News from Disability Rights Ohio is the monthly newsletter from Disability Rights Ohio, providing information and updates about case work and activities of the agency, and other disability-related news.
People make a lot of assumptions when you have difficulty communicating. They assume you can’t understand them. They assume you’re not smart. They assume it’s not worth trying to make a connection. Jordyn Zimmerman lived in a world of those sorts of assumptions for years.
Jordyn, 20, has autism, which for her comes with sensory and communication struggles and a tendency to interpret things in a concrete way. Before assistive technology entered the picture, her teachers would say disparaging things about her in her presence, assuming she didn’t know what they were saying. She would act out in frustration. For several years she was moved from program to program at a variety of different schools. Nothing ever worked out. Eventually she ended up spending her days in a room by herself doing repetitive tasks.
“I was bored and lonely,” Jordyn explains. “I wanted to be in class with my peers. When my frustration got to be overwhelming or my sensory needs weren’t being met, I had difficulty communicating my frustration.” This would cause Jordyn to frequently run out of the room or bang her head on hard surfaces.
The Turning Point
In December 2013, an incident between Jordyn and a teacher led to her being removed from Hudson High School in Northeast Ohio. Two days before her mother, Karen, was to meet with school administrators, who wanted to discuss moving Jordyn again to a more restrictive environment, she called Disability Rights Ohio to find out what her rights were and how to best advocate for her daughter. DRO Attorney Virginia Wilson got the case.
“When I first met Jordyn, I asked her if there was a way she could best communicate with me, and she suggested she could use her iPad to talk to me about her issues at school,” Wilson remembers. “Jordyn had an iPad with a communication app, but she hadn’t used it very much.”
Immediately, through the iPad, she was able to speak with Wilson in complete sentences. They spent two hours discussing Jordyn’s frustrations about her situation and her hopes for the future. It was a breakthrough that was a surprise to everyone but Jordyn.
“It’s not that I couldn’t communicate,” she explains. “It’s that I couldn’t communicate effectively. I was so lonely, even though I was surrounded by people. I knew things weren’t going to improve unless I found a way to communicate. My iPad has helped me so much.”
With the lines of communication now wide open, Jordyn could explain herself. Beyond the frustrations that came with her teachers assuming she could do so little, she was worried that she wasn’t being prepared for college.
“I felt that I hadn’t received any real academic instruction in the previous years, but I want to be a special education teacher,” she says. “I plan to go to college, and I was really worried that I wouldn’t be ready. I didn’t want to be isolated in a room where I wasn’t being exposed to academic content or having any interactions with my peers. I wanted to be with other students in my high school.”
Communication is Key
Wilson worked closely and collaboratively with the school district and Jordyn’s IEP team for the next year and a half to get everything in place for Jordyn. In total, it took more than a dozen IEP meetings and two mediations, or facilitated IEP meetings, to negotiate for the services and supports Jordyn needed to be successful.
She advocated for the school to bring in an autism/communication expert, individualized programming and needed supports to help Jordyn to better address her emotions and communicate. She also requested an assistive technology evaluation to help Jordyn use her iPad, so she would be better equipped to communicate with her teachers.
“Once Jordyn could show what she knew by using her iPad to communicate, things at school started to change, and the team could start to really focus on helping Jordyn learn the skills she needed to meet her goal of becoming a special education teacher,” Wilson relates.
The IEP team created a new IEP and behavioral support program, and Jordyn was an active part of these negotiations. At one point, she revealed that she had memorized the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which ensures that students with disabilities are provided with a Free and Appropriate Public Education.
“She would let us all know if she felt a suggestion was violating her rights,” Wilson says.
With the new plan and IEP in place, Jordyn attended Hudson High School for half of the week, taking part in integrated Art, Creative Foods and American Sign Language classes. She would then go to Mentor Cardinal Autism Resource and Education School (CARES) the rest of the week, where she was able to practice skills and learn new ones.
Hudson also arranged for her to assist in an elementary special education classroom, where she eventually had the opportunity to prepare and teach those students an actual lesson. Though some doubted she could do it, it was a great success. She has since taken and passed a paraprofessional certification exam to become a certified special education aide.
In addition to her academic achievements, the iPad has given Jordyn a way to speak to the broader community. Jordyn has given a variety of presentations to various groups about her disability, her educational pitfalls and the tremendous benefit she has received from assistive technology. She has addressed rooms of future special education teachers at the University of Akron and Kent State University, and she presented during a National School Boards Association Site Visit and a Mentor Schools Board of Education meeting. In November 2015, Jordyn will speak at the OCALICON conference about her unique experiences as a person with communication and sensory difficulties. Over the summer, Jordyn attended the Mercyhurst College Foundations Summer Program, a three-week program that gives students with autism a chance to try out college life.
