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.
Patrick Chittum’s new apartment is small – just one bedroom, a bathroom, a living room and a kitchen. But when you ask him the best part of living there, he says, “Freedom. I can do whatever I want. I can go outside whenever I want. I can get a job. I’ve reconnected with my family.” It’s a welcome change that was a long time coming.
Chittum, 40, spent five years living in a nursing facility after a series of life events caused him to have difficulty paying his bills and paying for medication to treat his schizo-affective disorder.
“I had a job at a manufacturing company, and I was doing fine,” Chittum remembers. “But then the company started to have financial problems, so they cut my hours. I had to choose between paying for a roof over my head or paying for food and medication. I chose to pay my rent.”
Eventually, he ended up living in his car, and the Franklin County Probate Court determined that he could no longer care for himself. He was placed in a hospital and put under guardianship. Chittum’s guardian placed him in a nursing facility, although Chittum felt certain he could live in the community with the right supports. A standard screening given to all people before they move into a nursing facility confirmed Chittum’s assertion. The guardian appealed the decision and went ahead with the placement.
“I really think he wanted to put me there and forget about me,” Chittum says.
Life in a nursing facility is very structured and does not allow residents to make many choices. People in such facilities often don’t have control of their days, since the nursing facility sets meal times and determines what activities will be allowed, cutting off the chance for residents to explore personal interests, make friends in the community or find meaningful employment. The experience can be incredibly boring and isolating. Small indignities, like having to wait to buy pop until 2 p.m. each day when the drink cart is brought out or being forced to remain indoors because no staff member is available to go outside, can make adults feel like children. This is sometimes worse when a guardian is withholding consent to activities or insisting on restrictions on the person’s choices, and can even result in residents losing contact with their own families, which was the case for Chittum.
“My dad died in 2012, while I was living in the nursing home,” he recalls. “I couldn’t go to the funeral because it was too far away, and no one would drive me. I also lost my aunt, my stepbrother and my grandmother in that time. I couldn’t go to any of those funerals, either. The nursing home staff wouldn’t let us make phone calls when we wanted to. Over five years, I really lost touch with my family.”
Chittum got connected with Disability Rights Ohio through the office of the state’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman (LTCO). When his first guardian resigned, Chittum was granted a new temporary guardian—an order that expired in December 2014. The LTCO called DRO in February 2015 because the state of Chittum’s guardianship was unclear, and he wanted to move into the community.
“Patrick was very motivated to regain his independence in the community,” says Kevin Truitt, the DRO attorney who worked on the case. “He wanted to work and pay his own bills and live on his own—things most of us take for granted. We saw it as an opportunity to try to get him into Ohio’s Recovery Requires a Community program, which was created to help people with mental health needs transition from nursing facilities back into the community. Patrick also applied for HOME Choice, a program that helps all people with disabilities move out of institutions and into the community.”
Over a period of months, DRO worked with the LTCO, Chittum’s new guardian, the Assistant Director of Nursing at the nursing home, a HOME Choice transition coordinator and the Recovery Requires a Community program to come up with a plan of action that would get Chittum into his own apartment. They determined the kinds of services he would need, found him an appropriate apartment and helped him find furniture and cookware for his new home. In August 2015, Chittum finally moved into an apartment.
The very first thing he did was find a job.
Within a week, Chittum was working part-time on the assembly line for a Honda automotive parts supplier in Marysville, and he eventually worked with his guardian to buy a 2008 Chevy Impala, which solved the transportation problems he’d been having. In November, he took a new job with a different supplier for more money and full-time hours. He’s a very devoted employee.
“I haven’t missed a day yet,” he says. “On February 10, 2016, my 90 days as a temporary worker will be over, and I will have an interview with the HR department to become a permanent employee with full benefits. I have friends at work who watch out for me. My supervisor pats me on the back and tells me I’m doing a great job. It feels wonderful. I really have my independence back now.”
That independence is supported by counseling sessions, case management services and a nurse who checks in on him three times a week. His fiancée, who still lives in the nursing facility and is also seeking to move into the community, comes to visit every other weekend. The couple is planning to get married once she’s also won her independence.
“Patrick is a wonderful person who deserved a chance to regain the life of independence and self-sufficiency he had before,” says Truitt. “It was very frustrating for him to be isolated from society for so many years, but he was so patient throughout the transition process. Sadly, there are others like him who haven’t been as fortunate. The system is slowly changing to allow more people to live in our communities instead of facilities, but there is still a lot of work to be done.”
Chittum hopes his story can be an example that people with mental illness can be successful in the community if given the chance. He wants people in similar situations to know that there is hope beyond the nursing facility.
