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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:


Creativity encouraged: DRO buys art, supports artists with disabilities

DRO Attorney Jason Boylan and Intake Specialist Lodia D'Angelo pose in front of art they purchased for the Disbability Rights Ohio office.
LeVeque Tower is one of Columbus, Ohio’s most iconic buildings. Built in 1927, it is the only older skyscraper among a handful of more modern tall buildings in the city’s downtown skyline. Disability Rights Ohio’s offices are situated on the 13th and 14th floors of the building, which has been undergoing extensive renovations to the lobby and façade in the last year. As the gleam was restored to the LeVeque entryways, it became clear that the plain, eggshell-colored walls of the DRO office space needed sprucing.

DRO Executive Director Michael Kirkman had wanted to purchase art created by people with disabilities for a number of years, inspired in part by Lois Curtis, the “L.C.” in Olmstead v. L.C., the landmark Supreme Court decision that outlined the constitutional right of people with disabilities to live and work in the community. Since the decision in 1999, Curtis has become a well-known folk artist. Kirkman owns one of her works, and he hoped to get a number of other pieces to display alongside it in the DRO office.

He asked the Disability Rights Ohio staff to form a committee to find and purchase art. The final committee, made up of Intake Specialist Lodia D’Angelo and Community Integration Attorneys Kevin Truitt and Jason Boylan, determined the criteria they would use in narrowing down and selecting organizations.

“It was important to us that the artists got a commission for their work,” says D’Angelo. “We wanted to be sure they got a fair wage. This time we also chose programs that work with individuals with developmental disabilities. If we have a chance to buy more art in the future, we’d like to focus on other kinds of disabilities.”

Ultimately, they selected three organizations dedicated to helping people with developmental disabilities create and sell art: Creative Foundations in Mount Vernon, Open Door Art Studio in Columbus, and Up & Beyond Art Studio in Hillsboro.

View the art in our Facebook album.

Creative Foundations – Our Town Studios

127 S. Main St., Mt. Vernon, OH 43050 (Main Gallery)

Artists in the Creative Foundations Integrated Day Service paid artist program earn minimum wage plus a 25% commission from each artwork they sell. The remainder of the sale goes back into the program to purchase paints, canvases and other supplies.

The retail store features 60-70 paintings priced from $25 to $200, depending on the size, plus a variety of products printed with artwork. The artists decide how much each piece should cost. Members of the community are encouraged to stop in, view and purchase art and meet the artist, if he or she is in the studio at the time.

“For our artists, it’s incredibly empowering,” Art Coordinator Chris Waldron explains. “Folks with developmental disabilities don’t always have control over every part of their lives. But here, we give them art supplies and say ‘you can make whatever you want.’ And then we put it up in the gallery and people in the community come and buy it for their homes and offices. It’s amazing for anyone when someone wants to buy something you made.”

Waldron also encourages people to schedule a tour, so they can see the whole studio and the artists at work, but the public is welcome anytime. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

Open Door Art Studio

1050 Goodale Blvd., Grandview Heights, OH 43212

Open Door Art Studio is an art studio space that currently represents 65 artists with disabilities from around Franklin County. Gallery Facilitator Sean Moore, who happens to be the son of Disability Rights Ohio Advocate Debbie Moore, says the studio puts the focus on free expression. “The process here is self-driven,” he explains. “All of our artists are free to use the mediums they choose and work with the subject matters they choose because we feel it’s the best way to express yourself as an artist.”

The gallery curates five in-house shows per year, including e Peck, is also represented by another gallery in Columbus, so they must price match that gallery for his pieces.

“There is definitely something for every budget,” Moore says. “And we have art literally on every wall, including the bathrooms.” Artists receive 60% of the sales of their works, with the remaining 40% going to running the gallery, buying supplies and creating promotional materials.

Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, but Moore encourages people to come in around noon, since the artists come in around 11 a.m. “Part of the magic of the space is getting to meet the artists and watch them work,” he explains.

