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Not Hidden Away: Social and Financial Inclusion for Women and Girls with Disabilities
By Dennis Felty, President of Keystone Human Services
In 1968, I worked at the Harrisburg State Hospital where 3,500 people lived in the most inhumane conditions imaginable. Keystone Human Services was born out of that horror, and nearly 40 years later, I had the privilege of helping the last 15 patients return home. I locked the door of the hospital for the last time. For the first time in 150 years, there was no one on the other side of that locked door.
Since its inception, Keystone Human Services has been committed to supporting people with disabilities to live in the community as valued and fully participating citizens. On September 24, 2013 at the Clinton Global Initiative, I had the opportunity to announce our most recent commitment to support people with disabilities: the Social and Financial Inclusion for Women and Girls with Disabilities.
For the next three years, Keystone will be working to create entrepreneurial and workforce opportunities, as well as to develop mentorship and support programs for 30 women with disabilities and 30 women who are caregivers of children with disabilities. Most importantly, we will assist women and young girls to leave institutions and return home to their families and communities. We will also work to prevent more girls and women from entering institutions.
Our commitment combats the discrimination, segregation, and institutionalization experienced by women and girls living with intellectual disabilities in the Republic of Moldova, the Russian Federation, and the United States, specifically Pennsylvania.
No longer will women with disabilities be hidden away in institutions. Instead, they will live in their community, in their village, with their family or in a comfortable, secure home. They will be neighbors, friends, family members. They will have every opportunity to participate in life, including opportunities for employment.
To support women and girls with intellectual disabilities, we look to our successful model in the Republic of Moldova supporting men and boys to leave the institution in Orhei. In 2008, Keystone began working to close the institution in Orhei, Moldova. I visited the men and boys who live there many times over the last 12 years and feel a very clear mandate to assist them to return home. Through the Community for All – Moldova Program, Keystone Moldova helped 73 men and boys to leave the institution and return to their families or join the community, supported by community-based services, and another 44 have been prevented from entering the institution.
As the Clinton Global Initiative encourages us to do, we are mobilizing for impact, taking concrete actions to improve the lives of women and girls with intellectual disabilities.
It’s a real privilege to have been a member of the Clinton Global Initiative since 2007 and to work as an advocate for disability rights. I’m proud to be a part of this gathering of people who are deeply committed to making a better world.