Friday, March 16, 2018

Trip Denials on MATAplus

MATAplus Denials may be discrimination

By Allison Donald
Allison Donald
Recent experience of MATAplus customers seems to show that MATA has a pattern of practice of trip denials which is violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Many people are hearing when they try to make a reservation that the system is “booked.” That sounds like a capacity constraint that is not allowed by the ADA and is impacting the way people with disabilities are able to travel. 

Denying people trips limits options of travel for a person with a disability.  It forces people to find other ways to travel.  I had to use Lyft on Wednesday to get to work, because I was denied a ride.  If I had to depend on Lyft as my transportation every day I would not be able to afford it.  For individuals with disabilities or elderly that solely rely on MATAplus for transportation trip denials cut them off from the communities that they live in keeping them in the house, because they do not have a ride.

People without disabilities do not face this on the fixed-route. That is why the trip denials are considered discrimination in the ADA. Part 37 131 f (3) makes it clear that MATAplus is to provide service that “shall not limit the availability of complementary paratransit service to ADA paratransit eligible individuals by any of the following … (B) Substantial numbers of trip denials or missed trips.” The regulations point out other things that MATAplus riders will recognize, you may really like to read all of the federal regs:

The MATAplus Rider’s Guide defines a trip denial as:
·        “Any trip that is more than one hour from the requested pickup time is considered a trip denial under the ADA,” is the direct quote from the MATAplus Rider’s Guide.
·        When the customer requests a round trip and MATAplus is only able to schedule one leg of the trip and is unable either to schedule the other trip at all, or can only schedule the other leg of the trip more than one hour before or after the requested pick-up time, even if the customer refuses or cancels the offered trip.
“Trip denials have affected my travel greatly, because I have had to scramble to make other arrangements,” said Dr. Deborah Carter who has been riding MATAplus since 2002.  “If Christina Clift did not request a Lyft ride for me I would not have been able to attend the workshop or have a ride home. I would have not been able to fulfill my commitment to speak at the workshop.”

Dr. Deborah Carter is not the only MATAplus rider to have her trip denied. We want to know about it.  If you are a MATAplus rider and have been denied a trip please contact Allison Donald at the Memphis Center for Independent Living at 901-726-6404;; #tripdenials on Twitter or leave a comment on our Facebook page 

Friday, March 9, 2018

Medicaid Glass Ceiling

People with disabilities striving for equality

By Christina Clift
Christina Clift
I think the Medicaid Work Requirement intends to build a road out of poverty for “able bodied” citizens but I believe it denies people with disabilities equal opportunities and paves the way for us into poverty. In a recent article published in the Tennessean, Jordan Ebert examines a bill introduced by Beth Harwell.  The bill would require Medicaid recipients to work if they are “able bodied” and do not have young children. 
The article from the Tennessean offers the point of view that requiring people to work is a bad idea and would cost the state more money than it would save. Similar requirements are required of individuals receiving SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits. 
James Powers, Chair of the Council on Aging of Middle Tennessee’s legislative and advocacy committee says, only about 22,300 of the roughly 300,000 individuals on TennCare would be impacted by the new requirements.  The rest are already working, are elderly or disabled, have young children, or fall under other exemptions according to the Center of Medicare and Medicaid Services guidance.
But why aren’t people with disabilities included under the requirements to work? 
Carol Westlake, Director of the Tennessee Disability Coalition said “I think that one of the most significant barriers we see in people with chronic conditions, chronic illnesses, and often times disabilities is a stamina issue. She continued “if you could get to work even a job that may involve being at a desk can be really really difficult.” 
Well, no one ever said that having a job should be easy or isn’t tiring. I believe it does more harm than good to exclude people with disabilities from these requirements.  The law that protects our civil rights requires businesses to make reasonable accommodation to include us in the workforce but there is no requirement to hire someone who is not qualified.
Yes, in order to put these types of requirements in place people with disabilities will need reasonable accommodations.  By not requiring us to work, it just lets everyone off the hook including people with disabilities. 
As long as we are left out then public entities are not forced to address barriers that have existed for decades that keep people with disabilities out of the workforce and dependent on a government check.  These barriers include inadequately funded public transportation, access to equipment and assistive devices, expanding the HCBS services, and dispelling the idea that people with disabilities can’t work.  If we are really serious about nothing about us without us then people with disabilities will need to get in the game and off the sidelines. 
 Do you remember your first job?  Do you remember what it felt like when you received your first paycheck?  I do. My first job was working as a camp counselor at a camp for blind kids.  I was payed $250, all while having fun and earning college credit. 
I moved on to having other jobs with Time Warner, Clovernook Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and for the past 15 years at the Memphis Center for Independent Living.  But I know that my story is the exception and not the norm when it comes to employment of people with disabilities.  Unfortunately the national unemployment rate for people with disabilities in June 2017 was 10.5 percent, twice that of non-disabled people. 
People with disabilities taking action

