Last week, DRLC submitted a letter to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors regarding alternatives to incarceration. DRLC urges the County to support policies and practices that implement treatment for people with mental illness, while also making sustained financial commitments to rehabilitation programs that will help reduce recidivism and increase public safety.
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Compton is a diverse inner suburb of Los Angeles. Many now- famous professional athletes attended school here, including NBA players DeMar DeRozan, Tayshaun Prince, Tyson Chandler and Brandon Jennings. Yet none of these athletes were forced to sit at the edge of a playground watching other children play with no opportunity to participate. Our client, ST, was.
ST is a ten year old with multiple disabilities, including cerebral palsy and spastic quadriplegia, requiring the use of a wheelchair. Unlike her school friends, ST could not move freely through her school building because it was not built to allow her access: she could get into the library in her wheelchair but once there couldn’t turn, nor could she use the restroom in the cafeteria or access the stage. Her wheelchair would tip over when she used the walkways to her classroom. If she was thirsty, she couldn’t make use of the inaccessible water fountains.
DRLC challenged these violations of ST’s rights by bringing suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act and other related laws. This week a settlement favorable to ST was reached with the Compton school district. As part of the settlement, barriers to access will be removed: there will be guard rails on the walkways to classrooms; all children with mobility impairments will be able to use the library, cafeteria, and play on accessible playground equipment; and the parking lot is being repaved and restriped so there will be no chance of a wheelchair or walker tipping over on the way to car or school bus. And all the students in the school will soon be able to get a drink from a water fountain.
Special thanks to DRLC Managing Attorney Maronel Barajas and Staff Attorney Anna Rivera for achieving educational justice for our client.
Kathryn L. Tucker
Last week, California became the first state in the nation to restrict school suspensions and expulsions for “willful defiance” (AB 420, a bill supported by DRLC). Willful defiance is a vague charge that can be used any time a child appears to be defying authority. The law bans suspensions and expulsions for “willful defiance” for students in grades K-3, and requires that schools use other methods of discipline for students in grades 4-12 before they suspend on this ground.
Statistics show that suspensions and expulsions disproportionately impact students with disabilities, as well as students of color. Students with disabilities are suspended 3 times more often than those without disabilities. In San Bernardino County, 60% of African American male students with a disability and 50% of Native American male students with a disability will be suspended or expelled in a school year. There is also a significant racial disparity, not only in terms of suspension rates but justification for suspension. White students are much more likely to be suspended for conduct involving violence or drugs, whereas Black students are more likely to be suspended for vague charges like “willful defiance.”
DRLC has been in leadership in championing the rights of young students who have been expelled on defiance grounds, recently resolving such a case involving a five year old kindergartener; the settlement requires that the student be reinstated. We are pleased to see AB 420 enacted: it will help protect young children and encourage schools to provide them with the help they need, rather than suspending or expelling them if they have difficulties learning or behaving in school.
This will benefit students in myriad ways, including reducing the likelihood that they will end up in the criminal justice system.
Kathryn L. Tucker
**Case worked on by: H. Joseph Escher III, Dechert LLP; Amanda D. Gossai, Dechert LLP; Laura Faer, Public Counsel; Maronel Barajas, DRLC; Anna Rivera, DRLC; and Andrea Smith, DRLC.
"I want to go home, to my books and my music,” he said, his voice whispery but intense.
All Americans should be outraged by the shocking story on the front page of the NY Times last Friday, September 26th, titled “Fighting to Honor a Father’s Last Wish: To Die at Home.”
That a 91 year old man, approaching the end of a long life and suffering multiple age related impairments, was forced against his will, in violation of his clearly expressed wishes, into institutional care, isolated from his family, segregated from community, is wrong. “I want to go home” Joe Andrey repeatedly told his daughter and everyone involved in his care. Despite this clear desire, and the dedicated advocacy of his daughter to see his wishes respected, Joe was forced into a nursing home far from his daughter and his home, where residents were left sitting in their excrement, falls from bed were common, and pain medication was not provided.
Governmental programs, particularly Medicaid, are required by law to offer alternatives to nursing homes and to enable elderly individuals with medical problems to receive services in their home, instead of being forced into a nursing home. The disability rights movement worked long and hard to combat forced institutionalization of persons with disabilities. It is time for this battle to be taken to the field of forced institutionalization of seniors like Joe Andrey.
To read a copy of the NY Times article, please click here.
Kathryn L. Tucker
I am honored to be the new Executive Director of DRLC and build on the extraordinary legacy left by my predecessor, Paula D. Pearlman.
I am eager to carry out DRLC’s mission of fighting for people with disabilities in all types of circumstances when their rights are being ignored, obstructed or challenged.
I am confident that my expertise in advocacy will strengthen DRLC’s capacity to work for all people with disabilities, and expand its ability to effectively represent clients with terminal illnesses on a host of issues and in a variety of legal areas.
I am looking forward to our upcoming FDR Dinner, DRLC’s 40th anniversary in 2015, and working with the incredible and dedicated staff of our organization.
It’s February, a time when the chill of winter is tempered by the warmth of Valentine’s Day. Here at DRLC, we are celebrating the holiday by sending our love and thanks to all of you who have helped us champion the rights of people with disabilities. To our volunteers, co-counsels, supporters, funders, friends and family---this Valentine video is for you. Please click here to watch.
There are many things I need to do to wrap up DRLC’s year. One of them is looking over descriptions of calls to our Intake Line and to Cancer Legal Resource Center’s Telephone Assistance Line.
I read about 20 descriptions of these calls when I had to just sit quietly and breathe. All of the calls had one glaring thing in common: the injustice stemmed from people’s inability to see the potential of a person with a disability. All they saw was the disability.
Let me give you some examples. A school district doesn’t think to give a young girl with asthma, progressive scoliosis, fluid buildup in her spinal cord, and a malformation of her cerebellum any accommodation at all in order for her to successfully attend school. Instead, they record that a school counselor has noted she has “friendship difficulties”.
A man who is deaf was unable to rent a home for himself and his six children because the landlord didn’t want to rent to someone who couldn’t hear.
A certified youth soccer referee with Asperger’s Syndrome is told that he can’t work as a referee because he’s a “retard.”
No wonder my staff works as hard as they do. They are the ones who come into direct contact, day after day, with these stories and who champion their clients’ rights at the highest professional level possible. Their passion for justice and their dedication to pursuing societal change is unbounded. If you want to find goodness this holiday season, look no further than DRLC’s staff.
Thank you for allowing me this “shout-out” to my heroes: Karina, Maronel, Marianne, Richard, Elizabeth, Stephanie, Jennifer, Luis, Maxwell, Shawn, Christopher, Norma, Jonathan, BG, Maritza, Andrea, Randi, Lani and Sasha.
And a special shout out to all of you who support the work of DRLC and believe in our vision of an inclusive world, where everyone’s possibility is fully realized.
Our staff attorneys represent clients with a diversity of disabilities: sensory, mobility, cognitive and intellectual as well as clients experiencing mental health challenges. We also work with different co-counseling arrangements; single practitioners, small law firms, medium size law firms, and large international firms. It is through our work with these various players that we have developed exceptional expertise in how to serve legal clients with disabilities through the accommodations process.
This is why I was pleased to find this week that our Legal Director, Michelle Uzeta, and a staff attorney, Trevor Finneman, published an article in Law Practice Today, the monthly webzine of the ABA Law Practice Management Section. Finneman and Uzeta provide a detailed overview of a law office’s obligations in meeting provisions of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. They cite specific tools in working with clients with visual or hearing disabilities, those with mobility aids, and even more difficult, how to work with clients with cognitive disabilities.
