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’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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Happy 30th Anniversary to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)!

On the 30th anniversary of the ADA, Disability Rights Maryland (DRM) salutes its community, partners, and friends who were instrumental in forging and implementing this landmark legislation for people with disabilities. DRM is singularly proud of its accomplishments, achieved in collaboration with its partners, in litigation, policy work and advocacy to actualize the principles of the ADA in Maryland which include:

  • Closure of Rosewood, formerly Maryland’s largest institution for people with developmental disabilities, where residents endured illegal and inhumane conditions;
  • Improvement in access to public transportation and quality of transportation services for over 30,000 persons with disabilities;   
  • Significant increase in the availability of home and community-based care and services; 
  • Requirement to have Braille signage and other accessibility modifications in medical centers;
  • Creation of accessible aisles in retail stores to accommodate shoppers using wheelchairs;
  • Requirement for flashing doorbells and smoke detectors to be in housing for persons who are deaf or hard of hearing;
  • Increased access for voters with disabilities to the electoral process and polling places that include accessible voting systems;
  • Inclusion of children and youth with disabilities in daycares and camps;
  • Inclusion of students with disabilities in extra curricular school activities;
  • Litigation resulting in the creation of thousands of units of affordable and accessible housing for people with disabilities.

Though we have come a long way, much work remains to be done. Together, in partnership with you, DRM is committed to creating a world in which people with disabilities are fully included in the workplace, neighborhoods and all aspects of community life.

Photo Credit: ADA National Network (

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Meet DRM’s 2020 Summer Interns

Summer is here, and so are DRM’s newest batch of interns!

This month, DRM welcomed 5 incredible interns for this summer. They are all a vital part of our organization, with each intern bringing something unique to the table. Continue reading to learn more about Jack Starobin, Emma Barbato, Jillianne Crescenzi, Ella Schaltenbrand, and Ruby Elbert!

Jack Starobin, Communications Intern for the Development and Communications Team

Rising freshman studying PPE (Philosophy, Politics, and Economics) at University of Pennsylvania

An avatar portrait of Jack Starobin, a communications intern for DRM's 2020 Summer Intern Program.Why are you interested in disability rights?

I’ve been passionate about social justice for as long as I can remember. Everyone has a right to a good education, a supportive healthcare system, and all other aspects of a dignified life. I’m interested in disability rights because I want to live in a world where every person has access to the full extent of those rights. I haven’t learned as much about the history of the disability rights movement as I have about the history of other civil rights movements, so I’m eager to learn this summer.

What excites you about being able to work for Disability Rights Maryland?

In this time of global health crisis, institutionalized inequality, and profound social distress, it’s easy to feel helpless in the pursuit of change. I’m excited to work at Disability Rights Maryland because I know that with DRM, I can make a tangible contribution to a better world.

What do you hope to learn this summer?

I hope to learn about the history, progress, setbacks, and goals of the disability rights movement. I also hope to learn how to produce a professional newsletter, plan events for large groups of people, and manage all the moving parts of an effective communications team.

Is there anything else we should know about you?

I look forward to working with DRM!

Emma Barbato, Legal Intern for the Housing and Education Team

First-year law student pursuing her Health Law Certification at University of Maryland, School of Law

An avatar portrait of Emma Barbato, a legal intern for DRM's 2020 Summer Intern Program.Why are you interested in disability rights?

I got interested in disability rights during my time as a special educator in Baltimore County. I wanted to continue serving underrepresented populations with my legal education.

What excites you about being able to work for Disability Rights Maryland?

I’m excited to learn about the different realms of disability law and expand my understanding of the resources available.

What do you hope to learn this summer?

I want to learn more practical ways to participate in disability rights and advocacy.

Jillianne Crescenzi, Legal Intern for the Housing and Voting Team

Rising second-year law student pursuing a Juris Doctorate degree at University of Baltimore

An avatar portrait of Jillianne Crescenzi, a legal intern for DRM's 2020 Summer Intern Program.Why are you interested in disability rights?

My interest in disability rights developed through working with children with special needs and the unique educational and social challenges they encounter. I want to help remove the systemic barriers that prevent children and adults with different needs from accessing the same panoply of privileges the rest of the population benefits from. I want to advocate for more holistic approaches to solving problems by recognizing that effective policies need to incorporate healthcare, education, social, and mental health considerations. Our policies should be intentionally designed for everyone to succeed, especially our most vulnerable populations.

What excites you about being able to work for Disability Rights Maryland?

What excites me the most about interning with DRM is working with an organization full of people that truly care about making a positive impact on the disability community, which in turn, positively impacts us all. I look forward to being exposed to all the different ways that DRM challenges our change-resistant systems in its effort to create a more equitable society.

What do you hope to learn this summer?

I look forward to learning about the solutions available to help the disability community have greater access to stable housing. I am also excited to learn and explore solutions to the barriers the disability community faces in exercising their right to vote. Finally, I would like to learn more about education law and the continued use of overly broad diagnostic codes such as an emotional disability that can pave the way for impersonal and ineffective accommodations for students with disabilities. It is not enough to have a system that not causes our children to fail, our systems must be designed for their success.

Is there anything else we should know about you?

I am thankful for the opportunity to intern with Disability Rights Maryland this summer. Legal interns rely on their internships to teach them the practical skills necessary to become a lawyer and I couldn’t have picked a better organization to learn these from.

Ella Schaltenbrand, Legal Intern for the Mental Health Team

Rising third-year law student studying Public Interest Law at William & Mary Law School

An avatar portrait of Ella Schaltenbrand, a legal intern for DRM's 2020 Summer Intern Program.Why are you interested in disability rights?

I went to law school because I wanted to be able to help people whose rights were being violated and who needed an advocate. I became interested in disability rights specifically while interning with the Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic at William & Mary last summer. I had the opportunity to assist local veterans with their VA disability benefits appeals, which was a very rewarding experience and expanded my knowledge on the need for advocates for those with disabilities.

What excites you about being able to work for Disability Rights Maryland?

I am very excited to have the opportunity to assist the Mental Health Team with legal work related to investigations and monitoring in state mental health facilities.

What do you hope to learn this summer?

I hope to learn as much as I can about Protection and Advocacy organizations and the many ways they work to advance the rights of people with disabilities in different areas of life.

Is there anything else we should know about you?

I am passionate about animal welfare and have two rescue cats.

Ruby Elbert, Legal Intern for the Mental Health Team

Rising sophomore student studying at William & Mary Law School

An avatar portrait of ruby Elbert, a legal intern for DRM's 2020 Summer Intern Program.Why are you interested in disability rights?

I’ve had an interest in disability rights for pretty much as long as I can remember. Disability is too often left out of history, education, and the conversation around civil rights issues. It’s important to me that everyone has access to mainstream society and the chance to live their life with autonomy and equal opportunity.

What excites you about being able to work for Disability Rights Maryland?

I worked with DRM last spring, and I’m incredibly excited and grateful to be back! It’s a really unique opportunity to be surrounded every day by so many dedicated people working to make sure people with disabilities have their needs met and voices heard, especially during the pandemic when this work is more needed than ever. I’m glad to have the chance to be part of that.

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