A complaint against the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) and the Somerset Association of Retarded Citizens (ARC) has been well publicized in recent weeks. Michelle Mello, a former U.S. Foreign Service employee and current Rutgers Ph.D. candidate, has complained about issues of neglect and abuse of her sister, Christel Velez, who is developmentally disabled, at a group home in New Jersey. This writer, as a disability policy specialist, has represented the family in an attempt to give Velez the treatment and services that she needs and is required by law.
Interestingly, both the New Jersey Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) and the Association of Retarded Citizens (ARC) have refused to attempt to resolve the problem. The family has not requested financial compensation, only the delivery of proper and appropriate services for Velez.
Nevertheless, Lauren Panarella, Executive Director for The ARC of Somerset County, has taken an adversarial stance, rather than try to meet the needs of an individual with a severe disability. Panerella has stated that the allegations could not be proven and that she is "confident that our stellar reputation for providing quality services for individuals with a disability and their families will prevail.’’
This writer finds Panerella’s comments shocking. This case should not be about winning or losing. Panerlla never states that she is working to meet the needs of Velez. Rather, she and the ARC are more concerned about who is triumphant in the end.
In so doing, both the ARC and the DDD are contributing to the egregious civil rights violations that are occurring. Moreover, this is not an isolated case. The DDD and the ARC have violated the civil rights of countless individuals with developmental disabilities in the interest of bureaucratic protectiveness.
Some State Legislators have taken a strong interest in this case. Among them, Assemblyman Gary Schaer and Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle have appealed to the State agencies to seek a solution. In addition, Senator Jennifer Beck and Assemblywoman Connie Wagner have introduced legislation that would protect the developmentally disabled residents of group homes, nursing homes, and other facilities from abuse.
Nevertheless, these vulnerable and often voiceless citizens who struggle through life with disabilities will fare no better until politically appointed bureaucrats, who are paid via taxpayer money, truly decide to serve the clients for whom the agencies were created.
Dr. Salvatore Pizzuro, a Disability Policy Specialist, holds a doctorate in Developmental Disabilities from Columbia University and an advanced degree in Disability Law from New York Law School.