At a public hearing Monday on the elimination of the Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities, person after person said it didn’t matter which board represented them as long as it included members who lived with disabilities.
Earlier this year, the General Assembly passed legislation that requires Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, by no later than July 1, 2017, to designate a nonprofit entity to replace the Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities.
Cathy Ludlum, a disabilities advocate with spinal muscular atrophy, said: “Nothing about us, without us,” in her plea to state officials to make sure people with disabilities are represented on the nonprofit board.
“It makes me very sad” that it will be dissolved, Ludlum said. “We will be watching closely,” as to the make-up of the entity replacing it.
She said everything good in her life has resulted from her work with the agency.
Barbara Cassin, vice president of the Connecticut Association of the Deaf, said she, too was “very concerned about loss of services” with the breakup of the agency.
“We have lost so many services over the years,” Cassin said. “We will now have to start all over again.”
It comes at a time when the state eliminated its entire interpreter unit for the deaf and hard of hearing.
“I’m begging you to reconsider,” Cassin said.
The problem for Cassin and others who want to see current group stay together is that the vast majority of these types of agencies across the country are private, nonprofit agencies. The few remaining ones that are state agencies, five at last count including Connecticut, are moving toward privatization.
A recent audit of Connecticut’s state-run disability advocacy office recommended that the state follow the lead of other states and become a privatized, nonprofit organization.
The audit, conducted by a branch of the US Department of Health and Human Services, said the current setup doesn’t work, stating that a state agency in charge of advocating and spending funds for the disabled is compromised by its ties to state government.
The office is charged with advocating for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, mental illness, physical disabilities and traumatic brain injuries, and those in vocational rehabilitation programs. But it also relies on the state for some funding and the head of the organization is appointed by the governor, which could create conflicts of interest.
Leslie Simoes, executive director of The Arc of Connecticut, said a new board representing Connecticut’s disabled is an “incredible opportunity” for the state.
The Arc is a 63-year-old advocacy organization committed to protecting the basic civil rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In Connecticut, ARC has 195 board members, 3,729 staff and nearly 1,300 volunteers.
“The Arc believes strongly that the vital role the Office of Protection & Advocacy plays in the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Connecticut can actually be strengthened with the transition from state agency to independent nonprofit,” said Simoes, if:
—the new board is adequately staffed;
—if its legal staff is skilled in litigation, specifically in litigation involving those with disabilities in the state of Connecticut;
—if it is a well-trained staff that can act as a source of information and referral, that can navigate the complex state and federal regulatory maze.
OPM is also accepting written comments regarding this matter through Friday July 29, 2016.
Written comments can be submitted by mail to: David Guttchen, Office of Policy and Management 450 Capitol Ave., MS#52LTC Hartford, CT 06106 or by email to: