Author: legallyabled

Victims with Disabilities: Part 1 (New podcast episode out now)

This week I was honored to present a training to the Ingham County Prosecutor’s office in Lansing, MI about victims with disabilities.

In recent years, there have been some major cases reported of crimes against people with disabilities.  In this podcast I dive deeply into these cases, some of which are graphic in nature (NSFW and may not be suitable for children).  I find that these cases are not reported in the media frequently enough on a national level, and for this reason most people are not aware of the brutality that is sometimes used against people with disabilities.  I recommend that you listen to my description of these cases so you can fully empathize and get a well-rounded picture of the larger problem.  I highlight these cases, so we can evaluate and identify how to assess situations involving victims with disabilities and implement systemic change to empower people with disabilities and create a safer environment for them to thrive.

This podcast also discusses how the criminals in these cases start displaying violent criminal behavior against people with disabilities from a young age.  Many of the cases I talk about involve teenagers who commit violent crimes against people with disabilities, and we need to address how to train young people to better respect people with disabilities, and to not seek approval by posting violence on social media apps.

I also discuss strategies for helping someone with a disability explain and report what happened.  In this podcast I explain communication methods and accommodations that can help when attorneys and loved ones are trying to ascertain the details of a crime in an effort to help a person with a disability.

In Part 2 of this episode, which will be posted later this week, I will go more into the specific statistics of crimes against people with disabilities in the recent past and studies published on this topic.  So have a listen to this episode to learn about current events pertaining to this problem and to gain an understanding of why this is important and how you can help, and then tune in to our next episode to learn about the statistics of incidence of crime against people with disabilities and important and compelling research on the topic.

For more individualized assistance on a specific situation involving a victim with a disability, or to receive a training on this topic or other topics involving people with disabilities, please feel free to reach out to me at legallyabled@gmail.com.

Thank you so much to our listeners!  Please subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes app, and rate the podcast 5 stars!  I am also very open to receiving podcast topic requests and other feedback so that this podcast can be tailored to the listeners.

iPhone listeners:

Listen to the latest episode on your iPhone and subscribe and rate this podcast by clicking  here

 

 

For non-iPhone listeners, you can access the latest episode below:

 

The articles referenced in this podcast are found at:

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/torture-attack-illinois-teen-not-racially-motivated-cops-article-1.2935818

https://www.dallasnews.com/news/crime/2017/11/09/cedar-hill-teens-took-turns-raping-mentally-disabled-girl-school-restroom-police-say

http://abc7chicago.com/news/video-man-with-cerebral-palsy-mocked-punched-/2027050/

◦http://www.phillymag.com/news/2017/06/07/teens-video-punching-disabled-man-arrested/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/05/25/white-high-school-football-players-in-idaho-charged-with-raping-black-disabled-teammate-with-a-coat-hanger/?utm_term=.a52890258f60

http://wishtv.com/2017/05/25/man-charged-with-sexual-battery-victim-is-teenager-with-disability/

https://www.mprnews.org/story/2017/09/18/disabled-teen-attacked-outside-north-metro-target

http://www.wzzm13.com/news/crime/macomb-township-couple-charged-with-pimping-out-disabled-woman-in-mobile-home-park-shed/480634514

http://www.battlecreekenquirer.com/story/news/local/2017/03/24/child-neglect-victim-remains-critical/99589192/

 

Introducing: the Legally Abled Podcast!

I am thrilled to announce that the first episode of the Legally Abled podcast has arrived!  This podcast is for people with disabilities, and those who care about people with disabilities.  I have several amazing guests lined up including disability specialists, people with disabilities, people who work in the disability field, family members of people with disabilities, advocates, experts, and more!!  Please have a listen and subscribe and rate us in the itunes podcast app!

Click this link to subscribe and listen in the itunes podcast app:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/legally-abled-podcast/id1335829439

Final LA Cover

Appropriately assessing a situation involving a person with a disability

pexels-photo-167669.jpegFollowing my last post, you may be wondering, “so where can I start?”  Start with changing your instincts in how you assess a situation.  When you see someone crying, screaming, losing emotional control, are they hitting themselves?  Are they repeating certain phrases over and over?  Are they disoriented or confused about where they are or who they are speaking with?  Are they using the same language repeatedly when asked questions, showing frustration in not being able to explain the situation?  Are their sentences disjointed and shortened?