Up & Beyond Art Studio

8919 US Route 50

Hillsboro, Ohio 45133

Up & Beyond Art Studio celebrated its one-year anniversary on September 22, and in many ways, Studio Coordinator Jordan Freeze is still working to get its program off the ground. The Up & Beyond studio space is currently housed in the same building as Highco Inc., the Highland County Board of Developmental Disabilities sheltered workshop, though it is an independent entity. Freeze is currently looking for a location that could function as both studio and gallery space, but for now the location is convenient, allowing the artists to come and go as they please during their day at the workshop.

“In the last year, we’ve sold 253 pieces of art, and the artists have really taken ownership of the space,” she points out. “They clean up the studio and take good care of the supplies and tools. We have 11 regular artists, and 26 artists have had pieces sold since we opened.”

The artists earn a 60% commission on the sale of a work, with 40% going back into the program. In addition, the gallery pays a $50 design fee to an artist the first time a design is sold. Thereafter, the gallery owns the design, which can be replicated in a variety of mediums, most popularly wood. Whoever does the painting on subsequent copies of the same design earns the commission. Prices range from $12 to $30.

Because Up & Beyond doesn’t currently have gallery space, their sales have been limited to fairs, festivals, farmer’s markets and Facebook. Freeze takes pictures of every work and puts it on the studio’s Facebook page. Prospective buyers can indicate their interest in a piece by calling (937) 393-2891 between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. weekdays or emailing Art can be shipped nationwide. They are currently working on taking credit cards, but for now, sales are cash or check only.

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Special education FAQs offer helpful information for parents, guardians 

For parents and guardians of special education students, a new school year often brings meetings with teachers, school staff and administrators to create new individual education programs (IEPs). IEPs outline the supports and services students with disabilities need to be successful in the classroom. According to federal law, every student with disabilities is guaranteed a free and appropriate public education (FAPE), and an IEP is an important part of that guarantee.

Disability Rights Ohio has more than a dozen publications to answer many of the most common special education questions. Each page includes a link to a PDF version of the document, suitable for printing.

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Doe v. State of Ohio seeks funding, good outcomes for special ed students

In 1993, Ohio Legal Rights Service, now Disability Rights Ohio, joined Doe v. State of Ohio, alleging that funding for special education in Ohio was 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.

To understand the problems with the funding, it’s important to go back to a 2000 study by the Ohio Coalition for the Education of Children with Disabilities, which recommended a weighted funding system. Children would be placed into one of six categories, with more funding being awarded to support the education of children with more severe disabilities. The state legislature chose to adopt the recommendation, funding the program at 80% initially, with plans to ramp up to 100% over time. Funding has been stalled at 90% for many years.

During the last state budget process, the state claimed that it made changes to the funding system that addressed the problems in the Doe case, but this 90% funding level has not changed. Most telling of the continued funding problems are the calls DRO receives. “We still get calls from parents who need help,” says DRO Director of Advocacy Kerstin Sjoberg-Witt. “School districts tell them that they don’t have the funding or resources to fulfill the services the child needs to be supported at school. If the funding was there, schools wouldn’t make those claims.”

There is also a significant achievement gap between typically developing students and students with disabilities, even if the disability is not cognitive.

“The data clearly show that students with disabilities score lower on tests than those without disabilities,” Sjoberg-Witt points out. “If those students were getting the supports they need in the classroom, their scores should be the same. That’s why we made the request for student data, so we could drill down into that data even further.”

Judge Michael H. Watson recently approved the Ohio Department of Education’s release of the data to DRO.

DRO’s goal for Doe v. State of Ohio is straightforward. “We want to have a system that has enough resources to give kids what they need, and has better educational outcomes.  We want the system to serve the students well.”

How You Can Help

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.

Related Information

Judge Watson's Order Overruling Objections and Directing the Release of ODE's Data to DRO

Agreed Modification of the Protective Order for the Data from ODE

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Staff Profile: DRO Attorney Jason Boylan fulfills dream to work in civil rights

DRO Attorney Jason Boylan
Disability Rights Ohio Attorney Jason Boylan started college at The Ohio State University planning to be a music teacher, but instead he discovered politics and changed his major to Political Science.

