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Column: Make Oklahoma a Top Ten state for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities

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Gov. Kevin Stitt is known for making the call for Oklahoma to become a Top Ten state in a variety of areas. That vision is thrilling because who wouldn’t want to be in one of the top 10 states to live in the U.S.?

But when it comes to Oklahoma’s residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities, some Oklahomans might be shocked to know we rank in the Bottom Ten.

The idea of a Top Ten ranking brings up images of a thriving state filled with Oklahomans who are excited about their home and confident in the place they live. Chasing this ideal is a worthy goal, and one we must ensure is inclusive of all Oklahomans.

Unfortunately, research by students at Oral Roberts University suggests that Oklahomans with intellectual and developmental disability are being are excluded from that vision.

Legislators must take action to see this changed.

The waitlist for services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities is above 5,400 people. This type of lengthy waitlist has been a problem for more than 15 years, with the list at times exceeding 7,500 people.

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services, which is responsible for providing services for these individuals, is asking the Legislature for funding to provide services for those currently waiting and to enable contracted service providers to staff qualified workers for open positions.

Should funding be made available, Oklahomans with intellectual and developmental disabilities might finally have a chance to be part of the Top Ten ranking envisioned by Stitt.

SOAR Partners commissioned a research project through ORU’s College of Business with the graduate competitive business intelligence class. Working with these students, we sought to understand the Oklahoma waitlist and available services compared to other states.

The students found that Oklahoma ranked very low for its care for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Our waiting list is the 7th largest in the nation per capita. Stated differently, Oklahoma ranked 44th in the nation for providing individuals with services.

Sadly, this surprised no one, only confirming what individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their caregivers already experience. Caregivers shared with SOAR about waiting years, and decades to receive any kind of services.

Clearly, Oklahoma must do better. As Oklahomans, we must take action to see Oklahoma become a Top Ten state for members of the intellectual and developmentally disabled community – members of our community.

To get this done, we need to be having conversations with legislators and advocating for this group to receive full funding this year. The state must adopt innovative technologies that can enhance delivery of services.

Oklahoma needs a marketplace exchange where self-advocates, families and a provider network can easily and efficiently connect individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities to an appropriate provider.

Most importantly, this outlook looks like neighbors across the state, with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities, knowing about the issues and committing themselves to a new Top Ten vision – one that includes every Oklahoman.

To read the ORU research project, to go soar.partners/oru-research-study. For questions about how to get involved in making a difference for the Oklahoma intellectual and developmental disabilities community, email bfredricks@soar.partners.


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Brooklyn Cadwallader is vice president at SOAR Partners, a Tulsa-based social impact technology and consulting company.

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