Georgia-Based Disability Rights Groups Join Fight Against Georgia’s Anti-Voter Law S.B. 202

Three groups joined pending litigation AME Church v. Kemp in an amended complaint that explains how S.B. 202 violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, Rehabilitation Act

ATLANTA — Three prominent Georgia-based disability rights groups have joined the broad-based alliance of Georgia voters, civil rights groups, and activists fighting against the implementation of the state’s unconstitutional and discriminatory Senate Bill (S.B.) 202.

The groups are: The Arc Georgia (an office of The Arc of the United States), Georgia ADAPT and the Georgia Advocacy Office (GAO).

These organizations, whose core missions are to advocate for disability rights and support voters with disabilities, are the first disability rights-specific groups to join as plaintiffs in any of the pending lawsuits against S.B. 202.

S.B. 202 was passed by both houses of the Georgia General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp all in one afternoon.

In joining AME Church v. Kemp in the amended complaint filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), ACLU of Georgia, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), WilmerHale, and Davis Wright Tremaine, these groups are making it clear that — in addition to targeting Black voters, Latinx voters, other voters of color, new citizens, elderly voters, and student voters — Georgia legislators and the governor have discriminated against people with disabilities.

Voters with disabilities have received scant attention in Georgia’s battles over voting rights but have borne the brunt of historical and continuing discrimination and neglect in all spheres of public life. Rather than celebrating the strong turnout in the 2020 general election and runoffs, S.B. 202 doubles down on making voting even more inaccessible for the disability community.

As detailed in the amended complaint, S.B. 202 unconstitutionally burdens the right to vote of people with disabilities and violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, which celebrates its 31th anniversary on July 26, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 by imposing voting barriers that will discriminate against voters with disabilities and deny people with disabilities full and equal opportunity to participate in the state’s voting programs.

The amended complaint in full, which also adds the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) as a client, is available here:

https://www.splcenter.org/sites/default/files/083_ame_et_al_fac.pdf

Other plaintiffs in AME Church v. Kemp include: Sixth District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Georgia Muslim Voter Project, Women Watch Afrika, and Latino Community Fund Georgia.

“Georgia’s voting process already presented barriers to people with disabilities and S.B. 202 has made the process even more inaccessible in violation of the law,” said Stacey Ramirez, acting state director of The Arc Georgia. “This lawsuit is critically important to the future of over 850,000 Georgian citizens with disabilities eligible to vote who have a fundamental right to participate in our democracy. If this law is not struck down, the walls it puts around our voting rights will be even harder for people with disabilities to scale, and that’s unacceptable.”

To read more about The Arc Georgia’s work, please visit the SPLC’s profile series Battle for RepresentationThe Arc’s story, released today, is the fourth in the series profiling some of the clients in AME Church v. Kemp. 

The Arc Georgia story is available at:
https://www.splcenter.org/news/2021/05/24/arc-georgia-nonprofit-helps-people-disabilities-cast-ballots-joins-splc-suit-against-voter

“I served in the U.S. Army, giving my body and soul to defend our Constitution. Now, as a Cherokee Two-Spirit disabled vet, and as an ADAPT activist, I joined this lawsuit to make sure every citizen — whether disabled, Black, Native American, Latinx, or Asian — can participate in the sacred act of voting,” said Zan Thornton of Georgia ADAPT.

“Voting is a fundamental right. Access for people who experience disabilities is generally an afterthought if it’s thought of at all. The change in the voting law creates new barriers for everyone but those barriers could be insurmountable for people who experience disabilities,” said Devon Orland, legal director of the Georgia Advocacy Office.

TRANSLATIONS OF THE ABOVE:

  • Plain language available immediately upon request
  • ASL video available shortly upon request

RELEVANT LINKS:

Contact: Graeme Crews
graeme.crews@splcenter.org / (334) 224-0002

Black and white photograph of justice scales sitting on a desk in a courtroom

Civil Rights Groups Secure Federal Approval of Revised Crisis Standards of Care in Arizona

Phoenix, AZ – Today Arizona and national civil rights groups, in close collaboration with the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announce the approval of revised crisis standards of care. These standards determine who does and does not receive care in the event of a shortage of health care resources. The revisions announced today ensure that the standards comply with federal civil rights laws and prevent discrimination in the provision of health care during this pandemic.

