continued By law, clients must be 18 or older. For many of them, the Arc is the next step after special-education programs in the public schools. The association provides a prevocational process and graduates clients to the workshop. The final transition is working outside in the community. Schneider adds, "We have a separate division [on Market Street] that places people in the community."
Schneider discusses the changing definition of the term "mental retardation." "Parents would like to have their children diagnosed specifically -- a syndrome of some kind, and there's 750 different ideologies for mental retardation. Some are specific like Down's syndrome...Prader-Willi syndrome, Williams syndrome, Tourette syndrome -- there's literally hundreds. The most important thing is to put the person first. We don't say 'him' or 'they'; we talk directly about the person -- an individual with mental retardation."
The American Association on Mental Retardation defines "mental retardation" as "substantial limitations in present functioning, characterized by significantly subaverage intellectual functioning, existing concurrently with related limitations in two or more of the following areas: communication, self-care, home living, social skills, community use, self-direction, health and safety, functional academics, leisure, and work." There are four levels of functional limitiations: intermittent, limited, extensive, and pervasive. Schneider adds, "Mild, moderate, severe, and profound were terms used until 1992 by this organization -- they're still used in general. That's when they released this new definition, and it took them six or seven years to develop it. The new definition is more focused on the functional deficits of the person as opposed to some IQ measurement. It used to be measured strictly by IQ.
"Now in the schools, mild and moderate retardation is fading away. Those people may not be eligible for services. The learning disabled are another group that's come into the picture. They usually have IQs that are higher than people classified with mental retardation. To qualify for services, you have to be classified as mentally retarded and that means an IQ below 75. That's still the definition and what the government uses."
The term client -- those who are trained and work at the Arc -- is also modifying to "consumer." But Schneider prefers his own terms. "That change is the result of rewriting some of the federal regulations. That was when the 'client' was an individual who required someone else to do something for them. A 'consumer' is actually an individual with the capacity to make decisions. The consumer is consuming the service, so the federal government said, 'Okay, we're going to empower people, so part of that is making them the consumer.' In reality, I like to call the individuals in the work training program 'trainees' -- because that's what they are. And individuals who are in programs where they're not acquiring the skill at the level where they would be considered a trainee are participating -- they're 'participants.'"
Schneider is constantly interrupted by his trainees. A young man named Andy keeps saying, "Hi, Dave!" and Schneider patiently greets him and asks what he's doing in his class. Throughout the morning, several people will talk to Schneider, who knows them all by name and situation. He asks each person specific questions about their progress.
In discussing his path to Arc, Schneider reflects on his past employment. "One of my jobs was to form an insurance company; in doing that, I had to get involved in rehabilitation, because in 1974 the State of California was bringing on board the concept of vocational rehabilitation for helping people who had been injured. I believe the most important thing a person has is their ability to work. Vocational rehabilitation interested me, so in 1984 I retired from the insurance industry and started working with a firm that had vocational rehabilitation clients. Eventually, I became president of that company and then I went to school and got a degree in rehabilitation counseling and as part of that process saw people at work in the Arc of Fresno. I said, 'This is phenomenal!'
"Studies show that people with vocational rehabilitation -- individuals who are injured at work -- can't complete their healing process until they get a settlement.... Medically, they're healed; they're ready to go back to work, but psychologically, they can't survive in the workplace until they get that award. It's chronic pain syndrome, it's secondary gains -- it's a variety of things, but it's real. Then you go to a place like Arc, where people are severely disabled, and they just want a chance. They're just happy to have a chance to be part of the community. Talk about rewarding! Come out here on payday when everyone walks by and shows you their paycheck."
After working at the Arc of Stanislaus, Schneider eventually became executive director. His current position in San Diego opened up four years ago.
"Each person in here has a written plan that identifies the goals they want to move toward. Our job is to help them find the path to help build on that."
But desire to change isn't all that's required. "The biggest barrier we have is transportation. We can train people to work in the community, and there's a job available but no transportation. Public transportation in San Diego is very poor. I talked to a guy yesterday who was an hour late because he missed the trolley. Would you spend one and a half hours on the bus to get to a training facility or to work?"