Nearly three decades after a landmark federal law mandated that public facilities be made equally accessible to those with disabilities, there are still thousands of public places in Colorado Springs and El Paso County that don’t comply and no clear plan to fix most of them.
City and county officials have touted their recent efforts to bring public spaces in line with the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act by adding curb ramps, re-striping parking lots to include more accessible spaces and making other adjustments. From 2016 through the end of next year, Colorado Springs’ investment in accessibility is expected to exceed $9 million, according to data provided by the city.
More improvements are in the works, they say.
“Thirty years ought to be enough, you would think,” said Drew Wills, a paraplegic who is on the board of directors for The Independence Center, a Springs-based nonprofit that helps support people with disabilities.
He sees the city and county’s recent efforts as an attempt to appease federal regulators and forestall future legal troubles. It’s an already-late response that’s expected to unfold gradually — “when people who are having barrier problems and access problems need it now,” he said.
“You’re in a difficult position of saying (to the city and county), ‘We appreciate what you’re doing.’ And we do — but come on.”
Barriers, by the numbers
Just last month, the county unveiled a draft of its “transition plan,” a document that all local governments with 50 or more employees were required to complete by early January 1993 under the ADA.
The city is working on an overhaul of a similar plan that was created in the early 90s and hasn’t been updated in years.
The documents and related facility assessments provide a window into the scale of the city and county’s accessibility woes.
Officials have identified more than 3,500 ADA violations that would cost upwards of $4 million to fix, according to data from the city and county. Those barriers range from counters that are too high and restroom stalls that are too narrow to uneven sidewalks and walkways.
That number of violations will undoubtedly grow, as will the price tag on fixing them.
The city hasn’t yet released numbers on the obstacles that people with disabilities face when they travel through the Colorado Springs airport, visit more than 160 local parks or use Mountain Metropolitan Transit to get around.
And the county still has roughly 20 more buildings, trails and open spaces to assess.
Plus, there’s roughly 2,400 miles of sidewalk and 30,000 pedestrian ramps in the city, — and more on the county side — that must be compliant.
So far, the city has assessed about 40% of those ramps, and found that as much as 90% of those surveyed do not meet the ADA’s technical requirements, Colorado Springs Public Works Director Travis Easton said in an email.
Many of the flawed ramps were built decades ago along roads that haven’t been touched since the ADA was passed, Easton said.
The transition plan documents offer only a rough timeline of when improvements might be completed.
The Colorado Springs plan states that most barriers are set to be removed on 1- to 10-year timelines. The county expects that “overall compliance is possible in 20 years.”
But those schedules hinge on funding availability, both plans note.
“This is a plan to get to a transition plan. It’s not the transition plan,” Patricia Yeager, The Independence Center’s CEO, said of the county draft. “They have a lot of work yet to do.”
Allegations lead to change
Colorado Springs faces mounting legal pressure over accessibility issues.
The city agreed in August to a $22,500 payout to Richard Muszynski, who alleged in a lawsuit filed in El Paso County District Court that city sidewalks were blocked and curb ramps were inaccessible. These were obstacles for his child, who has a disability.
The city also agreed to repair sidewalks, install curb ramps and the crackdown on walkway obstructions in the Stetson Hills neighborhood. Under the terms of the settlement, though, Colorado Springs didn’t admit liability for Muszynski’s claims.
The payout comes on the heels of two other ADA-related city settlements within six months of one another.
Lawsuits and legal threats are some of the few ways that advocates for people with disabilities have been successful in getting governments to resolve accessibility problems, experts say.
“The issue with the ADA is it takes a lawsuit to enforce it. There’s no ADA police,” Yeager said.
Colorado Springs must install more than 15,000 curb ramps over the next 14 years under a settlement reached in response to a class-action lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Denver in March.
Last September, a lawsuit similar to Musynski’s case ended in a settlement that was perhaps the most symbolic victory in recent years for Colorado Springs residents with different access needs.
Stetson Hills residents Chris and Nikole Sweeney sued the city, alleging their neighborhood has for years lacked necessary ramps and sidewalks.
Chris Sweeney has been in a wheelchair since being struck twice by lightning, once while on duty in the Air Force.
The city agreed to pay the couple $19,000 and hold quarterly town halls for residents to discuss accessibility issues and concerns around town.