Of course, as people with disabilities are people first above anything else (and I’ll be diving deep into person-first language soon), they are just as unique and individualized as any other person on the planet.  But, if you take the time to quickly assess the situation BEFORE responding, you might see common indicators of a disability.  And your best bet if you cannot tell—ASK.  You don’t have to outright ask if the person has a disability.  Talk to the person in a calm voice.  Ask them what’s going on, if they need any help, what they are feeling, what they need.

However, (and I cannot emphasize this enough) do not ask them more than 1 question at a time.  It sounds simpler than it is.  In everyday communication, we rarely ask one succinct question and wait for an answer.  It’s conversational to ask, “How’s it going?  What’s going on?” or “What’s your name?  Can you tell me why you’re upset?”  But to many people with disabilities, before they can answer the first question, throwing another question at them only diverts their attention in a different direction and can quite literally block their brain from processing the information they need to give to respond to any of your questions.

Ask these questions before approaching them.  Ask if they need space, and if they do, have an area they can safely go while the situation is being resolved.

Above all else, don’t threaten.  Don’t say “do this, or you can’t leave,” or “if you don’t do what I say, I’m taking you to jail.”  Those statements may be the truth, but you are much more likely to de-escalate and solve the problem at hand quickly if you try to remove the tension from the situation.  Some people with disabilities can be susceptible to extra anxiety and vulnerability.  They may not be physically or mentally capable of doing what you are asking, and when they realize this, and cannot communicate that to you, it can escalate the circumstances until everything spirals out of control.  Always listen, and not just to verbal cues but nonverbal ones (hand motions, facial expressions, guarding behavior, rocking, etc.).  These are small but monumental changes to your approach that can really make a difference.

There are always emergencies that are to be handled differently—but make sure you are correctly identifying the situation as a real emergency.  It may not be as urgent as you initially believed once you follow the approaches I’ve given above.  Take the time to listen, and provide alternative methods for communication.  If the person is not responding to you, ask if they want to write down or type what is going on.  Provide an interpreter or translator whenever possible.  Ask if there is someone you can bring to help explain what is happening.  Your conventional methods for how you communicate or respond in a situation are not everyone’s and they may not even always be the best way to respond.  Be open to differences and you’ll be more likely to correctly assess the situation.

For a detailed consultation on responding to situations involving a person with a specific type of disability, please feel to contact me at legallyabled@gmail.com for an individualized consultation.

 

Thank you,

Ashley Jacobson, MA, CRC

Legallyabled@gmail.com

Disability and Incarceration: The Facts

pexels-photo-143580.jpegOne of the most devastatingly apparent indicators of how our treatment of people with disabilities affects a community is found when analyzing the number of individuals in jails and prisons that live with disability.  A 2015 report from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Statistics found based on a National Inmate Survey, of those who disclosed, 32% of prisoners and 40% of jail inmates reported living with at least one disability (affecting their hearing, vision, cognitive processes, ambulatory skills, self-care, independent living abilities, or otherwise).*  Of those who disclosed their disabilities, most respondents identified as having a cognitive disability.*  Cognitive disabilities typically affect an individual’s processing, problem-solving, memory and/or attention skills but range from Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) to Down Syndrome.

Putting that information into context of our legal system, think about how truly difficult it would be for a person with a cognitive disability to navigate the legal system.  How can you understand your rights if the words being used aren’t in your cognitive arsenal?  How can you find an attorney, or decide on a deal or legal approach if you’re ill-equipped to problem-solve? How can you hear all of your options if your brain redirects your focus in the middle of the discussion with your attorney, the police, or others involved in the process?  How can you convey to the police or your attorney the legal issue at hand and the situation you are in?

This report raises questions as to how we can appropriately explain a person’s constitutional rights in a way that they will really understand, how we interpret what the person is relaying to us about events surrounding the legal issue, and how we implement appropriate representation, services and sentences.

This is not to say that there are no people with disabilities who should be held accountable for their crimes.  This is also not saying that people with disabilities are prone to committing crimes.  Rather, this is indicative of systemic deviation—deviation from services, supports, resources and evidence-based strategies towards mass incarceration of a population that could be highly receptive to rehabilitation, or could include those actually innocent. Instead of channeling people with disabilities through the appropriate channels or services, we are making assumptions and rushing them through the criminal justice system.

