How do Minnesotans feel about their neighbors with developmental disabilities? Some attitudes have changed for the better over the past 50 years. Other beliefs are cause for alarm and show that there is much progress to be made. Those are key conclusion drawn from a survey released this spring by the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities (MNCDD) and The Arc Minnesota.
This is the fourth survey to measure the general population’s awareness and attitudes toward developmental disabilities. A second survey was done in 2007 on the 45th anniversary of the first effort. A 50-year survey was done in 2012.
Colleen Wieck, executive director of the governor’s council, said the council and The Arc Minnesota wanted to repeat the 1962 study in order to gauge public opinion and attitudes. The original survey was conducted face to face with 900 Minnesotans. The 2017 survey gathered opinions from 1,001 Minnesota respondents. Respondents were selected to match state demographics. The latest survey continues this summer with a focus on seeking more ethnic diversity among respondents.
Fifty years after the first survey, there are some striking trends. While attitudes changed dramatically between 1962 and 2007, some attitudes have remained unchanged over the past decade. A few recent trends in attitude are troubling.
Each survey since 1962 has included some of the original questions. New questions are added to reflect current concerns. A focus for the latest survey is the Olmstead Plan, which directs the state to offer services in the most integrated setting possible. The plan was a driving force behind the latest survey, with questions seeking input in equality, equity, diversity and inclusion of people with developmental disabilities.
“There has been a marked shift toward community services in the past 55 years,” Wieck said. “This study documents how the general population views services and shows strong support for various services such as health care, special education, early childhood special education and employment.”
The Arc Minnesota Senior Policy Director Steve Larson said the survey showed that there is still work to be done. “The survey demonstrates that as more Minnesotans have personal contact with persons with developmental disabilities the more likely they are to support the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the community,” he said. “This support is important as we move towards a society in which individuals with disabilities are working to be fully included in their communities in employment, housing and recreation. Minnesota is making great progress but we still have much progress to be made before we achieve a fully integrated society.”
One red flag raised by the survey is that there may be some erosion in the strength of conviction in attitudes toward people with developmental disabilities. In 2017 there was a significant decrease in the strength of conviction in the belief that society should do anything possible to help those who are most vulnerable. In 2007, 76 percent of respondents agreed strongly with that point.
Another 19 percent agreed somewhat. Those percentages held steady in the 2012 survey. But in 2017, only 54 percent agreed strongly and 33 percent agreed somewhat. Nine percent didn’t know and four percent disagreed. Another alarming trend seen is the response to the survey statement “If someone has a child with developmental disabilities that’s their problem.
There’s really no reason why the rest of us should have to pay any of the extra costs of raising that child.” In 2007 67 percent of respondents disagreed strongly and just 2 percent agreed strongly. In 2017 41 percent disagree strongly, with another 30 percent who somewhat disagree and 17 percent said they didn’t know. Nine percent agree somewhat and 3 percent agree strongly. The “didn’t know” category had the highest increase.
Some divergence in opinions is seen among those with developmental disabilities and their advocates, and the population as a whole. Almost 80 percent of those surveyed said they believes the state performs fair to good in providing needed quality of services to people with developmental disabilities, with 13 percent rating state performance as better than good.
In conversations with Partner in Policymaking self-advocacy program graduates and experts who work with and advocate for people with developmental disabilities, this group give government services a lower performance rating. “I give it a three because we are failing in so many ways,” one Partners graduate said. “We are failing at getting the early intervention service. We are failing at getting enough people with disabilities employed. We are failing at getting them housing they like. We’re failing at getting them jobs they like and will be successful at. There’s such a tricky thing, too, with people with disabilities; if they make too much money, they lose the services they need. Why would we take that away from people? Why wouldn’t we want them to be successful and more productive in society where they do too well then they lose the services that are helping them survive in the first place?” This respondent gave the state a grade of three on a nine-point scale.
On home health care and personal care attendant services, 48 percent of respondents said they would tend to support improving the PCA program if it’s truly needed by people with the most severe disabilities. Thirty-six percent said they strongly believe the home healthcare program should be enhanced with higher wages for workers.
On housing, 51 percent of respondents said the state should provide housing support directly to clients, giving them more involvement in housing decisions. Thirty-three percent had no opinion and 17 percent supported the current corporate foster care facilities because they provide more safe and secure living environments.
See all of the survey results and get a historic overview here.