Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.

“Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind. Live your life to the fullest potential, and fight for your dreams.”
-Ashley Smith

Unfortunately, I don’t think Ashley Smith has visited a State Instituation for people with dual disability diagnoses, and othere severe disabilities. Because, this quote actually does not apply, much less does it make sense even for these people.

I went to a state institution today, right here in Seattle. If you are unfamilaiar with what this is, a State Institution is a campus where people with disabilities live, eat, “work,” get medical attention; practically everything. There is very rarely a need for these people to leave the premises. I have driven by this place so often, yet never even knew it’s there. I didn’t know that there are over 200 people tucked away from society, for others to “deal with.” These are the people that we choose to shove underneath the rug. Supposedly these individual’s disabilities are too grave to be dealt with in public. So, being forced into these institutions, often without their consent (court orders, legal guardians etc), they often don’t even get the chance to know this beautiful life that Ms. Smith so eloquently speaks of. Believe it or not there isn’t always enough staffing to allow these individuals to “…smell the rain, and feel the wind…”

Though, from what I saw the institution I visited today was completely free of dirt and filth, odors, naked patients groveling in their own feces, children in locked cells, horribly crowded dormitories not all institutions are so fortunate (yes, even in 2009).

No matter howsome attempt to camoflauge, or glorify these people’s lives by saying they have “a better life here,” or that they are “making money” and doing “meaningful work” in their workshops. The facts are pretty obvious. There is no energy in these places, no vibrancy, no excitement. Why is that? Is it because some are non-verbal? Is it because they don’t display “normal behaviors?” Hmmm… interesting. Because last I checked happiness is a universal trait. Don’t tell me that just because some people have adverse reactions, or make random and possibly inappropriate noises that you cannot tell if they are happy. Don’t tell me that just because they are non-verbal that they cannot tell you how they feel.

There are so many problems within State Institution, but, at this time there is no easy fix. The budgetary inequities is probably the biggest challenge of them all. How do you retain quality staff when the staff themselves have to work two jobs or more to make a living? To teach severely retarded adults to put on their own clothes for example, or to learn a specific task for work, one must invest time and patience. These challenges are quite possible to do given adequate staff. However, how adequate a staff can we possibly attract by offering minimal wages? Because not only does it require time and patience to teach these life skills, but it also requires hiring staff who themselves believe that the individuals are teachable and capable of learning these tasks, and in today’s day and age where so many people are just looking for any possible way to bring in an income this is hard to come by.

It costs approximately $150,000/yr for someone to live in an institution. In Community Living Programs, or Adult Family Homes where there is more individualized support and attention, the cost drops drastically to around $50,000. There are many reasons for the difference in cost, the biggest and most obvious is that generally folks who live in the state institutions need a bit more care. However, this does not mean that this is the best place for them, it certainly should not be the only choice, but it is.

*I am not speaking for every institution in America. I am merely exercising my free speech, and sharing my opinions.

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