Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities survey indicates shifts in attitudes, concerns

Minnesotans’ positive attitude toward people with developmental disabilities has increased markedly in the past 50 years, according to a report released in April by the  Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities who funded and sponsored the Attitude Survey. But the survey results also indicate concerns among families, who worry about finances, services and education for their loved ones.

Nearly 90 percent of survey respondents believe that people with developmental disabilities can have regular lives and should be integrated into society as much as possible, compared to 64 percent who felt that way in 1962. Nearly three-quarters of people surveyed agreed that those diagnosed with a developmental disability should be able to participate in activities such as voting and obtaining a driver’s license.

“Minnesota has demonstrated a commitment over many years to helping people with developmental disabilities move out of institutions into community settings,” said Colleen Wieck, executive director of the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities. “Progress has resulted from the contributions of many groups, including self-advocates, families, providers and government agencies.”

The survey showed that more than 90 percent of survey respondents believe that people with developmental disabilities should be kept out of institutions, compared to 55 percent of respondents in 1962.

The survey included people from throughout the state. It included families with and without relatives who have developmental disabilities. Service providers were interviewed to help shape questions for the survey. The survey details show a good mix of respondents in terms of age, gender, education level and employment status.

“It is encouraging to see the positive trend in public support for the full inclusion of Minnesotans with developmental disabilities in community life,” said Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson. “This parallels the trend of an increasing number of people with disabilities receiving care and supports in home and community-based settings, as shown on the DHS Dashboard on our department’s website.”

While a high percentage in the general population believe it is important to use public resources to ensure adequate government services for people with developmental disabilities, responses to how well the services are being delivered varied widely among survey respondents.

One concern among people with developmental disabilities and their families is abuse. Sixty-two percent of this population reported that abuse toward a family member is a concern, while only 31 percent of the general population is concerned about the abuse of a family member. Thirty-five percent of people with developmental disabilities and their families cited poor performances in abuse prevention services.

“Better protection of vulnerable individuals is one of our highest priorities,” said Jesson. “We are supporting legislation to make willful neglect of vulnerable adults a felony and also working with counties to increase abuse prevention efforts and improve investigations.”

The report also indicated pessimism among families, indicating that 42 percent of families with a member with a developmental disability expect that education services for students with developmental disabilities will be worse in two years than they are today. The future outlook for education among the general population is more positive.

The survey also indicates a pessimistic outlook regarding future employment opportunities for people with developmental disabilities, as compared to the employment outlook for the general population.

Perceptions of current and future financial well-being differed somewhat between the general population of Minnesota households and with families with a member with developmental disabilities.  Forty-one percent of the developmental disabilities population feels their financial well-being is not as good today as it was two years ago; 32 percent of the general population feels the same. And 22 percent of families with a member with a developmental disability feel they will be worse off financially in two years than they are today; 12 percent of the general population households held that negative outlook.

Three of 13 services for people with developmental disabilities were identified as most important to families with a member with a developmental disability, while also showing substantial room for improvement.

They were day training services so that people with developmental disabilities can learn job skills; family support (subsidies to families to pay for extra costs of care for children with developmental disabilities) and education and training for people with developmental disabilities/advocates on how to exercise rights.

The survey, first conducted in 1962, was repeated in 2012 to assess and measure changes in awareness and attitudes toward people with developmental disabilities in Minnesota over the past 50 years.

One striking aspect of the survey results is how attitudes toward people with disabilities have changed. For example, in 1962, 71 percent of the population believed that a person with a developmental disability should not be cared for at home. Today, 83 percent of the respondents believe that care should be provided at home, if possible.

In 1962, respondents had mixed feelings about institutionalization. Today, more than 90 percent of survey respondents strongly oppose institutionalization. Of today’s respondents, 84 percent said they believe people with developmental disabilities can lead normal lives. In 1962, 64 percent believed that people with disabilities could lead normal lives while 29 percent of respondents disagreed.

Today, 75 percent of survey respondents said that people with developmental disabilities should be able to obtain a driver’s license if they can pass the test. An almost identical percentage felt that should not be allowed in 1962.

Attitudes on voting have also changed. In 1962, 48 percent of respondents said that people with developmental disabilities should not be allowed to vote. Today, 70 percent say that people with developmental disabilities should be allowed to vote.

A full copy of the report is available at the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities website, www.mncdd.org