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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 Disability Rights Ohio, and other disability-related news.

In this issue:

DRO gives feedback on statewide transportation report 

Across the state, the lack of genuine transportation options, especially public transit, remains a barrier for people with disabilities and prohibits them from being fully integrated into their communities. Transportation is essential to connect Ohioans with disabilities to health care and social services, and also to employment, education and community life. 

The Ohio Department of Transportation recently released a state-wide transit needs report. This report detailed all of the transportation needs of Ohioans and explained how much funding would be needed to meet those needs. The study highlighted the reality that many people with disabilities already know: there is a profound need for affordable public transit in many areas. This need is large in rural areas, and there is an increasing demand for transportation options that can help people travel from region to region, in addition to transit around one metro area or county. 

The Department of Transportation held community forums throughout the month of October, inviting community members and organizations to learn more about the study and provide feedback about the department's recommendations. Disability Rights Ohio attended two of the community forums and provided the Department of Transportation with written comments regarding the priorities and recommendations. Disability Rights Ohio encouraged the department to continue to consider the needs of individuals with disabilities and ensure that public transit options are available, accessible and affordable to people with disabilities.  

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Staff Profile: Paralegal Laura Bordeau finds unexpected satisfaction in legal work

DRO Paralegal Laura BordeauLaura Bordeau never intended to become a paralegal. She’d worked as an administrative assistant for a number of years, eventually finding herself at Glimcher Realty Trust in the Legal Department.

“It didn’t take me too long to figure out that I was doing paralegal work,” she recalls. “So I decided to go ahead and become a paralegal.”

She enrolled at Ohio University and got a paralegal certificate, then went to Columbus State to get an Associate of Applied Science in legal assisting, graduating in 2004. Eventually, she added a Bachelor’s degree in business administration from Ohio Dominican University and a Master’s degree in law and public policy from California University of Pennsylvania to her list of academic achievements.

In February 2008, she was hired on contract at Ohio Legal Rights Service (OLRS), now Disability Rights Ohio (DRO), to support a staff member with a vision impairment. Bordeau maintained paper case files and provided paralegal assistance. In addition, she worked two days a week in the intake department, answering phone calls when people called for help. Ultimately, she became a permanent OLRS employee by the end of 2008.

As the agency started to do more litigation work and upgraded to a case management system that was more accessible for screen readers, Bordeau became a full-time paralegal, supporting the whole agency. She may not have ever set out to be a paralegal, but it’s work she really enjoys.

“If I had been younger, I probably would have gone on to law school,” she says. “Paralegals know the practice of law, like the rules and how to file things. Law school teaches you the theory of the law, how to build your case and think strategically, and I think I would have liked that. I really enjoy doing legal research and writing.”

When asked about a case she really enjoyed working on, Bordeau immediately mentions Shreve, et al. v. Franklin County, et al., a class action lawsuit that alleged gratuitous and inappropriate use of Tasers by officers of the Franklin County Sheriff’s office against inmates, including many with disabilities.

“When we first started on that case, they were using the Taser in the jail as often as 20 to 30 times per week,” she recalls. “Now it’s maybe once per quarter, according to the internal affairs reports we receive. I feel like we really accomplished something in that case, and I’m proud to have been a part of it.”

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DRO collecting stories from parents, advocates of students with special needs

In 1993, Ohio Legal Rights Service, now Disability Rights Ohio, joined Doe v. State of Ohio, a class action lawsuit that claims funding for special education in Ohio is denying children their federally mandated right to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). The case was stayed in federal court for many years while broader education funding questions were sorted out in the DeRolph v. Ohio litigation. Now, however, the Doe case is moving forward once again, and DRO and its partners are gathering information to support their claim that Ohio’s system for funding special education denies students with disabilities a FAPE.

Many frequently asked questions about the Doe case are answered in DRO's new publication, Special Education: Doe v. State of Ohio Class Action Lawsuit.

DRO is currently collecting stories from parents and guardians about their experiences with the special education system in Ohio. If you have information to share, please call our intake department at 800-282-9181, option 2. Phones are staffed from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, but callers can leave a message 24 hours a day.

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Bills to Watch

Ohio Senate Bill 334

As the Ohio legislature prepares to finish its business before the end of the year, Disability Rights Ohio continues to monitor Ohio House Bill (HB) 334, which makes changes to the state’s laws on expelling students. HB 334 would allow school boards to create a faster expulsion process that gives superintendents permission to expel a student who is found to be an “imminent and severe threat,” even if the student hasn’t done anything to meet the state’s other rules for long-term expulsion from school. The bill also allows superintendents to do away with certain procedural steps and expel students for longer periods of time – up to six months, with a possibility to extend the expulsion to nine months total. Disability Rights Ohio is concerned that this law is inconsistent with the rights students with disabilities have under federal law and would give too much decision-making power to superintendents, who may be more likely to discipline and ultimately expel students with disabilities.

Existing federal law under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that school districts go through several extra steps before expelling a student with disabilities, and DRO is concerned HB 334 could lead superintendents to believe they can expel students without taking those steps. DRO will continue to monitor this bill and to educate and inform legislators and the public about these concerns during the final days of this legislative session.

