Working together to reduce developmental disability waitlist (Capitol Update)

Fate. I saw a news clip of President Biden last week in which he said he is a believer in fate. By that I suppose he meant that certain things in life happen—or have happened— that are beyond our ability to control. Biden’s statement was in answer to a question about whether he planned to run again in 2024. He was recognizing that at age 79 he feels less assurance than a younger person might about what fate holds for him, and his future ability to run could be affected.

The word “fate” came to mind when I read the press release issued by Sen. Paul Rosino, R-OKC, and Rep. Mark Lawson, R-Sapulpa, announcing that for the first time since 2009, the number of people receiving developmental disabilities services from the Oklahoma Department of Human Services exceeds the number of people on the waitlist. Fate has shaped the lives of persons with developmental disabilities and their families. 

By statute in Oklahoma, “developmental disability” means a severe, chronic disability of a person which

a. is attributable to a mental or physical impairment or combination of mental and physical impairments, such as an intellectual development disorder, cerebral palsy, or autism,

  1. is manifested before the person attains twenty-two (22) years of age,
  2. is likely to continue indefinitely,
  3. results in substantial functional limitations in three or more of the following areas of major life activity: (1) self-care, (2) receptive and expressive language, (3) learning, (4) mobility, (5) self-direction, (6) capacity for independent living, and (7) economic self-sufficiency, and
  4. reflects the person’s need for a combination and sequence of special, interdisciplinary, or generic care, treatment, or other services which are of lifelong or extended duration and are individually planned and coordinated. 

As of Monday, December 20, 5,531 people were receiving services compared to 5,499 on the waitlist. The waitlist has been too large for too long. The fact that only about half of those in need are receiving services emphasizes that progress through the years in serving these people has been made in small steps. Sen. Rosino and Rep. Lawson, using their leadership positions on the Appropriations Subcommittees for Human Services, worked last year to secure $2 million to pare down the waitlist and to set up a process for more accurately assessing and meeting the needs of persons with developmental disabilities. 

These things don’t just happen. It takes a senator and a representative who really, really care about these folks and their families, and who are willing to use their energy and personal political capital to help. There’s not a huge payoff for working on these issues. In its best sense, government is about helping people who are in need because fate has touched them in a way that makes their lives more difficult. Persons with developmental disabilities are only one group, among several, including troubled children, youth and families, that Sen. Rosino and Rep. Lawson work on together to help ease the burdens of fate.   


Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1990. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

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