Tag Archives: disability rights

Working but Disabled — part I

October is “Disability Employment Awareness” month.  Are you aware?  Are you aware that under federal law it is legal in some situations — even encouraged — to pay people with disabilities less than minimum wage?  Curt Decker, the Executive Director of the National Disability Rights Network, thinks it is time to change that.  Read his article in the Huffington Post:


Service Animals in 2015

Senator Reeves presented a bill recently that would offer some greater protection to individuals with disabilities who use service animals. The senator was especially concerned about the number of veterans who are returning from combat with serious injuries and may be able to utilize service animals to assist with new physical and mental challenges. Some veterans complained to him that they are not treated well by businesses when they try to enter with their animals.

“Wait a second,” another senator challenged him, “you mean that if I own a restaurant and don’t want dogs to come in, I can’t make them leave? What if the health department fines me?”

Decades after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, there is still much misunderstanding about service animals. Under the ADA, a public accommodation can not deny entry to a person with a disability who uses a service dog, unless the dog is out of control or dangerous. The business can not require “proof” of training or proof of disability. The business can ask what tasks or work the dog does and whether that is needed because of a disability. But the inquiry must end there. Even if the business has a “no pets” policy, they must permit a service dog to enter.

There is good reason for the confusion, however. The ADA originally protected all service animals, but it was recently revised to protect only service dogs, as well as miniature horses that do work for people with disabilities. Other federal laws, like the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carriers Act, offer protection to service animals, without limit to dogs. Adding to that confusion, Virginia law protects service dogs, even making it a misdemeanor to deny access to a service dog.

Senator Reeves eventually withdrew his proposal, promising to work on the idea before the next session of the General Assembly. But it was clear to everyone in the room that there is a need for greater education about the use of service animals.

Traumatizing our Children

A Senate Subcommittee met yesterday to hear testimony about the use of seclusion and restraint in the Commonwealth’s public schools. Children, parents, and advocates testified about the dangerous practices in use in several school districts. The stories were alarming.

But even more surprising was the story told by Senator Thomas Garrett, a Republican senator from Hadensville. Senator Garrett told the story of having been repeatedly restrained and placed in locked seclusion as a first grader, for behaviors that any first grade kid might do. When his parents found out –after many, many incidents — they removed him from that abusive environment. In a new school, he went on to be a straight A student, eventually voted most likely to succeed.

His experience, decades ago, clearly left a strong, traumatizing impact on him. He became a successful lawyer and a state legislator, yet the tale of his first grade experience brought his emotions to the surface.

Restraint and seclusion is always traumatizing to a child. Restraint and seclusion is an indicator that treatment has failed, that educational plans have failed, that educators have abandoned any hope for creating a learning environment.

The bill under consideration by the Virginia Legislature would, eventually, dramatically restrict schools from inflicting that kind of trauma on any kid. As Senator Garrett eloquently stated at the hearing, somewhere out there in Virginia, there is a kid in a locked seclusion room who could become a great success in life, if he is only treated with respect, instead of treated with trauma. It is our hope that Virginia will move in that direction.

The 2015 Virginia legislative session begins soon

The 2015 legislative session in Virginia begins at noon on January 14, 2015.  This is a “short” session, meaning that the legislature plans to be in session for 45 days, rather than the 60 days of the “long” session.

The disAbility law Center of Virginia will be monitoring developments in the legislature that may be of interest to people with disabilities.  We are available to educate policy makers about the potential impact of legislative proposals.  Please let us know of any legislative proposals or budget issues that you think we should be following.  Contact us at info@dlcv.org or by calling 1-800-552-3962 or 804-225-2042.

The mission of the disAbility Law Center of Virginia is, through zealous and effective advocacy and legal representation, to protect and advance the legal, human and civil rights of people with disabilities, to combat and prevent abuse, neglect and discrimination, and to promote independence, choice and self-determination by persons with disabilities.

Does Virginia Need Training Centers? — Continuing Discussion

In the 2014 session of the Virginia General Assembly, the legislature passed Senate Bill 627, which instructed the Department of Behavioral Health to convene a work group to consider options for expanding the number of training centers that remain open in Virginia.

That work group has now met twice. It is clear that the Commonwealth remains committed to supporting a community based service system. There are many advocates on the workgroup who support that commitment, especially in light of the growing numbers of people who are on the waiting list for services. It is equally clear that a small group of parents are resistant to that service system shift.

Read more about the information being considered by the workgroup at this link: http://www.dbhds.virginia.gov/ODS (Scroll down about half way to the section called “announcements.”)

If you want to comment on the Commonwealth’s commitment to community based services for people with intellectual disabilities and the prospect of keeping more training centers open, you can email to sb627@dbhds.virginia.gov

or send your comments by hard copy to

SB627 Work Group
1220 Bank Street, Room 1323
Richmond, VA 23219

The next meeting of the work group will be on September 5, 2014 at 10 am. The group meets in the capital building in downtown Richmond.

Does Virginia need Training Centers? part 3

First, let me thank all of you who have shared comments about this series, either directly here on this wordpress blog or through our dlcv facebook page. I do intend to try to respond to the comments before I complete this series, but first, let me throw another consideration into the mix:

Virginia, more so than many other states, has a bad case of inertia. Here in the Old Dominion, we are resistant to change. Remember that although women got the right to vote federally in 1920 with the passage of the 19th amendment, Virginia rejected that amendment in 1920. We did not subsequently ratify the 19th amendment until 1952 — thirty two years after women had been voting. So too, with so many other areas of civil rights progress. The Commonwealth’s history of accepting racial civil rights is scarred with one act of defiance after another. We don’t like change.

