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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MTA Mobility Crisis


Crisis Facing Riders of MTA Mobility Service

May 31, 2019 Disability Rights Maryland (DRM), the Congressional mandated protection and advocacy system for the state, as well as Consumers for Accessible Ride Services (CARS), a self-advocacy group, are demanding an emergency response from Governor Hogan to the crisis facing disabled riders of MTA’s Mobility Service. These riders have no other forms of transportation. DRM is requesting an emergency plan to be put in place to address the harms caused by MTA’s failing service, as it is endangering the lives of the riders it is supposed to serve. Individuals with disabilities, such as Will Fields, had to wait for as long as four hours for his ride, outdoors and exposed to the elements while in an electric wheelchair. Other riders, such as Anitra Swann, was left stranded at work and forced to wait for hours, in an insecure location.  She finally had to pay for a taxicab when her ride never showed, and was unable to take her motorized wheelchair with her.

Riders have been stranded at dialysis appointments for as much as four hours, and have even had to miss full treatments or portions of treatments due to MTA’s Mobility service failure. This has put them at risk for removal from the kidney transplant list. Once picked up, some riders are on MTA Mobility vehicles for hours due to system shortages of drivers and vehicles. During these long rides, people have been unable to eat or take medications, and are unable to use the facilities–exacerbating their disabilities. Some riders have just come from dialysis treatments and may be weak and ill due to not eating.

Other individuals rely on personal care aides to support them in activities of daily living, such as transferring from a wheelchair, preparing a meal, bathing, etc. Others need vital assistance such as oxygen treatments and suctioning. However, by the time they get home after delays in para transit service, their aides have left due to their shifts ending. Riders have reported missing work, job loss or risk of financial loss, missing religious events, and countless other hardships due to significant delays and no-shows by MTA Mobility.

At times, when attempting to call about their late rides, riders experience busy signals, are disconnected or must wait on hold for periods of time beyond that permitted under law. Riders also report that when they get a response to their late line call, they are frequently told that a ride is coming at a specific time, but it does not show.

Two years ago, Disability Rights Maryland, along with the AARP Foundation Litigation, settled a lawsuit against MTA for egregiously long telephone hold times and a flawed eligibility process resulting in denials of service to qualified individuals with disabilities. Significant issues with the service are once again apparent.

Among the action items DRM is calling for in an emergency action plan are for MTA to:

  • Contract with taxi companies to provide immediate service and offer relief to those para transit riders who can use taxi services
  • Obtain small accessible vehicles for use on a temporary or emergency basis while the system develops sufficient capacity
  • Establish a relationship with 311 and 911 so that those dispatch services can have an emergency contact within MTA Mobility for responding to emergencies such as no-shows, stranded in dangerous conditions, being disconnected from the late line and not getting through, etc.
  • Immediately remove the limit (
  • two trips per day) on trips for individuals who can use Call A Ride, a supplemental system to para transit using local taxi companies
  • Retain services of an independent para transit expert to assist MTA in providing service compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • Provide additional resources to the para transit system
  • Use voice mail message system for ride cancellations and halt suspension of riders for “no-shows” while the service stabilizes
  • Install technology that is comparable to that used on the fixed route bus system where riders can use a phone app to identify the location of their ride
  • Ensure that solicitation for para transit drivers, and training, includes a stronger focus on the human resource component of the job
  • Consider having Medicaid provide more non- emergency medical transportation trips for para transit  riders on Medicaid
  • Improve scheduling of trips, which create significant inefficiencies
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DRM Mobility Complaint Line Now Live

Call to tell us of your concerns!

1. Note the date and time of the problem

  • How long was your trip?
  • How long were you on hold?
  • Was your ride late on pick up or drop off?
  • Did you miss an appointment or work?
  • Was your aide gone when you got home from a late trip?

2. Keep a log of your trip issues.

3. Report the problem to DRM’s Mobility Complaint Line: (443) 692-2526

You may also report your complaint to MTA at: (410) 764-8181, option 8

TIP: Some rides may be easy to book or cancel through mobility pass web online: passweb.mta.maryland.gov

TIP: Remember to cancel your ride if you change your plans.

