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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Ethan Saylor Alliance Police Training and Appreciation Event

(From left ) Teri Sparks (Paralegal, Disability Rights Maryland), Erika Wheeler (Special Olympic Athlete and Self-Advocate), Carol Beatty (Secretary, Maryland Department of Disabilities), Jennifer Eastman (MBA Director of Community Living Policy, Maryland Department of Disabilities)

Disability Rights Maryland’s (DRM) Terri Sparks, and Erika Wheeler, Special Olympic Athlete and Self-Advocate, co-chairs of the Ethan Saylor Alliance Steering Committee, attended the Ethan Saylor Alliance Police Training and Appreciation Event on August 11, 2019, at the Public Safety and Education Training Center in Sykesville, Maryland.

The event was held to increase awareness of new policies instituted to better train and prepare Maryland’s law enforcement officers about their interactions with individuals who have intellectual and/or developmental disabilities. Ultimately, the goal is to ensure safe, respectful and effective outcomes for all. The Alliance is focused on the development of programs that instruct and support people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities as educators and establish meaningful roles for self-advocates on police training teams. The Ethan Saylor Alliance Police Training and Appreciation Event acknowledged and thanked the officers who understand that training by self-advocates is important in meeting the needs of the people police serve.

Learn more about the Ethan Saylor Alliance:


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DRM’s Concerns Cited in Recent U.S. Commission On Civil Rights’ Report


The United States Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) recently released a report titled “Beyond Suspensions, Examining School Discipline Policies and Connections to the School-to Prison Pipeline for Students of Color with Disabilities.”  In this comprehensive report, the USCCR reviews  research detailing the harmful impacts of exclusionary discipline (suspensions and expulsions), states that data in the U.S. Department of Education reports show a consistent pattern of schools suspending or expelling African American students with disabilities at higher rates than their proportion of the population of students with disabilities,” and makes key findings and recommendations for reducing disparities and ensuring non-discriminatory discipline in schools. 

Disability Rights Maryland (DRM) has been actively working to address the impact of exclusionary discipline on students with disabilities, which is highlighted in the report. In a section that discusses federal investigations of discriminatory discipline practices in schools, the former Director of Legal Advocacy at DRM, Alyssa Fieo, is quoted on page 62 regarding DRM’s work in connection with the Department of Justice’s Settlement Agreement with Wicomico County Public Schools over its discriminatory discipline practices affecting students of color and students with disabilities.  Ms. Fieo states that DRM was concerned about the number of student arrests, specifically that the arrests were allegedly happening “due to behavior that was related to a disability.”  The report goes on to detail some of the steps Wicomico County Public Schools had to take to remedy discriminatory discipline practices pursuant to the Settlement Agreement.  Check out the report here:

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DRM wants to hear from you!


DRM’s annual community survey is open.  Please tell us what legal issues you would like us to address next year by taking our survey online now.  Contact our office at 410-727-6352 ext. 0 if you need to access the survey in alternate formats, or to give your responses by phone.  You can also print the survey and mail it to our office by August 23, 2019.   Thank you for your feedback!

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