Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Memphis Access Complaints

MCIL files four Americans with Disabilities Act Complaints

By Tim Wheat
Warton Law Firm front entrance
The Warton Law Firm front steps

Monday MCIL filed four federal ADA Complaints about access to local law firms in walking distance from the Center. At the 24th anniversary of the signing of the ADA Celebration MCIL held over the weekend, our community heard the Memphis Center for Independent Living Executive Director and board members defend our right to be part of the neighborhood.

“Speak up when you see a problem,” said Lynn Jackson on the MCIL board of directors. “Come to the Center if you need support and look to us to continue the fight.”

The Commercial Appeal was at the event and reported the response of three of the four businesses that MCIL named in the federal complaints. There are other local businesses that do not make even the most basic attempt at including our community however, MCIL made the complaints simply to support equal access for all members of our community.

The Warton Law Firm, less than a block from the MCIL office, responded to the Commercial Appeal that “we don’t discriminate against anyone in any fashion.” The photos in the MCIL complaint show a different story. There are steps at the front entrance and steps around back. Not only is there no way for someone with a disability to get in; but how would the Warton Law Firm know they do not discriminate if they never see our community?

Deidre Malone, the President of the Carter Malone Group recognized the problem; in her response to the Commercial Appeal she said: “We will make our building ADA accessible.”
The Carter Malone office entrance
The Carter Malone office entrance

“As someone who has been discriminated against in the past,” said Deidre Malone to the Commercial Appeal, “that is the last thing I would ever want to do is discriminate against anyone who is disabled. We will make every effort to remedy that as soon as possible.”

MCIL hopes to be able to celebrate changes in our neighborhood as well as around the nation next year for the 25th Anniversary of the ADA. It all starts with you and speaking up when you see discrimination.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Federal complaints allege civil-rights violations of midtown law offices.

By Tim Wheat

The Memphis Center for Independent Living will announce on Saturday federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Complaints against four local establishments alleging the public accommodations are not accessible. The federal complaints are to remind the Memphis community that access is a civil right and that twenty-four years after the signing of the historic civil-rights law, people with disabilities expect equal access to our community. Beginning at 11:00 AM with a Barbecue lunch, MCIL will hold a press conference at noon with details of the complaints before music and celebration into the afternoon. 

“We are tired of being treated as second-class citizens,” said Deborah Cunningham, the Executive Director of the Memphis Center for Independent Living. “After twenty-four years, it just doesn't make sense that attorneys are unaware of the law or cannot afford equal access.”

The complaints are simply that people with disabilities are not served as other citizens in our community and that some legal firms have not provided reasonable accommodations as the Civil Rights Law requires. The ADA was signed by President George H. W. Bush on July 26, 1990 and intended to tear down the “shameful wall of exclusion,” that prevented people with disabilities from equal access to the community. 

MCIL is especially concerned that businesses that did not provide access in 1990 when the law was signed, have made no plans to eventually become compliant by making reasonable accommodations.  MCIL wants to help business meet their civil rights obligations to the community and is hoping that the federal complaints will lead to real changes and an expanded celebration of the ADA on the twenty-fifth anniversary next year. 
The ramp at 1448 Madison
The ramp at 1448 Madison

“The intent of the law was that the community become more and more accessible,” said Ms Cunningham. “The ADA only requires reasonable accommodations, but these businesses for twenty-four years have not even made the most basic attempt to include people with disabilities.”

It is not only the letter of the law that people with disabilities require, but also the intent. For people to be excluded from equal access by the legal community is especially harmful for an historically disempowered community attempting to seek equal justice. MCIL hopes to have a larger and inclusive celebration next year that will include greater access to our community.

WHO: The Disability Community
WHAT: Celebration of the anniversary of the signing of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.
WHEN: Saturday, July 26, 11:AM Lunch served: 12:PM Press Conference; 12:30 to 4:PM Music and Celebration. BANDS: ActionKat: Barbara Lester and the Memphis Drum Tribe; The Scene.
WHERE: The Memphis Center for Independent Living, 1633 Madison Avenue, Memphis TN 38104.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Community Integration Act

PART TWO: The case for the Community Integration Act

Lois Curtis
When Medicaid created long-term services and supports in the mid-1960s, the program inadvertently generated a bias to serve Americans in facilities and institutions. Now fifty years later and twenty-four years after the Americans with Disabilities Act, the community is much less accepting of segregating people with disabilities in expensive institutions.  

