Diana DeRodeff is the executive director of INALLIANCE, a Sacramento-based nonprofit dedicated to adults with developmental disabilities. Throughout the month of December, the Friends of the El Dorado Trail and INALLIANCE are hosting “Trail Blazin for Good,” encouraging hikers in the Sacramento area to enjoy the El Dorado Trail and make a stop at INALLIANCE at 660 Main Street in Placerville, to make a donation and learn about their services.
What kind of services does your organization provide?
We serve people with developmental disabilities, and we have offices in Yuba City, Placerville, and Sacramento. We serve about 400 adults a year and we do job development and placement in the community, and also supported living services, supporting people in their own homes.
How have things changed during InAlliance’s 60 years?
This program, like a lot of programs for people with disabilities, was started by parents in the ‘50s. People were not being put in institutions any longer, many parents wanted to keep their sons and daughters at home, and a small group of parents organized a kind of an activities program. I came in 1984, we were doing sheltered workshop kind of programming, where people came here to work and we brought contracts in from PG&E and Proctor and Gamble. But we started looking at what people really wanted in their lives, and that was to be included in their community. So we closed those in 1990, and started moving people out into jobs in the community and discovered that people could actually meet the expectations of the workforce. That has been our approach since then. People get jobs, become tax-paying citizens, diminish their need for SSI, so it’s kind of a win-win situation.
Employers really feel they benefit from the diversity in their staff, as well. We also started supported living services, helping people get out of nursing homes. We had young men, 24 or 25 years old, living in skilled nursing facilities because licensing required anyone with a wheelchair to live there. They’re able now to live in their own homes with staff support.
The challenge is getting the recognition that these folks need continuing care. They will always have a developmental disability. They are certainly more functional as they learn skills and interact with their own community, but the funding has not gone with desire for people to be in the community. There’s a real push now to move people into large day-home programs, which we are resisting obviously, but it’s pretty scary at this point. The quality of life issue, outside the budget issue, needs to be worked on in public policy.
How did you get involved with this work?
I’ve been doing this for 40 years, just kind of fell into it when I graduated from college. I’m excited every day about the potential of people. We just finished The Book of Dreams project, getting iPads for folks who can’t communicate, and training staff on how to use this communication program.
What is the biggest misunderstanding about adults with developmental disabilities?
I think that’s changed over the years, because before people were so segregated they didn’t have an opportunity to interact with them. Folks see them now as fitting into the community more. But one of the biggest things for us is the inability of people to communicate what their needs and desires are. For an outside person, who may not know, our way to get to know someone is to communicate with them, but if someone has no language it leaves people guessing, and they assume that because you are not communicating that you don’t have the capacity as an adult human being. And that is very wrong. We are discovering some great “ah-ha!” experiences with people who can now communicate with devices.
You get a lot of your funding from the Department of Developmental Services, how did you fare after this year’s budgets cuts?
Not well. The combination of funding cuts over the past three years has taken about $1.5 million out of the agency. And that is on top of seven years of frozen rates that we’ve had. Because we spend about 80 percent of our funds on direct service staff, as a nonprofit, we have had to drop our entry-level wages. We’re looking at, in December for example, furlough days. Which is killer when you’re only making $13 an hour. And I guess the real effect is the continuity of care, the fact that people can’t afford to work here because the wages are so low. So we’ve had people lose their homes. I mean, it’s not different than other human service arenas in California, but it’s really difficulty for staff to stay with us. We serve people with very severe challenges and continuity of care is essential so the health and safety of those folks is maintained. All our people are served in the community in integrated settings. We have folks with autism, behavioral challenges out in the community all day, and it’s very important that people know them well, understand their communication style to keep them safe. That’s the human side of what the cuts have done.
Is the state ultimately doing more harm to itself by cutting these types of important services?
Well, yes. We serve a lot of people coming out of state hospitals, and the cost there I think is somewhere around $346,000 a year, now. Obviously we’re able to serve them more efficiently in the community, with more individualized services. But now that they’re in the community, community services are being diminished to a point where the quality is at risk. And we certainly don’t want to see people re-institutionalized. Quality of life issues are what California is going to have to grapple with at some point for all the human services population.
What is your recommendation to policy makers?
I think they need to look at where the rubber meets the road. There’s a lot of funding that never touches the individual person who is receiving a service. I think they really need to focus funding on direct services. It’s kind of like education where you wonder where the money goes, but really the effort should be in the classroom making sure that teachers are well trained and equipped to teach and the classroom has enough resources to teach every child. I mean, they pour a lot of money into kids with autism in school, but they’re completely forgotten once they reach the adult community.