“I am living proof that there is life and a chance to succeed outside of the nursing home,” he says. “I have found that work is the key to recovery. I would also encourage people to attend as many support groups as possible. I have gone to one at Wings here in Marysville, and it does help get over the lonely periods if you live alone. Also, don’t be afraid to seek help if needed or make friends with a new neighbor, but most important, never give up!”
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Disability Rights Ohio and the law firm of Brown, Goldstein, & Levy, LLP, filed a federal lawsuit against the office of Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted in December. The suit, filed on behalf of three blind Ohio voters and the National Federation of the Blind, alleges that some voting services in Ohio are not accessible. This is in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. A trial is set for April 25, 2016.
Registered Ohio voters Shelbi Hindel, Barbara Pierce, and Marianne Denning are blind and unable to access important voting information and forms on the Secretary of State's website because of the site's inaccessible design and inability to work with screen access software. Additionally, because Ohio's absentee ballots are only available on paper, blind voters are unable to fill them out without assistance--an infringement on their right to cast a ballot privately and independently. The suit asks the court to order Secretary of State Husted's office to make the changes needed to rectify these problems before the March 15, 2016, primary election in Ohio.
"Voting is important to me, and I want to be able to read through the materials and be prepared for the upcoming Republican primary," explains Hindel. "Current technology makes reading text easy for the blind, provided the text is available in the right format. My polling location recently moved to a site further from my house, so voting absentee is a more convenient way for me to exercise my right to vote."
According to Kristen Henry, attorney at Disability Rights Ohio, "Secretary of State Husted has the responsibility to ensure that all eligible Ohioans have equal access to the state's voting systems and resources. The solutions for the problems we're raising are readily available. Unfortunately, our attempts to collaborate with the state on this issue have not been successful."
Mark A. Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: "The technology to allow blind voters to mark absentee ballots privately and independently is available and has been used successfully by blind voters, myself included. This technology protects ballot secrecy and puts blind voters on an equal footing with all other voters, as well as helping voters who have disabilities in addition to blindness that prevent them from getting to a polling place or using the voter technology available there. The National Federation of the Blind will continue to fight for the right of blind people in Ohio and throughout the nation to vote privately and independently."
Associated Press – Blind voters sue over access to absentee ballots in Ohio
ABC 6 Columbus – Blind sue State of Ohio over unequal voting rights
Columbus Dispatch – Advocates for disabled sue Husted over voting, website problems
ABC Newsnet 5 Cleveland – Federal lawsuit alleges Ohio denies disabled voters equal opportunities to case their ballots
Cleveland Plain Dealer – Blind voters sue Jon Husted over website accessibility
Bloomberg BNA – Court to Hear First Ever ADA Voter Website Accessibility Case
Associated Press – Trial set in lawsuit over Ohio blind voters’ ballot access
After five and a half years of legal advocacy by Disability Rights Ohio on behalf of inmates who had been victims of inappropriate use of Tasers, the case of Shreve v Franklin County reached a successful resolution. On Monday, December 28, 2015, the United States District Court granted a joint request submitted by Disability Rights Ohio, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), and Franklin County to end the case.
Since achieving a court approved settlement in 2011, Disability Rights Ohio and the DOJ have monitored Franklin County's compliance with the settlement agreement by reviewing Taser use policies, incidents of Taser use, and training of staff at the Franklin County Correction Centers. A host of improvements were reported, including a drop in Taser usage from about 70 incidents per year to about 5 incidents per year.
Disability Rights Ohio filed the case in July 2010 because a large number of inmates with physical and mental disabilities were tased excessively by jail staff. The DOJ intervened in November 2010 to address the pattern of excessive force.
"I am proud of our efforts in representing the rights of our clients to be free from abuse and neglect across all settings," said Michael Kirkman, Executive Director of Disability Rights Ohio. "And I am pleased with the successful resolution of this case achieved through the collaborative efforts of all parties to comply with the settlement agreement."
While the successful resolution of the case ends the case-specific monitoring of the Franklin County Correction Centers, Disability Rights Ohio staff will continue to routinely conduct monitoring visits and investigate incidents of abuse and neglect.
Associated Press – Judge formally ends stun gun lawsuit against Ohio jail
Columbus Dispatch – Recognizing reforms, court ends stun-gun case
In December, Disability Rights Ohio (DRO) and Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, Inc. (ABLE) filed a federal lawsuit against the Dayton Mall and several of its anchor stores--Macy's, Sears, and Elder Beerman--seeking a policy change that would enable people with disabilities who ride public transportation to have effective and equal access to the Dayton Mall.