But our legislators up in arms about high unemployment for people with disabilities.  I know that there are barriers to working because I encountered them and had to find a way to continue working. But perhaps another obstacle in our way is ourselves and the programs that exempt us from working.  For some people volunteer work is how they build a resume.  It’s how you learn what you would like to do or what you can do. 
Do people with disabilities want equality and eat their cake too?  In other words, do we want equality when it comes to employment, educational opportunities, and the ability to participate in community life but when it comes to being held to the same rigid requirements proposed to keep Medicaid or SNAP benefits we are okay with being left out just because we have a disability?  I believe that people with disabilities should be held to the same standards that able bodied individuals must meet to continue receiving these types of government benefits.  After all we aren’t special and we shouldn’t expect special treatment only a reasonable accommodation. 
I’m not sure whether it’s sadder that we are automatically excluded by our legislators or that people with disabilities are okay with being left out.  Are we really okay being thought of as second-class citizens unable to do the same work as able bodied folks?  I don’t want people to think that I got my job because I have a disability. 
The bill introduced by Beth Harwell to require able bodied individuals receiving Medicaid to work will once again exclude people with disabilities from having to work and that will do nothing more than continue to perpetuate the myths that we can’t work.  People with disabilities should be included in every aspect of community life that includes being gainfully employed. 
Some individuals with disabilities count on being excluded from this piece of legislation.  In some case reliance upon social security benefits has become welfare for people with disabilities.  I say no.  It’s human nature to take the easy road, but sometimes the best results come from challenges we face, the obstacles we overcome, and changes we must make in order to continue to strive towards a better life and ultimately true equality.  Enforcing a requirement of persons with disabilities to work in these programs will begin that process.

ADAPT Demands the FDA Stop the Shock


Washington, D.C. - Members of the national disability rights group ADAPT are outside the home of FDA Director Scott Gottlieb demanding that he release the regulations that would immediately end the use of an electric shock device to control disabled children and adults at the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) in Canton, Massachusetts. “The FDA wrote the regulations to stop this in 2016, but has delayed them,” said Rhoda Gibson, an organizer with the Massachusetts ADAPT chapter. “Disabled Americans are tortured in my state every day with Gottlieb’s blessing.”

ADAPT and other disability led organizations have been calling for an end to JRC’s use of this device for years now. The group went and protested the facility in 2016 and then went to the FDA last spring. They are now at Gottlieb’s house because they feel the FDA has dragged their feet for too long and needs to release the regulations immediately. “Disabled people are being tortured there every day. This has gone on long enough. The federal government needs to stop looking the other way and do something about this” said Priya Penner of Rochester New York.

Numerous news outlets have covered the torture that goes on at the Judge Rotenberg Center including Fox UnderCover, ABC Nightline and Anderson Cooper. In 2012 Fox UnderCover exposed the video of Andre McCollins being tortured at JRC for over 7 hours and shocked 31 times. JRC tried to keep this video under wraps for over 8 years but Fox Undercover’s story exposed the cruelty of the practice to the American public. The torture still continues to this today.

