Friday, October 24, 2008

One Consequence of Question One


By Leo V. Sarkissian

Meet Caitlin Hadley. She is proof of how well individuals with Down syndrome and other special needs succeed when given the chance. She's also just one example of why we should not eliminate income taxes through Question One as doing so would severely hurt services to children and adults with disabilities and others.

Caitlin was hired as an assembler at Milton Roy in Acton. She performed well there with an outstanding record. When a quality control position became available, Caitlin was a natural fit. After a short time on the job, she was promoted to quality control specialist. In this role, she checks pump subassemblies for accuracy. But Caitlin doesn't stop at her job description. She is extremely helpful and occasionally mentors substitute assemblers who are learning the job.

The Minuteman Arc assisted Caitlin in making the transition to her new role. This was made possible through our tax dollars. A staff person helped her succeed by reviewing the job with her and coaching her initially so she would develop the skills and confidence. The coach also assisted her in establishing a daily routine including breaks, lunch and transportation.

Now Caitlin is a taxpayer. This is no accident. It's something that her parents wanted for her and that she has worked for. She got her diploma from Arlington High. She was able to get a good education through a regional school collaborative which receives public dollars through cities and towns. If she was born a decade earlier, she would have experienced a different world and perhaps she would not be working at Milton Roy.

Funding for special education did not begin until the middle 1970s, and there were few employment programs until the 1980s. Past investment through tax dollars has made a difference for Caitlin and if we increase that investment, it will make a difference for future generations. Like the rest of us, Caitlin is more than just an employee. She has a pretty full life and schedule. She enjoys performing in a chorus, bowling, going out to eat and stays active with friends.

Caitlin is now making a transition from her parents' home to a group home. At her new home she will receive support services. Someone will help her learn how to live on her own and teach her things like money management, cooking and maintaining a routine. It is a step that will take hard work on Caitlin's part and support from her parents. They are up to the task.

Recently, Massachusetts has struggled to find opportunities for individuals such as Caitlin. In the past six years, we have seen a 200-student increase in the number of graduates with disabilities who need some type of adult services. But we haven't been able to increase the funding to meet that rise in need. As a result there are fewer employment opportunities, and fewer taxpayers. And now Question One threatens to slash that funding further.

If Question One passes, Caitlin and thousands like her may not get the supports they need. Individuals with disabilities want to work and want to participate in their communities. Individuals and their families make the effort on a daily basis. But to ensure individuals have the opportunities to succeed, we need the investment in services. It's an investment that has paid off in taxpayers and full lives in our communities. That is why we must say no to Question One.
Sarkissian is executive director of The Arc of Massachusetts, whose mission is to enhance the lives of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.
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