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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.

In This Issue:

 

DRO hard at work throughout Ohio’s budget process

Disability Rights Ohio continues to be a strong advocate for people with disabilities as the state budget process comes to a close. After nearly five months, Governor Kasich is expected to sign the budget bill by July 1, and many of the bill’s legislative provisions will take effect immediately.

Disability Rights Ohio worked very hard so that the voice of people with disabilities could be heard throughout the budget process. Disability Rights Ohio closely monitored the legislative process, attended and testified at budget hearings, analyzed policy changes, and educated and informed policy makers on a host of important issues. Disability Rights Ohio also took a leadership role to ensure that legislators understood that people with disabilities, including developmental and intellectual disabilities, are able to speak for themselves. For example, when the Ohio House of Representatives took steps to change the Bill of Rights for people with developmental disabilities, Disability Rights Ohio took action. Disability Rights Ohio coordinated a unified response from 10 different disability organizations, including self advocates, that demonstrated to the Ohio General Assembly the rights of people with disabilities cannot be changed without direct input from people with disabilities themselves.

When the House of Representatives cut services to people with developmental disabilities, Disability Rights Ohio also spurred the disability community to action through a series of meetings and alerts that led to the Ohio General Assembly hearing directly from those most affected. These advocates discussed the importance of upholding the rights of people with disabilities and the critical need for additional funding for community integration and Home and Community Based Services waivers.

The Ohio General Assembly responded to the disability community’s efforts favorably on a host of important matters, including:

  • Removing harmful changes to the Bill of Rights for people with developmental disabilities;
  • Providing resources for the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities’ community integration efforts by largely restoring the governor’s recommended funding levels;
  • Removing language that would have limited and nearly eliminated the use of Independent Provider home care services for people with disabilities living in the community; and
  • Continuing the authorization and funding for Medicaid Expansion and allowing Ohioans to maintain access to health care services, including Medicaid Buy-In for Workers with Disabilities.

A full analysis of the final budget, including any line item vetoes by the governor, will be included in the July 2015 edition of this newsletter. In the meantime, contact DRO intake staff at 800-282-9181, option 2, (TTY 800-858-3542) with any questions about how the budget bill will impact people with disabilities.

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Advocates from around the country gather for disability conference

Under federal law, each state is required to have a Protection & Advocacy (P&A) system and a Client Assistance Program (CAP) to advocate on behalf of individuals with disabilities in their respective states. Disability Rights Ohio is the P&A and CAP for Ohio. DRO staff, members of the Board of Directors and PAIMI Advisory Council gathered with other disability rights advocates from across the country at the Annual P&A/CAP Training Conference in Indianapolis June 1-5, 2015. The conference provided more than 75 workshops and institutes designed specifically for P&A and CAP staff to enhance their skills, develop more efficient advocacy and communication strategies, review new federal policy initiatives, and learn how to better advocate on behalf of people with disabilities.

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The 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is July 26, and communities around Ohio are preparing events to celebrate.

Cleveland:

Wednesday, July 22
11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Wade Oval

Website: adacleveland.org

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Columbus:

Opening Reception
Wednesday, July 22
5 to 9 p.m.
Columbus State Community College

Community Celebration
Thursday, July 23
11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Columbus Commons

Website: ada25columbus.com

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Cincinnati:

Monday, July 27

Disability Pride March
9:30 a.m.
Cincinnati City Hall

Community Celebration
10:30 a.m.
Fountain Square

Website: Cincinnati ADA 25th Anniversary Celebration Facebook event page

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Staff Profile: DRO Attorney Andy Brennan hopes to shine a light for clients

DRO Attorney Andy BrennanDRO Attorney Andy Brennan was steeped in disability law from an early age. His father has practiced Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) law, and his uncle, who is quadriplegic, has served as an expert witness for ADA cases. Both men shaped his view of the world.

“My uncle has used a wheelchair for about 40 years,” he says. “He described when he was younger how rare it was for any businesses or even public spaces to be accessible for wheelchairs. Then, even 10-15 years ago, after the ADA had been in effect for years, how many places still weren’t accessible. Many businesses and people would rather just exclude people with disabilities than go through the effort of complying with the law. And, when he would ask businesses to comply with the law, they treated him like a trouble-maker or complainer. As a kid I knew that was wrong and unfair.”