The bias is very evident to many Americans: “why not spend the money so the individuals can stay in their home?” The most rational claim is that serving people in their home, with their families, spending money in the local community, with access to employment is actually less expensive. Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS), do not represent a minuscule saving of state and federal Medicaid funds, diverting people from expensive institutional care can cut Medicaid costs in half. Harkin’s report states that Alabama’s Independent Living program cost under $11,000 per person compared to over $36,000 for people served in an Alabama nursing facility.
ADAPT marches up Capitol Hill to support the CIA

The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee report also shows that while many states have increased the number of people that receive HCBS they have not necessarily decreased the nursing home population. Medicaid HCBS is only available to individuals at a “nursing home level of care,” but nursing homes have been effective at “back-filling” the institutions and preventing the states from saving federal and state funds. Maryland served over six thousand with HCBS between 2008 and 2012, but decreased the number of people in nursing homes by less than 400. Colorado likewise expanded HCBS to over five-thousand nursing home eligible people, but only decreased individuals in expensive facilities by 84.

Between 2000 and 2012 there was a 31% increase in the total amount of Medicaid funding for nursing homes. Nationally we paid a $12.4 billion more in Medicaid funding for nursing homes during those years despite an 18% reduction in number of nursing home residents.

At the time of the Olmstead decision, Tennessee was dead last in the country on providing alternatives to costly nursing homes. Our state spent 99.5% of federal Medicaid Long-Term funding on institutions in 2000 and has advanced that to 31.3% today. Tennessee has done well, but is still nowhere near where the state should be to comply with the Civil Rights focus of Olmstead. The Community Integration Act is what our state needs to rebalance our Medicaid funding and really give people the choice to live at home and not be forced into expensive institutions.

Read Part One: The Community Integration Act of 2014.

- Tim Wheat

Thursday, July 3, 2014

PART ONE: Why are people with disabilities still demanding Civil Rights?

Sen. Harkin introduces the Community Integration Act to strengthen the ADA.

Sen. Harkin and Bob Kafka
Sen Harkin speaks with Bob Kafka of ADAPT
Last week Sen. Tom Harkin from Iowa introduced the Community Integration Act to ensure that Americans with disabilities have the right to live at home with families and are not forced into expensive institutions by the federal Medicaid policy. A year ago the Senate HELP Committee released a report that found that despite the 1999 Olmstead decision that upheld the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act “integration mandate,” 75% of US states still spent a majority of their long term services and support funding on costly institutional care; segregating people with disabilities in facilities. Tennessee is one of those states.

The rewards for a state are large. The state of Arizona reported to Harkin’s Senate Committee that, since 1998, its “HCBS placement percentage has increased by over 30 percent, which has resulted in $300 million in savings.” Tennessee has had the most to benefit from cost-saving Home and Community based services because in the year following Olmstead, our state reported that 99.5% of Medicaid funding was channelled into facilities. Since Olmstead, Tennessee is one of only 5 states that was able to decrease its Medicaid nursing home expenditures.

Tennessee has begun to save state and federal funds but is still new to the cost-saving concept of alternatives to expensive institutions. The Nursing Home Industry, with a national lobby and federally supported facilities in every Tennessee county, is good at keeping the government funds flowing into their corporate pockets.

The money-savings seems to make the case to most people, however it is important to see the civil-rights perspective that disability rights activists have suggested for years and is at the heart of The Community Integration Act. Most Americans easily see segregation as discrimination. It is inconsistent with American values to isolate people because of a disability; to provide people with services only if they leave their home, family, work and community is anathema to our national commitment to civil rights.

Sen. Harkin talks with ADAPT members
Sen. Harkin talks with ADAPT members
The Memphis Center for Independent Living is working hard to make the choice to live in the community a reality for people with disabilities. Independent Living has been around longer than either the ADA or Olmstead, but supporting inclusion in civic life and community is even more essential now that individuals have realistic options to be part of everyday civic life.

The US Supreme Court’s 1999 Olmstead v. LC decision is the disability rights equivalent of Brown v. Board stating that unnecessary segregation of people with disabilities is a violation of the ADA. Olmstead did not outlaw or close expensive nursing homes but now, 15 years after Olmstead, over 60 percent of Medicaid Long-Term funding is spent on costly institutions and in Tennessee nearly 70 percent of our Medicaid Long-Term money goes to facilities.

A Medicaid bias in the federal program makes nursing home care a requirement for each US state, while cost-saving Home and Community based services are optional for each state. The Community Integration Act removes this bias and allows US states to provide services that citizens want and need.

PART TWO: The case for the Community Integration Act