CommunicationFIRST to DC Council: Eliminate IQ Requirement to Qualify for Services

abstract image of the back of a male-appearing black person with short black curly hair wearing a peach colored shirt who appears to be sitting at a desk in the back of a classroomOn November 5, 2021, CommunicationFIRST’s Policy Director, Bob Williams, submitted written testimony to urge the DC Council (Washington, DC’s legislative body) to quickly pass a bill that would eliminate a requirement for IQ tests to be used in deciding who qualifies to receive developmental disability services.

The Developmental Disability Eligibility Reform Amendment Act of 2021 (DDERRA), Bill 24-268, advances human rights and social justice by ensuring that people with developmental disabilities who need disability-related supports to live in the community can receive them, regardless of how they perform on an assessment of their intelligence. The District of Columbia is one of the few states that continues to rely exclusively on this biased and antiquated standard.

As CommunicationFIRST has argued before, IQ tests and a diagnosis of intellectual disability are frequently harmful to people who need communication supports, and should be irrelevant to deciding whether someone needs and is eligible to receive supports and services. Disabled people should be able to receive necessary assistance for personal care, self-regulation, communication, community living, or employment, regardless of their intellectual abilities. As the testimony points out, “the intensity and multiplicity of support needs of an individual are not made less or greater based on IQ. ... To claim otherwise is absurd and discriminatory, and fails to equitably meet the needs of DC residents with developmental disabilities based on an arbitrary, non-evidence-based number.”

Mr. Williams, a resident of Washington, DC, points to his own experiences as well as historical injustices in framing his testimony: “History has no redo’s. We can never completely undo the legacy of injustice. But if the last two years teaches anything, it is that we must learn and act on its lessons to forge greater equity for all. ... The DDERAA is a vital tool for achieving justice and it can help spark similar change in other parts of our country.”

Other excerpts from the testimony:

“Across the U.S. and the globe, people who require AAC and especially large numbers who need but lack effective access to robust AAC, are all too casually branded and treated as being “unintelligible,” “nonverbal,” and unquestionably “the other.” We use a human and civil rights framework and set of tools to attack the dilemma we experience because the causes of it are deeply entrenched age-old bias, stereotype, and discrimination that must be exposed and ripped out root and branch. To this day, many who require AAC endure the most egregious forms of bias, discrimination, and social death: unjustified isolation, institutionalization, illiteracy, illness, ostracism, abuse, violence, and social death. This leads, in effect, to individuals serving life sentences incommunicado, which in any other context and for anyone else would be rightly viewed and dealt with as a gross human rights violation.”

“Historically and to this day, such persons also are frequently wrongly assumed or wrongly “assessed” to have intellectual disabilities because they tend to have one or more behavioral, expressive communication, executive functioning, movement/motoric, sensory, or other disabilities that: a) mask their abilities and aptitudes; and/or b) result in them being mis-assessed by measures of intelligence precisely because they lack access to robust language-based AAC. Moreover, data from State DD agencies, including DC DDS, indicate that roughly one of every four adults (24%) receiving services from such systems express themselves with a method other than their natural speech. It is reported that over 80% of this group use gestures either primarily or exclusively to express themselves. Furthermore, the same data show black, indigenous, people of color, and those who do not speak English that are served by State DD agencies in the U.S. are more likely than their white peers to use primary means other than their speech to express themselves.”

“Standard IQ tests have 3 fatal flaws in assessing the intelligence of people unable to rely on speech alone to communicate:

1. Every IQ test assumes the test-taker can either answer questions reliably with speech or hand movements of their hands, something that many, if not most, of these individuals are unable to do.
2. IQ tests have not been normed on people with communication, sensory, or movement differences.
3. IQ scores are influenced significantly by racial, language, socio-economic, and cultural differences.

These shortcomings lead to damaging assumptions that people who score poorly on IQ tests are incapable of learning, communicating, and directing their own lives.”

The testimony concludes: “We, therefore, strongly call on the District of Columbia and others to never make decisions affecting the lives of people who cannot rely on speech to be understood based on an IQ score. This is especially imperative for major decisions like determining eligibility for services as DC has done for well over a century.”

The full testimony can be accessed here.