DRM‘s Adrienne Mallinson Presents at the 2019 TASH Conference

On December 7, 2019, Adrienne Mallinson, a Managing Attorney for the Developmental Disabilities and Healthcare team at Disability Rights Maryland (DRM), presented at the 2019 TASH Annual Conference in Phoenix, Arizona.

TASH (The Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps) is an international leader in disability advocacy. Founded in 1975, TASH works to advance inclusive communities through advocacy, research, professional development, policy, and information and resources for parents, families, and self-advocates. The inclusive practices TASH validates through research have been shown to improve outcomes for all people.

Ms. Mallinson summarized the contents of her white paper which describes the challenges facing individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in accessing personal assistance and personal support services in Maryland. Her presentation described the current problems with Developmental Disabilities and Community First Choice (CFC) services in Maryland and outlines the legal and policy choices facing advocates around the State.

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First Time Disability Rights Addressed

During the Democratic presidential debate on December 19, 2019, Tom Steyer was asked what specific steps a president could take to integrate individuals with disabilities into the workforce and their local communities. This is one of the first times, this election cycle, that a Democratic presidential debate included a prominent question about how candidates planned to address the needs of individuals with disabilities. Mr. Steyer surmised that the issues facing individuals with disabilities could be solved through increased focus and funding.

The question was then posed to Andrew Yang. Mr. Yang discussed his experience as a father of an autistic child while reframing the issue. Candidate Yang posited that the crux of the issue is how American society conflates economic value with human value. Mr. Yang proposed a “freedom dividend” of $1,000 a month to help families and suggested that the issue of education should be a federal priority, not a local one. Disability advocates have discussed potential conflicts between the freedom dividend and existing federal benefits programs.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, a former special education teacher, requested time to answer the question and proposed fully funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). When Congress initially passed IDEA they promised to fund 40% of the additional cost of special education. Currently, the federal government only funds approximately 14% of the extra cost. DRM staff works to ensure students in Maryland receive a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment, a right guaranteed by the IDEA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Senator Warren also discussed her housing plan which includes provisions related to increasing housing for people with disabilities that want to live independently. Finally, Senator Warren promised to address the pay disparity between individuals without disabilities and those with disabilities in federal contracts. DRM supported efforts to pass The Ken Capone Equal Employment Act (EEA) to abolish the payment of subminimum wage to people with disabilities in Maryland by 2020.

Disability Rights Maryland (DRM) was encouraged that the issue of disability rights was discussed during the Democratic presidential debate. These issues directly impact the 61 million Americans with a disability who make up approximately 23% of the electorate. DRM is committed to ensuring that the electoral process is fully accessible. During the 2018 election, Disability Rights Maryland surveyed candidates for statewide office and federal positions on issues related disabilities. DRM will be registering people to vote at a live stream of the Presidential Forum on Disability Issues an event Hosted by the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) and REV UP Texas.

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Decriminalizing Disability: The Case for Crisis Response in Baltimore City

Luciene Parsley, DRM Director of Legal Advocacy

Luciene Parsley, DRM Director of Legal Advocacy.

Disability Rights Maryland recently co-hosted a symposium, Decriminalizing Disability: The Case for Crisis Response in Baltimore City, with Behavioral Health System Baltimore and Open Society Institute-Baltimore on November 21st and 22nd at Coppin State University in West Baltimore. Attendees represented a broad range of backgrounds and perspectives including civil rights advocates, behavioral health providers, and members of the Baltimore City Police Department.

The program was designed to review gaps in the behavioral health system and explore alternative methods of crisis response for people with disabilities instead of depending solely on law enforcement to respond during a mental health crisis. The first day of the symposium featured a series of panels with experts from around the country who discussed how to increase capacity for community-based services and to outline a vision for a comprehensive system of care for individuals with disabilities that does not rely solely on the police. The second day engaged attendees in discussions to identify priorities and practical implementation strategies. The group identified several priorities including increased housing; capacity for behavioral health services around the clock and to include youth services; reforming 911 dispatch services to allow for diversionary options; and crisis intervention education for police to recognize stigma, bias, and how police presence can cause trauma during encounters. Participants were then given the opportunity to share their ideas regarding implementation strategies with others in smaller groups.

Chelsea Swift Speaks at Decriminalizing Disability

Panelist Chelsea Swift, CAHOOTS/White Bird Clinic, speaks at the Decriminalizing Disability symposium.

The symposium offered an opportunity for advocates, stakeholders, providers, and law enforcement to share their concerns with the existing behavioral health system and begin to develop a plan that addresses the needs of the community. Disability Rights Maryland was glad to help facilitate these conversations and move towards meaningful systemic reforms that will improve the lives of individuals with disabilities living in Baltimore.


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