New survey reveals shift in public attitudes; advocates celebrate as they call for continued changes
If you think too much public money is spent on people with developmental disabilities, you’re in a huge minority. Only 6% of Minnesotans would agree with you.
Disability activists celebrated a new survey by the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disability, which shows that Minnesotans’ attitudes toward people with developmental disabilities have changed markedly in the last 45 years toward favoring full integration into the community and use of public money to assist families.
The survey results were released February 22nd at a special event on the St. Paul Campus of the University of Minnesota. After researcher Tom Pearson presented the findings, which showed, among other things, that the public believed people belong in the community, living with their families as much as possible.
The survey was conducted in January and February 2007 (see survey results below).
Afterward, representatives of several organizations were invited to give their responses. Most of the speakers reacted to the new survey with a mix of celebration and determination to press onward for more change. “I’m here to celebrate these results,” said Seamus O’Meara, Chairperson of MNGCDD. “Whatever the public place—you name it—Minnesotans believe that people with developmental disabilities should be there.” O’Meara, himself a parent of child with a disability, cited the work of countless families to achieve these shifts in public attitude, saying, “We owe those who came before us our deepest gratitude and thanks.” Tim Moots, a self-advocate and member of a local self-advocacy group, also offered his gratitude for the pioneering self-advocates of the past. “I would like to inspire future self-advocates, just as people before me inspired me.”
The power of committed parents and professionals to make life better for people with developmental was especially evident at the event. Three parents of children with developmental disabilities also spoke, all of whom have worked for years to promote inclusion and new understandings of people with disabilities, and all of whom now represent key organizations: Les Bauer (The Arc of MN), Mary Powell (The Autism Society of MN), and Jo Erbes (United Cerebral Palsy of MN).
Integration in the employment sector was strongly endorsed in the 2007 survey, with 91 percent agreeing (“agreeing strongly” or “agreeing somewhat”) that with the right training people with developmental disabilities could be very productive workers. Companies offering jobs were seen in a positive light, with 85 percent of 2007 respondents saying they have a lot of respect for companies that employ people with developmental disabilities. Moots highlighted the critical issues—beyond public acceptance—that people with developmental disabilities still face. “I would like to have a good job. What’s really important is friends and, CHCHING, money.” Like Moots, Erbes stressed results as the best measure of the public’s new, inclusive attitudes. In particular, she called for channeling these new attitudes toward building competitive employment opportunities. “People with disabilities can be employed. People with disabilities want to be employed. People with disabilities are the best employees you can have. … We need to put into practice what we say we believe.”
Bauer, president of the Arc of Minnesota, said the Arc was “delighted to see these changes” in public attitudes. At the same time, he cautioned that there is still much work to do. Bauer, in noting that this is the first generation of people with developmental disabilities that will outlive their parents, called for improved support services from birth through all of life.
The survey showed a huge majority of Minnesotans in favor of government and taxpayers providing a range of services and supports for people with developmental disabilities. Powell celebrated the survey as a tool to leverage lawmakers, saying, “I’m gonna take this survey and march right up to the capitol.”
When asked whether people with developmental disabilities should be kept in an institution, just 3 percent agreed strongly or somewhat, as compared to a total of 35 percent agreeing strongly or agreeing somewhat in 1962, when state institutions were common. Powell, a parent of a child with autism spectrum disorder, noted that the struggle that brought about these changes has been an “arduous journey.” In the 60s, 95 percent of people with autism were in institutions. Noting the continued journey ahead, she called on parents and professionals to further let go of control of people with developmental disabilities, and give them the
opportunity to develop self-determination through living it, mistakes and all. In particular, she cautioned that amidst the struggle for inclusion and opportunity for people with disabilities, parents and professionals need to be careful to make sure that the goals represent “their dream, not our dream.”
Erbes opened her remarks by questioning a one-size-fits-all label like developmental disability. She noted that people with cerebral palsy are not happy being lumped with people who have intellectual disabilities under the label “developmental disability” and see it as “a putdown.”
In closing, Moots appealed to our common humanity as stronger than our differences. “No matter who we are, or what we are or where we come from, we are one. We’re all cut from the same cloth.”
1962/2007 Minnesota Survey of
Attitudes Regarding Developmental Disabilities
The following are selected survey results, showing the statement read and the numbers agreeing with the statement (either “agreeing somewhat” or “agreeing strongly”).
• People with developmental disabilities should be cared for by the immediate family as much as possible.2 (77% agree in 2007, 20% in 1962)
• People with developmental disabilities should be kept in an institution. (3% agree in 2007, 35% in 1962)
• People with developmental disabilities are mentally ill. (15% agree in 2007, 40% in 1962)
• People with developmental disabilities should be able to use public playgrounds and beaches. (98% agree in 2007, 72% in 1962)
• People with developmental disabilities should be able to attend movie theaters. (96% agree in 2007, 75% in 1962)
• People with developmental disabilities should be allowed to drive a car. (32% agree in 2007, 22% in 1962)
• People with developmental disabilities should be allowed to drink alcohol.3 (25% agree in 2007, 9% in 1962)
• People with developmental disabilities should be allowed to vote.4 (71% agree in 2007, 46% in 1962)
• People with developmental disabilities should be allowed to have children just like everybody else. (47% agree in 2007, no data for 1962)
Survey conducted by MarketResponse International. The survey findings were based on the responses of 806 randomly selected Minnesota heads of households, with either listed or unlisted telephone numbers, that reflects the distribution of Minnesotans in terms of age, race and income level. The survey has a 3.5 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level. For complete results, go to www.mncdd.org.
1 Choices were “Agree strongly, agree somewhat, neutral, disagree somewhat, or disagree strongly.”
2 1962 wording: “… should be cared for at home.”
3 1962 wording: “… should be allowed to drink liquor.”
4 1962 wording: “… vote for president.”
Using Taxpayers’ Money? Yes!
In 2007, over 80% of Minnesotans agreed that it’s important for government to use taxpayers’ money to provide these services:
• Centers where people with developmental disabilities can learn job skills
• Special [sic] classes to educate and train people with developmental disabilities
• Assurance of access to quality health care services
• Protection services to prevent abuse of people with developmental disabilities
• Research to learn about the causes of developmental disabilities
• Specialized training for people with developmental disabilities, and/or their advocates, on how to exercise rights and speak up for oneself
• Provision of personal care attendants, who assist people with developmental disabilities, to enable them to live more independently, or as they choose
• On the job assistance, so people with developmental disabilities can work in regular businesses
• Subsidies to families to pay for extra costs of caring for children with developmental disabilities
• Individual teaching assistants who would enable children with developmental disabilities to attend regular public school classes
Selected Results of the 1962/2007 Minnesota Survey of Attitudes Regarding Developmental Disabilities.