Further, our system assumes not only that people understand their rights, but that they are literate.  There are individuals signing their names to documents of which they have no understanding because their literacy skills are limited.

Now consider a couple of other important facts.  From this study, 13% of prisoners and 16% of jail inmates reported multiple disabilities.*  Now we aren’t just having to balance the analysis needed for one disability but for co-occurring disabilities.  Also, there is a real possibility that many with disabilities did not disclose, whether out of choice, lack of formal diagnosis, or lack of understanding about their diagnosis.  The U.S. Department of Justice Report found that men were less likely to report their disability.*  Further, based on the shame and stigma surrounding disability historically, mental illness tends to be  reported even less.  As a special educator and counselor I frequently encountered adults young and old that knew they were different, but had no idea what their disability diagnosis was or that they were even diagnosed with a disability.  Because our education system places so much of our disability efforts in the hands of the teachers and parents, and because those individuals are understandably constrained by time and finances in providing an explanation to the students or children, I have frequently encountered adults who have limited understanding in the diagnosis that affects their daily lives.  This is a systemic issue, but also a self-determination issue.

Self-determination is an underlying main focus of disability professionals.  Self-determination entails a person with the disability being able to understand his reality in living with disability, and to have the power to assess the situations he is in and make decisions on his own behalf.  Self-determination skills are the most important skills acquired by individuals with disabilities because it increases their independence, and acknowledges that more often than not people with disabilities are better equipped to speak on their own behalf about where they are at and what they want for their future.  As a disability professional, this was always in the back of my mind.  However, with caseloads and classrooms brimming with clients or students, and resources limited more and more each year, sometimes it is easy to fall into the pattern of getting through the day to day.  How can we think about the future when we are trying to get through the “here and now?”  So, while self-determination should always be the underlying concept in any program for people with disabilities, too often children with disabilities become adults with disabilities who do not have a clear understanding of their diagnoses.

So that’s the bad news.  Here is why you should care. First, under the United States Constitution and based on every precedent-setting court decision since, people are entitled to certain rights and protections under the law.  There are due process and equal protection rights on a federal and state level ensured to all citizens—not all citizens except people with disabilities.  We should also care because the incidence of disabilities being diagnosed is on the rise.  We are learning more and more about different disabilities and conditions, but yet aren’t using that knowledge to adapt within our communities.  Everyone knows someone close to them with some type of disability, or is a person with a disability.

Let’s say someone you care about has a disability–

Imagine that person calls the police for help, but cannot convey what is going on because of a cognitive or communication impairment and winds up getting arrested because they police assume they are drunk and disorderly.

Imagine a close loved one with an autism diagnosis on their worst day, spiraling emotionally out of control, who just needs space from the crowds that are surrounding you out in public.  A police officer approaches and the situation escalates because the person cannot follow the strict orders yelled at them in a moment of chaos.  Because they are not obeying and they keep attempting to avoid the officer, they are arrested.

Imagine a young man with Down Syndrome, who has worked incredibly hard to get a job he is more than qualified for, only to be accused by other workers for stealing because the coworkers believe people with disabilities are an easy target for blaming mistakes or missteps.  The police arrive, and despite this man having a guardian, the police question him alone.  Unaware of his support, of his protections, of his rights, of the possible next steps, the man winds up in a whirlwind of overwhelming questions creating stress and anxiety so severe he cannot finish his shift, despite really needing the money to pay rent.

Imagine a child in a classroom for students on the autism spectrum.  They are only in elementary school, but are spending time in a resource room for a little extra assistance in learning the material for the day.  But the schedule changes unexpectedly, a change this child really doesn’t like.  He starts hitting himself and throwing things, and the school’s security officer restrains him for a lengthy period of time.  He is restrained in his hands and legs, and is told if he just stops moving he will be released of the restraints but because of his disability, he is unable to comply to the demands and ends up being restrained for a lengthy period of time, in front of his classmates and teacher.  He now is scared to go to school, and has a meltdown every morning to the point where he is physically sick.

