Tag: advocacy

Fire Columbus Police Officer Involved in Abuse of Protester with a Disability

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By Ashley Jacobson

On June 21, 2020 there was a man living with physical disability who attended a peaceful protest in Columbus, Ohio.  Events took a scary turn when this man had his prosthetic limbs forcibly removed from his legs by police, who continued to attack him violently.

The following is a screen-reader accessible version of the email I sent to the named individuals:

“June 22, 2020

From the office of Ashley Jacobson, Esq., MA, CRC

To Mayor Andrew J. Ginther, ADA Compliance Officer Zane D. Jones, the City of Columbus, members of the City Council for Columbus, and the Columbus Division of Police:

On June 21, 2020 a man with physical disability had his prosthetic limbs forcibly removed and was physically attacked by Columbus police during a protest.  I am a disability rights attorney who also holds a master’s degree and nationwide certification in counseling and assessing the needs of individuals with disabilities.  Any involved officers’ actions are clear violations of constitutional and disability rights.  This not only endangers people with disabilities in your jurisdiction but also implicates related departments and officers who are presently at-risk of private lawsuits and losing federal funding.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is applicable to all individuals who meet one of the following criteria: 1. The individual has an impairment (physical or mental) that substantially limits one or more major life activities; 2. The individual has a history or record of such an impairment; or 3. The individual is perceived by others as having such an impairment.  42 U.S.C. §12102.  The individual victimized by police on June 21, 2020 is covered under the federally-mandated protections of the ADA as an individual with limb amputations.

The ADA provides a “clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities.” 42 U.S.C. §12101(b)(1).  Title II of the ADA provides that “no individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of…activities of a public entity, or be subject to discrimination by any such entity.”  42 USC §12132.  The involved man with a disability was subject to discrimination by a public entity.

The Department of Justice states on its own ADA website that “Title II of the ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities by law enforcement agencies” (read here).  This specifically includes language stating that disability discrimination cannot occur by law enforcement when “interrogating witnesses,” “arresting, booking, and holding suspects,” “enforcing laws,” and “other duties.”

Additionally, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities under “any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”  Columbus Division of Police receives federal financial assistance.  Section 2000d-7 of Title 42 provides that a “State shall not be immune under the Eleventh Amendment of the Constitution of the United States from suit in Federal court for a violation of section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973” (read here).  Pub L. No. 93-112, 87 Stat. 394 (Sept. 6, 1973). The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals importantly held that private suits in circumstances of such disability discrimination are not barred (read ruling here).  Therefore, the individuals and departments involved in this atrocity of disability discrimination in Columbus can be held accountable and liable under the law.

The targeting of individuals with disabilities by the Columbus Division of Police are far too familiar to the disability community.  In the CDP’s own report on use of force from 2018, published in 2019, it was reported that the use of force on individuals with impairments or emotional disturbances accounted for 46.67% of all reported recipients of excessive force (read here). These numbers, as police lack qualified expertise to properly diagnose and assess crisis needs of individuals with disabilities, are likely low when taking into account all the individuals arrested by police who are wrongfully arrested based on misidentifying symptoms of disability as criminal behavior.

Any future similar violations towards people with disabilities will be done with continued clear knowledge of its illegality and will indicate the complicity of all who obstruct harsh and swift accountability against the individuals involved.  The disability community is the largest minority in your jurisdiction and the United States.  They are voters and consumers.  There will be unending consequences to ignoring their cries for enforcement of their legal rights.

 

Sincerely,

Ashley Jacobson, Esq., MA, CRC

Disability Counselor, Assessment & Accommodations Specialist (nationwide CRC)

Disability Rights Attorney (state of Michigan) & Disability Advocate

legallyabled@gmail.com”

 

There are other steps you can take to join the fight to hold police accountable in Columbus.  

1) Sign the petition found here (also found at the following link: http://chng.it/pnNX9JQy) and share the petition on your social media.

2) Send your own email, make your own call, and/or send your own letter.  Here are some great people to contact:

Mayor Andrew J. Ginther: City Hall 2nd Floor, 90 West Broad Street, Columbus, OH 43215; Office phone: 614-645-7671; Email 311@columbus.gov; Twitter: @mayorginther; Instagram: @mayor_ginther

ADA Coordinator Zane D. Jones: ADA Compliance Office c/o Zane D. Jones, 77 N. Front St. Columbus, OH 43215; Email: zdjones@columbus.gov

City of Columbus General council contact: Instagram: @columbuscitycouncil, Twitter: @columbuscouncil

Shannon G. Hardin: Council President—Instagram: @sg_hardin, Twitter: @sg_hardin

Michael Brown: Chief of Staff

Zachary Davidson: Legislative Aide– Office: 614.645.5291; Email: ZGDavidson@Columbus.gov

Linda Capobianco: Legislative Assistant– Office: 614.645.2726; Email: LMCapobianco@columbus.gov

Elizabeth Brown: Council President Pro Tempore—Instagram: @lizclarkebrown, Twitter: @lizclarkebrown, second Twitter: @lizforus

Kelsey Ellingsen: Legislative Aide—Office phone: 614-645-7163, Email: KAEllingsen@columbus.gov

James Carmean: Legislative Assistant—Office phone: 614-724-4649; Email: JWCarmean@columbus.gov

Mitchell J. Brown: Council Member–only available through Denise Friend-Foster and Grant Ames

Denise Friend-Foster: Legislative Aide—Office phone: 614-724-4686, Email: DFriendFoster@columbus.gov

Grant Ames: Legislative Assistant—Office phone: 614-645-4605, Email: GMAmes@columbus.gov

Rob Dorans: Council Member—Instagram: @robdorans, Twitter: @robdorans

Kevin McCain: Legislative Aide—Office phone: 614-645-5829, Email: KBMccain@columbus.gov

Hannah Miller: Legislative Assistant—Office phone: 614-645-5568, Email: HNMiller@columbus.gov

Shayla Favor: Council Member—Instagram: @shaylafavor, Twitter: @sdfavor

Tyneisha Harden: Legislative Aide—Office phone: 614-645-3680, Email: TYHarden@columbus.gov

Charles Newman: Legislative Assistant—Office phone: 614-645-3680, Email: CENewman@columbus.gov

Emmanuel Remy: Council Member—Instagram: @emmanuel_v_remy

Jeffrey Carter: Legislative Aide—Office phone: 614-645-3559, email: jdcarter@columbus.gov

Lucille Frank: Legislative Assistant—Office phone: 614-724-4432, Email: LJFrank@columbus.gov

Priscilla Tyson: Council Member—contacted through legislative aide Nicole Harper and legislative assistant Carl Williams

Nicole Harper: Legislative Aide—Office phone: 614-645-2932, Email: NNHarper@columbus.gov

Carl Williams: Legislative Assistant—Office phone: 614-645-0854, Email: cgwilliams@columbus.gov

Columbus Division of Police: 

Instagram: Columbus_police_

Twitter: @columbuspolice

Deputy Chief Bash

Columbus Division of Police
Deputy Chief Bash
Columbus, OH
Map and directions

Office phone: 614-645-4105

Internal Affairs Bureau Citizen Complaints

CONTACT US: To file a complaint (or concern) against Division personnel, please call (614) 645-4880. To file a compliment, contact us at (614) 645-4580. Or, to reach the main Internal Affairs office, please call (614) 645-4745.
You may also reach us via email aIABDeskSgt@columbuspolice.org

Columbus Division of Police

Internal Affairs Bureau Citizen Complaints
Columbus, OH
Map and directions 

Office phone : 614-645-4880

Internal Affairs Bureau

Columbus Division of Police
Internal Affairs Bureau
Columbus, OH
Map and directions

Office phone:

614-645-4745

Human Resources Administration
Columbus, OH
Map and directions

Office phone:

614-645-4803

Professional Standards Bureau
Columbus, OH
Map and directions

Office phone:

614-645-4602

Columbus Division of Police
Discipline/Grievance Liaison
Columbus, OH
Map and directions

Office phone:

614-645-7132

 

Video of the event referenced above can be found by clicking here.

 

 

Michigan Bar Exam Discrimination: My Experience in February 2019

In February 2019 I took the Michigan Bar Exam.  This is not a tale of a disgruntled student who failed.  This is the account of a woman (me), who passed the test despite severe and persistent discrimination.

Below is the letter I sent to the individuals named in an effort to prevent this treatment from ever happening again to the many law students with disabilities.  I will write another post following up on the steps I took after this letter was written and submitted, but for now, please take the time to read about what happened.  This matters–not because it happened to me, but because we have no reason to believe it will ever change without taking a stand.  I didn’t publish this until now for many reasons.  I was emotionally healing from the events.  I was deciding the best way to implement change and considering all of the methods for doing so.  I was trying to find a job and am aware that employers still aren’t completely understanding that people with disabilities are smart and sufficient employees.  Life went on and I immersed myself in all of the opportunities I earned.  Then, this morning it hit me that 2020 is steadfastly approaching, and students are prepping for the February 2020 bar exam now.  Those students deserve equal treatment under the law.  They deserve better treatment than I received.  So, here it is.  Please be kind, because it’s not easy to share.

This is the letter I wrote and submitted, detailing what happened:

“To the Board of Law Examiners, Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School, Governor Gretchen Whitmer, and any other interested party:

 

My name is Ashley Jacobson.  I graduated law school in two years, at the top of my class, magna cum laude.  I have a master’s degree from the #1 ranked university in rehabilitation counseling (Michigan State University).  Rehabilitation counseling is a field devoted to counseling individuals with disabilities by teaching empowering skills and strategies that enable their highest levels of achievement and independence.  I graduated with an overall 4.0 GPA in undergraduate and graduate school.  I am nationally certified as a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC).  I have worked for a large university and non-profit organizations as a disability and accommodations specialist.  I have started two successful non-profit organizations of my own.  I am also a person living with a physical disability.

On February 26th and 27th of 2019, I sat for the Michigan bar exam in Lansing, MI.  In all of my experience counseling individuals with disabilities, working in the disability field for over a decade, working as an accommodations and disability specialist, I have never witnessed the level of discrimination against a person with a disability equal to what I experienced on the days of the Michigan bar exam.

I was prepared for the test itself.  I studied for 10-12 hours each day leading up to the exam for months.  I made materials my entire 2 years of law school in anticipation of the bar exam.  I had the grades, the abilities, the focus, and the determination to pass this exam on my first attempt—which I did, despite all of the discrimination and hurdles placed in my way by the Board of Law Examiners.  Months before the exam, I submitted all necessary medical documentation and was approved for accommodations.  Attached is the letter I received on November 28, 2018 approving the accommodations as listed below.  To note, accommodations are changes in approach, not changes in standard.  Accommodations are not meant to “level the playing field,” as that phrase is used today.  Accommodations are methods that allow the student to display their abilities without the unnecessary barriers inflicted upon them in average testing conditions.  I received the following accommodations, as approved by the Board of Law Examiners:

  1. A private room, close to a restroom.
  2. 30% additional time for each session of the bar exam.
  3. The excusal from having to use a scantron, with my marking the answers in a way that I am able (circling) and a scribe (the proctor) to fill in the scantron per my marked answers.
  4. The ability to bring in acid-reduced water, medications and medical supplies.

From this point forward, I will list the number of ways I was penalized and discriminated against.  I will then explain in detail how I was penalized on the basis of having a disability and how, as such, my rights as an individual with a disability were infringed upon.

I was discriminated against in the following ways:

  1. As a student with a disability, I was penalized with excessive noise not inflicted upon students without disabilities.
  2. I was penalized by being given the incorrect finishing time for the afternoon portion of the essay section of the exam.
  3. I was penalized for being a student with a disability by the exam administrators, who did not plan for my proctor to act as a scribe in accordance with my accommodations.
  4. I was penalized as a student with a disability by facing a blatantly discriminatory and inappropriate confrontation from an exam administrator at the start of a testing session.

 

First, as a student with a disability, I was penalized with excessive noise not inflicted upon students without disabilities.

On the 26th, the first day of the exam—the essay portion—I arrived early at the Lansing Convention Center.  My classmates and fellow bar exam takers were at one end of the conference center, where it was isolated and quiet.  There were no other events taking place where the students without disabilities were testing.  I found my private room, which did have a restroom in it, at the other end of the conference hall.  I was testing in a room labeled the “First Aid Room,” and the Lansing Conference Center security staff informed me the hall consisted of several First Aid Rooms throughout the facilities.  My First Aid Room, where I was to be testing seven to eight hours each day, was directly next to a professional party for the Farm Bureau’s 100-year anniversary, attended by 400 individuals celebrating with loud music over the speakers, a booth set up outside of my testing room, news interviews right outside of my small room, food and drinks.  Evidence from news coverage and a facility map corroborate my detailed account of the events.

Students without disabilities were not exposed to excessive noise, yet I was interrupted repeatedly because of poor planning on part of the exam administrators that greatly affected my ability to put forth the same effort as those without disabilities.  I was wearing ear plugs, but could still hear full conversations between individuals shouting and partying outside of my room.  My proctor left several times to ask them to be quiet, and when she returned, she said verbatim, “Yeah, they just said it was their 100 years and didn’t really care.  Sorry.”

At the conclusion of the morning testing session, the proctor told me that she could find me another room, but that (as a direct quote) they “would not be able to provide all of [my] accommodations because it probably wouldn’t have a bathroom close by.”  My additional testing time was calculated based on the exam coordinators’ planning for me to have quick access to a restroom, so I was hesitant to move rooms and not receive my accommodations.  Most importantly, I need a restroom close by because of the medical treatment I am undergoing which causes sudden nausea, vomiting, and restroom usage.  Also, once accommodations are approved, they cannot just be taken away.  It was my right to receive these accommodations so as not to be discriminated against under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  However, the bar coordinators thought their poor planning justified removing my accommodations on the day of the biggest exam of my life.  Further, as a member of a protected class I was given disparate treatment based solely on my disability.

I said to the proctor that I needed all of my accommodations, so if that could not be provided in another room, moving to another room was not really an option.

I then attended a lunch held by my law school during the break in between the morning and afternoon testing sessions on the 26th.  At that lunch I explained what happened to my Constitutional Law Professor, Christi Henke, my Intro to Law and Academic Resource Center professor Jeanette Buttrey, and Julie Mullins, who administered my testing accommodations throughout law school.  They were just as shocked and upset as I was.  They stated that the Board of Law Examiners and testing administrators do not have a choice but to provide my approved accommodations which luckily, I knew because of my background and education, and that for the multiple-choice section the next day (if not sooner), I absolutely needed to have them move me somewhere quiet and provide all of my accommodations.

On my way back to my testing room, I stopped at the Farm Bureau’s party booth to ask if they would be there all day.  They were there until 6 p.m., my entire testing day.  They also told me that the conference had been scheduled for several months—the 2020 conference is already scheduled at the facility for next year.  The administrators of the exam saw no issue with putting a person with a disability at a disadvantage, surrounded by excessive noise.  They saw no problem with subjecting me to barriers not placed in the way of students without disabilities.  Regardless, I knew I needed to get through the next session and try my hardest to focus on the task at hand.  I worked too hard to let this completely derail my success, so I tried to “buckle down and push through it.”

Second, I was penalized by being given the incorrect finishing time for the afternoon portion of the essay section of the exam.

At the start of the testing session I put anything I had away as instructed.  My proctor started the session and stated I would be finished at 4:40 p.m.  I said, “Okay, so 4:40 p.m.?”  and the proctor confirmed, “Yes, 4:40.”  I then calculated and organized a specified amount of time for each essay based on the end time given to me by the proctor, and began the last five essays of the day.

The proctor left the room a few times once again, which I assumed was to ask the people outside of my door to be quiet.  Imagine my surprise, at 4:05 pm, when I was given a 15-minute warning and still on essay three out of five.  I stopped and asked, “wait, I only have 15 minutes?”  The proctor said (verbatim), “Oh yeah, so when I left the room it was because I realized they wrote down the wrong time for you to end so I tried to give you a 30-minute warning when I came back in after confirming their mistake but I was worried because I could tell you didn’t hear me because you were trying to tune out noise.”  I had to rush and write down anything I could on the last three essays, until I was abruptly cut short.

The most frustrating thing was looking at those last three essays specifically, knowing I had so much more I could write, knowing the material they were looking for in an answer, and watching those points slip out of my grasp because of the testing administrators’ “mistake.”

I also will add that in my time of working in the disability field, working at MSU in the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities, and taking several tests with accommodations, including the MPRE, messing up the time like this does not happen to exam administrators who have prepared even the most minimal amount, because testing times are the easiest element of accommodations to plan.   Giving a student with a disability the incorrect finishing time is not a small mistake—it is a disservice and barrier only faced by students with disabilities who rely on the times given to us.

When I finished, I asked the proctor, “Are they not used to accommodating students with disabilities or something?”  The proctor responded, “Yeah sorry again, the lady who normally does the testing accommodations is retiring so it’s a new person and they’re still figuring everything out.  Hopefully you finished.”  I didn’t.

I told the proctor that I needed to be moved to another room for the multiple-choice section.  I explained my professors’ rationale to the proctor by stating, “Multiple choice questions require an even higher level of focus, because the questions are written with details leading you to the wrong answer, so you have to dissect and identify to pick the correct answer.  I couldn’t risk reading the questions over and over like I was forced to with the essays based on the noise.  I needed to focus.”  The proctor said she would work on finding me a new room.

On February 27th, I returned to the Lansing Convention Center.  On my way in, I saw a dean from my law school, Dean McDaniel.  I explained what occurred the day before, and he said that I should talk to someone about that and that I should let him know if I run into trouble but he was not sure there was anything he could do.  I ran into Julie Mullins.  She walked over with me to my private testing room, where we waited because I had not been told what room I was moved to yet.  When the proctor arrived at my old room (the First Aid Room) at 8:30 a.m., she took me to a large banquet room directly next door to the students without disabilities.  It was private, but the restroom was many times further away from where I was sitting as the restroom was in my old room (I timed it prior to testing: the First Aid Room restroom was five seconds from my seat, the restroom in my second room was three minutes away from my seat—which in multiple choice context is a major issue).  This would not have been such a problem, except for the fact that the additional time I was given in my approved accommodations was calculated based on the examiners knowing I would not have to make that length of a trip to the restroom.  I was not afforded time to make up for this added barrier.

However, I realized that this was the best I was going to get.  Julie Mullins explained to the proctor that we were upset in how I was treated the day before.  The proctor admitted to all of the aforementioned events I specify in this statement, and Julie stated we needed written documentation stating these events occurred.  The proctor stated she did tell the director, so it had been noted, but Julie insisted that I receive written documentation about the noise and being given the incorrect finishing time.  The proctor was defensive in her tone, but agreed to provide the documentation.  I reiterated to the proctor that I understood that any issue I was facing with my accommodations was not her fault, but we do need to address them because it is not allowed to treat students with disabilities in this way.  Julie also made sure to ask that people would not be walking through the room I was in while testing, as walking on those floors was very loud (they were concrete and women in heels could be very distracting), and the proctor said, “They shouldn’t.”  They did.

Throughout my multiple-choice testing sessions (both morning and afternoon), I had several people walk into and through my testing area, some talking loudly, not realizing I was testing in there because they had me behind curtains squaring me off in the middle of the large conference room.  The proctor did her best to jump up and ask people to be quiet when they came in, but it was distracting.  I counted the first seven times this occurred, but after that I lost count because I was trying to focus on complex multiple-choice questions.

Third, I was penalized for being a student with a disability by the exam administrators who did not plan for my proctor to act as a scribe in accordance with my accommodations.

The most egregious discrimination was with regards to my accommodations relating to the scantron.  On the multiple-choice section of the bar exam, students fill in their answers on a traditional scantron sheet, bubbling in their selections.  My physical disability causes severe hand tremors.  It is a systemic response to the symptoms of my autoimmune disease, and anyone who has ever taught me or taken a class with me can attest to this (in addition to my team of doctors at the University of Michigan).  In law school, they did not use scantron sheets so this was not an issue.  For the MPRE they did use scantron sheets, but they provided the accommodation of me marking a page in a different way instead of filling in the bubbles of a scantron answer sheet.

For the bar exam, I was approved for the accommodation of marking the answer in my answer booklet and having the proctor, a scribe, fill it in for me on the scantron.  The best way I can explain this hurdle is that, for a student without a disability, imagine you have to take the biggest exam of your life, eight hours long, but you can only write on the scantron holding the pencil in your mouth and not using your hands.  That is what it feels like when a student with hand tremors is forced to bubble in a scantron—it is an extreme disadvantage.

There was one major problem—the bar exam coordinators completely forgot to plan for my proctor to be my scribe.

At the start of the multiple-choice section, my proctor started explaining the steps for getting started and I inquired as to whether she was supposed to be my scribe or if a scribe was coming.  She said, “You’re supposed to have a scribe?  You can’t fill in the scantron?  I have no info on that.”  She sighed and walked away.  When she returned, she stated, “They said I could just fill it in for you. But you have to bubble in the name and stuff on the scantron.”  As I was bubbling it in, it took me several minutes, holding my writing hand with my non-writing hand to try to steady it enough to mark it correctly.  The proctor stated, “Oh, so you can fill in a scantron.”  My ability to fill in the scantron was not the point—the point was that it took me several times longer than students without disabilities because of my disability.  I pointed that out to her, and we moved on and I started the multiple-choice questions.

At the end of the morning session I handed her my test booklet, in which I circled my answer selections.  The proctor took my test booklet and the scantron.  I asked if I would be able to confirm that she filled in my answers correctly, which of course I explained meant nothing against her, but that human error happens and this exam is a big deal.  She said she would ask.  Ultimately, I was not allowed to confirm that the answers I selected in the booklet were selected on the scantron for me.  I was frustrated because I had no idea if another human, though well-intentioned, could mistakenly mark my scantron.  Students without disabilities know their selected answers are being marked the way they intend on the scantron.  Apparently, students with disabilities have to put their faith in a stranger.

During the lunch break on the second day I made my way to my law school’s luncheon and explained to Julie Mullins that yet again, my accommodations had been improperly planned and executed (or not planned at all) and Julie was just as exasperated as I was.  A representative from my school contacted the head proctor, who explained that my use of a scribe should be continued as follows: I would select my answer, the proctor would fill in the bubbles as I did each question, and if I had time at the end, I could double check the scribe’s bubbling.  This is still discriminatory, as being able to check for another human’s error is something students without disabilities do not have to worry about, but it was uniform with other students needing the same accommodation for the same reasons for the bar exam so I was told that was how I was to conduct the afternoon section.  These instructions lead to the last major way I was penalized solely based upon being a student with a disability.

Fourth, I was penalized as a student with a disability by facing a blatantly discriminatory and inappropriate confrontation from an exam administrator at the start of a testing session.

The events I am about to describe to you (like everything detailed in this letter) are not an exaggeration. This is word-for-word, action-for-action what happened next.  I returned to my testing room after lunch.  The proctor returned and shortly before 2 p.m. we started to prepare for the last testing session.  I asked her if the head proctor had talked to her about the accommodations for the scribe situation and explained what I was told about how I should continue per the steps outlined a couple of paragraphs above.  The proctor sighed, said, “I’ll be back,” and left hurriedly out of the room.

She returned two minutes later with another woman, who had the first name of Maribeth, and was later identified to me by the proctor as Maribeth Preston.  The older woman approached my desk while I was sitting, with her standing above me.  She said, “So this is what’s going to happen.  I’ve been doing this job a long time and I’m in charge.  You’re saying the proctor is supposed to bubble in things as you go.  That’s not how it works.”  I explained, “A representative from my school spoke with the head proctor about this, and said that was how it was supposed to work so that’s the only reason why I asked her (the proctor) about it.”

The woman stated, “I don’t know who they talked to, but clearly you’ve been misinformed.  I’ve worked this job for a long time.  That’s not how accommodations work.  You’re saying you can’t fill in a scantron?”  I explained about my hand tremors and my accommodations that were approved months ago.  I said, “I submitted paperwork and medical documentation months ago and my accommodations were approved then by the state bar people—” she cut me off, “well, we’re not the state bar people.” I explained, “Well it was the board of law examiners, or whoever, but I went through the proper channels to get accommodations for the bar exam and they were approved.  Since I started this test, I have not received all of my accommodations, and I have been penalized in ways students without disabilities are not.”

She actually rolled her eyes upward and repeated, “So you’re really saying you can’t fill in a scantron?”  I said once again, “No, I can’t.”  She continued, “You say you got approved for accommodations, do you have the paper with you showing that?”   This stranger, claiming to have worked in this position for years, was making me justify not just my accommodations, but also my disability, on the day of the exam, at the start of a testing session.  What made this more upsetting was that this woman was the same woman who signed the letter approving my accommodations. 

I said, “I was told I could not bring any other paper with me besides my admission certificate, and no I cannot fill in a scantron for the exam, which is why I was approved for the accommodation months ago.”  She said, “Well what you’re asking for, you needed accommodations approved, because everyone is different. And, that’s not how accommodations work.”

I informed her, “I know how accommodations work.  I worked as a disability and accommodations specialist before law school, I have my master’s in disability counseling, I worked in this field in this job and I know not only am I not getting my accommodations but I am also being discriminated against solely because I have a disability and this is unacceptable.”

The woman rolled her eyes upward again and lifted the one corner of her mouth and looked at the proctor.  I continued, “Yesterday I dealt with noise that students with disabilities did not have to deal with, yesterday I was given the incorrect finishing time and then cut off which students with disabilities did not have to deal with, today I was moved to a room further from the bathroom without accounting for the time difference it would take for me to walk there and back, and today I was not provided a scribe until I demanded one and then now I’m being told not only do I not get to use a scribe appropriately but I have to put my faith in a stranger that my scantron is being marked correctly…”

The woman cut me off and said, “Well the proctor doesn’t fill it out.  There’s two people behind the scenes that fill it out and I check it.”  I’d like to note that the attached letter approving my accommodations specifically states that the proctor fills out the scantron.

I stated, “No one explained that to me, but it still doesn’t account for human error.  Students without disabilities don’t have to worry that their answer selections are going to be mismarked by a complete stranger.”  We went back and forth in this same conversational circle for several minutes.

The woman stated with a harsh tone of voice again, “So you’re really saying you can’t fill in a scantron?”  I realized at this point that I was being judged, and nothing I could say would make this process just.  She continued, “Well, this is how it works, and the proctor will do this the way I am saying, and if you are saying you can’t fill in a scantron—” as tears welled up in my eyes from frustration I cut her off and said, “You could’ve sent the proctor out here to explain to me that this was not how it was going to work, but instead you came out here to argue with me and frankly, your presence here is counterproductive to me doing my best on this exam so I would like you to leave, because now I have to do 100 multiple choice questions.  I am going to take the test now, and I will file complaints and whatever else necessary after the exam is over.  But I need to focus on this test, and you are hindering my ability to do that.”

