New rules push people with disabilities out of care facilities and in to the community

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JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL)- Some families are concerned a change in rules will put their loved ones with disabilities in a bad situation.

Those changes will directly impact Dawn of Hope in Johnson City.

Dawn of Hope serves hundreds of people with a broad range of disabilities from those who are able to work in the community to those who need around the clock care.

But new federal and state regulations are now pushing those people out of facilities like Dawn of Hope and in to the community, so they aren’t segregated from the public.

Arlyn Wattenbarger said Dawn of Hope and its vocational workshop means the world to her son who has autism and type 1 diabetes.

“What my son has now is an opportunity to be productive, he works every day, he has an environment that is sensitive to him, that meets his needs, that meets his challenges,” Wattenbarger said.

The workshop provides a place for people with disabilities to work and get a paycheck.

But those kind of workshops are part of what these new regulations seek to end.

“What providers and what the state of Tennessee has been tasked with doing is saying are these settings are they segregated, do people have an opportunity to engage with other people in their community besides paid staff,” Cara Kumari, spokesperson with the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities said.

The state said during the day people with disabilities must now be in the community, preferably working.

“It’s not a good thing to paint a whole population with a broad brush,” Wattenbarger said. “It’s very scary to me as a mother that the life he has now that’s so wonderful for him, and that he find so rewarding could be jeopardized to the point where he would no longer have those opportunities.”

If a provider doesn’t comply, it will lose federal funding.

“The regulations have not been well interpreted to us, it’s kind of like feeling your way in the dark on this,” Lee Chase, Dawn of Hope’s executive director said.

Chase said Dawn of Hope is working on a plan to follow the new rules.

“We are committed to continue to serve people whatever way are instructed to do so,” Chase said.

He said 60 people Dawn of Hope serves already work in the community. About 20 work at the vocational center. But the other half have more severe disabilities and spend their days in the main building.

“The mechanics of how we get them in to the community is much more complex,” Chase said.

“We understand that people have fears because we know that change is difficult but we also know that so many people every single day of all abilities are out in the community engaging with the community and we believe and have examples where this can be done in a manner that is not only safe, but it is more enjoyable,” Kumari said.

But Wattenbarger said it’s a better theory than it will be a reality.

“What I want to say to the people who make these laws and theories is please come meet the people this affects. See their individual needs, see how they’re being met now, and if all that is changed, their lives change drastically for the worse,” Wattenbarger said.

Chase said through the next few months the state will be looking at the program at Dawn of Hope, judging what it does and doesn’t meet in the new requirements.Copyright 2016 WJHL. All Rights Reserved.

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