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Disability Law Colorado

Your support helps to change the lives of people with disabilities and older people in Colorado for the better. In providing legal services and advocacy, Disability Law Colorado recognizes the inherent value of all people, and embraces empowerment, self-determination, independence, and inclusion.

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Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE)

Class

Health Care 

Beneficiaries

Aging, Elderly, Senior Citizens
Disabled
People/Families of People with Health Conditions
People/Families with of People with Disabilities
People/Families with of People with Physical Disabilities

Description

The State PACE Ombudsman Program was established by the Colorado Legislature in 2016 to protect the rights of elderly participants receiving services throughout the PACE organizations in Colorado. PACE serves people 55 and older in Colorado who qualify for Medicare and/or Medicaid. PACE promotes independent living and provides all-inclusive services in the home, community and PACE centers.

Photos

Evidence of Program's Success

Nursing Home Project

Class

Civil Rights, Social Action & Advocacy 

Beneficiaries

Adults
Disabled
Mentally/Emotionally Disabled
Physically Disabled

Description

There are thousands of people with mental illness and developmental disabilities living in nursing homes, and many are younger than 60-years-old. Individuals with disabilities who wish to move out of nursing homes and into the community are helped through this project.

Photos

Evidence of Program's Success

The compelling stories of the people who move into the community. We often hear phrases like, "I'm free and I got my life back."

Protection & Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness

Class

Civil Rights, Social Action & Advocacy 

Beneficiaries

Adults
Children and Youth (infants - 19 years)
Mentally/Emotionally Disabled

Description

Ensuring that individuals with mental illness are free from abuse and neglect.

Photos

Evidence of Program's Success

Changes in policies and procedures and individuals with mental illness free from abuse and neglect.

Protection & Advocacy for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities

Class

Civil Rights, Social Action & Advocacy 

Beneficiaries

Adults
Children and Youth (infants - 19 years)
Disabled
Disabled, General or Disability unspecified
Mentally/Emotionally Disabled

Description

Protecting the rights and civil liberties of individuals with developmental disabilities, ensuring freedom from abuse, neglect and rights violations.

Photos

Evidence of Program's Success

Systemic change and individual client successes.

Promoting Self-Sufficiency - Employment

Class

Employment 

Beneficiaries

Blind & Vision Impaired
Deaf & Hearing Impaired
Disabled
Mentally/Emotionally Disabled
Physically Disabled nec

Description

People with disabilities want to work like everyone else-and like everyone else, they value their ability to be independent. A job is key to self-sufficiency. Sadly, private employers and even the government agencies set up to serve them often ignore the laws on disability rights.

So many people with disabilities are perfectly capable of holding down responsible and rewarding jobs. In most cases, they simply need some assistance with job modifications or assistive technology. We would all like to think that the days of selecting people with disabilities to do only routine and repetitive tasks have passed, but every day we hear from intelligent and educated adults whose skills are ignored, and whose hopes and expectations are crushed.

Photos

Evidence of Program's Success

Sheryl, a young deaf woman, was not happy with her part-time job at UPS unloading boxes from a truck. When applying for services from the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, she had explained to the counselor that her goal was a full-time clerical/administrative position. The counselor had assured her that after her probationary period, UPS would offer her a full-time position. However, once on the job, UPS told her than due to seniority rules, she would have to work part-time for at least three years, and that there was no guarantee of a clerical position at all. Sheryl contacted her counselor who told her to "hang in there" as there was nothing further he could do. Next, Sheryl called The Legal Center. In reviewing her records, we learned that Sheryl's case had been closed as a "successful" placement even though her IPE (individualized plan for employment) noted her goal as a full-time clerical position. Sheryl and the Disability Law Colorado advocate met with the supervisor at DVR. Sheryl asked to have her case transferred to the DVR Evans office because she had heard they were better equipped to serve people who are deaf. The supervisor agreed to her request. He also conducted an investigation and determined that the "successful placement" status was an error on the administration's part. Sheryl's new counselor secured several interviews for clerical work and she is now happily and productively employed in a dental office.

Special Education Program

Class

Education 

Beneficiaries

Children and Youth (infants - 19 years.)
Disabled
Mentally/Emotionally Disabled
Physically Disabled nec
Young Adults (20-25 years)

Description

All kids get to go to school and get a fair chance to learn. That's the premise of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. "IDEA" guarantees children with disabilities a free appropriate public education. For many children with disabilities, getting a fair chance to learn means getting individualized school services to meet their particular needs. IDEA requires that public schools provide specially designed instruction according to an individualized educational program (IEP). Disability Law Colorado advocates for students with disabilities to ensure that they receive a "free, appropriate education" as mandated by law.

We also strive to ensure that they receive these services in "the least restrictive setting" as required by law. Most parents prefer their children to be educated in a mainstream classroom alongside their peers without disabilities. However, humiliating and painful physical restraint, as well as seclusion away from the regular classroom, are the most egregious problems we find in special education settings.

