The bootstraps paradigm (and how Texas can’t get it up)

My sister, Chris, calls most Sunday nights. The routine started not long after Mark died. After a year or so, I told her she really could stop checking on me, but she calls anyways. We catch up and have a laugh or two. Last night she asked what’s new and after I waxed about my new shoes, I shared what I learned Saturday at a local workshop on supported employment put on by The Arc.

Chris didn’t miss a beat when I shared an eye-popping statistic with her about Texas and its Medicaid waiver programs for people with disabilities.

“Texas really means that pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps thing, don’t they?”

Yes, they do.

Even if you have cerebral palsy.Even if you have a C1-C7 spinal injury. Sheesh. Even if you have no arms.

During the workshop, we heard from both the family and the supervisor of a man with autism. He has worked at the Austin Hilton downtown for nearly five years as a hotel steward. The family was incredibly inventive and determined. The hotel management is both smart and compassionate. The man is able to speak through a bit of sign language, and it has worked out fine. The hotel alluded to the story of another man on their staff who has autism (I know this story from the people at Marbridge), so this wasn’t a one-time thing for them, either.

The main thing I learned is that “social service” in Texas is DIY.

The mother of the hotel steward also is an advocate. She passed out a fact sheet that listed how many people in Texas were receiving employment services through the state’s Medicaid waiver programs. (Read the material in the link to understand the nuances. But suffice to say, if a person with a disability needs services, you can apply for help through one of these programs instead of checking into a state-supported living center.)

School officials and other advocates advised Mark and me to put Sam on the waiting list when we moved to Texas. They said it could well take 15-20 years for him to work his way up the list. If he were receiving services through CLASS, the program that would best fit his needs, he would join all the other people in Texas receiving employment services through this waiver program. And that number is …


You read that right. Two.

In a state of 25.6 million people, we have found the resources to help just two people with disabilities, people like Sam, with employment services.  To be fair, there are more people getting employment services in the other waiver programs, but not very many — about 500 or so, in the entire state. I would bet that most, if not all, of them are working in sheltered workshops. In other words, still some distance from a full, independent life in the community.

The hotel steward’s mother described the same problem I had last year when I called DARS, another place to find help with employment services. DARS told her, too, that she had a better chance of helping her son find a job than they did. When she called the various employment support service groups, she confirmed what DARS had told her. Most of the vendors were out of business. To get started, her son’s ABA therapist became certified as a DARS provider so he could be the job coach as he learned to be a hotel steward.

Dear Texas: I reject the notion that this is benign neglect. What does it really cost the state to neglect this pool of workers? Sincerely Yours. P

The bottom line for our family is what I have suspected for some time. I have to go along with Sam, as I have several times already, in his job search. He stands a much better chance pulling up his bootstraps if I put mine on, too.



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