The county has faced far fewer legal troubles stemming from the ADA.
In the past five years, the county settled one claim over accessibility for $13,260. That agreement was reached in November 2016, according to the county.
Behind the curb
Yeager and other advocates say governments nationwide have long ignored the provisions of the ADA, in part because no one was forcing them to abide by the law.
But locally, progress in achieving compliance has lagged behind other cities in the state, she said.
“Both the city and county have come to the table late,” she said. “It’s just a shame that it seems like the ADA didn’t get over Palmer (Divide) until sometimes in the mid-2000-teens.”
The ADA was modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibited discrimination against people with disabilities working for organizations and agencies that received federal funding.
President George H.W. Bush signed the ADA into law on July 26, 1990.
The city developed a transition plan between 1991 and 1992 and updated the document several times in 1995, a city staffer previously told The Gazette. But for years after that, the plan went untouched.
For more than two decades, neither the city nor county had full-time ADA coordinators. Instead, various aspects of the job were spread among different departments.
By 2015, the Colorado Springs area had fallen well short of the spirit and letter of the ADA, The Gazette reported. Buildings and pathways were inaccessible to the then-estimated 66,000 people with disabilities in the county.
“Colorado Springs is a little behind the times,” said Julie Reiskin, executive director of the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, which aims to ensure that people with disabilities can access facilities and meet other basic needs.
“I would think a city of that size should have figured this out by now,” she said.
She noted, for example, that Fort Collins, Pueblo and Denver have commissions or committees that allow citizens to weigh in on ADA issues and government priorities for improvements.
Progress made elsewhere in Colorado has also been fueled by legal concerns.
Denver agreed in 2016 to install at least 1,500 curb ramps annually — until every pedestrian walkway crossing in the city is compliant — under a settlement with the nonprofit Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center, the Denver Post reported.
Two years later, Denver pledged to spend millions of dollars more on ADA compliance after the U.S. Justice Department conducted a review and demanded improvements, The Post reported.
Meeting the Challenge, a Colorado Springs-based ADA compliance consultant, is working with 10 other localities in Colorado, said the firm’s director, Dana Barton.
“This is happening all over the state and all over the country,” Barton said. “When it comes to accessibility, if it doesn’t affect you or a loved one, sometimes you don’t think about all the things that go into making activities, services and programs accessible.”
Improvements in the works
Wills, a personal injury attorney who’s handled accessibility cases, said he lost the use of his legs about 15 years ago in a “freak ski accident.”
He often sees hallways and other passages that are too narrow for wheelchairs and parking spots blocking curb ramps.
And when he’s working at the Terry R. Harris Judicial Complex’s older south tower, he has to use the restrooms in the newer parts of the courthouse because his wheelchair won’t fit in the aging tower’s bathroom stalls.
“There are buildings like that all over — even city and county buildings,” Wills said.
But local officials have stressed that they’re continuing to make strides in accessibility. New buildings and sidewalks are being constructed with ADA requirements in mind, they say.
“I think we’re in pretty good shape,” county facilities Executive Director Brian Olsen told county commissioners during an Oct. 24 work session. “That’s not to say we don’t have deficiencies and need to fix those — and we’ll continue to do so.”
The county’s 2019 budget includes about $555,000 worth of ADA improvements that will be fully completed this year or next year, Olsen said. A 2020 staff budget proposal allots another $300,000 to compliance projects.
“Could we do it better? Absolutely. It’s a matter of money,” said Mark Waller, chairman of the Board of County Commissioners. “We have a limited and finite number of dollars.”
Mayor John Suthers’ proposed 2020 budget includes $1.4 million for the city’s ADA program and operating costs. Last year the council unanimously agreed to hire five new ADA inspectors, an administrator and a human resources staffer.
City Councilwoman Yolanda Avila, an accessibility advocate who is legally blind, praised the city’s progress.
“I have seen a notable difference,” Avila said.
“I don’t think it’s easy when we’re covering 200 square miles,” she said. “But we’re making our best effort.”
When Dawn Howard was two years old, her parents were told that she would not likely have “any intelligible speech.” But Dawn, who was born with slight cerebral palsy, says “I had a pushy mother, who did find a speech therapist who would work with me.” She pauses. “And I am so thankful for that.” From preschool on, Dawn was fully included in school, though was often the only physically disabled child in the class.
