There can be many challenges for people with special needs. But local organizations provide opportunities for them to live independently and contribute to their communities.
Tish Ford is the development specialist for an organization called enAble of Georgia, Inc., which provides support services for adults with developmental and physical disabilities in Fulton County.
Ford said that after individuals with special needs age out of the public school system at 22, it’s important for them to continue to receive support and enrichment during their adult lives.
“You have these young adults who face an uncertain future of social exclusion in activity, and really not being able to gain independence they could gain if they have the proper support,” Ford said.
Ford said enAble provides options like medical care, transportation and day programs for people with conditions such as cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and autism. The organization has a fleet of 22 vans that provide transportation to everything from medical appointments to worship services to community activities.
“There are day enrichment programs for individuals to remain active. They have something to do every day, and what they do with their day is their choice,” Ford said. “Some of them have jobs in the community, some of them volunteer in the community.”
EnAble also operates 16 group homes throughout Fulton County, where adults with similar interests and needs can live together with a 24-hour assistance staff.
Buckhead resident Peggy Farris said her son Evan, who is 36, has thrived in his group home. Though he uses a wheelchair and is unable to speak, he is able to lead a relatively independent life, doing things such as taking public transportation to participate in day programs with enAble.
“It’s a wonderful peace of mind we have as parents knowing his needs are in place,” Farris said. “Not only his needs — he has an enriched life.”
Farris said she first started thinking about long-term care when Evan was in middle school.
“He’s a young guy and we’re aging parents,” she said.
She didn’t want Evan to be isolated in the family’s home once he was out of school.
“I knew long-term care was going to be important, and we were limited in the ’80s and ’90s as far as available services for long-term care in the state,” Farris said. “We did not want institutionalization for our son.”
Farris said though it was a difficult decision at first for Evan to move away from home, she’s confident that he is in the best possible place.
“It gives us such hope for the future for people with intellectual disabilities to be in an environment where they are safe and cared for,” Farris said.
Nestled in Brookhaven Park off of Peachtree Road in Brookhaven is the DeKalb Services Center, which also provides services for adults with developmental disabilities.
The DeKalb Services Center, which has been in its location since 1978, serves about 120 people, including a large aging population, said Michelle Potter, a spokeswoman for the organization.
Along with day programs, the DeKalb Services Center also provides a hot lunch and physical therapy for those who need it.
Marilyn Reid, coordinator of developmental disabilities services, said the organization believes it’s important for people with developmental disabilities to interact with the community as well. They regularly go on outings and volunteer to do things like deliver meals to senior citizens through Meals on Wheels.
“Even though they have disabilities, they have a lot to give to people,” Reid said.
Sandra Segars teaches day programs for people with more severe disabilities. On a recent afternoon, she was leading sensory activities using lights and music.
She has been at the center for 17 years and said the people she works with are like her family.
“They need this in their lives, to come to the center to socialize,” she said. “It’s important that our individuals know they are loved here.”