The Oklahoma Budget Crisis
For thirty-five years, The Meadows Center for Opportunity has served the employment needs of men and women with intellectual and physical challenges. During that time, the state has been an important financial partner in allowing us to fulfill our mission of providing work and vocational training to adults who otherwise would not have the chance to have a job.
Because we are a nonprofit, the compensation we receive each month from the state helps offset our operational costs as well as the salaries that are paid to our workers.
However, the state’s current budget crisis has created a difficult situation for organizations like ours as lawmakers are forced to make hard decisions that could adversely affect thousands of citizens with developmental disabilities.
To present a clear picture of what is at stake, we would like to introduce you to some of the people we currently employ. In each case, their particular disability is listed last, because it is the least important part of who they are.
* This person has limited range of motion in their arms and legs, as well as visual impairment, which puts them at risk for frequent falls. However, these challenges do not stop them from enjoying every moment of their day. Their outgoing nature and love of people make everyone a potential friend. This individual has a developmental disability.
* This person has held down a steady job for more than twenty-five years, despite the fact that they sometimes have multiple seizures in a single day. Although their seizure activity sometimes scares them and leaves them feeling vulnerable, they continue to remain active despite the knowledge that they could have a medical emergency at any moment. This individual has epilepsy.
* This person spent many years living in an institution, but now they have successfully made the transition to living in a group home in the community. They enjoy their personal freedom and sense of independence. They have made friends, and they participate in many different activities that were previously denied to them. This individual has a developmental disability.
* This person has the use of one arm. They also have an issue with their leg that requires them to use an assistive device to maintain their balance. Over time, they have developed their own unique ways of adapting to their physical challenges so they can accomplish many of the tasks required in daily living. This individual has a traumatic brain injury.
* This person is medically fragile. Although their health is a constant issue, they do not allow it to keep them from remaining positive and upbeat. They attempt to make the most of each day by enjoying the things that are important to them, as they continue to live a life filled with hope. This individual has a developmental disability.
* This person embraces life with tremendous humor and joy. They are a bundle of energy, constantly in motion and never slowing down. With their over the top personality, they delight in being the center of attention and entertaining everyone around them. They make others feel good because they are genuine, with no pretense. This individual has had a stroke.
* This person uses assistive devices to help with their mobility as well as hearing aids that allow them to communicate and interact. Together, these appliances facilitate their participation in the community and in activities they enjoy sharing with their family and friends. It is the feeling of inclusion that matters most to them. This individual has a developmental disability.
* This person has a great sense of humor and loves to kid around and play practical jokes. The fact that their speech can be difficult to understand, does not inhibit their ability to connect with others. They are able to find clever ways to convey their thoughts, ideas, and opinions – whatever the situation. This individual has cerebral palsy.
* This person has endured multiple health issues, including heart surgery. At this time they are possibly facing yet another medical condition, but they continue to do all of the things that have meaning for them. Their love of art and the fulfillment they find in being creative helps them face their daily challenges. This individual has Down syndrome.
* This person does not like to sit still and would rather be up and moving around. They have a profound love for all things related to Disney, and they have a deep fascination with music and dancing. They prefer to interact with others by communicating in repetitive conversations that make them feel comfortable. This individual has autism.
* This person is not always aware of what is real and what is not. However, that does not mean that they are incapable of enjoying the experiences that actually occur in their lives. Although they can sometimes be confused, it does not keep them from engaging with others in ways that are important to them. This individual has a developmental disability.
* This person has challenges with their balance, motor skills, and vision. However, they do not let those issues deter them from being kind and compassionate to everyone they meet. Because of the thoughtfulness and consideration, they share with others, they have a thriving social life with many friends. This individual has had a brain tumor.
These are just a few of the extraordinary men and women we are currently able to employ, due in part, to the funding we receive from the state.
Although each one of these individuals deals with issues that make their life considerably more complicated than the lives of most citizens, it does not prevent them from holding down a meaningful job that gives them a deep sense of fulfillment.
Each weekday, no matter what challenges they face, they come to work and perform their assigned duties to the best of their abilities. Having that opportunity not only allows them to earn a paycheck, it also helps them reach their full potential.
None of these people are trying to be courageous or inspirational. They are just living their lives, day to day, in the particular circumstances they happen to be in. The fact that they need assistance and financial support to maintain their employment makes no difference. It does not diminish the effort they put forth or the results they achieve.
What our employees are able to accomplish is the result of their perseverance and determination. It is their commitment to achieve the extraordinary that makes them successful.
In return, we must show the same commitment to them. We owe them our best efforts to ensure that they have the necessary funding to allow them to be successfully employed.
However, as we look towards the future, the mission of the Meadows is at risk. We want to continue to offer meaningful employment in a safe and supportive environment to as many adults with disabilities as possible - but to do that on a large scale requires uninterrupted state funding.
Ultimately, Oklahoma’s budget crisis is a test of moral character. How we choose to respond to the needs of vulnerable citizens is a reflection of the kind of society we want to have.
For our elected officials, the current financial shortfall provides the perfect opportunity to show true leadership by putting the needs of men and women with intellectual and physical challenges ahead of petty politics. The decisions they ultimately make will touch the lives of our employees and their families, in profound ways.
It is critical that state lawmakers look within themselves and find the courage to care.