By Lisa Pugh
The original article appeared in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin Journal Sentinel


Like all Americans, people with disabilities deserve the opportunity to live independently in the community with their peers.

Family spokesman David Boyd and others hold a news conference

The brutal attack of a teenager with disabilities in Chicago was a heinous act of violence that shocked the nation. However, leading Wisconsin disability organizations do not want this case used as a platform against community inclusion.


In David Ordan’s Jan. 6 commentary “Beating underscores need to protect services,” he voices his support for secluding individuals with disabilities from society, proposing that community living is unsafe.


The responsibility for this crime lies solely with the perpetrators. Blaming society or public policies does not place accountability on the perpetrator, and undermines all of our civil rights, including our rights to live free of violence.


For decades now, each of our organizations, The Arc Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Board for People with Developmental Disabilities, Disability Rights Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Coalition for Independent Living Centers and the Survival Coalition of Wisconsin Disability Organizations have advocated for full inclusion for individuals with disabilities in all aspects of the community.


Like all Americans, people with disabilities deserve the opportunity to live independently in the community with their peers. Counter to the assertions in the commentary, evidence is mounting that people living their lives in the community rather than in institutions are not only safer, but healthier. In 2015, the National Council on Disability declared that “overwhelmingly, research demonstrates that people attain better outcomes when they live in smaller community-based settings that promote control and choice.”


Horrific abuse and neglect of people with disabilities in our society is not new and occurs in many different settings — from family homes, to group homes to independent apartments. The leading cause has been proven to be a lack of awareness and acceptance; people who are seen as less than human.


Rather than hunkering down for another decade in secluded settings that are perceived to be safer, our organizations espouse the belief that the antidote to ignorance is exposure. People with disabilities in the classroom with their peers, in houses of faith, in our neighborhoods and in our community workplaces, results in real relationships that make people safer.


Wisconsin has a history of overreliance on facility-based settings, and it is time to shift our system to provide some balance of options for people who want a fuller life in the community. The rates of abuse in states with community employment participation 10 times higher than in Wisconsin are not any greater than Wisconsin’s.


The proposed rollback of laws referenced in the Ordan commentary are not where we should be focusing energy if we want to combat abuse and neglect for people with disabilities. We suggest:

  • Working together to increase opportunities for competitive integrated employment for all individuals, with safeguards to protect the interests of people affected by this shift.
  • Collaborating to identify the necessary policy changes and investment required to support community integration and services that allow for people to be safe in their community — not sheltered away from the public.

Wisconsin recently has seen an investment in community living that we should be celebrating. Gov. Scott Walker has finally put an end to waiting lists through statewide expansion of Family Care and IRIS long-term supports. He is promoting more community employment and said in Tuesday’s state of the state address that he welcomes workers with disabilities as part of the state economy.


Let’s not turn back the clock on progress because of unfounded fears. Let’s look forward together to create awareness and shine light where there is too much darkness.


Lisa Pugh, state director of The Arc Wisconsin, wrote this commentary on behalf of The Arc and four other statewide disability organizations.