“It Takes a Village…”
There is an old African proverb that says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” When the child has a disability it also takes the involvement of many state agencies.
Mary Doherty, social worker at the Department of Children and Families (DCF), first learned of “Joe” in her capacity assessing the health and safety of homeless children. “Joe” and his mother had recently moved to Massachusetts from Georgia and were homeless. What makes “Joe” different from most other 5 year old homeless children is that he has cerebral palsy and does not walk.
Circumstances led “Joe’s” mother to move north without a wheelchair for Joe, and now she was forced to carry him everywhere, including up two flights of stairs to the friend’s apartment where they were staying temporarily. Mary knew they needed fast assistance, and she called Karen Langley, Director of Assistive Technology and Community Support Programs at Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS). Karen’s work within EOHHS on assistive technology and housing afforded her the knowledge of what programs and staff that could help.
First task: locating a pediatric wheelchair
The Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission’s (MRC) supports wheelchair recycling programs at two independent living centers, including the Stavros Center in western Massachusetts. Karen called Stavros, which responded immediately with two pediatric wheelchairs available at no cost. Pictures were forwarded to the mother who selected the one most appropriate for Joe.
Second task: transporting the wheelchair
The wheelchair was in Amherst, but Joe and his mom were in Lynn without transportation to collect the chair. Karen worked with Tom at Stavros and learned Stavros could take the chair as far as Worcester (Tom was headed there in a couple of days). Karen realized she would soon be in Worcester and headed to Boston where she could pass the chair to Mary at DCF. Within just two days of locating the chair, Mary passed it on to Joe.
Third task: adjusting the wheelchair to fit Joe
According to Mary, both mom and Joe were thrilled with the wheelchair. Joe got right in and pushed himself around, a smile spreading across his face. Now he could attend school! The only problem was with the leg rests; they were at the wrong height and his mom couldn’t figure out how to change them.
Mary contacted Karen who contacted Tom Mercier, the Director of the Department of Developmental Services’ Kelley Assistive Technology Center in Danvers. She explained the problem and Tom arranged to stop by the mom’s apartment on his way home from work. Tom made the adjustments, showed Joe’s mom how to do it the next time, and advised her on how to get a new wheelchair once Joe had outgrown this one.
Fourth Task: finding accessible housing
Joe and his mom were eligible for a subsidized housing voucher under the Department of Housing and Community Development’s (DHCD) new Home Base Program. The challenge would be finding an accessible 2 bedroom unit in the Lynn area, the location of the family’s support network.
Karen and Mary contacted staff at the Lynn Housing and Neighborhood Development (LHAND) to alert them of the need for an accessible unit for Joe and his mom. They also consulted the on-line Mass Access Housing Registry, operated by Citizen’s Housing and Planning Associates (and funded by MRC). Accessible units were located in Ipswich and Lynn, and Joe’s mom chose the Lynn apartment to stay close to friends. They are due to move in shortly.
It took a “village” of state agency staff from DHCD, DCF, EOHHS, DDS and MRC funded programs to help “Joe” get his wheelchair, find accessible housing (and receive his MassHealth benefit) which enables him to attend school and start a better life. EOHHS is committed to working across agencies to meet the needs of the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable residents. This story is a shining example of how that can be done.