Institution Community of people with disabilities

New way for people once in an institution

by LARRY NOONAN

Letter from the publisher

More than 42-years-ago, I graduated from Eastern Montana College (now MSUB) in Billings, Mont., and embarked on a rewarding and challenging career working with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Like many of my colleagues in Montana, my first work experience in this profession was at the institution, Boulder River School and Hospital, now called the Montana Developmental Center (MDC) in Boulder, Mont.

During this time in my career, many great things were happening at institutions like MDC that allowed people with disabilities to participate in normal life events. They were creating in-house employment opportunities like janitorial work and paper shredding to teach these individuals useful skills for the future. Community providers were also being formed to recreate many of the same services offered in an institutional setting but with the philosophy of full community inclusion. People with disabilities were finally being seen as productive members of society. The successes that I witnessed at Boulder and by community providers motivated me to dedicate my life’s work to finding ways to help people with disabilities find a better life. I developed a personal motto from this, “Forget can’t and don’t, think can and do.”

I was certainly not alone in envisioning a more enlightened approach to serving people with special needs. Our state has been blessed with many thoughtful caring citizens, elected officials, departmental employees and nonprofit service providers. These people, in concert with the families of the folks that we serve, have almost completely changed the landscape of our profession. The majority of people with intellectual and developmental challenges now live and work and learn and play in community-based environments across Montana.

May 16, 2015, the Montana Legislature passed legislation that enables the careful and thoughtful closure of MDC and the transition of most residents who were in the institution to community-based facilities. This move represents the letting go of the last vestiges of the institutionalization of citizens with special needs that dominated the first 100 years of our profession.

Implementation of the spirit and the letter of this courageous legislation will be challenging. It is going to require even more courage, and even greater levels of cooperation and innovation among all parties involved. I am pleased to say that Governor Bullock and his staff recognize the urgency as well the attention to detail and commitment to innovation that will be required to make this move a success. Most importantly, they are absolutely committed to the well-being of the people that matter most  the residents of MDC and their families. These individuals will no longer be constrained to an institution. They will have rights allowing them to participate fully in community life. This is something that many of them have never had the privilege of experiencing. So, as we move forward join me in saying, “Forget can’t and don’t, think can and do!”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *