Tag: disabilities

The ADA: We’ve Got a Long Way to Go

The ADA: We’ve Got a Long Way to Go

By Ashley Jacobson, Esq., MA, CRC

On July 26, 1990 President Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law. This Act addresses discrimination against people with disabilities with broad-sweeping protections. If you have a physical, mental, cognitive, hearing, visual, or other condition that significantly interferes with one or more major life activities (eating, sleeping, grooming, cooking, etc.); have been diagnosed or recorded as having such a condition; or if you are regarded by others as having a disability this law protects you.

It establishes that people with disabilities must not face discrimination in public, private, transportation, education–pretty much anywhere. And yet, since this law was enacted, people with disabilities have had little luck holding the Act’s violators accountable.

One reason for this, is that the legal battle for fighting disability discrimination in court is tumultuous and COSTLY. With a large portion of the disability community unemployed or underemployed, often because of discrimination in hiring practices, how are people with disabilities to afford lengthy legal battles?

Another issue with enforcing the ADA is that most employers, politicians, parents, friends, and other community members never made the effort to understand the protections afforded in this important piece of law. Ignorance is not an excuse when it comes to enforcing laws, but the lack of general understanding about the ADA outside of the disability community leads to burnout among the disability community’s members, who have to explain and be experts in protecting their rights, AND holding people in positions of power accountable.

This leads to the third issue–many people with disabilities lack a thorough knowledge of their disability rights. The ADA is certainly the most discussed disability rights law, but it is just one of quite a few laws protecting people with disabilities. Even so, after the general purpose of the law, many people don’t know the Act’s specific provisions. If you don’t know the provisions, how can you know every instance those rights are violated? Disability rights attorneys like myself, and educators (special educators and general educators) need to operate on an accessible level, educating the disability community from a young age on how its members are entitled to protections under the law to account for systemic ableism and discrimination that threatens their livelihood, and sometimes–their lives.

However, even when disability rights attorneys know and help those with disabilities, too many attorneys have no training in adapting the legal process to the needs of their clients with disabilities. The legal system is largely inaccessible, and lawyers rarely have the special education and disability rehabilitation counseling work background I have. They don’t change how the documents look so that their clients with visual disabilities can read them. They don’t adapt their questions in legal consultations to account for communication differences. They don’t know, what they don’t know, but that’s never an excuse. Lawyers, of all specialties, need to approach each client with individual assessments of how the legal system can be adapted to involve them in their cases.

Let’s say that the person knows his rights, has a job or can afford an attorney, that attorney is knowledgeable in serving people with disabilities, that attorney adapts the legal process to the client’s needs, and there is a clear violation of the ADA. Depending on where the discrimination takes place, it can be extremely challenging holding the guilty party accountable.

Too frequently, the person in charge of implementing punishment or holding wrong-doers accountable has no background in assessing circumstances for a person with a disability. The state’s department of civil rights takes on too few cases, shows difficulty in upholding disability rights and holding discriminators accountable, and routinely ignores complaints against people who work for community agencies, professional groups, employers, etc. If the department of civil rights isn’t the person who holds the guilty discriminator accountable, even the courts have difficulty in deciding how severe the punishments should be. They assess the remedies under the law incorrectly, because they wrongly assume people with disabilities wouldn’t make as much money in their jobs or would have a more restricted working past or future. This is important, because punishments under the law take into account loss of work and pay when determining how much money someone should receive once they win the lawsuit. If the judge or jury decides you deserve less, especially because they are unaware of their biases against people with disabilities, plaintiffs are at-risk of being under rewarded and remedied even if they win their cases.

Additionally, for workplace discrimination issues, the lawmakers who enacted the ADA decided that small workplaces can be excused for discriminating against the disability community. If the number of employees is small, employers may be able to discriminate without consequence. There are holes in the ADA that must be addressed.

The ADA was certainly a start–but 30 years later, we can do better. We shouldn’t settle for a law written decades prior, when we can address disability equality needs today. Travel, schools, leaders, and so many more aspects of our lives today have changed. Our laws (and the enforcement of the laws) must reflect that.

Especially when the pandemic brings with it discussions of lessening accommodations in schools (it can’t under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Rehab Act, and ADA–but it can evolve to create different “reasonable” accommodations under the ADA in pandemic times). Especially when marriage equality is not a concrete right for people with disabilities who rely on government benefits for healthcare and financial assistance (there may be legal options depending on the person, but in a wide variety of cases people with disabilities can lose vital benefits if they’re married and their spouse makes more than $2,000 a month–another reason why the lawyer you choose is so important. They may be able to use certain trusts for this not to be an issue). Especially when employers are still discriminating against people with disabilities in interviews and workplaces. Especially when police are still using excessive force and wrongfully arresting people with disabilities because they misunderstand disability symptoms and instead see those symptoms as evidence of criminal behavior or motives. Especially when prosecutors are still uneducated on interviewing people with disabilities (a community more likely to be attacked by violent or economic criminals). Especially when prosecutors are more likely to not bring cases against criminals who target people with disabilities because they see a person with a disability as an “unreliable witness.” Especially when juries are still susceptible to imposing their disability biases when deciding the fate of a defendant with a disability.

Celebrate the ADA. It was, and still is, a monumental law. But it shouldn’t be the be-all-end-all-law for communities that continue to evolve. Disability discrimination still happens every day. We can and must do better.

Fire All LAPD Responsible for Disability Rights Violations

Ashley Jacobson, Esq., MA, CRC
Disability Rights Attorney, Disability Assessment Specialist and Counselor, and Advocate

Over the weekend, another startling video emerged of Joshua, a Black protester with a disability in Los Angeles, being brutally physically attacked and forcibly removed from his wheelchair by LAPD (available on my Instagram: @ashleybjacobson, originally seen on the Instagram account: @misanharriman).

Joshua had his disability rights violated by over ten LAPD officers.  In the process, officers are seen throwing his expensive wheelchair violently against the ground, immediately damaging the chair, causing the wheels to fall off, bending and and scratching the chair itself.

Let me be clear, as a disability rights lawyer and advocate living with physical disability–People with disabilities are entitled to disability rights even when they are stopped, questioned, investigated, detained, searched, arrested, incarcerated, and prosecuted in court by police and state attorneys.

The disability community is the largest minority group in the world.  We are strong when we demand change together.  As such, I have compiled a few action steps we can all take to hold all officers (and their leaders who perpetuate a culture of ableism) accountable.

1) Report the incident in several ways.  I’ll start with the wording itself.  If you are unsure how to write the email, here is a template I made.  I indicate several areas where you can choose or change the language based on your preferences or the message you want to convey, because otherwise officials will filter all messages with the same copied text to their email junk folder or trash bin–one way they get around reading such complaints.  Try switching things up instead of just choosing the first choice every time–we are trying to avoid everyone sending the same email.

If you are unable to use the template or want help writing an email, please email me at legallyabled@gmail.com and I will type up the email language for you, email it to you, and then all you have to do is copy and paste it to your email when you send it to the individuals I list below.

Here is the template (you can choose which sentences and wordings you’d like to use):

My name is [enter your name here].  I am a person [choose one or more: living with disability / caring for a person with a disability / who has a loved one with a disability].  During a peaceful [choose one: protest / demonstration / march / assembly], over ten Los Angeles police officers were caught on film violating the disability rights of a man named Joshua.  He is [choose one: entitled to / afforded] these rights under several disability rights laws in the United States, including the Americans with Disabilities Act [optional: ADA] and Rehabilitation Act [optional to add here: of 1973].  Joshua was, [optional: and all people with disabilities are,] entitled to disability rights when [choose one or more: stopped, detained, questioned, investigated, arrested, booked, or incarcerated].

