Ordean Stevenson is a people person. It is in the way he stops strangers to complement their hair, the way he can remember every single birth or anniversary date you tell him, and the way children seem to be drawn to his storytelling.
Heather Pickering remembers the time she walked in to the kitchen during a break from directing a Flutter Productions play.
“Ordean was sitting at the table and all the kids were on the floor at his feet,” recalls Heather, who is artistic director for Flutter Productions, part of the Black Hills Works family, where Ordean has been a person supported for 45 years. “They all wanted him to tell them stories. The kids just fell in love with him.”
85 people with significant developmental disabilities moved into CSP's when the Custer State Institution closed in 1996. Saving the state $13,077,658 annually at todays rates.
It’s hard not to fall in love with Ordean, she says, or to see the way that he has flourished in the environment at Black Hills Works. He’s just one of hundreds of people with disabilities each year who find friendship, support, and guidance within organizations across the state who support people with disabilities.
“At the end of the day, every human being needs to be loved, accepted, and respected,” Heather says. “As a society, we have historically disenfranchised this group of people, not provided them with the same resources, not given them a voice, not provided adequate support, or given them a presence in society. Society at large had tried to tuck them away where they were isolated and disconnected.”
Out of the shadow
Ordean is a great example of how a community-based life supports not only the person with a disability, but their family, friends and community. Support providers offer more than just a ride to the local coffee shop—they offer friendship, encouragement, and a consistent advocate.
Alongside a direct support professional through the retirement center at Black Hills Works, Ordean lives a full life. He attends church, enjoys local shops, goes out for lunch, and acts in plays.
Lea Haisch, the lead direct support professional in the retirement center at Black Hills Works where Ordean spends much of his time, notes that Ordean is an example of a person with a disability flourishing and contributing to society because he has the right support and opportunities. It’s vital for people with disabilities to become part of the community, both in relationships, and service.
That’s the unique—and critical role—of direct support professionals. They help people with disabilities reach an appropriate level independence, become a valued member of the community, and walk out their dreams.
It hasn’t always been this way for Ordean. Now 72 years of age, he is one of the hundreds of people with disabilities who spent time at the South Dakota Redfield State Hospital and School. “There were so many parents during that time period that were told to just send their babies off,” Heather says. “It’s heartbreaking.”
Ordean was two years old when he was sent to Redfield, where he spent his childhood and early adulthood. He has been open about his time at the institution, sharing some of his memories in a Flutter Productions play last year called “Journeys.”
In the 1940s and 50s, state institutions for the developmentally disabled were known for being understaffed, with patients reportedly living in cramped living conditions, not adequately cared for and neglected. “Some people with disabilities in his age group have PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) from the horrifying situations they lived through,” Heather says.
While Ordean has been open about his experiences at Redfield, he now focuses on the life he leads today, Heather adds. It is a life he can lead on his own terms because of the support that is tailored to his needs, wants and hopes for the future. “He wants to come into your office, or whatever room you are in, and energize you and excite you about life.”
We save the state
$116 million annually
Over the past 12 years the CSP system has experienced net growth of 580 people with developmental disabilities being served. If these people were reverted to institutional services it would total over $116 million dollars annually at todays rates.
He recently discovered a love of lattes, eagerly tries new restaurants in town, and volunteers for Meals on Wheels by delivering meals to the elderly. “He’s thrilled by these new experiences and it’s because of Lea,” Heather says. “She tries to give all of the people we support in our retirement community a more diverse experience in life. You would want someone like her with your loved one because she cares.”
Ordean’s life is at the heart of why we have come a long way from places like Redfield, why laws have been changed to protect people with disabilities, and why we work so hard to value every person regardless of their abilities.
Heather sees people blossom with the support and encouragement they need, but there’s still so much untapped potential. “Sometimes there are great opportunities for people with disabilities, but there’s not enough support,” she says.
That could mean there’s not someone to drive them to the grocery store, or there’s not enough transportation, or another person’s needs have become a priority, or there simply isn’t the funding available for people to live the life that each and every person should be able to.
“Things are dramatically different but there’s still a long way to go,” she says.