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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:


Commentary: Desired changes to DD system are all about choice

by Michael Kirkman, Executive Director, Disability Rights Ohio

In July, Disability Rights Ohio and its co-counsel, Professor Sam Bagenstos, and the Center for Public Representation sent a letter to the state demanding changes in residential and employment options for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Ohio. In August, a story in the Columbus Dispatch noted the opposition some families of individuals with developmental disabilities have toward efforts to advocate for a more integrated and community-based developmental disabilities system in Ohio. The decision to approach state officials about the many flaws in the system and to demand changes is about creating opportunities for independence and meaningful choice for people with developmental disabilities. States that have changed their systems to focus on true community integration for people with developmental disabilities have found that many people who were initially opposed changed their minds once they saw the benefits of integration and learned about all of the options.

Currently, people in need of services in Ohio are not given a choice, and often the only real option under the residential system in Ohio is institutional care or to be placed on a long wait list. The same is true for vocational and day programs, where segregated programs receive the bulk of the funding. Individuals do not actually have a choice where they live, how they spend their days, with whom they interact, and what type of work best suits their unique skills, abilities and interests. The system the law requires, and that Disability Rights Ohio is advocating for, is one that would allow people with developmental disabilities to live the lives they want to live with the supports they need to do so.

Related links:

Disability Rights Ohio's July 1, 2014, letter to the Kasich Administration on the unconstitutionality of Ohio's DD system

DoDD's Director Martin's July 31, 2014, response to DRO's letter

DRO Director of Advocacy Kerstin Sjoberg Witt's August 1, 2014, response to the state's July 31 letter

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DRO discusses DD system findings at People First Revival of Advocacy

People First of Ohio held its Revival of Advocacy event in Mount Vernon on August 16 to empower and inspire self-advocates to raise their voices and to help make a difference in their lives and the lives of others with disabilities. Disability Rights Ohio staff spoke to the audience of almost 300 people, which included individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, about our recent investigation of the developmental disabilities system in Ohio. The investigation concluded that the state’s residential, vocational and day programs unlawfully segregate thousands of people with developmental disabilities from their communities and prevent them from living the types of lives they want to live. Disability Rights Ohio staff told the audience that the letter was sent to state officials, including the governor, listing these serious concerns and that a meeting with these officials will be held in September to negotiate changes to the system.

The self-advocates learned that people with developmental disabilities should be able to express their own personal views about how they wish to live their lives, including where they want to live, whether they want to work in a job in the community and how they want to spend their days. Providers, county boards of developmental disabilities and state officials should respect their desires.

People First of Ohio Revival of Advocacy report [PDF]

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State of Ohio notifies parents, guardians of its planned release of general student data to DRO

Disability Rights Ohio is representing students with disabilities in a class action against the state of Ohio challenging the adequacy of special education funding. As part of this work, DRO needs general and non-identifying data that the state keeps about all students. The data that DRO will be receiving does NOT include the names, Social Security numbers, addresses or phone numbers of individual students. Once the state of Ohio shares the data, this information is protected by an order of the court and cannot be used for any purpose other than this case. No information will be shared beyond the participants in this case. The Court has ordered that before the state of Ohio gives this data to DRO, the state must provide publication notice to students and parents that the data will be released. Below is that notice. If you have questions about this notice, you may contact DRO’s intake line at 1-800-282-9181, option 2.

Notice to Parents and/or Guardians from Federal Court Regarding Release of Educational Information Held by the Ohio Department of Education [PDF]


News story on the data release from the Chronicle-Telegram

State ordered to provide student data to nonprofit

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Bills to Watch:

Autism CARES Act

On August 8, President Obama signed the bipartisan Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education and Support (Autism CARES) Act, to renew federal support for autism services. The bill renews the 2006 Combating Autism Act, which was due to expire on September 30, and provides for funding of $260 million every year through 2019. This funding will be used for for autism research, prevalence tracking, screening, professional training and other initiatives.The act also created a new position within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to oversee autism programs and requires a new report that will focus on the needs of young adults and youth in transition. Disability Rights Ohio will continue to follow the federal programs authorized under this act as they are implemented.