Disability rights leaders and experts [choose one or more: warn / know / caution / advise], any and all officers who violated Joshua’s rights [optional: and the rights of others in the disability community] are financial liabilities to your department, city, and state as [choose one: qualified immunity / typical legal deference given to police] does not prevent such officers from being successfully sued under disability rights laws as recently [choose one: affirmed / decided / held] by the courts.

I demand that all officers be [choose one or more: immediately / swiftly / quickly] identified, fired with loss of any pension, and fined for [choose one or more: replacing / repairing / fixing / resolving any issues with] Joshua’s wheelchair.

[Optional: Any action or inaction by leaders pertaining to this massive rights violation will result in the loss of votes and public support by the largest minority in your jurisdiction—the disability community.]

[Optional:  Choosing to ignore this issue makes you complicit.]

2) After you’ve written or received the text to send with your complaint, follow one or more of the methods below by filing a complaint with the police:

“Any person who believes they were wrongfully accused of a crime, unjustly injured, or
experienced misconduct on the part of an officer can make a complaint with the Department’s Internal Affairs Group hotline at 1-800-339-6868. For complaints specifically related to the protests you can email ProtestResponse2020@lapd.online . Individuals can also make a complaint through the Office of the Inspector General at 213 893 6400 or [email] to:oigcompl@lapd.online if email is preferred.

How to File a Complaint
If you would like to file a complaint about an employee of the Los Angeles Police Department, please follow the instructions below.
All complaints of misconduct are accepted, including those made anonymously. You may use one of the complaint forms that can be found in multiple languages at the bottom of this page, though the form is not required. Complaints may be filed with either the OIG or LAPD.

To file a complaint with the OIG, you may:
• Visit our office in person. We are in the World Trade Center, in Downtown Los
Angeles. Address: 350 S. Figueroa Street; Suite 1002; Los Angeles, CA 90071
• Call the OIG.
Phone: (213) 893-6400
TTY: (213) 482-7002
• Send us a Fax.
Fax numbers: (213) 687-7473; (213) 687-7487; or (213) 687-7493
• Email us at oigcompl@lapd.online
• Send us a message via our mobile application, which is available via both Apple
Store and Google Play.
• Mail us a letter at the office address designated above.
• Request to speak with OIG staff at a public meeting of the Los Angeles Board
of Police Commissioners.
• Send us a message via our Facebook page.
• Send us a message via our Twitter profile.
• Comment on our Google Business profile.
To file a complaint with LAPD, you may:
• Call the LAPD’s complaint hotline: 1-800-339-6868TDD 213-978-3500 or send
email to LAPDCMS@LAPD.ONLINE
• Ask to speak to a supervisor at any LAPD station.
• Visit the Internal Affairs website or click on the Complaint Form links below.
• Visit any LAPD Community Police Station and speak directly with an LAPD
supervisor, regardless of where the incident occurred.
Additional Complaint Process Information:
You may also contact your local council district office to file a complaint. Complaints of
misconduct are investigated by the Los Angeles Police Department’s Internal Affairs Group. The Office of the Inspector General can oversee and review all complaint investigations.”

ALSO email the California representatives in Congress.  Email the mayors and Governor. Email the LA City Council.  If you are a voter in their district, let them know.  They work for you.  Make them listen to you.  Show them you’ll remember at the next election if they ignore this.

You can bet I will be doing all of the above.  We need to make meaningful noise here.  Without our advocacy, they will assume we deserve this abuse in the future–even though it clearly is shown to violate disability rights laws.  

3) Find ways to speak out on your own social media pages about Joshua’s mistreatment (and mistreatment of other people in our community).  I have been sharing resources, videos, and action steps.  You can use those, and you have my permission to share them.

4)  Keep an eye out for the verified and legitimate gofundme accounts of protesters with disabilities.  They need help paying for bail, equipment repair, and medical bills following protests.  Some may ask, “Why go to the protests if it’s so risky?”  People who want to create change and support the equality of Black people, including Black people with disabilities–can do so in a variety of ways.  Think of how brave it is though, for those who choose to go to the inaccessible protests.  This is not the only way to help, but it should be just as much an option for a person with a disability as it is for an able-bodied citizen.  I’ll share info on my social media pages (@ashleybjacobson on Instagram, @legallyabled on Twitter) when I find them.

