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Report details needs of Virginia’s disabled

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia must reduce the number of individuals with disabilities residing in institutions, particularly youth, according to a report that also highlights lagging test scores and graduation rates that suggest schools aren’t reaching some developmentally challenged students.
It comes as the number of children diagnosed with conditions like autism increases across the commonwealth, and the need increases for early intervention to improve their educational and professional future, according to a report issued by the Virginia Board for People with Disabilities.
The board, which advises the governor, state health officials and lawmakers, also issued an assessment in 2006.
‘‘Many of the issues actually, unfortunately, are the same as they were in 2006, which tells us we still have a long way to go,’’ said Heidi L. Lawyer, executive director of the board.
Triumphs include the initial passage this year of legislation that scrubs state codes of the term ‘‘mentally retarded,’’ considered a pejorative by some. Also lauded is the formation of a Community Integration Advisory Commission in state statute to monitor state efforts at easing disabled citizens into community care settings instead of hospitals.
But the report highlights room for improvement in several areas, among them, access to affordable housing and reliable transportation, especially in rural regions.
The report also says the state needs stronger disability-sensitive emergency preparedness, in light of weather emergencies like tornadoes that pummeled central Virginia this spring.
But the report’s strongest suggestions concern youths.
The report cites communities across the state where residents resist having group homes in their neighborhoods. Meanwhile, Medicaid waivers designed to support families overwhelmed by caring for children with disabilities in the home and provide services to adults with disabilities in the community have limited availability and extensive waiting lists.
In turn, Lawyer said many families feel forced to send their children to institutions.
The report urges the state to eliminate the institutionalization of children and young adults below age 21.
‘‘Families should never have to make the difficult decision to place their children in an institutional setting because they cannot obtain the services and supports they need,’’ said the report, which also recommended Virginia lawmakers study reasons for admissions of children to training centers and other nursing facilities, as well as the impact of long-term institutionalization on families.
There were 58 children in private nursing facilities in fiscal year 2007. That’s down from 96 in 2004.
‘‘This year we actually found the number of children being institutionalized was lower, but there are other states, like Georgia, that have really put a very large focus on indicating that children need to be with a family,’’ Lawyer said.
Other recommendations concerned the education of the state’s approximately 172,000 students with disabilities receiving special education services.
In Virginia, public schools teach students with disabilities using individualized education plans, or IEPs, which are crafted to meet a student’s unique needs. Schools also are urged to teach these students in the least restrictive environment possible — that is, in a regular education classroom rather than so-called special education classes if possible, Lawyer explained.

But at public comment forums the board hosted across the state, parents complained of schools that channeled students into special needs classes, and teachers with few expectations of the students.
They pointed to test scores: During the 2006-2007 school year, 58 percent of students with disabilities passed state math assessments, compared to 80 percent of all students.
The gap was similar with English and science scores, with 62 percent and 67 percent passing respectively, compared to 85 percent and 88 percent among all students.

The report recommended the state require public institutions of higher education to mandate special education coursework for students in teacher training programs; re-establish a preparation program for teachers of students with vision impairment at a state college or university; and encourage middle and secondary schools to offer American Sign Language as a foreign language.
It coincides with dramatic strides among the disabled. Advocates point to new technologies enabling those with severe disabilities to live longer and more productive lives; at the same time, physicians are diagnosing autistic children earlier and increasing the chances of early intervention with their care.
Their parents want those children to be better prepared for futures that may have been just a dream in the past.
‘‘That equal opportunity is really, really critical and I think that’s what parents are really looking for — the opportunity to ensure their children have the same access to the general curriculum,’’ Lawyer said.
Lawmakers will use the information to help formulate policies for the state’s approximately 1.3 million disabled citizens.

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Report details needs of Virginia’s disabled

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia must reduce the number of individuals with disabilities residing in institutions, particularly youth, according to a report that also highlights lagging test scores and graduation rates that suggest schools aren’t reaching some developmentally challenged students.
It comes as the number of children diagnosed with conditions like autism increases across the commonwealth, and the need increases for early intervention to improve their educational and professional future, according to a report issued by the Virginia Board for People with Disabilities.
The board, which advises the governor, state health officials and lawmakers, also issued an assessment in 2006.
‘‘Many of the issues actually, unfortunately, are the same as they were in 2006, which tells us we still have a long way to go,’’ said Heidi L. Lawyer, executive director of the board.
Triumphs include the initial passage this year of legislation that scrubs state codes of the term ‘‘mentally retarded,’’ considered a pejorative by some. Also lauded is the formation of a Community Integration Advisory Commission in state statute to monitor state efforts at easing disabled citizens into community care settings instead of hospitals.
But the report highlights room for improvement in several areas, among them, access to affordable housing and reliable transportation, especially in rural regions.
The report also says the state needs stronger disability-sensitive emergency preparedness, in light of weather emergencies like tornadoes that pummeled central Virginia this spring.
But the report’s strongest suggestions concern youths.
The report cites communities across the state where residents resist having group homes in their neighborhoods. Meanwhile, Medicaid waivers designed to support families overwhelmed by caring for children with disabilities in the home and provide services to adults with disabilities in the community have limited availability and extensive waiting lists.
In turn, Lawyer said many families feel forced to send their children to institutions.
The report urges the state to eliminate the institutionalization of children and young adults below age 21.
‘‘Families should never have to make the difficult decision to place their children in an institutional setting because they cannot obtain the services and supports they need,’’ said the report, which also recommended Virginia lawmakers study reasons for admissions of children to training centers and other nursing facilities, as well as the impact of long-term institutionalization on families.
There were 58 children in private nursing facilities in fiscal year 2007. That’s down from 96 in 2004.
‘‘This year we actually found the number of children being institutionalized was lower, but there are other states, like Georgia, that have really put a very large focus on indicating that children need to be with a family,’’ Lawyer said.
Other recommendations concerned the education of the state’s approximately 172,000 students with disabilities receiving special education services.
In Virginia, public schools teach students with disabilities using individualized education plans, or IEPs, which are crafted to meet a student’s unique needs. Schools also are urged to teach these students in the least restrictive environment possible — that is, in a regular education classroom rather than so-called special education classes if possible, Lawyer explained.

But at public comment forums the board hosted across the state, parents complained of schools that channeled students into special needs classes, and teachers with few expectations of the students.
They pointed to test scores: During the 2006-2007 school year, 58 percent of students with disabilities passed state math assessments, compared to 80 percent of all students.
The gap was similar with English and science scores, with 62 percent and 67 percent passing respectively, compared to 85 percent and 88 percent among all students.

The report recommended the state require public institutions of higher education to mandate special education coursework for students in teacher training programs; re-establish a preparation program for teachers of students with vision impairment at a state college or university; and encourage middle and secondary schools to offer American Sign Language as a foreign language.
It coincides with dramatic strides among the disabled. Advocates point to new technologies enabling those with severe disabilities to live longer and more productive lives; at the same time, physicians are diagnosing autistic children earlier and increasing the chances of early intervention with their care.
Their parents want those children to be better prepared for futures that may have been just a dream in the past.
‘‘That equal opportunity is really, really critical and I think that’s what parents are really looking for — the opportunity to ensure their children have the same access to the general curriculum,’’ Lawyer said.
Lawmakers will use the information to help formulate policies for the state’s approximately 1.3 million disabled citizens.

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