After working as a page in the Ohio Senate, Boylan realized that he wanted to devote his career to doing policy work. “I decided to go to law school specifically so I could work at Legal Aid or another civil rights organization,” he recalls.

Starting in 2007, he joined Ohio Legal Rights Service, now DRO, as a law clerk before passing the Bar, then worked as a contract attorney until he was hired permanently in July 2008.

Boylan has a hand in a number of DRO’s big special education cases, including Doe v. State of Ohio, Gibson v. Forest Hills School District, and guardianship cases, including State ex rel. McQueen and In re Guardianship of Spangler. He enjoys knowing that the work he does can affect tremendous change for people whose voices often go unheard.

“I like to be able to help people where they might otherwise not be able to get help,” he says. “There aren’t a lot of resources available when someone’s civil rights are being violated. The fact that I can get paid to do civil rights law is pretty darn awesome.”

He also is part of the small team that leads up the organization’s efforts to inform people with disabilities about their voting rights, whether by traveling across the state giving presentations or answering questions as they come into DRO’s intake department or the Voter Hotline on Election Day. The hotline is something he’s particularly proud to be a part of.

“There are many organizations that answer voter questions, but on Election Day, people can call us when polls are open and speak immediately to an attorney,” he explains. “I enjoy sharing with people about their rights.”

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Bills to Watch

The Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act

Congress has reached an agreement and plans to move forward with a vote on the ABLE Act when House members and Senators return to Washington, D.C., after the November elections. H.R. 647/S. 313, the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, is a legislative measure that would allow people with disabilities to save money tax-free and with minimal impact on benefits eligibility. This bipartisan bill would amend Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code (otherwise known as College Savings Plans) to allow savings beyond the current Social Security or Medicaid asset limits, enabling people with disabilities and their families to save for disability-related expenses. These savings accounts could be used for such expenses as education, housing, transportation, employment support, health, prevention and wellness costs, assistive technology and personal support services. The bill would allow for tax-free savings in an ABLE account up to $14,000 annually, and up to $100,000 total. The House bill (H.R. 647) now has 380 bipartisan co-sponsors; the Senate bill (S. 313) has 74 bipartisan co-sponsors. 

For more information, read this FAQ from the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) [PDF].


Ohio Senate Bill 349

Ohio Senator Bill Seitz recently introduced Ohio Senate Bill (SB) 349, which would change the state’s housing discrimination laws. Specifically, SB 349 would lower the penalties for housing discrimination, prevent fair housing agencies from collecting damages if they win a housing discrimination lawsuit, exempt some Ohio landlords from the Ohio Civil Rights Law, and even allow for landlords to recover attorney’s fees from the plaintiffs under certain circumstances.  Based on our analysis of the bill as drafted, it appears that SB 349 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 would cause Ohio to fail the “substantially equivalent” requirement, and accordingly, would jeopardize OCRC’s annual receipt of $1 million in federal funding. Disability Rights Ohio — along with many fair housing organizations and civil rights advocates — have serious concerns about the bill and the possibility that it could decrease compliance with housing protections for people with disabilities. DRO will continue to monitor the bill in the Senate when the Ohio General Assembly returns following the November elections. 

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Disability Rights Ohio Voting Bulletin

Election Day is November 4 - Are You Registered?

Election Day in Ohio is Tuesday, November 4 and the deadline to register to vote is Monday, October 6. Not sure if you're registered? Check the Ohio Secretary of State's My Voter Information website to find out.

Individuals can register to vote in person at many locations throughout Ohio, including their local board of elections, their local office of the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles, and public libraries. They can also download a PDF of the voter registration form online, fill it out, sign it and mail it to their county board of elections. 


Be Sure to Update Your Voting Address

Have you moved since the last time you voted? Voters can update their address online or download the paper form and submit it by mail on the Ohio Secretary of State's website

Voters should submit any address change by the voter registration deadline, Monday, October 6. They may submit an address change after the deadline or even on Election Day, but they would be required to vote provisionally. A provisional ballot is not counted until election officials determine that the ballot was cast by an eligible voter. It is used in many situations, such as when a voter's name or address does not match his or her registration or if a voter does not provide the proper identification.