The complaint alleges that the present policy of the mall, which requires that the RTA keep the bus stop more than 600 feet from the mall entrance and which significantly limits the buses that can use the stop, severely impacts people with disabilities and discriminates against them, in violation of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
In April 2015, DRO and ABLE began advocating on behalf of individual and organizational clients for a reasonable modification of the Dayton Mall's policy of locating the bus stop over 600 feet away from the mall entrance. They requested that the mall allow the RTA to move the stop close to one of the mall entrances and that the seven bus routes that serve the mall area be allowed to stop there. These changes would eliminate the unnecessary access barriers that the mall's arbitrary policies have created, but the mall refused.
"As a result, people with disabilities continue to have to make a long, difficult, and dangerous trip through the parking lot just to get in the mall entrance--and they have to endure unnecessary transfers just to get to that stop," says Ellis Jacobs, lead counsel from ABLE. The Regional Transit Authority (RTA) has worked for years to get a bus stop located closer to the entrance and to increase the number of routes that stop at the Dayton Mall, without success.
According to Attorney Jason Boylan of DRO, "The ADA prioritizes access for people with disabilities to get in the front door, but if they cannot even get to the front door, that right does them no good. With this lawsuit, we are asking the federal court to require that the Dayton Mall change this discriminatory policy and practice."
ABC 22 Dayton – Lawsuit Filed Over Bus Stop Location at Dayton Mall
WHIO Dayton – Disability rights group files suit against Dayton Mall
Dayton Daily News – Disability rights group to discuss public transit legal action
91.3 WYSO – Local Groups File Lawsuit Against Dayton Mall
WOSU Radio – Disabled Advocates Sue Columbus’ Glimcher Realty Over Bus Stop
Ohio Public Radio – Columbus Company Among Plaintiffs in Dayton Disabilities Lawsuit
Lodia D’Angelo loves her job. As an Intake Specialist, she is part of the team that fields the calls that come into DRO. She listens, asks questions and takes information. The calls that don’t fit into the work DRO does get referrals to another agency that might be able to help. Other calls are put into the system and either passed on to another staff member or assigned back to D’Angelo for short-term assistance.
“I really like being able to help,” she says. “I give them information about how to advocate for themselves. I have people who call back just to tell me how they’re doing, which is great.”
D’Angelo started her career at DRO (then Ohio Legal Rights Service) as an intern in August 2012, fulfilling a requirement of her Bachelor of Arts in Social Work program at Ohio Dominican University. When her internship was nearing its end in May 2013, she approached DRO’s HR director and told him she wanted to stay. She was hired permanently, part-time initially but full-time soon after.
She covers the DRO phones for two to three hours each day and returns missed calls for another hour. It can be challenging to take calls from the public, but D’Angelo sees it as a service she can provide.
“Sometimes people are upset, and I try to remember to meet them where they are,” she says. “They’ve often been told ‘no’ a lot, and they want someone to fix their problem. Sometimes they just need an ear, so if there are no other calls coming in, I’ll just let them talk. Everyone likes to be heard.”
Helping people to advocate for themselves can be a powerful tool. D’Angelo’s favorite case involved a client who was trying to enter the Clermont County Fair with her service dog.
“The people at the gate were telling her pets weren’t allowed, and she knew service dogs aren’t considered pets, but she wasn’t sure how to prove that the law was on her side. So she called us,” she recalls.
D’Angelo worked with a DRO attorney to send the woman a copy of our Service Animals FAQ.
“She went home, printed it out, then drove back to the fair and showed it to the people at the gate,” she says. “She kept me posted all along the way, so I knew what was happening in real time. Ultimately, they let her in, and she got to go and enjoy her day at the fair. It was a small thing that made a big difference to her, and I was so happy to help.”
D’Angelo is proud to work for an organization that works to solve problems large and small. DRO’s systemic work inspired her to apply for the University of New England’s Master of Social Work program, which she started this month. She’s chosen the Organizational and Community Practice track.
“I love that so much of the work we do is systemic, and I’m hoping to use what I learn to help advance DRO’s mission,” she says. “We can help so many people and affect so much change. I love that we serve all different kinds of disabilities, all ages of people. I get to be part of something really important that can change people’s lives. It’s inspiring.”
Disability Rights Ohio recently received a $15,000 grant award to support ongoing legal advocacy in Doe v. State of Ohio — litigation addressing the inadequate funding system for special education students in Ohio.
The grant award is provided by the Impact Fund, a national organization dedicated to advancing social justice through impact litigation conducted by high-performing non-profit legal advocates. Disability Rights Ohio is one of nine non-profit organizations throughout the nation selected to receive an award from the Impact Fund in this grant cycle.