Brennan works on DRO’s Abuse & Neglect Team, handling cases about guardianship, prison conditions and the rights of prisoners with disabilities, as well as investigations into abuse and neglect of individuals with disabilities and monitoring visits to facilities around the state.

“The people we represent are not given the power they should have to direct their own lives or fix problems with bad care they might be receiving,” he explains. “They often try, but people don’t listen to them or simply patronize them. I like that DRO can add its institutional voice to theirs so that they can get what they need.”

He also appreciates the access authority DRO has as Ohio’s federally designated P&A.

“I like that we can go to any facility, ask for a tour and talk to people, and the facility has to comply,” Brennan says. “Part of what motivates me is simply feeling incredulous about some of the problems we see. I want to shine a light on instances of abuse and neglect to make things better for people.”

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Monthly Special Education Brief Advice Clinics to be held in Central Ohio

The Legal Aid Society of Columbus (LASC) is partnering with Disability Rights Ohio and volunteer attorneys from the JPMorgan Chase Legal Department and the law firm Jones Day to offer special education brief-advice clinics on the third Monday of each month from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Run the Race Club, 880 South Wayne Ave., in Columbus.

Low-income families who are struggling with legal issues related to their children’s special education needs are invited to attend. Attorneys will meet with clients and answer questions free of charge.

For more information, contact LASC at 614-241-2001.

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DRO’s advocacy contributes to DOJ finding of discrimination by Amtrak

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recently issued a letter of findings, confirming Disability Rights Ohio's findings that the National Passenger Railroad Corporation (also known as Amtrak) discriminates against people with disabilities by failing to make existing railway station facilities accessible. Disability Rights Ohio and other advocacy organizations are working to enhance and improve accessible and affordable public transportation systems throughout Ohio.

The DOJ's investigation of Amtrak was a result of multiple disability discrimination complaints filed in 2013 by the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), Disability Rights Ohio, and other Protection and Advocacy organizations around the country. The complaints derived from these disability rights organizations conducting in-depth investigations and accessibility surveys at over 115 Amtrak facilities nationwide. The vast majority of these facilities, including the Amtrak stations visited in Ohio, contained numerous violations of the ADA and were not fully accessible for people with disabilities. 

Access to affordable, accessible transportation allows people with disabilities to lead full and independent lives in their communities of choice. Many modes of transportation, including Amtrak, buses, train, and taxi cabs, remain inaccessible to people with disabilities. This lack of affordable and accessible transportation options has led Disability Rights Ohio to partner with local, regional and statewide organizations that will work within their local communities to develop concrete strategies for creating affordable and accessible transportation systems.

DRO recently partnered with Services for Independent Living, Inc., of Cleveland on a grant from the Leadership Conference Education Fund and PolicyLink to host a transportation equity forum, where people with disabilities had an opportunity to learn about the transportation system and work together to identify potential solutions

"The DOJ letter and its findings send a clear message that we hope will be heard by government officials and transportation providers," says DRO Executive Director Michael Kirkman. "It has been 25 years since the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act. People with disabilities have waited long enough for accessible transportation options."

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Bills to Watch

H.R. 2646 – The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act

On June 4, Pennsylvania Congressman Tim Murphy introduced H.R. 2646, a bill to restructure the nation’s mental health system. H.R. 2646 includes a host of non-controversial and positive provisions that would benefit individuals with mental illness, such as focusing the public’s attention and federal resources on the challenges within the mental health system, encouraging greater access to care, reauthorizing many important mental health programs, and strengthening workforce development opportunities of mental health professionals. 

H.R. 2646 also contains some controversial provisions that would, however, have negative consequences for individuals with mental illness and the mental health system generally. For example, the bill appears to prioritize institutional care over investing in greater community-based programs and resources; incentivizes states to implement more Assisted Outpatient Commitment (AOT) programs; weakens existing privacy protections of individuals with mental illness; and restricts the Protection & Advocacy (P&A) system’s ability to conduct advocacy under the under the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness (PAIMI) program. The P&A and PAIMI restrictions would directly affect Disability Rights Ohio, which is the designated P&A system in Ohio.

