I was proud to hear how well Missouri does it right. In the past six months, we at BCI have worked hard to educate and inform who we are on a local, state and federal level. From the Secretary of Labor (who met with our CEO, Tony Spielberg), to our strong State Rep Nick Schroer and all those in between, they support our unique and progressive model wholeheartedly.

Will there be battles ahead? Yes. But be assured that through our philosophy of being AT the table, not ON the table, we will have valuable power to support current and future employees and many more adults with disabilities in our region.

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