When the moving truck finally arrived, David Cicarelli popped out of his parent’s house with a 10-pack of juice boxes, excited that his long wait was over at last.The movers were behind schedule, but the real delay to leave a Lincolnshire facility began years ago for Cicarelli, 38, who has developmental disabilities and had long been denied his request to live closer to his family in a community-based group home.
On Thursday, though, Cicarelli prepared to end his temporary stay at his parents’ home and spend his first night at his new home in Wheeling — the result of a federal lawsuit settled with a landmark consent decree in June. Cicarelli was one of five plaintiffs in the civil rights case, filed against the state of Illinois in 2005 in an effort to bring the state into compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
The 1990 law requires that people with disabilities be allowed to live in the “most integrated setting” within their communities. But state funding limited choices and led to a high rate of institutionalization, said Laura Miller, an attorney for Equip for Equality, one of several advocacy groups that filed the lawsuit.
“We still have a long way to go because we are just beginning implementation of the consent degree,” Miller said.
Under the settlement, the state must allow thousands of people with developmental and intellectual disabilities to move into community-based housing of their choice and must provide expanded service to others. The agreement allowed the state a six-year timetable to achieve the goal, but required that the five plaintiffs be allowed to move more quickly.
“I feel pretty good,” said Cicarelli, who watched workers load his dresser, a croquet set and a wooden party tray onto the moving truck.
He has his own bedroom at the new home provided by Clearbrook, an Arlington Heights-based agency that provides housing and services to people with developmental disabilities.
The two-story, five-bedroom house is furnished with leather couches, a big-screen television and an airy kitchen with granite countertops. A Clearbrook staff member will work 18-hour shifts so that residents are constantly supervised when they are not at a daily workshop in Palatine.
At his request, one wall in Cicarelli’s bedroom was painted royal blue, which represents nearby Wheeling High School’s colors.
His mother expects life will change dramatically for Cicarelli and that he will need to become more self-disciplined than he was at his prior home at Riverside Foundation in Lincolnshire. Cicarelli had lived at Riverside since 1997, where he adhered to daily routines followed by its approximately 100 residents.
“It’s better for him to be more independent, to live away from your parents, because that’s how we grow,” said his mother, Juli, who with her husband lives two miles away from the Wheeling home.
Cicarelli enjoyed his friends and staff at Riverside but wanted more privacy, he said. Over the years, he frequently changed rooms, often because of conflicts with roommates, his mother said.
Staff members kept his room clean, woke him up in the morning and fed him meals.
At his new home, “there are staff here to remind him, but their job isn’t, ‘David do this, David do that,'” said Rachael Pelc, a Clearbrook employee. “The goal is not to do everything for him. … If David decides to stay up late at night, he’ll still have to get up early for workshop.”
At Riverside, he was a popular deejay on dance nights, playing Destiny’s Child and other favorites on a CD player that he carried in his backpack.
He had recently moved to his parents’ house, a temporary transition while the Wheeling house was being renovated.
During one of his last days at Riverside, Cicarelli walked purposefully down the halls, wearing a tie and sweater and nodding at a bevy of friends who yelled, “Good luck, David!”
“I’m excited for it,” he said at the time. “I could come back here and visit.”
Besides Cicarelli, all but one of the plaintiffs have settled in new housing or received additional services at home, said Barry Taylor, vice president of Equip for Equality.
“The state will start doing outreach to people about their rights under the decree, and people will start moving by the end of the year,” Taylor said.