If you need help with anything, let me know.  Email me at legallyabled@gmail.com.  Message me on Instagram.  Comment on any posts with questions.  I’d hate for you not to act because something is in your way.  Let me know if I can help remove any barriers in your advocacy process.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

The Vulnerables: Disability in a Pandemic

woman in wheelchair in kitchen
Photo by Marcus Aurelius on Pexels.com

By Ashley Jacobson, Esq., MA, CRC

The coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, has sunk its teeth in our daily routines, shaking up our normal practices and forcing us to grapple with its consequences.  In those discussions of the COVID-19’s impact, you’ve likely heard repeatedly that there are some people more at risk to contracting and experiencing severe symptoms of the virus.  Of those at risk, people with disabilities have often been seen and discussed as “vulnerables” who are not worthy of preservation.  As a disability advocate and attorney, I wanted to explain where that notion comes from, while further promoting that it’s not an accurate evaluation of the worthiness of the uniquely-abled (my invented phrase for people with disabilities).

Though disability advocates have fought hard to receive equal treatment as citizens, the plight of those with disabilities is far from over.  It’s cemented in a well-documented battle throughout the history of humankind, which created a world built to exclude.  People with disabilities were isolated, killed, not trusted, malnourished, shamed, ridiculed, and not educated properly for centuries.

Most families have someone in their family tree who experienced this cruel level of stigma based on disability.  I’ve recently learned about a link to this historical discrimination in my own family.

In the 1940s, after barely surviving starvation under Nazi occupation in the Netherlands, my grandmother and her 11 siblings and 2 parents made the trip to the United States.  They suffered for years under the Nazi regime, and wanted to return to my great-grandmother’s home country–the US.  It took over a year after the end of World War 2 for my great-grandparents to get passports for all of the children.  They traveled to the U.S. as a family, but were torn apart when there was a problem with one of the children–Nilah, my grandmother’s sister–at Ellis Island.

Nilah had epilepsy and she was not allowed immediate acceptance into the States.

Many readers may know someone (or be someone) with Epilepsy.  If you’re familiar, you’re probably thinking “Why would Epilepsy be a problem when entering the U.S.?”  Well, today, it wouldn’t be.  But after WWII, among the medical community there was a false notion that Epilepsy was contagious, or hereditary, or just plain not what the forefathers would want in this country.  So, upon entering the U.S., my great-grandfather was allowed entrance with 11 of the children, including my grandmother, while my great-grandmother and Nilah were holed up in Ellis Island for months.  They were tested emotionally and physically in isolation, while my great-grandfather looked for work and cared for 11 children with $400 to his name, while living at my great-great grandmother’s home.

Shocking to no one today, Nilah was not contagious, and after several months was allowed to move with her mother to meet the rest of the family in Philadelphia.  But Nilah’s journey with disability wasn’t safe from danger.

Once settled in the U.S., Nilah was taken to a very well-known medical facility and my great-grandparents were told she should receive a lobotomy for her Epilepsy.

In my graduate studies in the disability rehabilitation counseling program at Michigan State University (HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS PROGRAM), I watched in-depth videos and read about lobotomies.  You may have heard of these procedures, which historically damaged the brain using an “ice-pick”-like device (a great story on these linked below).

Though Epilepsy can be a very serious condition, the notion that it would become less serious by damaging Nilah’s brain with a lobotomy seemed unfathomable to my great-grandparents.  The day they turned down the lobotomy gave Nilah the chance to adapt in her own way to the world as a woman with a disability (though I wonder if she ever personally identified herself as part of the disability community or if it was just something she thought was unique to her).  Nilah went on to have a loving life and family of her own.

But Nilah’s lobotomy recommendation by that doctor still doesn’t sit right with me.  Instead of finding ways to healthily incorporate Nilah into the world, or importantly looking at alternatives first, doctors flippantly and far-too-quickly recommended an incredibly dangerous, serious procedure.

