Advocates react to federal report that says Iowa is violating rights of disabled people

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WHO 13 NEWS – After uncovering the horrors of human sexual experiments at the Glenwood Resource Center last year, federal officials have kept investigating Iowa’s state-run facilities that house people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The Department of Justice released another report that said Iowa is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. The state is supposed to integrate Iowans with disabilities into their communities. Instead, many of those people are still stuck in institutions.

A yearlong investigation uncovered information that may come as a surprise to the general public, but that most people in the field already know.

“I think it’s clear in that DOJ report that there’s still that kind of lingering bias in Iowa that the best care for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities is in an institutional setting,” Catherine Johnson, executive director of Disability Rights Iowa, said.

Advocates say the people living in Iowa’s two state-run institutions would rather live independently.

“We’re hearing there’s still folks that are in institutions, and even folks that are living at home with parents that would rather move into their own apartment,” Brooke Lovelace, executive director of Iowa Developmental Disabilities Council, said, “but the supports just aren’t there.”

That’s exactly what the federal report found, and what the Justice Department says Iowa needs to fix or face a lawsuit.

The people who work on behalf of Iowans with disabilities know the challenges to change, from a lack of community service providers to a waiting list to get one.

“The time that you wait to receive those services, it could be years,” Johnson said. “And so during that period of time, people are attempting to live in the community without support and those are people that are at risk every day of being institutionalized.”

That’s why advocates are hopeful lawmakers will address this report when they meet in January.

“I think we need to address the workforce crisis that we’re in. I think providers and direct support professionals should be paid more. I think there needs to be better training at a community level so that we’re just more supportive of our folks with disabilities,” Lovelace said. “So I think that’d be a first place to start.”

Iowa Department of Human Services Director Kelly Garcia told the Associated Press she’s not surprised by the report’s findings, and that DHS is working with the state’s lawyers on the next steps.

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