The Gatesway Foundation strives “to encourage independence and provide opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities that will enable them to live and work in the community and improve their quality of life.” However, barriers to the fulfillment of this objective are plentiful.
In the late ‘90s, legislature removed intellectually disabled individuals from institutions that were suspected of mistreatment and negligence. These people were mostly moved into private care facilities. This was generally recognized by parents, educators, caretakers, and policymakers as a step in the right direction, not only ethically but also because community-based care is more cost-effective.
With the removal of government-operated care facilities came an increased demand for supportive services for intellectually and developmentally challenged individuals. Because the sheer amount of available housing and employment opportunities for the disabled dropped after government funds were cut, huge waitlists have formed for these services.
Parents of disabled adults can be strapped with immense medical costs and the stress of having to provide for a grown child who likely has few job prospects (without assistance from organizations like Gatesway) for years. When government benefits are not in place, waitlists for community care may filled with thousands of potential recipients who have been waiting for nearly a decade to be considered.
Providing living and career opportunities to all individuals who are in need is still a difficult task even when tackled by various organizations. The Gatesway Foundation serves close to 400 people with developmental and intellectual disabilities, and other non-profit and for-profit groups in the Tulsa area serve similar numbers.
Because not enough resources from government waivers are allocated to offering full-time communal living Gatesway has had to establish intermediate care facilities.
“These are a place for people who can no longer live with their family and are awaiting services to open up in the community where they can live in a smaller home-like environment,” the group said.
For school-aged children with disabilities, the problem isn’t in finding them somewhere to have permanent and secure housing; it arises in attempting to get the education they personally require to be successful. Parents can receive state dollars to go towards public school tuition for kids who need special education programs, but in recent years this budget has seen cuts.
Gatesway also faces difficulties in finding jobs for disabled teens who weren’t able to complete their schooling. Their efforts in lobbying for more disability funding from the state have seen little success.
Although, what they do accomplish with their budget as a non-profit is notable in terms of the support they’re able to provide for fully-fledged adults.
An additional challenge facing disabled children is that a scholarship for students with disabilities that, until this year, has been accepted at private schools is now being challenged on its constitutionality at the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The argument against the scholarship’s continuation is that some parents who receive it on behalf of their children elect to send their child to religious private schools using the scholarship, and taxpayer money should not support religious institutions.
If the voucher is ruled unconstitutional many disabled students would lose the only state funding they have for personalized education, even though the majority of the funds currently go to non-religiously affiliated schools. Public schools are often not conducive to the success of disabled students, so forcing non-wealthy parents to make their handicapped children attend public schools could be detrimental to the children’s future prospects.
While the Gatesway Foundation does have to fight the tide against legislation that limits the ability of disabled persons to successfully integrate into educational and professional realms, the foundation manages to stay afloat. They rely on fundraisers like the Gatesway Balloon Festival each September to fund their activities, along with donations.