Disabled couple seek life together in group home

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 7, 2013 at 5:47 pm •  Published: May 7, 2013
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David Arntsen, attorney for the Independent Group Home Living program in Manorville, where Forziano lives, says that it doesn't have facilities for married residents and that there is no specific legal requirement forcing the home to house them. The program's residences have between three and 12 men and women; the home where Forziano lives is coed, according to his attorney.

The lawsuit cites a letter from the director of program services at Independent Group Home Living, saying its homes "are not staffed or designed to house and supervise married couples or assist married couples with the dynamics of their relationships, sexual or otherwise."

Also named in the lawsuit is the state Office of Persons With Developmental Disabilities, which the couple claims sided with the agencies in refusing to accommodate their wishes and has not done enough to find a solution. The office has declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Experts say it is difficult to estimate how many mentally disabled people are married, since states ask no questions about a person's mental capacity on marriage licenses.

Tiffany Portzer, a spokeswoman for the state developmental disabilities office, says the agency does not keep data on the marital status of its clients. "I can tell you that we know it's a small minority of everyone in a group home, she says.

The couple's parents say they have reached out to other state-certified group homes to see if they had space. They were told that although other facilities welcome married couples, nothing was available anytime soon, according to the lawsuit. Their attorney says the couple needs to live near their parents on eastern Long Island, as well as the Maryhaven Day Program, which each has attended for years.

Forziano, 30, is classified in the mild to moderate range of intellectual functioning, with recent IQ scores of 50 and 58. He has limited reading and writing skills and cannot manage money.

Samuels, 36, is in the moderate range of intellectual functioning, with recent IQ scores of 50 and 44. She has a significant expressive language disability, which can make it difficult sometimes for others to understand her.

The Social Security Administration offers disability benefits when a person's IQ is below 70.

The couple met several years ago while attending the performing arts education program for mentally disabled adults, which teaches the basics of staging and set design, and offers singing and acting lessons.

"She's very beautiful and she helps me," Forziano says of his new bride.

Samuels says she fell for her future husband because he was funny; she particularly liked his "knock-knock" jokes.

But her eyes begin to well up with tears when asked about her current living situation. "I'm not happy," she says. "We live apart."

Bonnie Samuels says she never envisioned her daughter would ever be married, let alone become embroiled in a court fight over it.

"It does make me very angry," she says, "that people say they want the best and the most for these individuals, or want them to have the type of life that they would like to have and let them grow as much as they can, and yet they're being told no."