In 2007, Disability Law Colorado embarked on a wide-ranging initiative to eliminate the inappropriate and dangerous use of restraint and seclusion as a disciplinary measure for children with disabilities. The initiative began in response to a growing number of complaints from parents whose children were being tied to chairs for hours at a time, physically injured as they were held down or handcuffed, or placed in a locked room-one little girl was so scared that she urinated on herself. The parents' anxiety was exacerbated by the fact that the children's behavior grew worse rather than being improved by the restraint and seclusion, and their mental and emotional well-being deteriorated significantly. The longer their children were in school, the more complex their diagnoses became.

Several recent national studies demonstrate a clear link between restraint and seclusion of children with developmental disabilities and an increase in mental illness, including School is Not Supposed to Hurt (http:www.napas.orgsrSR-Report.pdf) issued by our national organization, the National Disability Rights Network. The Center for Mental Health Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the United States Department of Health and Human Services has also issued a report regarding restraint or seclusion, stating "The use of seclusion and restraint on persons with mental health and/or addictive disorders has resulted in deaths and serious physical injury and psychological trauma."
Despite Colorado law that forbids restraint except in emergencies involving imminent risk of bodily harm, when students become aggressive or disruptive in class, the natural response is to physically restrain them or put them in a quiet place to calm down. However, our investigations also showed that some school staff use restraint and seclusion to gain compliant behavior. Sadly, the problems occur in both mainstream and special education classrooms-even staff whose sole focus is children with disabilities are mistreating their students. In addition to exacerbating rather than improving students' behavior, restraint and seclusion takes children away from their peers and denies them the education to which they are legally entitled. Students "flagged" as behavior problems are less likely to be accepted into post secondary activities, such as job training, that can assist them in leading successful adult lives. When behavioral management in schools fails, some children are entering other systems including day treatment centers, residential treatment facilities, psychiatric units, and detention centers.

Disability Law Colorado's Restraint and Seclusion Initiative is designed to change the way children with disabilities are treated throughout the state's education system. Disability Law Colorado is working with
-Colorado school districts to provide school staff with education about the law on restraint and seclusion, and training on alternative ways to change student behavior
-the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) to effect systemic reduction of restraint and seclusion by changing policies and guidelines (we have helped re-write the rules on restraint and seclusion)
-a coalition of stakeholders to develop legislation to enforce the law on seclusion and restraint.

Disability Law Colorado works with students, parents, educators, school districts and the Colorado Department of Education to resolve special education concerns including appropriateness of discipline, least restrictive environment, and abuse and neglect resulting from inappropriate seclusion and restraint.

Since we cannot hope to help all of the children needing direct intervention, we strive to help parents:

Photos

Evidence of Program's Success

Disability Law Colorado received a complaint of the inappropriate use of seclusion from a parent with a 7-year-old girl in a metro school district. Disability Law Colorado conducted an investigation under its P&A authority and discovered that the student had been subjected to multiple instances of seclusion and suspected that other students had as well. Disability Law Colorado gained access to the contact information of other parents and did investigations for those students as well. Disability Law Colorado issued findings and entered into a monitoring agreement with the district that resulted in training for the school staff, relocation of several students and indirectly, the dismissal of several staff.

A 13 year-old student with diabetes had been doing very well in school until the family moved to a rural school district. The parents were informed that the school did not have the resources to assist the student with his "high medical monitoring" needs and insisted he be placed on homebound services-two tutoring sessions per week. Naturally, in a new community and now with no school friends, this child was lonely and depressed. We advocated along with the family for the school district to provide the necessary accommodations for the student's diabetes monitoring and for the student to be fully integrated within the school. For us, this was a shocking case. We have worked with families whose children have severe disabilities and we have still managed to persuade the school district to accommodate them so that they learn and play alongside their peers. In this case, diabetes was the student's only disability and he could manage his own insulin injections very well. However, like most adolescents, he didn't always eat what he should, and this could result in lethargy or mood swings, with the potential for more serious side effects. Although this may have seemed alarming for the school, thousands of diabetic children manage to live normal lives, with just a little oversight from caring adults (they don't need to be medical professionals). Fortunately, we were able to persuade the district-without having to proceed to an administrative hearing-to accommodate the student by having staff trained to monitor his wellbeing. By the end of the school year, he was attending school full-time, doing well in class, and had even begun to participate in after school activities.

A 16 year-old student received a diagnosis of epilepsy. This came as a terrible shock for both him and his family, and his distress was greatly exacerbated by the school's uncaring approach to this life-changing disability. Instead of supporting him as he tried to cope with the frequent seizures and accompanying memory lapses, staff ignored the fact that he was mocked and bullied by other students, and made no allowances for his poor school work. When he stayed home, he was disciplined for missing school. Our advocate visited the school with the boy's parents and met with the principal. She was able to explain that while a diagnosis of epilepsy for an adolescent is initially devastating, with proper support and encouragement, he could do very well in school. She advocated for the school to take responsibility to stop the bullying, provide counseling to provide the student with coping skills, and for reasonable accommodations within the classroom such as dimming the lights and providing a quiet area to help him recover from seizures. Once the staff understood more about the boy's condition, they were much more supportive. The bullying was addressed, counseling was provided, and the school even purchased an MP3 player to be utilized for recording class assignments and serving as a memory tool following seizures. With a quiet space to recover, he no longer had to go home every time he experienced a seizure and his parents report that he is now much happier and more invested in school.

Programs for Older Americans

Class

Civil Rights, Social Action & Advocacy 

Beneficiaries

Aging/Elderly/Senior Citizens

Description

The Colorado Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program and the Legal Assistance Developer Program work together to protect and promote the rights of Colorado's older adults and to improve their quality of life. The Ombudsman Program protects the rights of all people in long-term care, regardless of age.

Both programs are administered by The Legal Center for People with Disabilities and Older People under a contractual agreement with the Colorado Department of Human Services, Division of Aging and Adult Services. The two programs operate in conjunction with the 16 regional Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) to coordinate services statewide.

The Colorado Long-Term Care Ombudsman, Anne Meier, and the Legal Assistance Developer, Kelsey Lesco:
-Provide leadership, support, training and technical assistance to the local ombudsmen and legal assistance providers throughout the state on the front lines of service;
-Evaluate their respective programs at the 16 Area Agencies on Aging;
-Stay abreast of current legislation and new regulations;
-Research and analyze critical issues and monitor changing trends;
-Work together on public policy initiatives to expand resources on elder law and to improve long-term care;
-Direct public education programming on resources for older adults and their families;
-Provide training and support to volunteers and professionals in local organizations;
-Serve as the voice of older people to policymakers, regulators and government officials;
-Advocate for improvements in legislation, policies, and funding affecting long-term care and elder rights; and
-Represent Colorado's long-term care and legal service needs at the national level.

Photos

Evidence of Program's Success

An 82-year old woman whose nephew broke into her home while she was hospitalized and used a forged power of attorney to drain her bank accounts. As soon as she realized what had happened, she revoked the power of attorney and notified local law enforcement of what had occurred. Three months later, she received a letter from the local District Attorney informing her that they would take no action on her case and suggesting that she file a civil action against her nephew. She contacted Disability Law Colorado and the legal Services developer was able to connect the senior with an attorney in her town who is assisting her.

A local ombudsman, on a routine visit to a nursing home, heard from residents that their PNAs (personal needs accounts) had no funds available, and in some cases they were being required to refund money. The administrator explained that an audit by the Department of Health Care Policy and Finance (HCPF) showed that some residents had been "overpaid" between 2003 and 2007 and the money had to be repaid. The ombudsman was troubled at this seemingly harsh edict from HCPF and consulted with the local legal provider who in turn consulted the Attorney General's Fraud Unit. It quickly became clear that the nursing home, already in trouble for other financial irregularities, had simply appropriated the residents' accounts causing great distress for these people who already had so few financial resources. The nursing home has repaid the funds and is now being carefully monitored by local ombudsmen and the AG's office.

Protection & Advocacy for Individual Rights

Class

Civil Rights, Social Action & Advocacy 

Beneficiaries

Blind & Vision Impaired
Deaf & Hearing Impaired
Disabled
Mentally/Emotionally Disabled
Physically Disabled nec

Description

Advocacy for people with disabilities who have experienced discrimination in housing or employment or need accommodations in housing, employment, public access or education.

Photos

Evidence of Program's Success

"Joan" was very grateful to be provided with a Section 8 apartment by the housing authority, but dismayed when she discovered that her unit was at the very end of the hallway. Compounding her difficulties, she was assigned a parking space in the row farthest away from the building. Joan made every attempt to talk directly with the building superintendent and housing authority to negotiate a closer parking space and an apartment near the elevator. When her efforts failed, she turned to us. Disability Law Colorado's usually successful with informal negotiations of this type, but this time our intervention was rebuffed. As we believe that Joan's request is fully justified, and that an apartment close to the elevator and a parking space close to the door could and should be made available, we are representing her in a housing disability discrimination complaint at the Colorado Civil Rights Division.

A young man with a developmental disability came home from work to find his belongings being loaded in the back of a truck. Although he held down a responsible job at a local restaurant and was quite capable of living independently, his developmental disability made him subject to the supervision of his local community centered board (CCB). The CCB had contracted with a nonprofit service provider to oversee his welfare. When his service provider decided it would be in the young man's "best interests" to be moved to a host home, she made the arrangements without giving him any notice or opportunity to protest. He was outraged at the infringement on his personal liberty, embarrassed at the public nature of the removal and distraught at leaving the home he had lived in for two years. Disability Law Colorado intervened and he is now in a new apartment in a different part of town that is also closer to his girlfriend and on a more direct bus route to his job. The restaurant offered him an extra day of work, and he's enjoying independent living once again.


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