But Nilah’s story isn’t unique.  People with disabilities have been put in compromising, dangerous situations forever.  Into the 1970s, people with disabilities who were completely capable of inclusion in typical society were institutionalized–many in horrific environments resulting in abuse.  Willowbrook became infamous for such abuses including lack of nutrition, individuals living in cages, living in feces and human waste, lack of appropriate medical care, overcrowding, under-staffing, and under-valuing people with disabilities including those with Down Syndrome, Epilepsy, Depression, Post-partum Depression, symptoms now-indicating potential Autism diagnoses, and various other conditions fluctuating from mild to severe.

Many of the individuals in institutions like Willowbrook were capable of living among those without disabilities, but were sent to the institutions after their parents were given discriminatory guidance by medical professionals who expected and understood too little.  There was a lawsuit (linked below) which held that the individuals living in Willowbrook had their constitutional rights violated, and the major de-institutionalization movement began to emerge.  This movement led to major disability institutions “transitioning” its occupants into the community.

But de-institutionalization while valid in theory, was ill-equipped in practicality.  There were not sufficient community supports that provided safe housing, education, and jobs for individuals with disabilities who had been segregated from society for most of their lives.  From that point onward, many people with disabilities were forced to live on the street.  Many were put in situations that left them financially and physically vulnerable.  The perceptions of those without disabilities towards people with disabilities was incredibly damaging.  They saw people with disabilities as “dirty, homeless, beggars.”

Then, when wars added returned-soldiers with disabilities to the community, the number of homeless individuals with disabilities grew substantially.  Sitting on the street, with caps in their hands, begging for money and work–the term “handicapped” was popularized though derogatory in origin.

This societal view towards people with disabilities hasn’t caught up with the actual movement and progress spearheaded by those in the disability community.

Through repeated stigma, discrimination, and seclusion people with disabilities communicated their abilities, their willingness to work, their dreams for a more accessible and inclusive future.  Many have proven to be leaders in their communities, and yet, they are still viewed as “vulnerable” and “unworthy burdens” on our system.

This is why, when a pandemic hits, they are seen as less worthy of medical care.  When a “normally healthy” person and a person with a disability both are in the running for the last remaining ventilator, the “healthier” one receives it.  This is why people with disabilities were terrified of the orders coming from states indicating medical protocols deeming us less worthy of that same medical care.  Less worthy, despite being just as influential (if not more influential) as other contributors to our communities.  Less worthy, despite also being spouses, parents, and service-members.

In Michigan, Governor Whitmer participated in a disability teleconference this past week which I observed via Zoom (note, “observed”–because actual people with disabilities were not able to meaningfully participate in the discussion and instead agency leaders communicated what they believe the disability community needs during the coronavirus…but that’s to be discussed later).  In this discussion, Whitmer indicated that an executive order had been signed indicating people with disabilities as worthy of the same medical access and care as those without disabilities (new post in the works on this).  However, it became even more clear to me that the topics we discussed were necessary because stigmas and discrimination against those with disabilities have a long way to eradication.

People with disabilities are still seen as unworthy–still seen as acceptable deaths in a pandemic where the deaths could be avoided.  Protesters of my state, Michigan, were vocal about this.  It’s “only” the vulnerable individuals who will die, and they are likely to die anyway!   Coming from one of those “vulnerables” who serves her community day in and day out, I hear you, and you are wrong.  Most of us aren’t more likely to die than you outside of a pandemic. We are more likely to manage health conditions, lack of access to healthcare, employment, and education.  But more likely to die, more worthy of dying?No.

However, I recognized that stigma the instant it radiated out of your hateful mouths into your megaphones.  It’s not new, its just more brazen.  And I’m here to tell you that the disability community is not going away.  In fact, we may even be more equipped to surviving the perils of this pandemic than you are.  We’ve historically been forced to live for long periods in isolation, on less money for performing the same work as you, with more barriers in our way built by those who dismissed our existence–yet, we’ve remained.

