Ann Schmidt, knew early on that her sons’ disabilities and needs were different. She was able to provide Paul with the supports he needed at home but Jerome required much more assistance so she chose the only option available for him in 1965, a state-run developmental center. After that, Paul resisted visiting his brother for fear he, too, would be institutionalized.
The separation of ‘her boys’ weighed heavily on their mother. In 1997, Paul moved into a Spectrum for Living group home. Mrs. Schmidt advocated strongly for a placement for Jerome, too. In 2010, one became available in a different residential program managed by Spectrum. With staff assistance, the brothers now visit with each other about twice a month.
“It was like a miracle,” said Ann Schmidt about the brothers’ first reunion in 45 years. “Now I have peace of mind knowing that both of my children are together and will be taken care of when I’m gone.”
Governor Christie often has spoken of the state’s moral obligation to recognize the individuality and unique needs of New Jerseyans with developmental disabilities. The FY’13 proposed budget reaffirms the Administration’s commitment to a fundamental rethinking of how individuals receive support and services and includes nearly $40 million to further these efforts.
“The Schmidts have an incredible story, one that really emphasizes the benefits of community living for individuals with developmental disabilities and their families,” Commissioner Velez said. “This situation is a dream come true for each of them and it feels good to be a part of the excitement and warmth of them being together. It’s these kinds of opportunities Governor Christie is committed to advancing, to ensure that New Jerseyans with developmental disabilities lead fuller lives.”
Most of the 42,000 people served by DHS’ Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) already live in the community with family or loved ones, but about 2,500 are living in one of seven state-run developmental centers. During this current fiscal year, over 700 people received expanded services – through a variety of means, including emergency placements, day supports for people leaving school, the waiting list, or Olmstead. More than half have moved into community residences operated by agencies that contract with DDD.
In 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that individuals with developmental disabilities should live in the least restrictive environment with appropriate services and supports. New Jersey was sued in 2005 by the organization Disability Rights New Jersey for non-compliance. A settlement is pending.
"We know we have a responsibility to honor the civil rights of residents in the developmental centers by offering them community residential opportunities,” said Commissioner Velez. “We’re working closely with our community-based provider-partners to build up the service infrastructure and rebalance resources to support individuals with developmental disabilities who desire and are able to live in the community.”