BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Mississippi mental health experts say over time, attitudes regarding people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have changed for the better. In the past, people with these disabilities were sometimes ignored or cut off from the outside world.
Now there are programs geared toward helping people with developmental delays learn to do as much as they can for themselves because they want to be an accepted part of the community.
Workers at Biloxi Industries do jobs likes paper shredding, mail sorting and recycling. The staff says for many developmentally disabled adults, the center is their only opportunity to spend time with friends or to earn a paycheck.
"Now we have some that do work in the community. Maybe at Chili's or Hardee's or Marshall's," said Kathy Stafford, workshop supervisor. "But a lot of them need the one on one assistance and guidance. I think it would be horrible if we lost the workshops."
Shelby Jo Rossman is an employee at Biloxi Industries. She says holding down a job is the key to holding on to her independence. She likes going to work and earning her own money.
"I like to come here because I'm independent,"said Rossman. "I do seal the mail for the hotels and that's what I do to make money. I like to spend on my shopping."
Stafford says she's seen what happens when people are able focus on their capabilities rather than their limitations.
"When an individual first comes here, they may be shy or timid or not exactly sure," Stafford said. "Once they get in here, they mingle with their peers. They really are productive. They earn a salary. They change. They're just a different person, and it's really great to see."
Biloxi Industries is run by the South Mississippi Regional Center. The director says before 1978 most mentally disabled coast residents were forced into nursing homes or institutions hours away from home. Now they are able to live to their families and those whose disabilities are not severe enough to be in a facility are living out in the community.
"These are people. Keep them in their community," said Dorothy McEwen, South Mississippi Regional Center Director. "It's always good for people to be exposed to people that have intellectual and developmental disabilities. To let people know in our community that these folks exist. They have needs, and this is how their taxpayer dollars are being used to assist those individuals. "
The Biloxi Group home is one of five group homes in South Mississippi for the developmentally disabled. Some residents are permanent residents, but staff also tries to help those who want to live on their own but need life skills like money management and running a household to make that transition.
Tiffany Hart is the Biloxi Community Programs Director.
Hart said, "We participate in daily living skills which is laundry, help with meal prep. They also have chores and cleaning chores list that they have to produce each day."
Shelby Jo Rossman stays at the group home. She showed off her swimming ribbons she won for Special Olympics. The staff continually schedules activities like athletics, dances, other outings to give residents opportunities to relax and socialize.
"We have lots of fun," said Hart. "We just had a trip to Audubon Zoo, and we had a great time."
An opportunity to great well-rounded quality of life is something mental health experts say everyone deserves.
South Mississippi Regional Center Director Dorothy McEwen said she would like to see an expansion of community based programs with more opportunities for developmentally disabled people to live at home and have jobs at the work activity centers.
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