As an adult, Dawn passed the national exam to become an occupational therapist, but found that her cerebral palsy made it difficult to physically transfer or lift her clients. So she went back to school for library science and worked as a librarian for 13 years. But during her last two years working in the Denver public library, Dawn says she was “discriminated against, bullied and nitpicked out of a job.”
Suddenly unemployed, Dawn took a 10-week disability advocacy class through the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition (CCDC), a state disability rights organization that advocates for social justice for people with all types of disabilities. Dawn quickly became involved in CCDC’s work as a volunteer, and within a year, was hired on as a community organizer.
CCDC is run by and for “people with all types of disabilities: from Down Syndrome to Cerebral Palsy, Spina Bifida, Autism, people with brain injuries, people with mental illness, those who are blind or deaf, and much more.”
As the organization’s motto goes, “Nothing about us without us.”
Shannon Secrest came to CCDC by way of a different path. Thirteen years ago, she began the process of accessing resources for her now 16-year-old son. Considered “medically complicated” and with 12 different diagnoses, Shannon’s son qualified for myriad care benefits and resources, but Shannon encountered barriers in each system she navigated—from education to healthcare to social security.
Frustrated, she went back to school and joined every relevant committee, council, and commission she could. Like Dawn, Shannon enrolled in the CCDC disability advocacy class. Last year, she was brought on board as a full-time staff member. She’s also back in school full-time, getting a Master’s in Public Administration, with a focus on policy analysis.
“Quite honestly,” says Shannon. “I just got tired of being told no. Or that I was just a mom and didn’t understand fiscal responsibility or legislation or school finance.”
As an organization, CCDC engages in both individual advocacy (“the process of assisting an individual member to correct a problem with the system such as obtaining or maintaining a benefit or service or solving a problem with a service provider, landlord, employer, etc); and systemic advocacy (“the process of changing rules or laws that interfere with the rights of all people with disabilities”).
Those wishing to become a certified advocate and to represent CCDC are required to complete the organization’s 10-week Disability Advocacy Training Class. Offered in-person or remotely, (and as an accredited opportunity with the University of Denver) the class is open to anyone “interested in learning the basics of advocacy…or anyone looking for additional skills necessary to work in the field of disability services, advocacy, community organizing, the legislative process, or civil rights law.”
Part of the “beauty” of the class, says Shannon, is in the diversity of the participants. “Not only that we’re advocating for people in our community, but also training up allies and accomplices to understand the work we do.”
After the class, Dawn works one-on-one with graduates to strategize where they’d like to devote their time and energy as advocates. “I say, okay you’ve had a good overview in the class. Now, where does your passion lie?” explains Dawn. Sometimes students are particularly interested in transportation, Medicaid, or housing, so Dawn will suggest committees or councils they might join on behalf of CCDC.
“It’s a very targeted way to do relational organizing,” says Shannon. “We’re really trying to tailor it to their desires, rather than trying to fit it into the whole. We’re not going to be prescriptive. We want you to do what ignites your passion.”
by Cara Jean Reimann
I am one of many Colorado residents who has had health insurance only sporadically. While I am a supporter of the Affordable Care Act, the premium costs and deductible charges were prohibitively expensive for me to have consistent access to health care. I think Congress caved too much during those days and allowed private insurance to dominate the narrative about health care.
In 2018 during a period of time when I was uninsured, I had a medical crisis and went to the emergency room at Denver Health. I received amazing care there, including surgery and 10-day in-patient stay. My last day there, a woman from Enrollment Services came to my room and talked to me about my situation. I had been thinking I would have to go sell my house and live on friends’ couches while I deal with my cancer diagnosis, but she determined that I qualified for a Medicaid plan!
I was unable to work regularly for several months while I underwent cancer treatments and recovered from my surgery. I am now working again full-time, but I require medical supplies for the rest of my life, and cancer screenings are part of my regular health care, too. CCDC’s advocate Donna Sablan helped me navigate Colorado’s Medicaid rules and found that I qualify for Medicaid buy-in, since I’m now working full time.
I have always been a strong supporter of Medicaid expansion, and I hope everyone will someday be able to use this amazing program. I support Medicaid for all, regardless of where people live, and Medicaid buy-in should benefit all people who want to use it, not just people under the age of 65.
