Massachusetts Protection & Advocacy

 
         
         

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Click here to help us shape our Priorities

 
 
 

Executive Director Christine Griffin and Litigation Director Stan Eichner discuss DLC’s annual priority setting process and our new fiscal year 2016 priorities.

 

 

DLC Priorities
 
 

Priorities Fiscal Year 2016

 

Why does the Disability Law Center have Priorities?

As the federally-mandated protection and advocacy (P&A) system in Massachusetts, the Disability Law Center (DLC) is charged with protecting the rights of all people with disabilities residing in Massachusetts.  The U.S. government estimates that one in five people live with some type of disability. Based on Massachusetts’ current population, there are approximately 1.3 million children and adults living with a disability in our state.

DLC’s Mission is to provide legal advocacy on disability issues that promote the fundamental right of all people with disabilities to participate fully and equally in the social and economic life in Massachusetts.

In order to achieve our mission of providing legal advocacy that promotes full equality for people with disabilities living in Massachusetts, DLC would need significantly more resources than we currently have. DLC does not have the staff and resources necessary to tackle all of the barriers that prevent full equality at one time. Therefore, we have to address our core functions (see below) and then take cases that fit within our priorities and that we have the resources to complete.

Through public input and information received from people who call our office for help, DLC looks for issues that are widespread and that pose the largest threat to the independence of people with disabilities. Once we identify these issues, we develop a legal strategy that represents the potential resolution or elimination of the problem. That strategy becomes a priority and helps us determine the types of cases that we can accept.

Why Does the Disability Law Center Need Priorities?

DLC receives most of the funding for its work from the federal government. With these resources, DLC is expected to ensure that people with disabilities live in safe and humane conditions and are free from any type of abuse or neglect. We must also work to inform individuals about their legal rights and how to enforce them; ensure that people with disabilities are not unnecessarily institutionalized and that they have the opportunity to live, learn, work and play in the community.

Priorities give us the structure within which we can spend our limited resources to achieve goals that further our Mission. In addition, the priorities give our funders a measurable objective with which to gauge our success in achieving the outcome of our work. As with all grant funds, DLC must account for how it spends its resources.

First and foremost, DLC must spend the majority of its resources on its core functions.  We do not develop priorities for the first three of these core functions because they are the overarching priorities for every Protection and Advocacy organization in the nation.

 

Four Core Functions of the Disability Law Center

 

  1. Information, Referral and Training  - Knowing your rights can empower people with disabilities to get the services or help they need. For this reason and because we do not have enough resources to represent everyone who contacts us, DLC provides information, advice and/or written materials to every eligible caller. As part of our established protocols, our goal is to provide all P&A-eligible callers some level of information and referral (I&R) when their issue falls outside our priorities.  DLC provides training on disability rights including special education, resident/patient rights in facility settings, anti-discrimination laws in housing and employment, mental health laws, voting rights, and self-advocacy. We offer training to groups across the state that builds advocacy skills and knowledge of specific areas of law.  DLC also provides extensive technical assistance to disability or legal professionals who call us daily requesting information and advice on a number of issues impacting people with disabilities.

  2. Monitoring - DLC monitors facilities where people with disabilities live or receive services to prevent, detect, and address instances of abuse, neglect or exploitation. Our monitoring activities may include (1) face-to-face interviews with individuals with disabilities living in the facility, (2) face-to face interviews with staff members working in the facility, (3) observation and evaluation of the physical conditions of the facility, and (4) a review of records, when appropriate, in accordance with applicable federal and state law. Our primary goal is to ensure that the residents’ rights are protected and that they are living in a safe environment with opportunities to participate in activities important to them, such as recreational activities and work. Also during our monitoring visits in institutional settings, we identify individuals who could and want to live in the community if they had the proper supports and services.

  3. Investigations - In situations where we believe serious abuse or neglect may have occurred, we conduct an investigation. The investigation is a thorough examination of information, records, evidence and circumstances surrounding the allegation of abuse and neglect. Investigations are distinct from advocacy and require a significant allocation of time and resources for activities such as interviewing witnesses, gathering evidence, and generating a written report which may or may not be released publicly. Because of our limited resources, we focus on investigations where the outcome may be systemic change resulting in a better quality of care for large groups of people with disabilities.

  4. Legally-based Advocacy Including Individual and Systems Advocacy - DLC represents the interests of individuals both individually and systemically in the courts and other legal forums. This is the work that is tied to our priorities and includes the cases we take to represent one person as well as class action lawsuits we file to address widespread legal violations.  The priorities for the types of cases we will take under this core function are as follows:

 

Housing  

 

DLC will focus on housing cases that meet the criteria required by our funding provider, the United Way of Mass Bay and Merrimack Valley service area (Greater Boston and the North Shore).   Cases DLC accepts will involve issues that will result in an individual or family retaining the housing or housing subsidy they have.

 

  • Requests and denial of Reasonable Accommodations

  • Evictions for reasons which are wholly or primarily disability-related

  • Subsidy terminations for reasons that are wholly or primarily disability-related

  • Stay of Evictions for Non- Renewal of Lease or non-fault evictions.

Funding for this work will be United Way of Massachusetts Bay Funding

 

Employment

 

DLC will take a limited number of employment cases in Fiscal Year 2016.  These cases will focus on the systemic nature of the case and the possible widespread impact a favorable outcome might have. DLC will also provide no more than 5 disability employment law trainings this Fiscal Year.