The following are the critical updates that were made to prevent discrimination in health-care decision-making:

  • Health care decisions that discriminate against protected groups are prohibited. Triage decisions will be made without discrimination on the basis of individuals’ disability, age, race, ethnicity, color, national origin, religion, sex, veteran status, genetic information, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
  • No Exclusions or Deprioritizing Based on Resource Intensity or Diagnosis: An individual can no longer be excluded from, or deprioritized for, medical treatment based on the fact that they might require more time or resources to recover or because of a person’s diagnosis or functional impairment. Rather than making assumptions about a patient’s ability to respond to treatment based solely on stereotypes, medical personnel must perform an individualized assessment of each patient based on the best objective current medical evidence.
  • Resource Decisions Based Only on Short-Term Survivability: Determinations about treatment can only be based on short-term survivability. Since long-term predictions of the outcome of treatment is fraught with speculation, mistaken stereotypes, and assumptions about the quality of life and lifespan of older adults and people with disabilities, they are explicitly prohibited.
  • Reasonable Modifications Required: Hospitals must make reasonable accommodations to the support needs and communication styles of persons with disabilities, and reasonable modifications to the Modified Sequential Organ Failure Assessment (MSOFA)— or other tools that may be used to prioritize access to medical treatment—to correct against the impact prior conditions may have on the assessment of organ failure scoring. Other reasonable modifications, including modifications to no-visitor policies, may also be required to provide equal access to treatment.
  • Reallocation of Personal Ventilators Prohibited: Medical personnel may not reallocate the personal ventilator of a patient who uses a ventilator in their daily life to another patient whom the personnel deem more likely to benefit from the ventilator in receiving treatment.
  • Blanket Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Policies Prohibited: Hospitals must provide information on the full scope of available treatment alternatives, including the continued provision of life-sustaining treatment, and may not impose blanket DNR policies. Physicians may not require patients to complete advance directives in order to continue to receive services from the hospital.

“Individuals with disabilities have a right to equal access to life-saving treatment. These revised crisis guidelines protect this right, and require that hospitals provide support to exercise this right,” said Steven Schwartz, the Legal Director of the Center for Public Representation.

“Advocates diligently worked for more than a year to ensure older adults are treated with dignity during the pandemic,” said Regan Bailey, Litigation Director for Justice in Aging. “This most recent policy out of Arizona further recognizes that discrimination against older adults has no place in the decision of who gets limited life-saving treatment.  Arizona’s new policy is an important step in eliminating ageism, ableism, racism, and all other forms of discrimination in health care.”

“Today’s resolution makes major progress toward ensuring that people with disabilities have equal access to medical care during the pandemic and beyond,” said Peter Berns, Chief Executive Officer for The Arc. “We will keep fighting for revisions to policies that could mean the difference between life and death for people with disabilities.”

Those involved in the resolution included Arizona and national advocacy groups for persons with disabilities, communities of color, and older individuals: Arizona Center for Disability Law, The Arc Arizona, Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, Native American Disability Law Center, Justice in Aging, Center for Public Representation, The Arc of the United States, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Autistic Self Advocacy Network, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona.

In addition to working with OCR and other entities to revise crisis standard of care policies nationwide, The Arc, the Center for Public Representation, and Justice in Aging have created resources for stakeholders regarding preventing disability and age discrimination in crisis standards of care.

The Arc Demands a Public Apology from U.S. Capitol Riot Attorney for Offensive Comments about People with Disabilities

The Arc is appalled and disgusted by the offensive remarks made by Albert Watkins, an attorney representing Jacob Chansley, the self-described, “QAnon Shaman” who attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 with an angry mob. In an interview with Talking Points Memo, Watkins described defendants in the Capitol attack as “all f—ing short-bus people.” Watkins went on to say, “These are people with brain damage, they’re f—ing ret—ed, they’re on the goddam spectrum.” He has also made statements to the press that his client has Asperger syndrome, something that is not an indicator of criminal intent or behavior.

“These two sentences encapsulate the hate, discrimination, and vitriol that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have faced for decades,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc. “Make no mistake, this hurtful, demeaning, and unacceptable language is not a relic of the past – it’s still in the hearts and minds of many in our society. When it’s vocalized, it takes my breath away, because we have come so far with people understanding that those with disabilities are valued members of every community. Yet, here we are, as stereotypes and disgusting language are being used to defend the indefensible – an assault on the heart of our democracy at the U.S. Capitol.

“Particularly infuriating is the use of the R-word. The Arc has successfully fought alongside people with disabilities for decades to remove the R-word from federal and state policies, and from society as a whole. Unfortunately, the word is still used by those who do not recognize the humanity and value of people with disabilities and those who do not understand the detriment of their words.

“We also want to make clear – disabilities do not cause people to engage in violence or commit crimes.

“We demand a public apology from Albert Watkins and that Watkins takes the time to learn about the disability community and the impact of such derogatory language. We also call on the media to reflect the perspective of people with disabilities and their families throughout their work, but particularly when incidents like this one happen. They can accomplish this by interviewing people with disabilities and families and by seeking them out for information and education to inform their coverage. Watkins’ remarks threaten to deepen discrimination against people with disabilities. The Arc and our allies have fought too hard.  We are committed to moving forward and creating a society that values and respects the humanity of all people.”

the verizon logo in black on a white background

The Arc Receives Funding from Verizon to Expand Emergency Preparedness Across the U.S.

The Arc of the United States is thrilled to announce it has received an award from Verizon to implement the Building Community Resilience through Inclusive Disaster Preparedness program in 2021. Through this initiative, we will award chapters of The Arc and community organizations grants to offer online volunteer opportunities that focus on the importance of emergency-preparedness and ensuring that people with disabilities and their perspectives are incorporated in emergency-preparedness plans from the beginning.