We are not just worthy.  We are just as worthy as you are.

 

 

Resources:

NPR story on lobotomies

NY ARC v. Rockefeller

Law Students with Disabilities: disability and character and fitness

Law Students with Disabilities: disability and character and fitness

People with disabilities have proven over the years that they can achieve great academic and vocational success.  With the rapid increase in disability diagnoses, and the extension of academic resources and accommodations, students with disabilities are able to demonstrate their vast knowledge and abilities.  As such, our world is filled with high-achieving professionals with disabilities.

Unfortunately, professional systems haven’t caught up with the times.  Law students with disabilities face more discrimination than most professionals, because part of becoming a lawyer is passing the bar exam, and part of that process is passing the character and fitness portion.  Law students are forced to disclose disabilities (mental and physical) and at times medical records, to prove to strangers on the character and fitness evaluation team that they are of good moral character to represent others.  By requiring this information, the Bar is assuming that disability is a negative thing–something that students must attest to while proving that “despite their disabilities they can be great lawyers.”

But why does the Bar take that approach?  You see, if any person would be a great lawyer, of good character, it would be a person with a disability.  People with disabilities face challenges on a daily basis.  They are forced for long periods of their lives to adapt to hurdles thrown their way, and compensate for their differences.  They understand the ups and downs their clients face–because they have thrived in the face of stigma and discrimination–and they have succeeded in achieving their goals.  They have become accustomed to the unpredictability and are quick to problem solve.  People with disabilities are persistent and resilient by nature, and have worked incredibly hard to be respected in schools and the workplace.

But the issue of passing the character and fitness evaluation is terrifying law students with disabilities everywhere.  Because the thing is, you pay hundreds of thousands of dollars by the time you have finished your legal education, you work hard to ace your exams, you walk across that stage at graduation, and then months later, the state bar decides if you are of good character despite your disability.  This is on its face, discriminatory.

A law student at my law school (though at a different campus) is taking a monumental step in suing the Florida Bar based on its issues with his mental disability.  This is a veteran, who served our country by working with explosives, who our country deemed was of good enough character to defend our freedom.  Yes, like many veterans he came back from a deployment with a mental illness.  He dealt with life or death situations while deployed and it’s reasonable that someone in that vocation would return with mental illness.  Complicating matters further, he was going through a divorce–known as one of the most mentally straining processes for anyone.   Also like many veterans and others dealing with especially stressful and personal life issues, he coped for a period of time by drinking too much.

This student did the right thing by asking for and receiving help when he needed it.  He received treatment for adjustment disorder and substance use disorder from the VA medical center.  He has been actively going to therapy and maintaining his mental and physical health consistently for a long period of time.

So, in return for asking for help and consistently treating his understandable mental health concerns, when this veteran tried to find a different career serving this country in an alternative way (serving citizens with legal needs), the Florida bar creates a fury of discrimination armed with stigmatic attitudes.  They want him to pay thousands of dollars to provide even more medical documentation than he already submitted, and have him

This is an issue that needs to be resolved, and quick.  Because the ADA and other related laws dictate that people cannot be discriminated against because of their disability.  Disability is a protected class, a class of people who have been historically and systematically discriminated against.  For that reason, to right the historical wrongs, the ADA and IDEA and the Rehab Act all were created to dismantle this wrongful discrimination.  Yet, the ABA and state bar’s haven’t followed suit.

They have, however, tried to shield themselves from an ADA violation by “encouraging” state licensing boards to focus on the behavior of the law student instead of their diagnosis specifically.  However, it is frequent that behaviors can be explained by a specific diagnosis.  Without explaining the diagnosis, behaviors can seem confusing to a licensing board.  Notably, these licensing boards have infrequent experience with people with disabilities.