As I burst into tears, the woman left.  I looked at the clock.  She had come out to talk to me at 2 p.m., it was now 2:19 p.m.  This woman had come to argue with me, for no other purpose than arguing and belittling me, for nearly 20 minutes at the start of my testing session.  Students without disabilities did not have to face rude, humiliating confrontation for nearly 20 minutes at the start of their last testing session, before having to complete 100 multiple choice questions.

The proctor said, “Listen, I get it, if you need to take a few minutes to walk around to refocus you can.”  I went into the hallway, and unfortunately no one from my school was there anymore—the halls were now empty.  I went into the bathroom in the outside hallway, cried for four minutes, looked in the mirror and determined that no matter what, even if it was not my best work, I had to finish.  I worked too hard to give up because of the test administrator’s ignorance, discrimination, and lack of preparation.

I realized this was it, and no matter how many hurdles were in my path I needed to just do the best I could with the circumstances I was given.  What other choice did I have really?  The woman who came out stated that she was the one in charge, so I couldn’t exactly speak to her boss.

I returned to my desk.  I sat down, and finished the exam.  I had a difficult time even reading the pages because I was crying.  But I finished, and only by the grace of God and substantial preparation on my end—I passed.

I paid a lot of money to take this exam.  I put in a lot of time and energy to prepare for it.  With my health issues, I even had to physically train so that I would be able to physically make it through the test.  My disability was something I overcame repeatedly throughout graduate school and law school.  In law school I had three separate surgeries take place the week before or the week of final exams.  I was at the top of my class despite undergoing chemotherapy, despite having my medical device malfunction, despite hospitalizations and surgeries.

I shouldn’t need to justify myself in order to receive a non-discriminatory environment, but nonetheless I feel the need to reiterate that I am a smart woman.  I am not asking for special treatment.  I am asking for the opportunity to showcase my abilities without discriminatory barriers inflicted upon me or any other students with disabilities.  I am asking for the opportunity to display to all of the wonderful professors who assisted me throughout law school, who supported me through each health hurdle, that our hard work together meant something—it meant with their help and my persistence I could be a lawyer.  I made it through this, but too many students with disabilities do not.  They are denied every year for accommodations because without them the Board of Law Examiners says they can function at the average level of people without disabilities.  The point of an accommodation is not to be average.  An accommodation is removing unnecessary barriers so a person can show their true  ability.

The behavior of those “in charge” is an alarming display of how students with disabilities have been treated for a long time in this field.  I am demanding equal protection under the law.  I am demanding not to be discriminated against for having a disability.  I am demanding compliance with the ADA, not just for me but for all students with disabilities in the future.

I have worked as a disability advocate for years, and even my law school is well aware of my advocacy for students with disabilities while in law school.  I have seen my counseling clients mistreated, but never have I witnessed a test administrator mock in disbelief a person’s disability.  The tone of voice, the repeated questioning of my disability, the lack of preparation in planning the execution of accommodations, and the unwillingness to conform with the law was flagrant and unacceptable.  I was not able to do my best work because of these hurdles.  Even me, the disability counselor, was not prepared to face what I faced on those two days because it just did not seem in the realm of possibility for this to happen to me—until it did, over and over.

Students without disabilities already face stress, pressure, fear, fatigue, and brain fog for the bar exam.  It is grueling.  I expected that.  But students with disabilities deal with all of those things, plus the many hurdles placed in their way by exam administrators and proctors.  On my way out of the last testing session I ran into another student who had just finished the bar exam.  She was upset, and we started talking about our experience.  She told me first, that she was a student with a disability who was not given the view of a clock during testing because of the way they situated her for her accommodations—which is monumental for the bar exam when we are not allowed to bring in watches of any kind.  Out of respect for this student’s confidentiality I will not disclose her identity.  Her choice to disclose her experience is her own to make, but I wanted to include her in this because I am certain that I am not the first student with a disability to receive prejudicial treatment.

The passage rate on the bar exam is already somewhat low, and those who pass need many things to go right in order to do so.  Students with disabilities have a higher bar—they must make many things go right when everything around them is going wrong.  I have had people tell me that my concerns and advocacy aren’t necessary if I passed.  I could not disagree more.  It matters regardless of the outcome.  The Americans with Disabilities Act was violated.  Members of a protected class are being mistreated by leaders who have no interest in reforming this system.  This is discrimination, and it cannot be accepted in a field devoted to just treatment under the law.

My urgent recommendation is that the Board of Law Examiners be held accountable for this atrocious discriminatory treatment, that a new Board of Law Examiners Director be nominated by Governor Gretchen Whitmer, and that this new appointee have actual experience and expertise in disability rights and accommodations.  A perfect candidate would be a person who has a master’s degree in Rehabilitation Counseling, is a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC), and also has legal experience.  I would be happy to submit recommendations of specific individuals who are qualified for the position, or help in any other way to prevent this discrimination from occurring in the future.

We cannot stand by while people with disabilities are stifled by prejudice.  We cannot accept discrimination, because to do so would be telling people with disabilities they are not worthy of respect, dignity, opportunity, or equal rights under the law.

 

Thank you,

Ashley Jacobson, JD, MA, CRC

Disability Expert, Advocate, and Accommodations Specialist”

 

My Request to MI Governor Gretchen Whitmer

In February I was the victim of severe, blatant disability discrimination and violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The person who wronged me was nominated by the past governor of Michigan and appointed by the Supreme Court. In an effort to file a complaint against this high-level government employee, I have discovered that the jurisdiction of who can receive my complaint is limited but includes the Governor. I voted for Gretchen Whitmer, @gewhitmer on Instagram, after hearing her speak at the first Women’s March in Lansing, MI before she was elected. She spoke about the importance of diversity, community involvement, and listening to others.
Now I hope to work with Governor Whitmer, my governor, to prevent this type of discrimination from ever happening again in our state and country. I’ll keep reaching out to her office until we have the opportunity to discuss these issues and my evidence-based ideas for resolving them, which are grounded in my work as a disability expert. It’s 2019, and yet even as a disability expert and counselor I was shocked to experience the discrimination I faced solely because I am a person living with a physical disability. We cannot accept discrimination because to do so would be telling people with disabilities they are not worthy of respect, dignity, or opportunity.
•[image description for those using screen readers: a picture of the banner of a website showing Ashley Jacobson’s request to voice a concern to Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s office has been submitted. Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s picture is at the top of the photo, and she is a white woman with brown, shoulder-length hair who is wearing a navy shirt under a red blazer. She also is wearing a very classy pearl necklace. Next to her picture to her right is the text, “Governor Gretchen Whitmer,” and to the right of that is a small outline of the state of MI and “Michigan.gov” with a light picture of a bridge behind that.]
Self-Determination: how to love, but empower your loved one with a disability

Self-Determination: how to love, but empower your loved one with a disability

Self-determination is a tricky process for people with disabilities because it operates on a continuum.  Life is unpredictable, and for the most part–so is disability.  But, with self-determination, the person with a disability can regain some level of control and dictate the choices and direction of her life.  Self-determination is a concept where a person has the  confidence and ability to decide and move forward with the best, next-steps in his own life.  Not what you or I think is best, but what they want for their own lives.  For many, especially those with disabilities, well-meaning loved ones have in a lifetime of protecting the person with a disability (PWD), have actually kind of sheltered or unintentionally taken control over the life of the PWD.