Organizations will engage in a variety of virtual volunteering activities, such as creating disaster kits, developing emergency plans and important documents to be distributed, training, and much more. Grantee activities will be featured on Verizon’s employee volunteering platform, enabling   Verizon employees the opportunity to serve their communities alongside people with disabilities. A key piece of each grantees’ plan will be to host a virtual volunteering opportunity on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, a day now dedicated to volunteering and giving back to communities.

“People with disabilities and their needs are frequently overlooked when it comes to emergency planning.  With this additional funding from Verizon, The Arc will be able to continue changing that narrative and expand upon the emergency preparedness work we began last year,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

Celebrating Strength This Mother’s Day: A Mother’s Persistence

This Mother’s Day, The Arc celebrates the unconditionaA selfie of a mother and her two teenage children on a couch, with checkered blinds in the background. l love and infinite strength of mothers. We recognize the mother figures and grandmothers who nurture and support us – no matter what. We embrace the challenges of motherhood. We revel in the joys.

If you ask Kendra Mendoza, a mother of two in North Providence, Rhode Island and friend of The Arc, what her role as a mother means to her, the answer is clear.

“It means everything to me. It is my sole first purpose in this life – being a mom,” she shared with us.

Kendra is a mother and a fighter, a force of nature to be reckoned with and admired. The single mother has taken on the state disability services agency, school boards, health care providers, and landlords. Kendra stops at nothing to make sure that her 17-year-old son Joshua receives respect, compassionate care and support, and opportunities to thrive in school and beyond.

Joshua was born with a rare genetic disorder and several other developmental disabilities. He requires complex medical care and supervision around the clock. Kendra says he is a blessing.

“Whenever I look at Joshua, I see ability and potential,” she said. “He has taught me so much. He takes life and smiles through it.”

Joshua underwent brain surgery at two days old. He has had two more brain operations since. With his mother by his side every step of the way, Joshua has far exceeded doctors’ expectations.

Joshua lives in the moment. When asked for this story during breakfast what he loves most about his mother, he replied: “You feed me!”

Eating is one of Joshua’s favorite activities. He is known at his local Wendy’s and Dunkin’ Donuts. Joshua also loves reading and art. He enjoys playing Memory on his tablet and going on car rides and walks to the store. He likes listening to music, especially John Legend and Ed Sheeran. Joshua helps out around the house, clearing the table and putting dishes in the sink, as well as tying up the trash.

Kendra’s determinatioA mother and her son in a wheelchair testify in a public policy hearing. n as a mother extends into advocacy. Working with The Arc Rhode Island, she advocated in the General Assembly in support of special education reform to give parents and guardians more rights in the Individualized Education Program, or IEP, process. In testimony before the Rhode Island House of Representatives, Kendra and Joshua shared challenges with the IEP process for families and why is critical that students with disabilities receive a Free Appropriate Public Education, or FAPE, as mandated by federal and state law. Kendra is also part of a group of parents, guardians, and educators in Rhode Island advocating for the creation of an independent special education ombudsman office to investigate special education disputes and serve as a resource for parents and guardians. The office would also provide an outlet for anonymous reports of possible violations.

In her advocacy, Kendra has worked closely with Joanna Scocchi, Director of The Arc Rhode Island.

“Kendra is an example of the many parents who are fighting not just for their own child, but for all children to lead a full life with opportunities, hopes, and dreams,” said Scocchi. “It takes the determination of parents and advocates to advance the goal of ensuring that society understands every child is entitled to – and deserves – an education that meets their unique needs and prepares them for further education, employment, and independent living.”

Like so many mothers, Kendra manages to persist, one battle after another, but always with the nagging feeling that things should be easier. It’s nearly a universal feeling across the disability community.

“I don’t understand why we have to fight all the time for things that should be common sense,” said Kendra.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kendra has worked closely with Joshua’s IEP team to try to ensure that he continues to receive an education remotely. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities are at higher risk of contracting the virus and health outcomes are often worse. Trying to keep Joshua safe and in virtual learning has felt like a second and third job. Kendra hopes Congress passes a national paid leave policy so that unpaid family caregivers don’t have to choose between a paycheck and the health and well-being of their loved ones.

The Arc and many other groups that represent caregivers urged the White House and Congress to include paid leave in forthcoming legislation and President Biden has urged Congress to do so. The pandemic has highlighted what family caregivers have known for decades—we need paid leave now.

There is one more thing about Kendra Mendoza you should know. When she’s not with Joshua, she’s supporting women with disabilities in a group home. Kendra is employed as a direct support professional, or DSP. She helps the women she serves with dressing, eating, and preparing for their day.

Many years ago, Kendra decided to pursue a career in health care in order to learn as much as possible about the road ahead as a mother to a child with multiple disabilities. This Mother’s Day, she reflects on her children and how she is the lucky one.

Kendra says the simple moments mean the most.

“The moment your kids smile and they know they’re safe,” she said. “They remind me of my purpose. They push me to grow as a person.”