Law students with disabilities not only have to prove and substantiate their diagnoses to their law schools to receive reasonable accommodations, they have to do the same for the MPRE, the bar exam, and the character and fitness evaluation.  In this sense, they have the cards stacked against them.  They remove card by card, proving their character and persistence again and again, in hopes that when they graduate they have a seat at the table.  But often, the people who evaluate students with disabilities are hired to evaluate them against their peers without disabilities.  They say, “clearly if this student got As in law school, they don’t need accommodations on the MPRE/bar exam because even though this student received appropriate accommodations in law school, compared to the average Joe they still would’ve passed.”  The purpose of accommodations is not to pass or beat the average Joe.  The purpose of accommodations is that the student can showcase their knowledge in a way that others without disabilities can see. 

In this way, students with disabilities are being academically handcuffed by the very institutions that could benefit from their being accepted.  Lawyers with disabilities have the unique capability of empathizing with clients, lawyers, judges, etc. They have had to advocate for themselves and their peers repeatedly throughout their lives, and as lawyers advocate and are active participants in legal organizations.

People with disabilities live life differently–they don’t live life incorrectly.  For the state bar, the ABA, the MPRE evaluation committee, and law schools to assume that based on past challenges that were addressed by correct treatment, an individual is not of good character is discriminatory on its face.

Disability is one part of a person, it is not the whole person.  To not allow a student with a disability to become a lawyer after he addressed and treated his disability is just plain wrong.  Who can better serve clients going through hell, than a lawyer who went through hell and came out on the other side?

If the people evaluating individuals with disabilities for the character and fitness see a disability (mental or physical) as guilty of bad character, and make the student prove otherwise, the evaluators are not go good character themselves.

We need to encourage, accept, and support law students with disabilities.  However, to historical legal systems apparently that is too much to ask.  So at a minimum–just don’t discriminate.

Additionally, this level of discrimination discourages treatment.  If you seek help for mental illness, you could be denied your dream career–so you don’t get help.  Lawyers are known for heavy drinking and substance abuse.   It’s a massive problem in the profession, so much so that law schools are talking with law students about it at their orientations. In fact, if many lawyers practicing in the field for years had to be once again evaluated for their character and fitness, they would fail.  In this sense, the ABA and the state bar are not encouraging present or prospective attorneys to seek treatment out of fear of losing a career they worked so hard to obtain.  They are also denying respect and fair treatment to students with disabilities, most of which are young and haven’t had decades to prove their stability, but have this used against them that they haven’t been managing their condition long enough for the bar to determine them to be of “good character despite their disabilities.”

It’s time for change in the legal profession, despite the system kicking and screaming in an outdated protest.

 

 

 

To read more about the case referenced above and the ABA recommendations:

http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/ada_lawsuit_about_florida_bar_examiners_mental_health_requirements/?utm_source=maestro&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=weekly_email

http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/house_urges_bar_licensing_groups_to_tread_carefully_when_asking_about_menta

 

Victims with Disabilities (Part 2): The FACTS and Numbers

Victims with Disabilities (Part 2): The FACTS and Numbers

I previously posted a podcast about victims with disabilities, after having provided a training to the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office on how to best approach a case involving a victim with a disability.  This is part 2 of the Victims with Disabilities series of the Legally Abled Podcast, where I provide the actual statistics on victims with disabilities in the U.S.   If you are a person with a disability or you know and care for a person with a disability, it is important that you know what the current state of victimization is involving people with disabilities.  Once you know how prevalent this problem is, you can start to understand how important it is to arm yourself with legal and practical  knowledge as to how you can best protect yourself if you are ever faced with this situation.

If you have any questions regarding people with disabilities, or are interested in having me provide a training on navigating life and the law with disabilities please feel free to reach out at legallyabled@gmail.com.

Please listen, subscribe, and review this podcast on the Apple Podcast app (which is pre-downloaded on Apple phones–it’s a purple App icon labeled “Podcasts”)!  For those without iPhones have a listen at the end of this post! I also am very open to answering questions on the air if you are interested in sending me questions to discuss on the podcast!

Thank you for your continued interest and feel free to pass along.

Ashley Jacobson, MA, CRC

legallyabled@gmail.com

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