A voter's address determines his or her correct polling location. A person who goes to the wrong polling location will not be able to vote at that location, not even provisionally. Voters who keep their address updated will also be notified in advance if their polling location changes.

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DRO in the News

Kings Island amusement park denied 12-year-old Logan Vilardo access to rides in the park because of his disability, although he had been given access in years past. Disability Rights Ohio Director of Advocacy Kerstin Sjoberg-Witt commented on the case.

WCPO Channel 9 News, Cincinnati - Attorney: Kings Island may have violated federal law by barring boy with disabilities from rides


Springfield News-Sun reporter Brian Bondus interviewed DRO Executive Director Michael Kirkman about Ohio's current institution-based system for people with developmental disabilities and why it's critical for the state to offer meaningful choice.

Springfield News-Sun - Disability services may change, but some in Clark County don't see need


As the Reynoldsburg City Schools teachers union strikes, some parents are keeping their children with special needs home out of fear that substitutes will not follow IEPs. NBC 4 in Columbus reporter Candice Lee mentions DRO's advice to parents when advocating for their children.

NBC 4 News, Columbus - Parents Say Teacher Strike Jeopardizes IEP Plans 

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New publication explains changes to Ohio's civil commitment laws

On June 17, 2014, Governor Kasich signed Senate Bill 43, which made changes to Ohio’s civil commitment process for individuals with mental illness. The new law went into effect on September 17, 2014. Disability Rights Ohio has created a new publication, Changes to Ohio’s Civil Commitment Laws, to provide information about this new law.

Senate Bill 43 expanded the definitions of who can be subject to civil commitment because of a mental illness. The bill also clarified that probate courts can order outpatient treatment instead of hospitalization.

This publication provides basic information about civil commitment. If you have questions about your rights or how this law applies to you, or if you know someone who is unfairly court-ordered to receive treatment, you should contact Disability Rights Ohio for assistance. 

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Client Advocacy Outcomes

DRO educates apartment management on assistance animal laws

An individual recently obtained an assistance dog for her home and verbally notified her apartment management. The management said she wasn't allowed to have the dog because it exceeded pet size and weight restrictions and discouraged her from filling out their accommodation request form. The client was then given a $300 fine for a lease violation, accused of not cleaning up after the dog in her yard and then had to comply with the manager’s request to inspect the apartment for damage to the property because of the dog. The client contacted DRO for assistance.

A disability rights attorney contacted the building management to explain the confusion regarding the accommodation request: size/weight restrictions don't apply to assistance animals and the pet fee should be waived because a companion/assistance animal isn’t a pet. He also alerted the management team that they should not inspect client's home until after she vacates her apartment. The attorney sent a letter to the management detailing everything they had discussed and requested the accommodations. The accommodations were granted and the companion animal remains with the client.

Emergency status helps client return to the community

An individual who had lived her entire life in her parents' home is looking forward to living in her own home in the community with appropriate services instead of a facility. The client had been transported to a nursing facility to recover from surgery. During her recovery, her aged parents determined they could no longer care for her. When the client received a discharge date from the nursing facility, her guardian - another relative - applied for services from the county board of developmental disabilities and requested the client be placed on the waiting list for Medicaid HCBS waiver services. Because the client had received the discharge notice and did not yet have a place to go, the guardian contacted Disability Rights Ohio to get information about what services were available to the client. 

DRO advised the guardian to request emergency status, which would give the client higher priority on the waiting list for waiver services. DRO provided information about the process, as well as other services for which client may be eligible to assist with her return to the community. DRO also contacted the Department of Developmental Disabilities on client’s behalf. The county board approved the request for emergency status and intends to enroll client on a waiver so that she can live in a home- and community-based setting instead of institutional care. They are currently working on identifying a home and planning the client’s discharge from the nursing facility.

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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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