Your Source for NPR News & Music
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Creating A Community For People With Developmental Disabilities


Most of the 4.5 million adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the U.S. live with their parents. As everyone ages, finding long-term housing can pose big challenges. As Michigan Radio's Doug Tribou reports, a group of Michigan parents is instead creating a neighborhood of their own.

DOUG TRIBOU, BYLINE: Saline is in Southeast Michigan, not far from the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor. Patty and Karl Rabe's house is in a quiet subdivision here. Patty's a nurse anesthetist, and Carl is an IT manager. And they've got a small, friendly dog named Sherlock. The Rabes' son Bill is 28. He's friendly and social, but his mom says he functions at about the level of a 6- to 10-year-old. Still, he holds down two part-time jobs, is a Special Olympian and likes to play video games.

What kind of games do you like?

BILL RABE: Hockey.

TRIBOU: (Laughter) You watch movies in here, too?

B. RABE: Yep.

TRIBOU: Karl's 58. Patty's 61. For years, they've searched for a long-term housing solution for their son. Patty says he can do some things himself but needs to have someone around.

PATTY RABE: When it comes to any kind of emergency or unusual situation, he couldn't be trusted to make good decisions about what to do.

TRIBOU: The Rabes found other local families in a similar situation. Eventually, they began planning a building with four condominiums for their children with a common area for a caregiver. Then they met developer Bill Godfrey, who started thinking a little bigger.

BILL GODFREY: We came back with this idea that what was really needed was just to build a regular neighborhood for the general public and include housing for people with special needs it and design that housing with them.

TRIBOU: Godfrey's team bought land from the city with enough room for two condo buildings for those with disabilities and 26 single-family homes and townhouses anyone can buy. Planned communities for the disabled aren't a new idea, but they are unusual. The site plan shows a tree-lined cul-de-sac. The public library and middle school are across the street. The condo started at $180,000, houses at $250,000 - attractive prices in a tight market. And most have already sold. The Rabes bought one to be near their son's condo. And Patty's excited about her future neighbors.

P. RABE: A lot of times, when people with disabilities want to come into a neighborhood, there's a lot of pushback, and the people are afraid. That really gives me a lot of peace of mind that people know that these guys will be here.

TRIBOU: While most advocates agree that integrating people with disabilities into society is crucial, there's debate over how best to do that. Desiree Kameka is with the Madison House Autism Foundation, based in Maryland. We spoke by Skype. Kameka says, unlike in traditional group homes, these families are in control.

DESIREE KAMEKA: They know that their loved one will never be kicked out because a provider decides they don't want to serve that person anymore.

TRIBOU: Now, after years of planning, the Rabes are looking forward to moving in later this year, but Karl says there's more to do.

KARL RABE: I think there's many aspects of Bill being independent that we have no idea about yet - of transportation and health care and all those things. So housing is really just the first step, I think.

TRIBOU: Patty's optimistic but has conflicted feelings.

P. RABE: I've taken care of him, you know, for 28 years, so I have some anxiety about what it will be like when he doesn't live in my house. But Bill has the capability to have his own life, his own friends, his own activities. And he deserves to have that.

TRIBOU: It's a big step. But if their son needs help, they'll be just up the street. For NPR News, I'm Doug Tribou. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Doug Tribou joined the Michigan Radio staff as the host of Morning Edition in June 2016. Doug first moved to Michigan in 2015 when he was awarded a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Related Stories