Judith Heumann and “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution”

NPR’s The Kojo Nnamdi Show rebroadcast a program yesterday on the Netflix documentary “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution,”  featuring James LeBrecht and Judith Heumann who retell their riveting stories of the genesis of the disability rights movement in the 1970’s at a Catskills summer camp.


Barack and Michelle Obama were executive producers for the documentary under their Higher Ground Productions company. Listen to the full episode as LeBrecht recounts the inspiration behind the documentary and the origins and evolution of the movement for disability rights. Heumann also speaks about the origins of her activism as well as discusses the future of the disability rights movement.

To recognize Judith Heumann’s astounding contribution to the disability rights movement, DRM has established in perpetuity The Judith Heumann Champion of Justice Award, which Heumann will present to Wade Henderson, former president and CEO of The Leadership Conference, at DRM’s 2020 Breaking Barriers Virtual Awards Gala on Thursday, November 12, 2020.

The Breaking Barriers Awards Gala is Disability Rights Maryland’s (DRM) signature celebration where individuals, law firms and organizations that have demonstrated exceptional leadership, vision and achievement in safeguarding the legal rights of people with disabilities in Maryland are recognized and honored. To learn more, go to

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DRM Investigation Prompts Prison Reform Efforts across Maryland

In late 2017, Disability Rights Maryland (DRM) launched an investigation in response to disturbing allegations of neglect and abuse surrounding the suicide of Anne Green (a fictitious name is being used to protect the identity of our client). A young woman with disabilities, including serious mental illness, Anne was placed in a restrictive housing unit days before she took her life at the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women (MCIW).

Though DRM’s initial involvement in the case focused on one individual’s tragic death, ultimately, DRM expanded its advocacy to include a statewide legislative push for institutional reform, demanding a stop to the damaging practices of abuse, neglect, and prison segregation for people with serious mental illness that afflicted Anne in the last days of her life.

An inquiry that began with a review of records and several interviews with women incarcerated at MCIW who knew about the incident immediately led DRM to the discovery of warning signs of an institutional pattern of abuse and neglect extending far beyond the scope of Anne’s case. Subsequent to the interviews surrounding the case, DRM initiated a comprehensive examination of conditions at MCIW and conducted a full site visit at the institution on March 7, 2018.

DRM’s expanded investigation uncovered a lack of reasonable standards of care for many incarcerated individuals with mental illness, including Anne, at MCIW. In a select few cases, DRM successfully advocated for access to medications and treatment for individuals, but the systemic failings of MCIW were significant.

Towards the end of the same year, 2018, DRM published a report titled “Segregation and Suicide: Confinement at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women,” which documented the extreme isolation and harm suffered by women with disabilities in MCIW’s segregation, infirmary, and mental health units. Infirmary and mental health units can deny women the ability to be outdoors or have access to natural light for months or even years. They also deny women access to individual and confidential mental health counseling. Anne’s suicide is testimony to the severe harm that prison segregation practices can cause. In its report, DRM recommends the adoption of safer, less harmful correctional practices that conform to professional standards and comply with federal and Constitutional requirements.

With MCIW in her district, DRM’s report hit close to home for Delegate Sandy Bartlett of the Maryland House of Delegates. In 2019, newly-elected Delegate Bartlett introduced a bill that would have codified DRM’s recommendations verbatim as the intent of the General Assembly. The bill passed the House of Delegates unanimously but failed by a split vote in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. Ultimately, more than 140 legislators voted in support of DRM’s recommendations. Despite this temporary setback, DRM continues to meet with legislators and advocates, including members of the National Association of Women Judges and Maryland mental health care providers, to identify further advocacy strategies.

DRM’s definitive and conclusive findings on the harmful practices of MCIW created a powerful foothold in the struggle for prison reform as advocates across Maryland continue the upward climb towards justice for Anne and incarcerated people across Maryland.

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DRM Presents 2020 Gayle Hafner Grassroots Advocacy Award to Consumers for Accessible Ride Services (CARS)

Disability Rights Maryland (DRM) is pleased to announce Consumers for Accessible Ride Services (CARS) as the honoree for the 2020 Gayle Hafner Grassroots Advocacy Award. This prestigious award honors members of the community who have succeeded in creating substantial positive change for Marylanders with disabilities through grassroots activism. A remarkable team of Baltimore self-advocates with disabilities, CARS is a close partner of Disability Rights Maryland in the struggle for accessible public transit. DRM will present the award to CARS’ Chairman Floyd Hartley, on behalf of the full CARS team, at the virtual 2020 Breaking Barriers Awards Gala on Nov. 12, 2020.

