The disability advocacy community has pushed for the creation of a Developmental Disabilities Ombuds in response to challenges and pitfalls in services being experienced by Individuals with Developmental Disabilities across Washington State . In 2011, Laura Gholston, age 48, was found to have been severely abused and neglected by her state-paid caregiver. See the Laura Gholston article for more information. Her story is one of many examples highlighting a lack of oversight to ensure that Individuals with Developmental Disabilities are not being subjected to abuse, and prompted the creation of “Laura’s Law” in 2016.
Laura’s Law is Passed
The legislature recognized abuse as a problem as stated in the legislative intent section of SB 6564 , also known as Laura’s Law.
“The legislature finds and declares that the prevalence of the abuse and neglect of individuals with developmental disabilities has become an issue that negatively affects the health and wellbeing of such individuals.”
The effect of Laura’s Law came in two parts. It increased the visitation of certain clients through enhanced case management in Developmental Disabilities Administration, which means that case managers must visit the client at least once every four months, including with unannounced visits, and it initiated the creation of the independent Office of the Developmental Disabilities Ombuds. Here you can read about the DD Ombuds RCW, which says that the Office of the Developmental Disabilities will:
Be contracted through the state (Department of Commerce)
Be operated by a private, non-profit organization
Provide DD Ombuds services across Washington State
Be independent of the service system (Including DDA)
Creation of the Office of the Developmental Disabilities Ombuds
In 2017, Disability Rights Washington applied for and was awarded the contract to operate the Office of the Developmental Disabilities Ombuds. Work started by establishing offices for the Ombuds across the state in Seattle, Spokane and Olympia. Staff were hired and trained. Advisory Committee members were recruited, representing diversity across the 3 service regions and having a supermajority of Individuals with Developmental Disabilities. Finally, the protocols for the DD Ombuds were established and the website launched.
Today, the systems for collecting complaints are being refined, volunteers are being located and trained, information is being gathered to present to legislators about the state of the service system, and the places where people are in need of outreach are being found. The DD Ombuds continues to work hard to serve individuals with developmental disabilities in Washington State.