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Disability Rights Ohio Voting Bulletin

Election Season Wrap-Up 

Disability Rights Ohio understands that voting is an important part of community living. It is a way for people to share their opinions and help make decisions on important issues. However, people with disabilities do not vote as often as people who do not have disabilities. According to one study from Rutgers University, the voter turnout rate of people with disabilities was 5.7 percentage points lower than that of people without disabilities. There are many reasons for these differences. Voting information may not be accessible, polling locations may not be accessible, or a person with a disability may be told incorrectly that they are not allowed to vote. People with disabilities are also not encouraged to vote as often as people without disabilities. 

During the November 2014 election season, Disability Rights Ohio worked to help people better understand their voting rights and encouraged them to vote. The organization reached out to young people with disabilities to tell them about their voting rights and encourage them to start voting. People who lived in institutions, such as development centers, residential care facilities and psychiatric hospitals, were informed about their voting rights and ways that they could cast a ballot. Disability Rights Ohio produced and gave out hundreds of copies of its publication, Voting Rights: Frequently Asked Questions for People with Disabilities, and sent a series of e-mail alerts to more than 1,400 people. In all, DRO provided 78 education and training presentations around the state, which were attended by more than 2,100 people; partnered with numerous regional community organizations to provide voting rights information; and attended events where many individuals with disabilities were encouraged to vote.

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DRO in the News

Columnist Deborah Kendrick mentions Disability Rights Ohio's Voter Hotline in her column about voting rights for people with disabilities.

Columbus Dispatch - Deborah Kendrick commentary: People with disabilities can make voices heard, too

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Disability Rights Ohio Executive Director Michael Kirkman is quoted exensively in this op-ed about the benefits of community-based care, written by Columbus Attorney Jack D'Aurora.

Toledo Blade - Community-based is better for disabled Ohioans

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DRO urges OOD to push for full funding, establish state rehabilitation council

Every two years, the state of Ohio has to set a new budget. As that process begins in February 2015, Disability Rights Ohio is advocating for programs that support people with disabilities. DRO Executive Director Michael Kirkmanrecently sent a letterto Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities Director Kevin Miller, urging his agency to strongly advocate on behalf of people with disabilities during the budget process. The letter specifically encourages OOD to seek out all available federal funding for vocational rehabilitation services and to establish a state rehabilitation council, which, according to federal law, must include members with disabilities from a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives.

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Client Advocacy Outcomes

Client moves out of nursing home, into the community

An individual who had been unnecessarily institutionalized in a nursing facility for years now lives in his own home in the community. A DRO staff attorney worked with HOME Choice, Recovery Requires a Community, the client, the client's guardian, and a social worker to help the client transition back into his own apartment in the community with payee and mental health services. The client moved into his own apartment this fall and recently contacted the attorney to thank him and let him know he likes his apartment.

 

DRO supports woman as she works to end her guardianship

An individual who has been under guardianship for years is finally free of the guardianship and enjoying her life. She felt she didn't need to have a guardian and sought to end the guardianship. She paid for a private evaluation, and it was determined a guardian wasn't necessary. With help from a friend who is an attorney, she drafted a request to have her guardianship terminated. Still, she felt she needed some help to ensure she was doing everything right in the process, so she contacted Disability Rights Ohio for assistance. A staff attorney researched the client's case, checked the court schedule to make sure the documents were filed correctly and spoke with the client on the phone several times. The client was recently informed of the judge's decision to terminate her guardianship. The client reports she is very happy to be able to make her own decisions again.

 

Investigations spark changes at three youth residential treatment facilities

As the federally funded protection and advocacy system for Ohio, one of Disability Rights Ohio's responsiblities is to investigate institutions, including youth residential treatment faciliites, to make sure residents' rights are being respected and no abuse or neglect is taking place. Disability Rights Ohio's abuse and neglect team recently investigated three such institutions, and their findings led to changes in each facility.

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Disability Rights Ohio (DRO) investigated a youth residential facility after seeing multiple incident reports involving the use of unapproved restraint techniques that caused injuries to the youth. Disability rights advocates visited the facility, interviewed residents and monitored individual incident report investigations. DRO reported its findings and made recommendations that residents should be taught about the role of Client Rights Officers—who they are, what they do and how to contact them—as well as information about how to file grievances. The report also recommended the facility implement trauma-informed care practices.

In response to Disability Rights Ohio's investigation and report of the residential facility, the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) issued a 15-point Plan of Correction (POC).

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DRO investigated a youth residential facility after noticing a correlation between the number of incident reports and the high number of police calls. DRO’s investigation turned up additional evidence of abuse, neglect and rights violations. The abuse and neglect stemmed from staff at the facility using unapproved restraint techniques and blatantly violating residents' rights. DRO submitted the findings to OhioMHAS, requesting that a survey be conducted and the residential facility be placed on probation.

OhioMHAS conducted an investigation, placed the facility on probation and required the organization to submit numerous Plans of Correction to address a systemic level of abuse/neglect, rights violations and violations of treatment plans. In response to the request for changes to be made, the facility will create new policies, training and trauma-informed therapy.

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Disability Rights Ohio visited an Ohio youth residential facility on several occasions and interviewed any resident who wished to speak to the advocates. Many of the youth complained of being forced to remain in their rooms by staff, who would use their bodies to keep the door closed, even as the resident was trying to open the door from the other side. Based on these reports of seclusion, the facility not being licensed to practice any form of seclusion, and previous incidents of the facility's use of seclusion, DRO opened an investigation and reported the findings to OhioMHAS. OhioMHAS conducted their own investigation of the facility and found issues with documentation, lack of trauma-informed care in treatment plan implementation, staff training and cultural insensitivity. The facility received a Plan of Correction (POC) for these issues.

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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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