DRM has long been involved in fighting alongside clients for equity in public transit services. DRM has filed two systemic lawsuits against the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) and the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) for disability discrimination in paratransit mobility, resulting in substantial improvement. The current chaos in service clearly demonstrates the demand for further reform.

DRM is currently engaged in talks with numerous state officials about the lack of funding and the poor planning for Mobility services. DRM is proud of the work with Consumers for Accessible Ride Services (CARS), a rider advocate group that meets monthly and is dedicated to improving transit services for people with disabilities. You can also download a copy of our MTA Mobility Rider and Rights Advocacy Guide.

If you experience any issues with mobility services, call DRM’s rider hotline at: (443) 692-2526 and leave us a message. We will return the call. #TogetherForChange

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DRM Opposes Alternative School for Kindergarten to 2nd Grade Students

Charles County Moving Forward with Segregated, Alternative School for Districts’ Youngest Learners

On May 14, 2019, the Board of Charles County Commissioners approved Charles County Public Schools’ (CCPS) FY 2020 Budget. This budget includes $452,200 in funding for a new alternative elementary school – Fresh Start Academy. Fresh Start Academy (FSA) would set up a segregated school for students in kindergarten through second grade, who are removed from their regular classrooms for disruptive behavior. The removal of our youngest learners to this alternative school would constitute a suspension under state law and would violate the state ban on the suspension and expulsion of students in pre-K to second grade.

The FSA program ignores the spirit and intent of the PreK-2nd Suspension Ban law. It also raises serious concerns about CCPS’ obligations under federal civil rights laws, such as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“Section 504”), Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”) and the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), to evaluate students with disabilities and provide services and accommodations in the most integrated setting.

Disability Rights Maryland and its partners are urging CCPS to reconsider the FSA program and the ways in which they provide services to our youngest learners. For more information about the disability-related concerns related to this program, please read DRM’s letter to President Collins of the Board of Charles County Commissioners, and listen to DRM Attorney Amanda White’s testimony before the Charles County Board of Education at a May 14 public hearing.

#NoWayFSA #CCPSKidsBelongTogether

DRM Opposition Letter sent to the President of the Board of Charles County Commissioners – April 9, 2019

CCPS Press Release

Video Clip: Amanda White’s Testimony at Charles County Public Forum

Full Recording: Charles County Public Forum with Board of Education

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DRM Celebrates New Baltimore Law that Protects Low-Income Renters


Housing Advocates Applaud City Government for Taking First Step in Combatting Source of Income Discrimination in Baltimore City


Baltimore, MD, April 12, 2019 – Baltimore City housing advocates are pleased to announce that Acting Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young will be signing CB 18-0308 “Community Relations – Housing Discrimination – Source of Income” into law today at 10:30AM. CB 18-0308 prohibits discrimination in housing based on Source of Income (SOI) with exceptions as described below. Through the excellent work of the bill Sponsor Council member Dorsey, the Baltimore City Branch of the NAACP, a myriad of Baltimore City housing advocacy groups and the support of Council members Burnette, Clarke, Cohen and Sneed, Baltimore is now joining the over 75 jurisdictions from across the country that have enacted laws protecting tenants from SOI discrimination. The bill’s passage is a strong first step in combating SOI discrimination in Baltimore City and places renewed pressure on neighboring jurisdictions and the state government to enact SOI protections of their own.

Although landlords and property managers of some developments are already prohibited from discriminating against prospective tenants based on their SOI under Baltimore’s 2007 Inclusionary Housing law, CB 18-0308, expands such protections to a greater number of renters across the city. “Source of Income”, as defined in the bill, constitute any lawful source of income from employment, government or private assistance, as well as alimony, child support, inheritance or gifts. Under the new law, landlords may still deny housing to an individual based on other non-discriminatory factors such as rental history or criminal record, but a prospective tenant can no longer be turned away because of the type of income they are using to pay rent. An exception is for individuals utilizing the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Program. Refusing to accept tenants using a HCV is the most common and pervasive forms of SOI discrimination. Under the bill’s language, a landlord would still be able to discriminate against a HCV holder where 20% of a property’s units are already rented to voucher holders. This 20% rule would lapse after four years should the City Council not act to extend it.

