Leading Advocates Testify, Warn Legislators That Proposed Amendment Will Unduly Harm Ohioans Living with Disabilities

May 18, 2021

In strongly worded testimony, Disability Rights Ohio (DRO) Executive Director, Kerstin Sjoberg, warned members of the Senate Finance Committee that House Bill 110 would subject DRO, a private nonprofit that receives no state dollars, to unprecedented state legislative oversight. The result Sjoberg cautioned, would have a chilling result on effective advocacy, impact the lives of Ohioans with disabilities and infringe on DRO’s ability to provide strong and independent advocacy for people with disabilities.

The proposed amendment would create a joint committee to examine DRO’s operations, including whether a new entity should be designated as the state’s protection and advocacy entity every two years. Sjoberg reminded lawmakers that the Protection and Advocacy System was created by Congress in 1975 after a series of hearings triggered by exposure of the horrific conditions in Willowbrook, a state operated facility in New York. DRO has held the designation of Ohio’s protection and advocacy organization since 1980 and is thereby required to investigate abuse and neglect as an independent advocate. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the federal government to determine whether the P&A system complies with federal law, not the state legislature.

Before concluding, Sjoberg also made it clear that this amendment creates an “undue burden” on DRO and diverts precious resources from DRO’s role as an advocate by requiring the organization to participate every two years in a legislative oversight process that is contrary to federal law. It also puts funding for other state programs at-risk that support people with disabilities. Specifically, if the federal granting authorities determined that Ohio did not have an independent P&A because of this amendment, it could jeopardize over $3 million in funding for Ohio’s Developmental Disabilities Council and over $130 million for Opportunities for Ohioans with disabilities federal funding for vocational rehabilitation services.

14-year-old Erin Fearn testified as well. “DRO helps elevate the voice of self-advocates and gives individuals and organizations a resource they need to be effective in their advocacy,” Fearn explained. “They have helped me fight for my rights as a person with disabilities and have given me a say so in my own life. Without the help of DRO many Ohioans would lose their voice, and control over their own lives.”

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