The Mission of the Oklahoma Disability Law Center, Inc. is to protect, promote and expand the rights of people with disabilities.
The ODLC mission reflects the belief that people with disabilities are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect; to be free from abuse, neglect, exploitation and discrimination.
The ODLC mission also reflects the belief that people with disabilities are entitled to equal rights and to equally effective access to the same opportunities as are afforded other members of society.
January 22, 2018 – ODLC was alerted to a series of articles written by Oklahoma Watch reporter Jennifer Palmer regarding disability discrimination by schools that offer tax credit tuition scholarships, which are administered by the Oklahoma’s Opportunity Scholarship Fund (OSF).
Following publication of these articles, ODLC received a complaint regarding these schools and the alleged discriminatory practice of rejecting students based on disability. ODLC Managing Attorney, Joy Turner contacted Rob Sellers, Executive Director of OSF, to address the issues raised in the Oklahoma Watch article.
Mr. Sellers informed Ms. Turner his organization is working with all recipient schools to assure their policies and practices are in complete compliance with the anti-discrimination policy required by law. Requirements for schools’ participation in OSF funding listed on the organizations website state the following:
A school must sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the OSF setting out each party’s responsibilities.
A school must: be accredited by the State Board of Education or an accrediting association within the Oklahoma Private School Accreditation Commission; be in compliance with all applicable health and safety laws and codes; have a stated policy against discrimination in admissions on the basis of race, color, national origin or disability, and ensure academic accountability to parents and guardians of students through regular progress reports.
Mr. Sellers went on to say, “In Ms. Palmer’s article, there were several member school’s websites that held non-discrimination wording in their policies that were not in compliance and/or appropriate. We are working with all our member schools to review their non-discrimination policy, ensure that the policy conforms to the discrimination policy required by this law and provide a period to cure any deficiencies. We will continue to work with our member schools to remedy this situation as quickly as possible – with proper approvals of their schools’ governing board – to ensure the schools that take advantage of the state’s tax credit scholarship program are doing so within the law. Any schools that don’t conform to the legislation we operate under will be required to cease participation in the Opportunity Scholarship Fund. We will continue to monitor this matter in the upcoming months.”
ODLC will continue to monitor this issue to assure schools receiving these funds are in compliance. ODLC will work with the OSF to resolve any future complaints. If you have a specific complaint of discrimination based on disability related to one these scholarships, please contact our office.
January 31, 2018 – Read the Oklahoma Watch follow up article which discusses ODLC’s investigation.
January 17, 2018
For Immediate Release
WASHINGTON – Today the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General issued a report that found numerous incidents of abuse and neglect of people with developmental disabilities living in group homes. In response, NDRN Executive Director Curt Decker issued the following statement:
“I would like to thank the HHS Office of Inspector General for investigating this issue. The findings outlined in the OIG audits are disturbing and corroborate conditions and treatment our network has found in group homes in Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina, and elsewhere.
“However, there is one glaring omission among OIG’s solutions that States can use to protect the health and safety of group home residents: the nation’s Protection and Advocacy System (P&As).
“P&As are federally funded disability rights agencies that exist in every state and territory with special Congressional authority to monitor, investigate and attempt to remedy adverse conditions in large and small, public and private, facilities that care for people with disabilities.
“P&A staff consist of advocates and attorneys who specialize in investigating the abuse and neglect of people with disabilities. They have the training and demonstrated experience necessary to uncover rights violations through investigation, monitoring and oversight, and to provide individualized assistance to people in need of help.
“Like the states of Washington and Maine have chosen to do, it is time for other States to begin funding this tremendous resource that is already available to them. In addition, the federal government needs to step up with additional funding for the P&As so that the impressive work being done nationwide can expand further into the community where more and more people with disabilities want to (and are) living, working, and being fully integrated members of the community ”
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The National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) is the nonprofit membership organization for the federally mandated Protection and Advocacy (P&A) Systems and the Client Assistance Programs (CAP) for individuals with disabilities. Collectively, the Network is the largest provider of legally based advocacy services to people with disabilities in the United States.
ACLU of Oklahoma, Oklahoma Disability Law Center, Amend Legal Action Against State Officials over Termination of Disability Services
NOVEMBER 6, 2017
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Oklahoma City, OK– The ACLU of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Disability Law Center filed an amended petition today in Anderson, et. al. v. Lake, the case challenging the Oklahoma Department of Human Services threatened termination of critical waiver services for thousands of Oklahomans with disabilities.
After informing over 20,000 Oklahomans with disabilities that the services they rely on each day would be cut off December 1, 2017, the Department of Human Services temporarily halted this termination following a temporary appropriation from the Legislature. The Department has said that it will, however, be required to again terminate those benefits by March 1, 2018.
“Simply kicking the can down the road for three months has not solved our clients’ problem,” said Brady Henderson, Legal Director for the ACLU of Oklahoma. “Thousands of Oklahomans depend on these services for their dignity and their livelihood, and deserve stability from their government. Our clients need a guarantee these benefits will be funded, or appropriate community-based alternative services provided, as mandated by the United States Supreme Court.”
The petition, amended today, serves notice to the State of Oklahoma that the ACLU of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Disability Law Center intend to litigate this case for as long as it takes to come to a permanent funding model for these crucial state services.