SOI discrimination predominately affects some of our city’s most vulnerable residents by locking them out of areas with better employment opportunities and quality of life. As Tisha Guthrie, a fitness professional and social worker who experienced SOI discrimination first hand wrote earlier this year in a Baltimore Sun op-ed: “This form of discrimination is insidious. It hurts veterans, severely rent-burdened families trying to get on their feet, persons with disabilities and elderly people. It also contributes to and exacerbates homelessness.” Doing away with such a practice is one of the first steps in addressing the legacy of redlining red lining and housing discrimination that shaped our city in the last one hundred years.

Baltimore advocates applaud Acting Mayor Young’s decision to quickly sign CB 18-0308 into law and eagerly look forward to working with him and the entire Baltimore City government to ensure that these new protections are enforced strongly and equitably and to prevent any erosion of the underlying protections the bill puts in place.


The following Organizations Supported the Passage of CB 18-0308:


Baltimore City Branch, NAACP

Baltimore Housing Roundtable

Baltimore Regional Housing Partnership

BRIDGE Maryland

Citizens Planning & Housing Assoc. of Baltimore

Community Development Network of MD

Disability Rights Maryland

Healthcare for the Homeless

Homeless Persons Representation Project

Housing Our Neighbors

Jews United for Justice

Public Justice Center

United Workers



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Ethan Saylor Alliance

DRM Paralegal, Teri Sparks, served on the Governor’s Commission for the Effective Community Inclusion of People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. The Commission brought together law enforcement, advocates, state agencies, family members, including the family of Ethan Saylor, and self-advocates to develop recommendations for the training of law enforcement that would provide awareness about intellectual and developmental disabilities and would lead to safe interactions.

Self-advocates made clear their wish to feel safe, understood and included.  DRM served on the subcommittee to draft training objectives that were adopted by the Maryland Police Training Commission, for cadets and veterans of law enforcement. In 2015, Maryland passed legislation creating the Ethan Saylor Alliance for Self-Advocates as Educators.

Subsequently, the Maryland Department of Disabilities established the Ethan Saylor Alliance Steering Committee, staffed by Department of Disabilities staff Jennifer Eastman and co-chaired by  Teri Sparks from DRM and Erica Wheeler, Self-Advocate & Trainer.  The steering committee works to insure that appropriate training and supports are in place for self-advocates to participate in meaningful ways as trainers of law enforcement.  In 2018, the steering committee awarded funds to two organizations, including Loyola University, to develop and implement curricula to prepare self-advocates to participate in meaningful ways as trainers of law enforcement. You can learn more about the Ethan Saylor Alliance by visiting: http://mdod.maryland.gov/about/Pages/Saylor-Alliance.aspx

CBS Baltimore shared coverage of a police training session at Loyola University. Actors with intellectual and developmental disabilities perform reality-based training scenarios to improve police encounters with people with disabilities:

On January 17, 2019, Ethan Saylor’s mother, Patti Saylor, was featured on WYPR’s “On the Record” discussing the officer training sessions.

Learn more about the program, “Learning to Lead: Training Self-Advocate Educators for Law Enforcement” on Loyola University’s website.

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DRM Reports: “Segregation & Suicide at MCIW”


Disability Rights Maryland hosted a Press Conference at our offices today to announce the release of our report, “Segregation and Suicide: Confinement at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women (PDF). The report was completed by DRM and Munib Lohrasbi, a community fellow with the Open Society Institute of Baltimore (OSI). 

The report discloses the extreme isolation and harm, or risk of harm, to numerous women with significant disabilities housed in the segregation, infirmary, and mental health units at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women (MCIW). Conditions in the units varied, but DRM observed problems with access to outdoor and indoor recreation; natural light; mattresses or bedding; insufficient treatment plans; and a lack of confidentiality for health  care services. The harm caused by segregation practices is pointedly evidenced by the suicide of a young woman with mental health issues who was incarcerated for a non-violent offense and who took her life while in segregation. 

