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United, we have met fiscal crises before; united, we can do it again.

These are troubling times. In nearly every area of the United States, most of us face difficult economic problems - in our own homes, at our places of employment, in our local communities, and at every level of government. At times like these, we often wish we had much less information about the vast economic and political issues that disrupt our equilibrium and can make us feel overwhelmed and helpless.

Recently, one of our staff voiced concerns she shared with friends who also had children with disabilities. She and the other parents were pleased about the progress their children had made. They were very frightened that valuable programs would disappear along with community concern for their children. We tried to reassure her that great progress had been made in the past two decades, and society could not hide from children and families in need.

We have faced difficult periods before and we have persevered. We have learned how to respond to challenges and about the strength that parents have, especially when they work together.

Her anguish did not quickly leave us. In our sear for some positive suggestions, we discovered that we had written about a similar crisis almost 10 years ago. Here are some excerpts:

After two decades of progress, the status and direction of programs that serve individuals with disabilities are threatened. New patterns of funding and changes in regulations are being discussed and proposed on every level of government, nation state and local ... Over the past ten years many articles ... have helped our readers understand and become involved in the legislative process. Since changes were just beginning to happen, it was relatively easy to inform our audience about successful ventures in the legislative area.

The current status of programs seems chaotic and unfocussed. Changes are taking place...

... it is important for all of us to understand why each of the federal agencies involved proposes changes. Understanding these reasons will help us promote a dialogue not only with the agencies but more importantly with the broader public--our friends and neighbors.

After a law is passed, money ordinarily has to be appropriated for adequate implementation. We know that at times, a law is thwarted when funds are not provided.

... the withholding of federal funds is dramatically shifting the burdens to states and communities that are already having difficulties meeting their own general needs.

In times of shortages, it is human and understandable that everyone will first attempt to take care of his/her own programs. We may also begin to resent other programs that are different from our own and using "our funds. " For example, we may find proponents of pre-school day care arguing with advocates of adult community living programs.

Let we who are and have been advocates for people with disabilities not fight among ourselves or with other groups in need. Let us respect the priorities of others.

Because of budget cuts, agencies often have reduced staffs. We recognize that program sponsors in their personal survival efforts may not have the time or energy for the collaborations necessary for everyone's survival...

... There have been some successes in meeting the problems in the current situation. New ways of using resources or adapting old ways have been found. It is important that we share with each other these constructive solutions.

... We also still believe in the basic decency of our friends and neighbors, including those who want to cut budgets and programs. We believe that if we can communicate clearly the nature of our concerns, progress will continue to take place...

In these difficult economic times, all programs that are subsidized by the public funds are under considerable scrutiny and tend to be perceived with great skepticism ... The public our friends and neighbors - basically are willing to support programs for people with disabilities. We must be able to present our concerns clearly and without exaggerated facts and/or feelings. Otherwise we will only increase skepticism rather than support.

We cannot pull back. Our fears alone may destroy our efforts. Only if we are armed with information can we cope with whatever threats do exist. Our combined strength is critical.

Parents and parents' organizations face many challenges. Because parents' organizations have been and continue to be underfunded and understaffed, individual members as well as leaders tend to be so busy dealing with their primary concerns that devoting resources to reaching out to other groups may seem an unnecessary luxury. At such time, we need to remind ourselves how individuals and groups can nourish each other even when their priorities and passions may be different. We can continue to respect differences, and we can continue to seek ways to work together for all children and families.
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Author:Schleifer, Maxwell J.; Klein, Stanley D.
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Article Type:editorial
Date:Mar 1, 1991
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