 

Reasonable Accommodation Cases

  • Client is currently working and needs an accommodation to remain employed

  • Client has been terminated due to denial of a requested accommodation.

  • Denial of employment cases

  • Client has been denied employment due to either a need for reasonable accommodation during the application process or to do the job, or due solely to disability discriminationTermination Cases

Termination Cases

  • Individual has been terminated due solely to disability discrimination.

Sheltered Workshop Project

  •  DLC will continue to work with other advocates to ensure that the state plan to close all sheltered workshops will occur within the Fiscal Year.

Sub-Minimum Wage Project

  • DLC will continue to assess the sub minimum wage waivers in light of wage and hour law.

Employment Legislative Initiative

  • DLC will continue to work on legislative issues that will result in an increase of employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

Work Incentives Planning and Assistance

  • DLC staff will provide support for WIPA staff, provide short term assistance to individuals with work incentive questions and community training on work incentives for benefit recipients and agency personnel.

Employment cases where the client is currently a Social Security Recipient.

 

Representative Payee/Financial Exploitation

  • DLC will accept a limited number of cases where the client is being financially exploited by the Representative Payee

Funding for this work will be PAIDD, PAIMI, PABSS, PAIR, PATBI, GS      

 

Public Accommodations

 

DLC will accept a limited number of Cases involving violations of Title III of the ADA and/or the Massachusetts Public Accommodations law.  

 

Funding for this work will be PAIR

 

Community Integration

DLC will take a limited number of Cases involving issues that violate the principles of community integration under the Olmstead decision and the Least Restrictive Environment.

Funding for this work will be PAIDD, PAIMI, PAIR, PATBI, GS

 

Government Services

DLC will accept a small number of cases (3-5)  involving issues related to eligibility (and Prior Approval) or denial of services or benefits from various agencies to monitor appropriate implementation of recent changes in policy and regulations.

DLC will collaborate with Independent Living Centers and other advocacy organizations including Mass Advocates Standing Strong to ensure that all barriers to voting are eliminated.  DLC will create the Disability Voting Task Force whose cross disability members will collaborate to ensure that people with disabilities have equal opportunity to exercise their right to vote in a national election year.

DLC will continue to monitor appropriate implementation of recent welfare reform changes in policy and regulations related to beneficiaries with disabilities.

Funding for this work will be PAIDD, PAIMI, PAIR, PAAT, GS, PAVA

 

Access to Health Care Facilities

DLC, in collaboration with BCIL and GBLS, will advocate for increased access to medical equipment in health care facilities.

DLC will accept cases on behalf of individuals who are denied effective communication in health care facilities.

DLC will accept cases where Assistive Technology is necessary to access appropriate health care.

Funding for this work will be GS, PAAT and PAIR

 

Education

Consistent with DLC’s mission, DLC will increase the availability of quality inclusive programs by representing students seeking less restrictive special education programs.

DLC will provide representation in cases where a student receiving special education services is being excluded from school due to excessive or inappropriate discipline.

DLC will also provide representation in cases where a student has been wrongfully excluded by denial of eligibility that results in excessive or inappropriate discipline. 

DLC will accept education cases that address issues of abuse and neglect such as inappropriate use of restraint and seclusion.

DLC will take cases to obtain appropriate programs and services for students who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

DLC staff will provide 5-10 trainings on issues such on an individual’s right to a free and appropriate education (FAPE), how to access transition services in a timely manner as well as training about the new discipline and restraint and seclusion regulations.

DLC will accept no more than 5 cases representing students who are currently in a hospital and/or have spent a substantial amount of time in a hospital recently and are seeking a less restrictive educational program.

In support of our ongoing work related to competitive, integrate employment, DLC will accept 3-5 transition cases focusing on access to employment opportunities consistent with Workforce Investment Opportunities Act, Home and Community Based Services Rules and DDS’ Blueprint to Success.

Funding for this work will be PAIDD, PAIR, PATBI, PAAT, PABSS

 

Human Rights/Abuse & Neglect

DLC will accept individual cases involving abuse and neglect or violations of human rights.  These cases will serve to inform our ongoing monitoring work in community residences and facilities.  

In FY 2016, DLC will focus on developing and implementing plans to monitor a limited number of state licensed, funded and/or supported community residences.  DLC will also develop and implement a plan to monitor public and private psychiatric facilities as well as facilities such as Bridgewater State Hospital and other DOC controlled facilities that house individuals with mental illness.

In FY16, DLC will implement a plan that is developed with input from a variety of stakeholders, including parents of children with disabilities in the public and private school systems as well as input from the Disabled Persons Protection Commission to ensure that we investigate complaints of serious abuse and neglect.

DLC will provide outreach and training for Recovery Learning Center (RLC) staff and members on the following topics: 5 Fundamental Rights, Mental Health law, Guardianship, Rep Payee Issues, Access to Voting, Employment and Benefits law.

Funding for this work will be PAIDD, PAIMI, PAIR, PATBI

 

Disability Benefits Program (Support for Legal Services in Social Security Disability Cases)

This Program provides support, training and technical assistance for legal services advocates on Social Security matters.  In addition to legal services advocates, this program provides private attorneys and state/private agency personnel with high quality training and technical assistance they need to become more knowledgeable and effective advocates for their clients in all areas of social security disability practice. 

Funding for this work will be DBP