It’s difficult for loved ones, and I understand that better than most.  I have been guilty of being a helicopter constantly propelling what I thought was best over the person I love with a disability.  It’s incredibly challenging to shut that off because you love that person and want what is best for them.  I know it may seem like I’m asking a lot for you to back down (or if you are a PWD, to take control)…but please, hear me out.

When I was a special educator, and then a rehabilitation counselor (CRC), I saw many students and young adults with disabilities that had their differences in ability.  They had skills that needed more developing, skills they were not capable of displaying, and skills that made them unique assets in the best way.  However, those unique-asset skills were often under-utilized because they had not practiced them independently on their own incentive or triggering.  For example, they could do really well in an interview after having practiced and trained, but they were going on job interviews below their skill level because someone (though again, well-meaning) told them this job would be “so good for you!”  Or, they were not going to job interviews at all because their loved ones were really (and understandably) nervous about them putting themselves out there and taking a massive step towards independence.

The biggest limitation in the life of any person is their own belief that they are limited.  Yes, of course individuals (with disability or temporarily able-bodied) have to be realistic.  I’m not saying someone who has never dribbled a basketball, or someone who has played in a community basketball league–has the skill to try out for the NBA.  But I am asking for you to not make assumptions about their abilities or limitations, because when you assume their limitations, they see themselves as inherently limited.  Really sit down with the person, and ask him what he would like to learn.  Ask him what skills are important for adults to possess.  Objectively think of the many skills he has already learned, and try to compare those to the skills he wants to learn.

I am not suggesting that anyone just shut down and remove themselves out of the PWD’s life in one clean break, no longer helping the PWD with anything.  It is a process, and of course you will never just be out of their lives–you love them!  Nonetheless, self-determination is learned and blossoms in an environment that encourages growth, independence, and inclusion.  This is one of the reasons why so many adults with disabilities phase out of the public education system, and wind up under-employed or unemployed.  Further, when students learn skills at school relating to independence, they lose those skills if they are not generalized and practiced in the home-environment.  And trust me, I completely understand that as a loved one of a PWD you are busy and have many, many responsibilities for yourself and your family.  That’s why I want to give you some tools and strategies for encouraging the independence of the PWD so that maybe it can at the same time lessen your work load and empower your loved one.

It is difficult for many people without disabilities to break down the appropriate steps in fostering and empowering independence in a PWD.  Every person is different, but here is an example of how one could foster the self-determination process in an adult with a disability (Also: You can reach out to someone who works in this field–like me!–if you want guidance on appropriate steps for a specific person…again, progress is a continuum with steps forward and steps back, and that is okay.  This does not have to happen overnight!).

Self-determination skills: Determining food choices

  1. Watch a cooking show on tv that discusses nutrition and healthy eating
  2. Practice cooking simple meals in the kitchen with the PWD, emphasizing safety and nutrition (boiling water for pasta, making pasta, cleaning up after making pasta, with canned sauce)
  3. The PWD cooks on his own while the loved one is not overseeing, but is in the general area in case the PWD has a question
  4. Show the PWD where to find coupons, and discuss how much food really costs
  5. Watch tv shows about the health effects of not eating nutritious (but don’t be too scary about it, especially if the PWD is someone who can get easily overwhelmed or experiences severe anxiety–in this case you can discuss food choices in terms that are not so daunting with regards to the health consequences)
  6. Have the PWD go to the grocery store with you and have him hold the list (if possible, have him read and check off the list as you go–if he is not able to read, that’s okay too!  You can sit with him and go through grocery store inserts, pamphlets, magazines, coupon clippings, etc.  Just cut those pictures out and make the list out of pictures.  You can even draw the pictures!)
  7. After practicing #6 a few times, and if he is safely independent in public (as in, won’t go with strangers, won’t give his money to strangers, isn’t a harm to himself or others), bring him to the grocery store and have him gather the food on the list while you wait at the front of the store with a book/magazine
  8. After practicing #7 a few times, practice money skills.  Discuss pricing of food and different ways you can make payment.  Go through #7 and at the end of each time you shop, have the PWD give the money for payment to the cashier.  If the PWD gets nervous, that’s normal.  You can go at times when the grocery store is less busy, or teach him how to use the self-checkout line, but ultimately practice will help him feel more comfortable.
  9. After practicing #8, and if he is safely independent in public, bring the PWD to the grocery store and wait in the car as he shops for the food on the list, and pays on his own.
  10. Have the PWD make the grocery list on his own, check it over to make sure it covers essential items that are financially-responsible choices.
  11. If not yet learned, teach the PWD transportation options like the bus.  Public transportation systems have disability-accessible bussing but the more inclusive the better (again, depending on the actual, realistic abilities of the PWD).  A PWD should live and operate in the least restrictive environment as appropriate.  It may take time, and it will be a little daunting for both you and the PWD, but that is a normal part of growing up and in time and with practice, he could gain much independence and allow more free time and balancing of responsibilities for you and your household.
  12. Have the PWD look up transportation options on his own, and then schedule it on his own, go food shopping, pay, and return home on his own.
  13. Combine steps 1-12.

Again, this is just a generic example.  Some of these steps can be combined or adjusted if the PWD is more advanced, or they can be broken down even more.  I’ve broken down the process of making a PB&J into nearly 60 steps before for a client with a disability.  The most important thing is that we don’t just give up and do something for a person with a disability simply because it’s the easier and quicker thing to do.  Sure, there may be days when you do not have time to pre-teach, teach, and re-teach.  When you do have time though, the best way you can love a PWD is by loving their independent drive and spirit.  After all, you cannot and will not always be around and in times of need the PWD should feel competent to do as much as he is capable.

This post does not come from a place of judgment.  I’ve been there, personally and professionally.  I know what it is like to see a loved one go through something difficult and have to maneuver life-changes after the fact.  This is just guidance on a tricky part about loving a PWD, and as always I am here if you have any questions!  Feel free to email me at legallyabled@gmail.com

 

Thank you for reading and sharing,

Ashley Jacobson, JD, MA, CRC

Disability Expert and Advocate

 

 

 

 

Autism Awareness Month: Tips for Sharing while Caring :)

 

Happy Autism Awareness Month! 