“My experience at Mercyhurst helped expose me to and prepare me for college,” she says. “I now feel better equipped and know a little more of what to expect.”
Once thought to be incapable of sitting in a classroom and participating, Jordyn is now in integrated classes at Mentor High School full-time. She’s excited about the opportunity to fully participate in the high school community.
“Now that I’m part of a school community, I’m also part of my own community,” Jordyn says. “A school is part of the community, and if a student doesn’t feel included, it isn’t good. Inclusion shouldn’t just be a buzzword. It’s important for people with disabilities to be included as valued parts of their schools and communities. The key to that is to find ways to understand and help one another.”
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Disability Rights Ohio provides benefits counseling through the Social Security Administration’s Work Incentives Planning and Assistance (WIPA) program. The counseling is a free service available to people who receive Social Security benefits because of a disability.
The Social Security Administration offers “work incentives” designed to help people transition from receiving disability checks to earning money through work.
Benefits counseling has the goal of reducing or eliminating a person’s dependence on public benefits, while addressing their concerns about issues like continuing health care benefits.
Certified Work Incentive Coordinators (CWICs) provide individualized counseling to help people use these work incentives and understand their impact on the person’s employment. Disability Rights Ohio administers the WIPA program in 31 of Ohio’s 88 counties, while the Legal Aid Society of Cincinnati and the Center of Vocational Alternatives oversee WIPA programs in other counties. Contact information and a list of each program’s counties can be found on DRO’s Benefits Counseling page.
Download the map version of the overview
Download the county list version of the overview
For more information on the WIPA program, please contact the Disability Rights Ohio intake department at 800-282-9181, TTY 614-728-2553, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m.
Voters with disabilities should be able to vote independently and privately, just like people without disabilities. Disability Rights Ohio wants to hear your stories about problems you have had when trying to vote or registering to vote. Some common problems include:
Disability Rights Ohio wants to hear from you to help us prepare for the upcoming elections. To tell us your story, please contact our intake department at 1-800-282-9181, option 2, or leave a message on our Facebook page, facebook.com/DisabilityRightsOhio.
Download a flier of this announcement (PDF)
U.S. Department of Justice – The Americans with Disabilities Act and Other Federal Laws Protecting the Rights of Voters with Disabilities
When DRO’s Coyle Special Education Fellow Taryn Weiss was in high school, she served on a committee that tried to bring breathalyzers to school functions.
“It wasn’t a popular opinion,” Weiss remembers with a chuckle.
But it gave her the opportunity to work closely with the school attorney, digging through case law to prepare a presentation to the school board. Later, she did an internship in his law office, where she learned about education law, a topic that was close to her heart because of her older sister, Brittany, who has Down syndrome.
“I grew up watching my parents advocate for my sister,” she says. “They were 100% about making sure she had the supports she needed to be in mainstream classrooms and included in everything. Now she’s 26 years old with a full-time job doing data entry. She just bought a house, and she and my parents are so excited for her to move out and be on her own. Because of them, doing work to support full community integration is just a part of who I am.”
In law school at The Ohio State University, Weiss made sure to focus as much as possible on special education law, including working as an intern at DRO for a summer. DRO announced its Columbus Foundation Coyle Special Education Fellowship at just the right time.
“I was about to graduate, and I had started to look for jobs,” she relates. “I really wanted to do education law, but those jobs aren’t plentiful. When this position fell in my lap, it was perfect.”
As the Coyle Fellow, Weiss will spend the next year helping parents in the Central Ohio area as they navigate the IEP process. She knows the system can be overwhelming for parents, who often don’t know what their rights are or how to advocate for their child. Her goal is to bring the two sides together to help students achieve the best possible outcomes.
“I want to be a resource for the schools, too,” she admits. “It’s better for everyone if we can come to a reasonable agreement.”
Funded by the Columbus Foundation, the Coyle Fellow is a partnership with Disability Rights Ohio and the Moritz College of Law to support a one-year fellowship providing legal advice and representation to central Ohio special education students with a disability. Assistance is available to families in Delaware, Fairfield, Franklin, Licking, Madison, Pickaway or Union counties.
For more information and to request help, contact Disability Rights Ohio’s intake line at 800-282-9181, option 2.