CARS members teamed up with DRM and AARP Foundation Litigation in 2015 to file a lawsuit against the Maryland Transit Authority (MTA) in order to resolve critical failures in MTA Mobility services. These failures included widespread, abrupt, and inappropriate denials of eligibility to people who met the criteria for paratransit services, as well as egregiously long telephone hold times for paratransit users. CARS members Floyd Hartley, Debbie Benedaret, Danielle Phelps and Phillip Freeman were the four individual plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

For people with disabilities in the Baltimore Metro Area, MTA Mobility has been and continues to be a lifeline to essential services. MTA Mobility connects people to vital resources for maintaining their health, employment, ability to visit family and friends, and ability to participate in their communities. When DRM determined that wrongful denials of eligibility to people like Phillip and Debbie were widespread, DRM Director of Litigation Lauren Young took the issue to court, and the plaintiffs reached a settlement with MTA.

In the years that followed, CARS and DRM presented their concerns to the Maryland Secretary of Transportation, and when the MTA failed to meet the requirements of the initial settlement, CARS helped DRM file a breach of settlement to renegotiate with the MTA. Former CARS Chairman Michael Gerlach emphasizes the importance of CARS’s presence in the Baltimore community. “A group like this is desperately needed,” Gerlach says, “because there are so many problems with the MTA, and the average rider doesn’t have anybody to protect them.” He explains, “We advocate for the riders and the community to make sure that their voices are heard.”

This May, after five years of negotiations driven by the experiences and guidance of Marylanders with disabilities, CARS and DRM successfully secured provisions for accountability and oversight to ensure that people like Phillip and Floyd never face this crisis again. The advocacy efforts of DRM and CARS, along with other coalition groups, have won a significant victory for the over 30,000 Marylanders who use paratransit services and a crucial step forward in our community’s fight for access to transportation for all!

The Breaking Barriers Awards Gala is Disability Rights Maryland’s (DRM) signature celebration where individuals, law firms and organizations that have demonstrated exceptional leadership, vision and achievement in safeguarding the legal rights of people with disabilities in Maryland are recognized and honored. To learn more, go to

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DRM’s Leslie Margolis Urges Stronger COVID-19 Response from MSDE

Leslie Seid Margolis, DRM’s Managing Attorney, has joined the ranks of Maryland legislators, teachers, and advocates demanding a stronger response to COVID-19 from Maryland State Superintendent Karen Salmon. A Baltimore Sun article reported on July 29 that the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) has failed to provide a concrete plan for supporting schools this fall, instead only offering noncommittal suggestions to local school districts. As Margolis says in the article, suggestions are not enough. Delegate Brooke Lierman, a representative of Baltimore City and an attorney at Brown, Goldstein and Levy, LLP, sums up the situation: Superintendent Salmon “claims to be leading by giving options,” Lierman says in the article, “but really there is just no plan; she belittles the needs that parents have for child care; and she communicates as little information as possible.”

As part of the Maryland Education Coalition, DRM has helped draft several letters voicing these concerns to the Superintendent. DRM is also an appointed member organization of the MSDE’s external stakeholder committee, but the MSDE has provided hardly any information to its stakeholders regarding statewide school plans, and the minimal information provided is often only made accessible at the last minute — too late for meaningful input from stakeholders. DRM continues to urge Salmon and the MSDE to work with its stakeholders to develop a plan that supports students who have difficulty learning online, including students with disabilities, young children, and homeless students.

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DRM’s Megan Rusciano Published in MSBA’s The Elder Law and Disability Rights Extra

Disability Rights Maryland’s (DRM) Attorney Megan Rusciano’s article, “Preserving Your Voice Throughout Your Lifetime: Supported Decision-Making as a Best Practice and Alternative Guardianship,” is featured in the spring 2020 issue of The Elder Law and Disability Rights Extra, published by the Maryland State Bar Association (MSBA). Megan’s article highlights the need for recognition of Supported Decision-Making, a best practice and alternative to guardianship that preserves the civil rights of people with disabilities by promoting their own agency and identity.

We are our choices. In our careers, our relationships, and indeed, our health, the decisions we make define our identity and sense of self. Yet, under guardianship and other substitute decision-making frameworks, people with disabilities are deemed incapable of making these decisions for themselves, too often due to stereotypes and assumptions of their capabilities. Studies show that people who lose this self-determination have poorer life outcomes. Supported Decision-Making offers a different legal path. Drawing upon the fact that we all use people whom we trust to help us make decisions, this framework allows a person to choose their own supporters who can help them make, communicate, and effectuate their decisions. We are all vulnerable to guardianship and the risk of being found incapable of making our own decisions as we age. Supported Decision-Making offers a solution that can bolster a person’s self-determination as opposed to alternative systems that take it away. As we celebrate 30 years of advocacy under the Americans with Disabilities Act and recognize all the work yet to be done, advocacy for Supported Decision-Making provides us an opportunity to ensure that people with disabilities have access to some of their most fundamental rights: their rights to make their own decisions and choices.

You can read Megan’s article below on page 2:


Reprinted with permission from the Maryland State Bar Association, Inc. from the Elder and Disability Rights Section newsletter, The Elder and Disability Rights Extra, Volume 24 Issue 1, Spring 2020 edition.

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