Every year around this time I get the joy of seeing many of my friends and family sharing their enthusiasm and interest in disability advocacy and it warms my heart and makes it grow at least 10 times.  With that said, there are some things I want people to keep in mind when they want to share their support for those on the autism spectrum.

 

  1. Keep in mind person-first language. Someone is a boy/girl with a disability, or a boy/girl with autism, or a boy/girl who is on the autism spectrum.  It is not okay to refer to someone as “autistic” unless they say it is okay to do so.  The reason behind this: a person is not his label.  He is a person, first.
  2. Be aware of the organizations you are promoting, and their main messages. There are many organizations who have done wonders in increasing awareness about autism but some of the most well-known autism organizations do not sit well with people who actually have autism.  The reason behind this: there are major organizations that have an autism focus, that focus on researching to find a cure for autism.  To my students, clients, friends, and family on the spectrum this comes across like an insult.  One of my prior counseling clients put it best when he said, “saying I need a cure is saying there is something wrong with me.  I’m not like everyone else, but just because I’m different doesn’t mean being me is wrong.”
  3. Showing your support on-line and through social media is awesome. Including people with autism in your day-to-day life is even better.  Take steps to make your clubs, businesses, organizations, parties, and events inclusive to people with disabilities.  If you need help with this, shoot me an email!
  4. Keep an open mind. People present any difference or disability in a unique way.  For some, you might be very surprised to learn they have a disability.  For others, their disability may be more apparent.  It doesn’t mean they deserve more/less support or more/less understanding.  Autism (like most differences and disabilities) operates on a spectrum and is unique to the individual.  There is no right or wrong way to present your differences, but there are ways to help someone with a disability to acclimate to a new job, school, or social group.  There are also simple ways to show patience throughout your daily life with strangers because as the old saying goes: “you never know what someone may be going through.”
  5. Children with disabilities grow up to become adults with disabilities.  There are so many wonderful resources for people with autism and other disabilities, and I encourage you to look into great programs for adults who are on the autism spectrum.  In Michigan I have worked with the BOND Program at Michigan State University, ASPPIRE, and other amazing transition and vocational programs for adults who have autism.  There is such a need for more support of these programs.  People with autism can be capable, hard-working individuals that light up their communities and make contributions socially and vocationally.  Show your support for continued growth and opportunity by contributing to these programs!

With all that said, I am eternally grateful for the disability awareness taking place this month and as always commit to spreading awareness year round. Light it up blue!

 

Thanks for caring and sharing 😊

Ashley Jacobson, MA, CRC

legallyabled@gmail.com

“I Can and I Will:” accessibility on Fixer Upper

 

pexels-photo-271667.jpeg

For a family that consists of a person with a disability, accessible housing is often at the forefront of their minds but unattainable until their wallets catch up with their needs.  In a world that is still largely built for the typically able-bodied, it is challenging to find a house that is accessible.  When you can’t move freely around your home, can it really feel like a home?

A couple of weeks ago on the television show Fixer Upper, Chip and Joanna Gaines worked with the Tim Tebow Foundation to renovate a house for the Copp family.  The Copps have two young boys, Calan and Lawson, who use wheelchairs for mobility.  After Tim Tebow meets with Chip, the show catches steam with Chip, Joanna and Tim meeting the Copps at a baseball diamond.  I loved how the boys were shown playing baseball and being active.  So often when shows involve people with disabilities and it has a charity angle, they tend to make the people with disabilities look needy to garner sympathy for the people with disabilities and pride for the charity.  It was nice showing how empowered and able the boys are, as it showed them doing a typical but cherished childhood activity.  It also shows how with the right accessible technology and equipment, people with disabilities can do the same activities as the temporarily able-bodied.

As the episode goes on, Joanna shows the parents the mock-up of the renovations they want to complete for the house.  Some accessible aspects of the home: ADA accessible bathrooms with lowered sinks and mirrors that tilt so they can provide a lower angle for the sons who sit lower to the ground in their wheelchairs; a separate lower sink in the kitchen; a table that allows users of wheelchairs to pull right up to it height-wise; hallways wide enough to have wheelchairs pass through without it being too tight; ramps to get in and out of the house; posts and handrails that allow the boys to stand, move and play; and wheelchair-accessible van storage space.  The show also highlights an inspirational message in one of the rooms to encourage the boys to continue to grow (*hint* it’s in the title of this article).

This show really exposed the needs of a family that includes people who use wheelchairs.  I loved the overall feel of the show.  It was a feel-good episode for sure, but it had a very empowering angle.  Without giving away spoilers, the show ends with the boys receiving a remarkable backyard that allows them to use their space to their maximum ability and desire.  The show brings about an important issue though—a family that has a person with a disability has an unending amount of expenses.  Too often, people with disabilities are forced to “make it work” in an environment they were living in prior to acquiring a disability—even if that environment is unsuitable or completely unworkable.  A father who uses a wheelchair shouldn’t have to eat in the living room because the dining room table is too short/tall for his wheelchair to fit.  A person with a disability shouldn’t have to be carried around their own house when they have the independence through the use of assistive technology to move around on their own.  While the Tim Tebow Foundation did a wonderful thing in funding this renovation for the Copp family, the vast majority of families that have a person with a disability in them are forced to pay large amounts of money with or without insurance, even with assistance from government or other financial-assistance programs.

This is why accessible buildings, homes, and other structures must become the norm as opposed to the exception.  We must continue to advocate for accessibility, and for reasonable pricing for making a home, car, or other device/structure accessible.  Being able to navigate this world with a disability should not be considered a luxury—it is a right.  I for one am grateful for shows like Fixer Upper for showing this angle of living with a disability.

Thank you,

Ashley Jacobson, MA, CRC

legallyabled@gmail.com

For details on the show’s episode mentioned above, click below:

A detailed review of the Copp family’s episode

 

 

Person-first language (and the “R word”)

In a culture where there is a clear divide between those who just want to “stop being sooo politically correct” and those who want to make sure they are being respectful, it can be challenging to know what to say (and what not to say).  It becomes even more of a challenge when you are attempting to talk about a population of people or a person in particular, and you are not 100% sure on the right terminology to use.

So, hopefully this post will clear things up a bit when it comes to discussing a person with a disability and why this topic matters.

So first—why does what you say matter?  Language is one of the most significant indicators of emotion.  Language dictates how you process the thoughts, feelings and actions of another person in your brain.  Language is used in gathering your perception of others and your environment.

Language directly affects how you treat others, because it demonstrates how you think about them.

Historically, people with disabilities have been (wrongfully) perceived as weak, pitiful burdens in our society.  From the “handicapped” label first used to describe homeless veterans with (what we now know as) Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, who were sitting on the street with their “caps in hand” asking for money, to the middle-schoolers (and many adults) using the “R word” to make fun of their friends when they are acting stupid, our society has made it very clear that it was deemed socially acceptable to stigmatize people with physical and mental differences.