Indeed, such restrictions, as drafted currently, would significantly reduce the wide range of efforts that Disability Rights Ohio could conduct on behalf of individuals with psychiatric disabilities. H.R. 2646 would specifically limit Disability Rights Ohio’s work under the PAIMI program to abuse and neglect cases only, meaning DRO could not help a client with their employment and housing discrimination issues or to access transportation or health services. These types of services are critical to recovery efforts by people who are labeled with psychiatric diagnoses. Such restrictions would essentially remove Disability Rights Ohio’s ability to effectively and efficiently advocate on behalf of its clients, make it easier to discriminate against people with mental illness and potentially lead to fewer individuals receiving the treatment they need.

DRO will continue to monitor the progress of H.R. 2646 and provide information about any changes as this bill moves through Congress.

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HB 149 and SB 134 – Housing discrimination changes

Bills in both the Ohio House and the Senate were introduced to change the laws against housing discrimination. Ohio House Bill (HB) 149 and Ohio Senate Bill (SB) 134 would eliminate penalties for housing discrimination if the accused property owner owned four or fewer properties. The bill would also prevent fair housing agencies from collecting damages if they win a housing discrimination lawsuit and would even allow landlords to recover attorney’s fees from the plaintiffs under certain circumstances. DRO has concerns with these bills, as these changes could lead to a decrease in compliance with housing protections for people with disabilities. Both the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are on record as stating that the bill could cause Ohio to fail the “substantially equivalent” requirement, and accordingly, would jeopardize OCRC’s annual receipt of $1 million in federal funding. DRO will continue to monitor the bills in the House and Senate when the Ohio General Assembly returns following the summer recess. 

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DRO in the News

The U.S. Department of Justice has joined DRO’s case, Dudley v. Miami University, after finding that Miami University systemically violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. DRO Director of Advocacy Kerstin Sjoberg-Witt is quoted in both stories, and Aleeha Dudley speaks on her own behalf to the Miami Reporter.

Columbus DispatchFeds say Miami University failed to accommodate disabled students

Miami StudentDepartment of Justice intervenes in discrimination lawsuit against university

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Kim Byrd has developmental disabilities and lives and works in the community with the supports she needs to be successful. Reporter Jon Baker of the New Philadelphia Times-Reporter writes about changes in the Tuscarawas County area that will allow more people to do the same. DRO Executive Director Michael Kirkman is quoted.

Times-ReporterSeclusion practices to end; legislation, lawsuits, pressure from parents lead to change for developmentally disabled

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Client Advocacy Outcomes

With DRO’s help, client finds a place in the community

An individual who was previously denied enrollment in a home and community-based waiver program by her county board of developmental disabilities is living in the community with appropriate services thanks to help from DRO. The client had lived with her parents her entire life. Her parents are elderly and no longer able to physically care for her. They were told to find another place for her to live. The client’s sister requested an emergency status Individual Options (I/O) waiver for the client to receive additional support, but the waiver request was denied by the county board of developmental disabilities. The county board told the sister to place the client in an institutional setting (ICF/IDD) instead. The client’s family contacted DRO for assistance.

A disability rights attorney represented the client in multiple hearings and appeals and finally received a decision that granted the client’s emergency status request. In fact, during the course of the appeals, client had moved to an institutional setting because she couldn't get the services she needed in the community. The county board then offered the client an I/O waiver. Once the decision had been issued and the client was offered an I/O waiver, the client’s sister applied for and enrolled her sister in the HOME Choice program, which helps people with disabilities transition out of institutional settings into community-based settings. The client moved into a new home near her family and began receiving services through the I/O waiver.

 

Client wins employment discrimination case after company withdraws job offer

An individual recently won an employment discrimination case against a prospective employer, with DRO negotiating a favorable settlement and attorney’s fees. The client had received a job offer that was revoked when she disclosed information about her disability. The client filed an employment discrimination charge with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC), and Disability Rights Ohio represented the client throughout the process. OCRC found probable cause existed that the employer had discriminated, and DRO successfully represented the client at the OCRC public meeting on the employer's Request for Reconsideration. OCRC filed an administrative complaint against the employer, and DRO prepared to represent the client at the administrative hearing. Before the hearing took place, the employer decided to settle the case, and DRO negotiated a favorable settlement for the client including damages for past wages from the employer. Because the matter was resolved, the client withdrew the discrimination charge and the OCRC dismissed its complaint against the employer.

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Help us keep the victories coming! Donate online to Disability Rights Ohio

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!

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