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The Center for Public Integrity held an event on July 26 — the 33rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act — called “What is Home?” that explored the challenges of finding appropriate homes for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Leah Mapstead lives by herself. She likes decorating her home in different ways.

Her living room looks like an African safari. Her bathroom has an ocean theme.

But home is more than just her space. 

Leah said: “Home is not just a place.” 

Leah also said: “It’s loved ones, memories, somewhere to feel safe and somewhere you know you can be yourself, no matter what.”

The Center for Public Integrity is a newsroom that does stories about inequality. It hosted a virtual event on July 26. 

July 26 was the 33rd anniversary of The Americans with Disabilities Act. 

Leah Mapstead shared her story. Three other storytellers with intellectual and developmental disabilities shared their stories too. 

The other storytellers were: 

  • Paul Costantini 
  • Hailey Simon
  • Sophie Stern 

Amy led the event because she wrote a story for Public Integrity last year. The story was about how hard it is to find safe homes for people with disabilities.

Amy also started Wordslaw for disabled storytellers.

Paul was one of the storytellers. He said he lives in a guest house on his parents’ property. He said it is a “paradise.” He has his own things. He feels safe, comfortable and independent. 

Paul said: “I feel very grown up living here.” 

Hailey uses American Sign Language. She shared a poem about homes she has had or she knows from fiction. 

Sophie read a story about how she thinks of home. Her view changed when her older sister moved away to college. She shared what that felt like.

Amy told the storytellers: “What I love is that each of you took the same theme — home — and you had such different interpretations of it.”

After the stories, the discussion began. Amy led the discussion with:

  • Becca Monteleone, who teaches at the University of Toledo
  • Patricia M. Jones, a person with a developmental disability who is a self advocate 
  • Zoe Gross, director of advocacy at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network

Zoe said: People with disabilities can’t find accessible housing that they can afford to pay for. Most homes are not wheelchair accessible.

Zoe said: “Rental assistance isn’t keeping up with demand, so funding affordable housing programs is really important.” 

Zoe also said: It is important to fund “programs that help people with disabilities who are leaving institutions or at risk of entering institutions.”

Becca said that we all are responsible for making spaces more welcoming to people with disabilities.

Becca said: “Having some of that work done in advance is one step toward more inclusive spaces.”

Patricia said: Support systems need to start thinking outside the box. They need to think about individual needs.

Patricia said: “They plan for people who need a lot of support or no support, but they don’t think about what the nuances are of the needs in between.” 

“What is Home?” was co-sponsored by: 

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Ileana Garnand (they/them) is CPI's 2022-2023 Charles Lewis American University Fellow. They are currently...