“Despite passing a temporary funding solution for these benefits, the State has failed to address the harm our clients endure each time they receive threats to their benefits,” said Melissa Sublett, Executive Director at Oklahoma Disability Law Center. “This case isn’t going away until our clients no longer face uncertainty and limbo. We are committed to eliminating the imminent threat of institutionalization our clients are facing. ”
Brady Henderson, Legal Director, ACLU of Oklahoma,
Melissa Sublett, Executive Director, Oklahoma Disability Law Center,
OKLAHOMA DISABILITY LAW CENTER PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY/SESSION
The Oklahoma Disability Law Center (ODLC) is seeking public comment on our Priorities and Objectives. Our Priorities and Objective are the types of cases our office accepts, and our office seeks your input as we determine which issues are important to the people of Oklahoma. We encourage you to stop by and give us your input. If you are unable to attend, you may fill out our online survey or call our office at 1-800-226-5883.
Session 1-Norman, OK
Thursday, December 7th, 2017
8:00 AM – 3:00 PM
Oklahoma’s Ninth Annual conference on Autism Spectrum Disorder
Embassy Suites Norman – Hotel & Conference Center
2501 Conference Dr.
Norman, OK 73069
Session 2-Tulsa, OK
Wednesday, December 20th, 2017
9:00 AM – 4:00 PM
Interim Plaza 2828 E 51st St., 302
Tulsa, OK 74105
ACLU of Oklahoma, Oklahoma Disability Law Center, File Legal Action Against State Officials Over Termination Of Disability Services
NOVEMBER 17, 2017
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
OKLAHOMA CITY–The ACLU of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Disability Law Center, Oklahoma’s federally funded Protection and Advocacy system, filed today an action against public officials of the State of Oklahoma seeking to ensure Oklahomans with disabilities receive the critical services required by federal law.
On October 31, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services notified the over 20,000 recipients of Advantage and In-Home Supports Waivers for Adults that their benefits would be terminated on December 1, 2017. Regardless of potential action from the Governor’s office today, the ACLU of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Disability Law Center will continue to push for a reliable, long term solution to funding these critical services.
“Our office has been inundated with calls from families terrified about what will happen to their loved ones come December 1 and beyond, “ said Melissa Sublett, Executive Director for the Oklahoma Disability Law Center. “In addition to the families whose services will be cut on December 1, we have been contacted by countless families whose loved ones have waited decades on the waiting list for waiver services wondering what will happen because there are no services in sight. The state of Oklahoma has neglected its duty to people with disabilities for far too long.”
“These benefits are absolutely essential to the Oklahomans who receive them,” said Brady Henderson, Legal Director for the ACLU of Oklahoma. “Whether or not the Governor signs a budget with one time funding sources, these critical services remain under threat. Critical services of this nature require funding stability. Failing to adequately and reliably fund these services risks stripping thousands of Oklahomans of their ability to live in community-based settings, a basic right that the state has a legal and moral obligation to honor. A failure to maintain these services illegally forces Oklahomans with disabilities into institutions, creates greater ongoing costs to the state, and in some cases, can cause a completely preventable and senseless loss of life.”
Brady Henderson, Legal Director, ACLU of Oklahoma
Allie Shinn, Director of External Affairs, ACLU of Oklahoma
Melissa Sublett, Executive Director, Oklahoma Disability Law Center
Gary Taylor, Legal Director, Oklahoma Disability Law Center
November 10, 2017
Denying Deaf Citizen Access to State Senate and House Implicates First Amendment Rights
Oklahoma City, OK – A federal court has ruled that claims filed against the State of Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Senate, the Oklahoma House of Representatives and state officials for discrimination against a deaf citizen may proceed. In a critical victory for citizen engagement and equal rights, the Court held that denying a deaf citizen captioning that is necessary for him to access state legislative proceedings available to others implicates the First Amendment and the fundamental right of access to political proceedings.
In 2015, Johnny Reininger, Jr. who is deaf, requested that the Oklahoma Senate and House caption their proceedings that are streamed online. Reininger, who closely follows state politics, needs captioning in order to have meaningful access to the streamed content that is available to other citizens who can hear. Although the legislature initially agreed to caption the online content in response to Reininger’s requests, it later retracted its promise to caption. Reininger filed suit in October 2016 seeking captioning of the legislative proceedings that are streamed online, but the State, Senate, and House moved to dismiss Reininger’s case, arguing that it could not be sued for disability discrimination because of sovereign immunity.
Citing the First Amendment right to petition the government for redress of grievances and the right of access to information conveyed via internet broadcasting about state legislative matters, the Court rejected the State’s arguments and held that the important issue at stake was a citizen’s right to participate in the political process and to have meaningful access to the tools necessary for such participation.
The Court decision clears the way for Reininger’s case to proceed. He is hopeful that the legislature will soon take steps to provide him and other deaf citizens with equal access to the information necessary to meaningfully participate in the political process. “When I don’t have access to legislative proceedings, my ability to be an informed voter and to hold my elected representatives accountable is restricted,” said Reininger.
Howard A. Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf, heralded the decision as an important one for every citizen saying, “This Court decision confirms that participation in government is an essential right for all Americans.” He added, “When elected officials deny people access to information about the political process on the basis of disability, their actions threaten the constitutional rights of everyone and must be stopped to ensure equal access for all.”
Reininger is represented by the National Association of the Deaf, Stein & Vargas, LLP, and the Oklahoma Disability Law Center.
The National Association of the Deaf is the nation’s premier civil rights organization of, by, and for, deaf and hard of hearing individuals in the United States.
Stein & Vargas, LLP is a civil rights firm based in Washington, D.C. and committed to the principle that all people have full and equal access to all parts of society.
The Oklahoma Disability Law Center is a system of protection and advocacy for people with disabilities in the State of Oklahoma.
National Association of the Deaf
Oklahoma Disability Law Center
Stein & Vargas, LLP