I don’t have to imagine these events, because they happened (many of which I witnessed first-hand).  You should care because it’s happening more and more, and will likely happen to someone you care about.  You should care because it might even happen to you.  You should care because people with disabilities are more capable today than ever of being successful within their jobs or careers, and support their own families—they have jobs and families that suffer when they are misunderstood, fired, or arrested.

There are several ways that people with disabilities can be better served in their communities, and in return how communities benefit from providing equal rights and opportunities to people with disabilities.  The most fundamental way to best serve people with disabilities (and, in turn, the community as a whole) is to provide people with disabilities their full rights under the law.  Additionally, officers of the law, teachers, administrators, and community members need to adapt their techniques in order to appropriately assess and resolve any situation without the need of any escalation.

Lately I have been providing trainings to different offices that deal with these types of situations with the goal of not pointing fingers but instead providing simple techniques that can completely change the direction of these scenarios.  The focus cannot be on controlling the situation.  It must be on appropriately assessing, in order to attain de-escalation (which has the end effect of controlling the situation).

My next post will discuss different approaches for correctly assessing a situation involving a person with a disability in detail, so if you care about the issues I’ve presented from the report mentioned above, please stay tuned!

*And to read the full U.S. Department of Justices Special Report from December 2015 referenced throughout this article, you can find it here:

https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/dpji1112.pdf

 

Thank you!

Ashley Jacobson, MA, CRC

Legally Abled: Welcome

Legally Abled: Welcome

My name is Ashley Jacobson and I have spent more than a decade devoted to disability advocacy.  During my undergraduate years, an immediate family member of mine endured a serious car accident which left her facing ongoing rehabilitation for a severe Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).  Her rehabilitation process opened my mind to a world of systemic challenges people with disabilities face on a daily basis.  I graduated in Undergraduate Studies with Specialties in Special Education, Psychology, and Political Science from Western Michigan University and then received my Master’s degree from Michigan State University’s Rehabilitation Counseling program (ranked #1 in the nation).  Rehabilitation Counseling is a field which empowers people with disabilities through counseling and training to live their most independent and fulfilling lives vocationally, personally, and otherwise.  During my graduate studies, I worked as the Program Coordinator for the Building Opportunities for Networking and Discovery (BOND) program for college students on the autism spectrum attending Michigan State University, through MSU’s Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities.  After graduating with my Master’s degree, I passed the national Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) exam and spent time counseling youth and adults with disabilities for a non-profit organization in Michigan.

I quickly realized that there was more I could do to advance the interests of the disability community.  Without violating confidentiality, I can attest to the misconceptions, barriers, and problematic vulnerabilities that create an inaccessible justice system.  I saw clients reach out to police, attorneys, and others in the community for help, only to be misunderstood.  I saw too many of my clients with disabilities dealing with legal troubles based on a lack of accessibility to the right resources.

Truthfully, I also found many actors in our system who were simply not adequately trained in how to approach a legal issue involving a person with a disability–whether that person was a victim/survivor of a crime, alleged to have committed a crime, or needed assistance with domestic violence, family law issues, or educational barriers.  I grew frustrated in referring my clients to attorneys because while those attorneys were competent and excellent in their field, they really did not have the background and training in how to approach a case involving a person with a disability.  But, pointing fingers at missteps and misunderstandings is not my goal.  The only true pathway to a more inclusive system for people with disabilities, is to focus on simple and concrete approaches to making our legal system accessible to the complex and diverse disability community.

Seeing a dire need for attorneys that have disability expertise, I enrolled in an accelerated 2-year law school program at Western Michigan University’s Cooley Law School, from which I plan on graduating in 2018.  An honest look at our history will show you that there is room for improvement in how we treat people with disabilities, and this is my focus.  I aim to consult members of the community as to how we can accurately assess and identify solutions when handling a situation involving a person with disabilities, and empower individuals with disabilities to be their best advocates while receiving the full protection of their constitutional rights.

This is where this site comes into play.  Here I will provide resources and updates on disability issues and the law.  What you find on this site does not constitute legal advice to its readers, but rather a resource for people with disabilities and their communities.  Please do not hesitate to reach out to me for further assistance or insight.

Thank you for your time and interest.

Ashley (McIntyre) Jacobson, MA, CRC

legallyabled@gmail.com