Likewise with the Integration Mandate. The Integration Mandate was a key component of the Americans with Disabilities Act, passed by Congress in 1990, almost 25 years ago. That law requires that state and local governments must operate all of their programs in the most integrated setting possible. The Supreme Court issued its clarifying decision, LC v Olmstead, in 1999. That decision made clear that states must serve people with disabilities in the most integrated setting possible, and must move towards greater integration at a pace that does not seek to keep institutions open. Now, fifteen years later, Virginia continues to resist that change and seeks ways to keep its institutions open.

Do we really need training centers? Or are we fearful of change? Are we simply resistant to the change in our communities, and our lives, that closing the training centers will mean?

Does Virginia Need Training Centers — part 2

When the question comes up, some argue that we need training centers for individuals with the most complex needs. Some believe that the people who currently live in training centers have a higher level of need than those who live in the community and that the community, at least the community in Virginia, is just not prepared to meet that level of need.

Is it true that the people living in training centers have more complex needs than those living in the community? According to the National Council on Disability, in a report entitled “Unfinished Business,” this claim is a myth. The report states that “More people with extensive support needs are served in the community rather than in institutions, demonstrating that all people with ID/DD can be served effectively in the community. While many people in institutions have very significant impairments and will require extensive supports to live in the community, many people with the same level of impairments are already successfully receiving those supports in the community. Many are living with families, with few paid supports.”

We actually know that, in Virginia, the community can serve people with very complex needs. For example, in 2010 a study was conducted by Human Services Research Institute, looking at the population living at Southeastern Virginia Training Center. The HSRI study compared residents of SEVTC with 521 people with disabilities living in community homes around the state. They found that while the needs of SEVTC residents were on average greater than their non-institution counterparts, the developmentally disabled with the most severe challenges were not living in institutions at all, but instead were living in the community.

The community does know how to serve people with very complex needs, and has been serving those needs for many years, even in Virginia. Yet, the belief runs deep that we need training centers, and only training centers, for those with the most complex disabilities. Where does that belief come from?

Does Virginia need training centers?

Virginia operates five large institutions for people with developmental disabilities, which we call “training centers,” and which have a total population of just under seven hundred people. In a few months, the Commonwealth will close just one of those institutions, Southside Virginia Training Center, in Petersburg. Four other institutions will remain open for a little while.

However, in order to improve services in the community, under an agreement with the United States Department of Justice, the state plans to close three more of the training centers over the next six years. Eventually, just one institution will remain, in Chesapeake, for no more than 75 people.

At least, that is the plan. And that plan has some people worried. Last month, some family members testified before the General Assembly, arguing that the state needs to keep its training centers open. Only in training centers, they argue, will their family members be safe and cared for. These citizens believe that their loved ones have needs that are far too complex to be served in community settings.

Is it true? Does Virginia need training centers? The General Assembly seems unsure. The House and Senate passed legislation, now on its way to the Governor, that calls for a stakeholder group to consider keeping more training centers open. What is happening in Virginia? Is this the right direction for us?

A long time to be in crisis.

The Virginia General Assembly is considering several changes to the process by which someone in a mental health crisis will access emergency services. While the House of Delegates and the Senate agree on many of the changes they intend to make, they differ in some significant details.

For example, the Senate proposes that a person in crisis can be held by law enforcement for a total of 24 hours, instead of the current limitation of six hours. The House of Delegates would extend the period from six hours to eight hours, and then only in limited circumstances.

On the surface, it seems like a better idea to hold someone for as long as necessary to get them into treatment. But that does not account for what is actually happening to the individual who is being held. When a person is in crisis and being held under an emergency custody order, often they are in a sheriff’s office or in an emergency room. They may be handcuffed to a conference table, strapped to a bed, given injections of potentially dangerous but tranquilizing drugs. No matter the location, the person in crisis is inevitably restrained, chemically or physically, for the entire time. Most alarmingly, the person is never receiving any treatment during the initial emergency custody period.

For a person in crisis — a person who needs emergency treatment now — being held in restraints and without treatment for 24 hours is inexcusable. We hope that the negotiators for the two houses take the time to think about the real life implications of their decision, and avoid the solution that makes for a better headline, but with possibly cruel outcomes.

how’s the weather out there?

Some years ago, after a heavy snow storm, the church that I was attending had the parking lot plowed. The contractor dutifully plowed the whole parking area … and pushed the snow pile into the “handicap” designated parking spaces and on top of the access ramp. When I asked what was going on, the minister told me, “frankly, wheelchair users don’t come out in this kind of weather.”

What? People who use wheelchairs don’t have to go to work after a snow storm? Don’t need groceries anymore? Don’t want to go to church? Says who?

Well, I guess all the people who pile snow on the access routes are the ones who “says who.” (This was in a part of the country where snow piles hang around for awhile, too, so there would be no welcome at this church for weeks.)

So, as we are digging out of this recent snow storm, look around you. Are the accessible parking spaces filled with snow? Are the ramps and curb cuts still covered? If so, say something to the owner or manager about it. Speak up on behalf of people who use mobility devices, because, you know, they may not be able to speak up for themselves. They don’t come out in this kind of weather.