I have worked with the disability community for over a decade.  In seeing many challenges my clients faced involving the legal system, I decided to go to law school.  I am a law student, and I complete my studies this August.  In my current law school program, which I have loved, I have encountered professors, classmates and administrators who (knowing our school has students with disabilities in attendance) talk about people with disabilities like trash.  A professor in a class I greatly enjoy, in response to me saying I want to represent people with disabilities, said, “Oh, you want to represent the meek and pathetic.”  To which I did not hide my shocked expression as he quickly moved on to the next topic.

I have many professors who are socially conscious, and respectful towards students and other people with disabilities.  But, I also have heard professors refer to accommodations as “special treatment” and refer to people with mental illness as “crazies” while rotating their index finger in a circle next to their head.  These are accomplished, intelligent, highly-educated professionals.  Yet still, training on disability appropriateness and inclusion has not been emphasized in their studies.  These are attorneys and professors who represent and teach people with disabilities on a daily basis, even if they don’t know it.  They aren’t bad people.  They’re just misinformed and desensitized based on societal conditioning that people with disabilities aren’t worthy of respect.

This stops right here, right now.  It never was, and never will be acceptable.  This is not a recommendation, but a requirement.  This is a heads-up that what you say matters, and if you use offensive language you won’t be accepted, and it isn’t cool.

Over 52 million people in this country have been diagnosed with a disability—over 2 million people in Michigan (where I live).

Disability is part of the human experience.  It’s not grim, but it is the truth that at some point in your life you will have a disability.  If you haven’t yet, it could happen tomorrow or in 20 years.  But you cannot deny that at some point, as you age, you will face trauma and change, physical and emotional.  In living life, you are putting your body in a position where it wears down over time.  You will experience unpredictability in your life and you will have to learn to accept it, adapt to it, and thrive with it.

In that moment, when you are likely dealing with extreme physical and emotional changes, and grieving over abilities lost and limitations imposed, would you want to be insulted or would you want to be respected?  You wouldn’t want people to categorize you as a burden, or incapable, or unworthy—because you are not any of those things simply because of a physical or emotional disability.

You’d want to be seen as a person, first and above all else.

This is where the person-first language shift began.  The disability community and its advocates decided that someone needed to display how to appropriately talk to and about people with disabilities.

First, you call the person by his/her name.  If the disability is not relevant to the conversation, it is not necessary nor appropriate to attach it to your description of the person.

When disability is relevant to the conversation, use person-first language.  Instead of saying “disabled man” say “man with a disability.”  Instead of saying “schizophrenic” say “woman with schizophrenia.”  It takes practice to get in the habit of using the right phrasing, but it’s important.  You are literally and semantically putting the person first.  This emphasizes that person, their abilities, and their individuality over any disability that might follow.

Person-first language should be your foundation.  If the person with the disability prefers you to use other language or phrasing, always comply with what language they feel comfortable with, but NEVER use the “R word.”

Let’s talk about the “R word” for a minute.  The word “retarded” was part of a clinical diagnosis (mental retardation), that our society deemed an insult for someone they perceived as stupid, irrational, or ridiculous.  So, our society decided to use this part of the clinical diagnosis, not toward those with a diagnosed intellectual disability, but instead towards people without disabilities as a way to criticize or ostracize them.

Because our selfish, rude, and ignorant society twisted this clinical diagnosis into such a horrendous insult, the word lost its original meaning completely.  The word became a weapon instead of a condition.  A simple word began to carry so much hate and stigma in its delivery, that this large community of people with disabilities had to actually protest and advocate that medically and legally the word be removed.

To anyone out there who responds to a request to stop using that word by saying, “but technically I am right, because that’s what doctor’s use,” you’re wrong.  You’re also (likely) not a doctor.  It is not used in laws, textbooks, nor in practice.  You have a brave girl named Rosa to thank for that.  Rosa’s law was passed in 2010, and if you want to read the actual law that was passed, you can find it here. 

Rosa was a strong, smart, driven young girl who decided that she was tired of being made fun of, and tired of others using the “R word” to make fun of others.  With the support of many senators, representatives, and public advocacy campaigns, Rosa took this change in language into her own hands and asked the government to remove the “R word” from its laws.  Rosa was successful in achieving this goal, after “Rosa’s Law” was signed and approved by former President Barack Obama in 2010.  Additionally, after seeing the mess that was the movie Tropic Thunder, the “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign spread the message that using the “R word” to make fun of someone in the media and socially is unacceptable.

Most importantly, if you are wondering other reasons as to why you should not use the “R word” besides it being technically incorrect, offensive, and ignorant, you just shouldn’t use it because people with disabilities don’t want you to.  It’s that simple.  Be a decent human being to other human beings.  You will someday be in their shoes, and you’ll want someone to show you empathy and respect when that happens.  But even if you are the rare exception that is not going to have a disability someday, it takes more energy to spread hateful language than it does to just be decent.

For these reasons, you also want to be really aware of how you perceive people with disabilities.  This is where it can get tricky for many people without disabilities, because you may not be using words that you find to be offensive, but you are inadvertently mislabeling or stereotyping a person with a disability.

You may mean well when you say someone is “inspiring” simply because they are living with a disability.  But when you say that someone is inspiring for doing things that a person typically does each day, it’s more than a little condescending.  We know, you are acknowledging that there may be more things a person with a disability has to do to achieve the same results you can in your day-to-day activities.  But when you say that someone is “inspiring” or “overcoming her disability” in doing typical daily functions, you are also sending the message that her life is so awful and unimaginable, that she must have to overcome her horrible circumstances.  Don’t be patronizing.  Be respectful.

What does it boil down to?  People with disabilities don’t want your pity or sympathy.  They want your respect and empathy.  When you say someone is “suffering with…” or “overcoming…” or “confined to/by…” you are invoking feelings of pity, your inclination is to feel sorry for that person.  It’s like saying, “his life is so awful, he is suffering/overcoming/confined by his disability.”

Instead, you can use (when the disability is relevant) “sustained a brain injury,” “diagnosed with…” or “living with (insert disability here).”  This language normalizes disability, instead of dramatizing it.  Disability may be part of that person’s life, but it’s not their whole life and it certainly is not who they are.  People with disabilities adapt to their differences, or even utilize their differences to become successful.

I appreciate those who have stuck with me here.  This is a good cheat sheet I use in many of my presentations:

person-first chart

Also, keep in mind that certain disability populations take pride in their label because they do not see it as a stereotyped label but instead use the term as a way of indicating a community of like-experienced individuals.  Person-first language should always be your starting-point—your foundation.  As I stated earlier, if the individual states he wants you to refer to him in another way, it’s okay to refer to that person using the term he has provided.  Always start back at these guidelines though with new people that you meet.

 

Thank you for caring and sharing.

 

Ashley Jacobson, MA, CRC

legallyabled@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

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