Creating a life of their own

Grassroots group aims to help people with  disabilities through support, networking

“A four-person group home is not supported living,” said Minnesota Supported Living founder, Betty Peterson. At an upcoming meeting of the grassroots organization at 10 a.m. on February 21, singer/activist, Peter Leidy, will sing and speak. “The purpose of the meeting is to let people know more about the ‘supported living’ option, which can be a cost-effective and high-quality alternative to the current system of four-person group homes and other institutions. Professionals, parents and people with disabilities are invited to attend and learn about individualized supported living services,” said Peterson. For more information and meeting location, please visit mnsupported living.org or contact Betty Peterson at 952-474-2989, or lifeofmyown@comcast.net  

To explain the importance of getting people with disabilities out of institutions and group homes, Peterson said, “The recent abuse that occurred to the residents of METO (Minnesota Extended Treatment Options) in Cambridge proves that people with disabilities need to be part of the community and not isolated from family, friends and community. Ombudsman Roberta Opheim reported that metal handcuffs and leg shackles were used routinely for behavioral purposes for two years. This shows that it’s not money or licensing that keep a person safe. Neither the $906 a day spent for care of the people at METO nor the oversight of Minnesota licensing kept these people safe. What keeps people safe is having family, friends and neighbors involved in a person’s life. When people are given the support to be in the community, the person with the disability has the safety of more eyes on the situation and a much higher quality of life.”

Peterson has a wealth of experience and expertise on services for people with disabilities. She taught developmental disabilities and autism classes for 11 years, is a flexible case manager (support planner, now) and parent of a young adult with special needs. When Peterson moved to Minnesota, she began researching what was available in supported living for her daughter and was shocked to learn that Minnesota’s term “supported living” meant a four-person group home. Other states use the term “supported living” to mean supports for a person living in a home they rent or lease and control by themselves; they also have choice of apartment, roommates, and staff. Many states make this option available to people regardless of the severity of their disability. This does not exclude people who cannot communicate; a support circle of people who know the person can interpret the person’s behavior to determine his or her choices. Experience has taught practitioners that “supported living” is an excellent option for people with the most challenging behaviors, providing high quality supports for any level of need, with a cost neutral effect on government.

Peterson lived minutes from Berkeley, California in the 1960s when the independent living movement was started by self-advocate and college student named Ed Roberts. She later witnessed the effects of the Lanterman Act, which was amended in 1976 to make supported living a choice for anyone with developmental disabilities in California. After her daughter (who has disabilities) graduated from school in 1997, she returned to Minnesota to be near her sick father. It was then that she began researching disability law and the options available in Minnesota and other states for individualized “supported living services.” After recently interviewing a father and a support circle who creatively arranged supported living for his high needs son, Peterson became more determined to let parents and people with disabilities in Minnesota know about this option and that it’s possible. She lists community inclusion, restoration of civil rights, and more control over one’s life as just a few of the advantages of best practice supported living services.”

Future meetings will be posted on the www.mnsupportedliving.org website. Webinars and a talk about a Minnesota family’s success in arranging funding and supports so their son with a disability could live in his own home are also planned for 2009.