Failing Darla

For too long, the considerable needs of developmentally disabled Texans have gone unmet. It’s time to end the abuse and neglect.

When you live here long enough, you become inured to certain things that might otherwise drive you crazy, like the fact that we rank, among all states, near or at the bottom of too many lists: dead last in health insurance coverage, forty-ninth for children living in poverty, well below average in the incarceration of nonviolent teenagers, and so on. So when the Legislature gets infatuated with a nonpressing issue—this session it was voter ID—instead of trying to improve dire situations that have persisted for decades, the public response isn’t outrage but a collective shrug. It’s our way to embrace the bright side of the Texas myth (independence, individualism) while ignoring the dark side, which leaves the less fortunate to fend for themselves. Some of these evils have been with us for so long that we’ve come to believe they’re intractable, even though other states have proved they aren’t. And when outsiders say we’re backward in our nonapproach to social ills—what else would you expect from Texas?—the historic response is to circle the wagons in collective defensiveness.

Those were the kinds of thoughts running through my mind this spring when I happened to meet Darla Deese, who is fifty and “developmentally disabled” (the polite term for “mentally retarded”), at the precise moment, after decades of abuse and neglect, that the Legislature had budgeted $507 million for care of people like her. “It’s going to create a lot of opportunities for people … to stay in their homes or a community setting,” state representative

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