"It's cases like the one brought by Disability Rights Ohio that go to the core of our mission: to stand up for justice for marginalized communities," said Jocelyn D. Larkin, Executive Director of the Impact Fund.
"Disability Rights Ohio appreciates the Impact Fund's recognition of our legal advocacy on behalf of students with disabilities," said executive director Michael Kirkman. "The Doe v. State of Ohio litigation is just one piece of a larger effort to ensure that all Ohio children with disabilities become full and equal members of society and enjoy the rights and opportunities of all people."
Children with disabilities have a legal right to special education services designed to meet their unique needs and to prepare them for further education, employment and independent living. In Ohio alone there are more than 250,000 school-age students and more than 20,000 preschool students who have disabilities and are eligible to receive such services. Doe v. State of Ohio seeks to enforce state officials' obligations to ensure that Ohio students with disabilities receive a free appropriate public education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act.
The State of Ohio is obligated to establish a funding system that provides sufficient resources for the specialized supports and services students need and which the law requires schools provide. If successful, this case will have a substantial impact on the ability of all Ohio children with disabilities to have access to the education that they need to seek higher education, employment and live independently.
Reporter Keith BieryGolick outlines the history of sheltered workshops in Ohio and the significant changes being enacted around the state in this story from the Cincinnati Enquirer. DRO Director of Advocacy Kerstin Sjoberg-Witt is quoted.
Cincinnati Enquirer – Ohio’s treatment of adults with disabilities: ‘Long ways to go’
An Administrative Law Judge heard DRO’s complaint against Seneca Re-Ad, a sheltered workshop run by the Seneca County Board of Developmental Disabilities, in the first week of January. Reporter Lauren Lindstrom gave an update from the first day of the week-long hearing.
Toledo Blade – Judge hears wage case for disabled
A program through the Franklin County Office on Aging built a ramp to help Georgia Davenport get out of her house independently. However, the improperly built ramp was too dangerous for her to use on her own. Disability Rights Ohio successfully negotiated with the Office on Aging to get Davenport a new ramp. ABC 6 Columbus reporter Brooks Jarosz covered the story.
ABC 6 Columbus – UPDATE: Taxpayers Billed for Unfit Wheelchair Ramp
Disability Rights Ohio continues to monitor House Bill 394. H.B. 394 would make significant changes to Ohio’s unemployment compensation program. If passed this bill would:
The House Insurance Committee is currently considering revising the bill to remove changes to social security disability, but this decision is not yet final. People with disabilities are encouraged to remain involved and informed. Disability Rights Ohio has submitted Interested Party Testimony on this bill and continues to monitor its progress.
On January 20, 2016, H.B. 121 passed the Ohio Senate. H.B. 121 designates the last week in July as “Service Dog Awareness Week” in recognition of the important role that service dogs play in enhancing the lives of Ohioans with disabilities. The bill passed the Ohio House in May, so it now heads to the Governor for his signature. Disability Rights Ohio is looking forward to participating in Service Dog Awareness Week events with Guide Dog Night Out and other disability community organizations.
A child kept her nursing care and her mother was able to keep her job with help from Disability Rights Ohio. The client had received notice that she would be disenrolled from the Ohio Home Care waiver, which meant she would lose her nursing services. This put her mother’s employment at risk because without the home health care, she would have to provide the care for her daughter and would not be able to keep her job. The mother contacted DRO for help.
The parent appealed the loss of the nursing care, and DRO provided information and advice to help her prepare for the hearing. DRO also contacted the state regarding the loss of nursing services and the lack of alternate services to replace them.
In the meantime, DRO also provided information to the mother on accessing alternate services, including waiver services through the county board of developmental disabilities and nursing services through Medicaid insurance. The mother approached the county board of developmental disabilities and requested that the client’s situation be determined an emergency due to the loss of services, and requested that she be enrolled on a DD waiver. The county board of DD approved the parent’s request, and the client was enrolled on the Individual Options (IO) waiver. As a result, the client is getting the services she needs to continue living at home with her mother.
In spite of her landlord’s objections, our client has the wheelchair ramp she needs to move in and out of her home and maintain her independence. The client was approved by her insurance company to install a ramp to the entryway of her home, but the insurance company required the ramp to have one foot of clearance from the sidewalk for every inch of ramp height. There was a fence that interfered with the required clearance, and the manager of the apartment complex refused to allow the client to alter the fence in any way. The client contacted DRO for assistance in having the ramp approved and installed.
A DRO attorney discussed the situation with the client and then wrote a letter to the complex manager, including information from Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Justice that states landlords cannot impose conditions that prevent an accommodation for an individual's disability. The landlord’s attorney contacted DRO and said the landlord would allow the ramp to be installed as requested. The client reported the ramp has been installed.
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!