Disability Rights Ohio is required to periodically review and set priorities for the organization. In order to receive input from individuals with disabilities, their families, advocates, and other interested stakeholders, DRO distributed a survey asking individuals about what issues are the most important to them. The survey gave people an opportunity to share their thoughts and express their opinions on the work that Disability Rights Ohio is currently doing and on what type of work they thought the organization should perform in the coming year.
The survey was promoted on the Disability Rights Ohio website, Facebook page and Constant Contact. Paper copies of surveys that were collected were entered into the survey monkey site. With the help of the Deaf Services Center, Disability Rights Ohio was also able to translate the survey into American Sign Language.
A total of 1,021 participants completed the survey. Of those, 26% of participants were individuals with disabilities and 74% were individuals who did not indicate that they were a person with a disability, which could include parents, caregivers, advocates or professionals.
Top issues identified by survey respondents included Transportation, Integrated Employment, Accessible Communities, Transitional Planning for children and youth, Monitoring of Service Providers, Choice and Safety in Institutions.
At the end of the survey tool, participants were given an opportunity to provide general comments. Many individuals responded to clarify how important it is that Disability Rights Ohio advocate for choices for people with disabilities. Respondents asked DRO to ensure that people with disabilities have a spectrum of person-centered options so that people with disabilities always have access to the services and supports that they need to lead full lives.
Columbus Dispatch reporters Alan Johnson, Catherine Candisky and Emma Ockerman used Disability Rights Ohio’s report on Sexual Abuse of Individuals with Developmental Disabilities as a jumping off point for a three-part investigative series that ran on Labor Day weekend. DRO Executive Director Michael Kirkman and Attorney Kristen Henry are quoted. Kirkman was also named to Attorney General Mike DeWine’s special committee to advise him on issues regarding crime victims with disabilities.
Columbus Dispatch – Developmentally disabled adults often abused and ignored
Columbus Dispatch – Prosecutions rare in abuse of the disabled
Columbus Dispatch – 2 Ohio counties way ahead in helping the disabled
Columbus Dispatch – AG DeWine Names advisory committee for crime victims with disabilities
In late August, the Youngstown Vindicator pointedly asked Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor to investigate probate courts and judges that are found to have committed wrongdoing. O’Connor’s response outlined her belief that the Ohio Supreme Court does not have the authority to conduct such investigations. DRO Executive Director Michael Kirkman commented in a Columbus Dispatch story about the situation.
Columbus Dispatch – Ohio Supreme Court can’t investigate corrupt guardians, chief justice says
A 26-year-old man named Harry Yruegas has been charged with rape and sexual battery of a patient under his care at Heinzerling Developmental Center. NBC 4 Columbus cites Disability Rights Ohio’s report on Sexual Abuse of Individuals with Developmental Disabilities in the story.
NBC 4 News, Columbus – Medical caregiver charged with sexually abusing patient
The Ohio Secretary of State’s office performed spot checks on a number of polling locations in Richland County. Eight such locations were found to be in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. DRO Attorney Kevin Truitt is quoted in the story by Mansfield News Journal reporter Linda Martz.
Mansfield News Journal – Some Richland County polling places not up to ADA snuff
Ohio's schools are only permitted to use restraint and seclusion when there is "an immediate risk of physical harm," and every incident must be reported. ABC 5 Cleveland reporter Sarah Buduson interviewed a mother whose son was restrained and investigated the state’s data. DRO Executive Director Michael Kirkman is featured.
ABC 5 News, Cleveland - Investigation finds serious flaws in Ohio school data tracking controversial disciplinary practices
Due to DRO involvement, a youth with physical disabilities now has a power wheelchair that will enhance her development and socialization and allow her to become independent.
A physical therapist contacted DRO for assistance when the client’s private insurance and Medicaid both denied a request for a power wheelchair and related accessories. A disability rights attorney conducted research, communicated with the client’s physical therapist and the vendor, and assisted the client’s physical therapist in providing supporting documentation. DRO also provided information and advice to the client’s parent regarding appeals to the private insurance company and Medicaid. Shortly before the hearing, Medicaid approved the power chair and most of the accessories, and the parents of the client withdrew the hearing request.
We believe people with disabilities should be allowed to participate in the community and have a say in how they live, just like people who live without a disability. There is always more to do, but we need your help.
Disability Rights Ohio can now accept donations via PayPal. You can find the PayPal button on our Donate page. Please consider making a donation yourself or come up with a creative way to raise money for our cause. Thank you so much for your support!