While ADAPT has long opposed all institutions they hold a special contempt for the Rotenberg Center because of their use of electro shock devices. “The JRC has a bigger system of abusive violence and coercion, but the shock is the worst thing they do. This shock is specifically designed to be more painful than a police taser,” said organizer Marilee Adamski-Smith with the Central Wisconsin ADAPT Chapter. Adamski-Smith pointed to survivor Jennifer Msumba’s statements about wanting to die when she was shocked.

Activists argue that rather than torture used at the JRC, more supports are needed to assist people living in the community. “Those supports work,” said Cal Montgomery, an organizer with the Chicago ADAPT. “Gentle, trauma-informed approaches that give people control over their own lives result in even people with histories of violence and self-injury living happy, healthy lives. Pain and fear may suppress dangerous behavior in the short term, but they make the underlying problems worse.”

For decades ADAPT has struggled to secure for disabled Americans the same rights and liberties enjoyed by their nondisabled neighbors. Learn more about ADAPT’s history and activities at, on social media with the NationalADAPT Facebook page and on the @NationalADAPT Twitter, and under the hashtag #ADAPTandRESIST. You can also follow the fight against the JRC shock device at and #StopTheShock.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Learning to Drive

Most people thought that I couldn’t or shouldn’t

Timothy Redd with his driver's license

By Timothy Redd
February 5th is a day that I won’t soon forget. It’s the day I became a licensed driver. Learning to drive has been a goal of mine for many years. I really never had anyone to help me and most thought that I couldn’t or shouldn’t. As people with disabilities we all know how limited our life experiences can be because of the lack of good transportation options.

Trina Weathers-Boyce, my TN Vocational Rehabilitation counselor connected me with Nikki Simmons of Driving Independence. Driving Independence is an independently owned Occupational Therapy clinic focusing on driver rehabilitation.

Driving Independence offers driving evaluations, and driver training. They also provide vehicle and equipment fitting. The owner and Certified Driving Rehabilitation Specialist (CDRS) and Occupational Therapist since 1999, Nikki Simmons has experience in acute care, rehabilitation, outpatient, pediatrics and home health.  She has specialized in spinal cord injuries, neurological disorders and geriatrics.

Nikki is a member of The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), The Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists (ADED), the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy, Inc. (NBCOT), and National Mobility Equipment Dealer Association (NMEDA).

Nikki met me and we went over the driver’s manual. She helped me prepare and took me to take my written exam. We met weekly sometimes twice a week after I got my drivers learner permit.

Nikki assured me that I could drive and that I would be fine. The first day I got on the road it was actually at night. I was terrified but I pressed through my fears and listened to what she said and indeed I learned to drive.

My first attempt at the road test was not the best and I failed. I worked a little more, passed and I got my license.
I have to say I am so proud of myself. I am working now to get my first car and I am so excited because it will finally make me totally independent. Thankfully I am employed and I am able to live on my own. 

As a person with a disability it’s easy to give up on goals and dreams if we don’t have support, because of such low expectations placed on us by society. I really wish I had done this earlier, but, at 37 it has happened for me and I am so ready to go and come as I choose without waiting on a ride.

People have asked me: “What is the rush to get a car?”

My whole life has been filled with waiting and I don’t want to have to wait on someone to come and take me where I want to go. Uber and MATAplus are my main modes of transportation, while I’m thankful for the services they provide I’m even more excited about a new level of freedom.

Driving can make the coolest person anxious because many drivers don’t use signals, run red lights, cut you off in traffic, and many won’t even let you over. I have learned to just pay attention and not follow too closely in order to have a better response time for all the uncertainties on the road.

While it is a little scary it’s also exhilarating. If driving is a goal of yours I would encourage you to reach out to your VR counselor, currently there is a program that will be pay for the driving instructions. To learn more you may also reach out to Nikki Simmons via phone at (901) 734-7472 or email