You can read the article online by clicking here: www.americanbar.org/content/newsletter/publications/law_practice_today_home/lpt-archives/july13/serving-clients-with-disabilities.html
Inclusion, fairness and justice—these are just some of the values of DRLC and by adequately accommodating clients with disabilities, attorneys can ensure that their clients have equal access to not only their own law practices but to justice itself.
Newtown, CT, 27 killed and the shooter committed suicide. Oak Creek, WI, 6 killed, 3 wounded and the shooter committed suicide. Aurora, CO, 12 killed and 58 wounded. Carson City, NV, 4 killed, 7 wounded and the shooter committed suicide. Grand Rapids, MI, 7 killed, 2 wounded and the shooter committed suicide. Tucson, AZ, 6 killed and 13 wounded. These are just a half dozen of the US locations where tragedies involving murders with assault weapons or large capacity ammunition magazines have occurred.
Many of the accused perpetrators have been linked to mental health conditions which have led to proposed gun control legislation as it relates to mental illness. This is tricky. While each suspect and the conditions under which the crimes were committed must be considered individually and carefully, there is potential for these debates to cause further harm by entrenching stereotypes about people with mental illness, while ultimately doing little to address the true, underlying causes of violence.
Most people agree the violence is due to the prevalence of guns with high killing capacity and the lack of legal and reasonable legislation such as background checks and waiting periods prior to gun purchases. However despite the bipartisan amendment, the Senate vote failed to garner 60 votes needed to pass a bill fostering gun control measures, such as a waiting period prior to the purchase of a handgun at a gun show.
Some critics of the legislation seem content to point to mental illness as being at the root of this violence. The Los Angeles Times recently quoted Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE) as saying that the proposed gun control law would have done nothing to prevent Sandy Hook. “This is really a story about an individual who was severely mentally ill who, for whatever reason, did not get the help that he needed,” Johanns asserted.
Even Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA), a proponent of the proposed gun legislation, was quoted saying “The common ground rests on a simple proposition and that is that criminals and the dangerously mentally ill shouldn’t have guns. I don’t know anyone who disagrees with that premise.”
Studies have shown, however, that mental illness by itself is not statistically related to violence, and that people with serious mental illnesses are far more likely to be the victims of violent crimes than the perpetrators. Jennifer Mathis, Deputy Legal Director and Director of Programs at the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, stated “Despite the facts, many lawmakers and journalists continue to stigmatize people with psychiatric disabilities as the primary concern related to gun violence.” But as we’ve seen, linking this public health crisis to those with a history of mental illness is a distraction to the real problem.
Reasonable gun control regulation should be enacted, but they cannot infringe on the civil rights of persons with disabilities. Disability activists and concerned citizens must speak up and bring attention to the problems of placing these weapons of mass murder in anyone’s hands.
**Note: To read the full article written for Abiltiy Magazine, please click here.
I am grateful that you are taking the time to visit the DRLC’s newly revamped, revitalized and reinvigorated website.
It has been a labor of love, with a huge dose of commitment and effort by DRLC staff. We have a new platform so we can make changes ourselves, personalize our pages, and update you with our legal news and news of our activities. We are constantly striving to make this website state of the art on accessibility.
We want this to be a living, breathing site that you’ll want to come back to for information, ideas and commentary about disability civil rights, and how disability can and should be integrated seamlessly into our thinking and consciousness.
DRLC is at the forefront of the disability rights movement because we believe that change is possible and we work to ensure that vision of change. It’s not enough to believe but we have to act on our beliefs. On this website you will find new legal rights materials, our blogs, thoughts and activities to promote change, and our celebrations of our victories and those of our friends, colleagues and allies.
And this website, along with our other communication such as our Facebook page, our weekly Good News Report, and our quarterly Cancer Chronicle, will inform you about our work to eliminate discrimination and unconscious bias that harms the dignity and the lives of our clients, and our achievements in the fight to advance the rights of people with disabilities.
We welcome your feedback as we continue to improve the site and expand our reach. Please send your comments to DRLC@lls.edu.
Thank you for visiting our site and for your interest in our work. Come back often.