The CRPD is Still Pending!

The U.S. Senate has still not ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), but Ohio’s senators could still have an opportunity to vote on ratification this fall. The CRPD is the international human rights treaty that will extend rights protections like those guaranteed by the Americans with Disabilities Act to millions of people with disabilities worldwide. If you’d like to get more information or voice your opinion on the CRPD before Ohio’s senators vote, you can contact them directly using the information below.

Senator Rob Portman

Washington, D.C. office

Phone: 202-224-3353

Toll-Free: 1-800-205-OHIO (6446)


Senator Sherrod Brown

Washington, D.C. office

Phone: 202-224-2315

Toll Free 1-888-896-OHIO (6446)

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Tell us what's important to you: take our 2014 Priorities Survey

Annually, Disability Rights Ohio examines our agency priorities to determine how to best meet the needs of people with disabilities in the state of Ohio. We want to hear from you. Clients, families of people with disabilities and community partners can make their voices heard by completing our survey.

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Disability Rights Ohio travels throughout the state to provide voting information

Disability Rights Ohio staff members are traveling across Ohio to help voters with disabilities learn more about their voting rights, the ways a person can vote, and how to get the services and supports they need to vote this election season. DRO will also be reaching out to young adults with disabilities to ensure that they know about the importance of voting, and to ensure that their first voting experience is a positive one. DRO will be attending Transition Fairs, Special Education Events and other gatherings where we can help young people learn about their voting rights. DRO has already traveled to large cities like Cleveland, Cincinnati and Youngstown and reached out to voters in more rural areas, such as West Salem, New Paris, Ashtabula and Millersburg.

Disability Rights Ohio voting presentations cover important topics, such as:

  • registering to vote
  • your rights as a voter with a disability
  • requesting an accommodation when voting
  • an overview of the voting process
  • important dates and deadlines for the 2014 election cycle.

If your organization would like to partner with us to engage people with disabilities, please call us at 800-282-9181 (TTY 800-858-3542). We would love to work with you to help educate voters!

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DRO in the News: County builds shoddy ramp, DRO weighs in

The Franklin County Office on Aging hired a contractor to build a wheelchair ramp for Robyn Watkins' mother, but the resulting ramp was shoddy and unsafe. Watkins expressed her concerns to the agency, and when she had no luck getting it fixed, she contacted Reporter Brooks Jarosz at Channel 6 News in Columbus. DRO Board President Sue Willis is interviewed in his story, expressing her own concern that the ramp does not meet any code, including the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

Waste Watch: Taxpayers Billed for Unfit Wheelchair Ramp

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Upcoming Events

  1. Fair Housing and Olmstead Conference - Friday, September 5, Worthington, Ohio

DRO Free Special Education Brief Advice Clinics

  • Friday, September 19 - Dayton (PDF flier)
  • Friday, September 26 - Toledo (Details TBA)

DRO Free Transition Bootcamp - Saturday, September 27, 2014, Youngstown

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Client Advocacy Outcomes

Student's dream of computer forensics career now one step closer

DRO represented a student and his parent in a case regarding the student’s preference to attend a career center to study computer technology. The student requested an impartial hearing because his school district attempted to force him to graduate and forgo his long-held goal of learning computer forensics, a field in which he hoped to be competitively employed. DRO was able to help the student successfully mediate his dispute with the school district. The mediation resulted in the student’s graduation being put on hold, allowing him to attend the career center in the fall with transportation provided by the school. Because of DRO’s advocacy, this student is one step closer to fulfilling his dream of employment in the computer field.

Client successfully appeals denial to keep two animals in her apartment

An individual who lives in public housing had a companion animal and a second cat that her neighbor could no longer keep. Her landlord denied the individual's written request to keep both animals, in spite of her lease stating that she could have a pet.

A DRO attorney provided information to the client and contacted the assistant director of public housing in that county to review federal law regarding support animals. The law states that a companion or service animal is not a pet; therefore, the client should be permitted to have both a companion animal and a pet. The client went on to successfully appeal the housing authority’s decision and was allowed to keep both animals.

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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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