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New guidelines present challenge for center

Worksites and organizations that employ workers with disabilities may soon have to adapt to new guidelines.

The changes stem, in part, from a federal Department of Justice ruling that people with disabilities must be in the least restrictive environment, according to Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary Kitty Rhoades.

Mike Ryan, director of the Challenge Center in Superior, said the new federal guidelines could affect as many as 130 people with disabilities who utilize Challenge Center services. They range from center-based workers growing tomatoes and shredding documents to those involved in vocational training and day services.

As Ryan understands the proposal, if the majority of workers at a site are disabled, it is considered to be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act because they are being segregated.

“I don’t think they’re looking at all the ramifications of the problems that could arise,” Ryan said. “We really want to do what’s best for these individuals.”

The Challenge Center supports options and true choice, Ryan said, but they want to make sure individuals have the option of center-based employment. There may not be enough job opportunities for these workers, he said, and transportation logistics would be a challenge.

“They want to be there, they want to work,” Ryan said. “We want to provide services for them.”

The focus of the new guidelines, Rhoades said, is to ensure that people with disabilities are in the least restrictive environment. That includes their work, housing, education and more.

“It can take 10 years to learn skills, so long as that’s the goal, integrated employment,” Rhoades said. If a program does not lead to integrated employment, it may not qualify for pre-vocational training dollars under the new guidelines.

Ryan has alerted families of center clients about the possible changes and asked them to give public comment on the state’s efforts to meet these new guidelines. The problem is the federal guidelines haven’t been released. Despite a lack of guidance, the state must renew its waiver with Medicaid by October.

“We told CMS (The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) that they put us in an untenable position,” Rhoades said. It’s not often they’re invited to a game without any guidelines.

The current waiver up for public comment, which would be implemented in October, has no changes, the secretary said. The state will have five years to come into compliance with the new federal guidelines once they are issued. For more information on the family care home and community-based services waiver, go to the site includes information on how to submit a comment.