DRM’s investigation, set forth in the Report, finds that MCIW failed to exercise reasonable standards of care during the time period surrounding her suicide. The Report offers recommendations for less harmful and safer correctional practices that conform to professional standards and comply with federal and Constitutional requirements.

DRM’s Director of Litigation, Lauren Young remarked, “The use of segregation in prison – the extreme isolation, the lack of physical and social engagement, sometimes combined with a lack of bedding, clothing, natural light or exercise, are conditions which Maryland has been shamefully slow to reject, especially as applied to individuals with serious disabilities; and compared with other states. We share this information because it is indispensable to the reforms that must come, but which will not succeed if conditions are kept from public consciousness.”

View a recording of the press conference on our Facebook page (embedded below).


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UPDATED: Maryland Medicaid to Cover Hearing Aids & Cochlear Implants for Adults in July

*Updated October 24, 2018:

Since July 1, Maryland Medicaid now covers hearing aids and cochlear implants for adults, which were previously only provided under Medicaid to children (under 21 years old).

On October 12, Maryland finalized the regulation governing how these items will be covered (available in the Maryland Register here). In contrast to the proposed regulation, people for whom it is medically necessary may receive bilateral hearing aids, cochlear implants, and auditory osseointegrated devices (also known as bone-anchored hearing aids, or BAHAs) – one for each ear. The clinical coverage policy provides more guidance on what it means for these items to be medically necessary, but it factors in your need to use a hearing aid in school, work, or community settings. The Provider Manual will also assist medical providers and Medicaid beneficiaries in obtaining these crucial hearing devices. 

Disability Rights Maryland (DRM) has been working with a team of pro bono attorneys at Sidley Austin on this issue for several years, as we believe that covering these items only for children was discriminatory. 

We are hopeful that covering hearing aids and cochlear implants for adults on Medicaid will help thousands of Marylanders who desire these hearing devices in pursuing employment opportunities and engaging with their families and communities in a manner they choose.

The Governor’s Office of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing deserves appreciation for its efforts in support of this change, as do our pro bono partners at Sidley Austin. We congratulate the state in moving forward to provide these crucial opportunities for hearing services. 

Original post – March 15, 2018:


In Maryland, adults on Medicaid do not receive coverage for hearing aids or cochlear implants even when these devices are medically necessary for communication.


Several years ago, Disability Rights Maryland (DRM) learned that Maryland Medicaid provides hearing aids and cochlear implants only to children through age 20. What happens when they grow up? And what about adults who want and need such devices for hearing loss occurring after age 21?

We learned about this issue from a new father who wanted to hear his newborn child. We learned how employment can be compromised by lack of communications. We heard from people who were frustrated at being denied a critical health care benefit.

We have been working with a team of lawyers at Sidley Austin LLP to advocate for Maryland to cover expanded hearing services for adults. Believing it legally required to cover and discriminatory to deny such services, DRM and Sidley Austin settled a case enabling an adult client to receive coverage for a cochlear implant and related services through Medicaid. We continued to advocate for others.


The Maryland Department of Health (MDH) has announced that starting in July 2018, Medicaid will cover medically necessary cochlear implants and hearing aids for adults. The Department has stated that it is working on regulations to implement these changes. The Governor’s Office of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing deserves appreciation for its efforts in support of this change, as do our pro bono partners at Sidley Austin.


MDH will issue proposed regulations – with a 30-day public comment period – that will determine how these devices are covered and how people may obtain them. Watch this page or review the Maryland Register to see when proposed regulations are issued. Your voice can matter on how Maryland covers these essential services.

We are hopeful that covering hearing aids and cochlear implants for adults on Medicaid will help thousands of Marylanders in pursuing employment opportunities and engaging with their families and communities in a manner they choose.

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From Nursing Facilities to Community Integration

DRM assists individuals who are eligible for Medical Assistance, reside in nursing facilities, and wish to obtain the services they need to live healthy, safe, active lives in the community (including nursing and personal care, behavioral and personal supports) or those working on their behalf, by providing information; advice; training; and in limited cases that raise systemic issues, full legal representation.

Watch a short video about your rights to live in integrated community settings instead of institutions.

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