**All Blogs reflect the opinions/experiences of people with disabilities or family members of people with disabilities. They do not reflect CCDC’s official position on any portion of Medicaid services.
On Monday, the Transportation Legislative Review Committee heard about the Regional Transportation District’s proposed service cuts, as well as their effect on customers with disabilities.
“Without RTD, our ability to really reap the promises of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which turns 30 next year, is gone,” said Julie Reiskin, executive director of the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, as reported by CPR.
“Because we can’t get to work, we can’t get out, we can’t go spend money in the community, we can’t get to medical care. Transportation is really the key to independence and full community participation.”
Due to a shortage of bus and rail operators, RTD is looking at temporarily reducing service as early as 2020 to cut back on mandated overtime for existing employees. The transit system is already forced to drop runs due to short staffing.
RTD’s presentation to the committee referenced “low unemployment impacting [the] labor force nationwide,” and stated that “[f]atigue is affecting quality of life and safety.”
The agency said that their system-wide service availability — the amount of time that routes run as advertised — is 99% for buses, 98% for light rail and 98% for commuter rail. Commuter routes operate under a public-private partnership and are not part of anticipated cutbacks.
Reiskin said that Access-A-Ride, RTD’s door-to-door bus service for disabled customers, has combined trips recently due to the driver shortage. An RTD spokesperson could not confirm whether that was the case.
“There is nothing more important than RTD.”
That’s what Jule Reiskin, executive director of the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, said just a few moments after she testified before lawmakers Monday about a recent proposal from the Regional Transportation District that would significantly curtail service.
Reiskin, who uses a wheelchair, told members of the Transportation Legislative Review Committee that the spotty service on RTD’s fixed-route buses and light rail trains because of an ongoing operator shortage in recent months is nothing new to riders with disabilities.
“What we’re seeing with fixed-route cancellations, we’ve been seeing for years with Access-A-Ride,” Reiskin said, referring to RTD’s paratransit service.
Access-A-Ride provides door-to-door service for disabled patrons who can’t use RTD’s other services. And RTD has been combining trips recently because of driver shortages, Reiskin said.
“Sometimes people can be on the van for two hours for a trip that could take 45 minutes,” she said.
Earlier this month, RTD staff proposed temporary service cuts as a last-ditch way to give its overworked drivers a break. The agency is short about 160 drivers and has been forcing many of them to work six days a week for years to keep up with current service levels. That proposal is still in its early stages. The RTD board will hear a more fleshed out version of it in December.
Reiskin told lawmakers Monday that RTD should commit to not cutting Access-A-Ride at all, and should do its very best to not reduce any service.
“We think it’s a really bad idea,” Reiskin told CPR News. “We think that they need to work with the union on other ways to be retaining drivers.”
Any sort of cut could have a ripple effect on riders with disabilities, Reiskin said, because many people who can’t drive for medical reasons rely on RTD’s buses and trains. And Access-A-Ride is only available to patrons who live within three-quarters of a mile of a fixed-route service line, so cuts to those could curtail the reach of the paratransit service.
“Without RTD, our ability to really reap the promises of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which turns 30 next year, is gone,” Resikin said. “Because we can’t get to work, we can’t get out, we can’t go spend money in the community, we can’t get to medical care. Transportation is really the key to independence and full community participation.”
RTD spokeswoman Pauletta Tonilas said she couldn’t say whether driver shortages have affected Access-A-Ride, but she said the agency is very aware of the importance of that service.
“These are folks who are some of our most transit-dependent. We obviously are very careful about what we do to impact them,” she said. “However, day to day, it’s tough to predict what’s going to happen with any of our services.”
Tonilas said Reiskin and others are welcome to give RTD their thoughts in coming weeks as the proposal takes shape.
“This is an unfortunate situation that we don’t want to be in,” Tonilas said. “But we have a responsibility to look at what we can do to try to solve the situation.”
RTD officials mentioned the proposal in its own presentation to the Transportation Legislation Review Committee on Monday, which drew some critical questions from lawmakers.
“It sounds to me, though, that the temporary designation is based on hope,” Democratic Rep. Matt Gray of Broomfield said.
RTD General Manager Dave Genova said RTD has some new ideas, including hiring temporary employees. Board Chair Doug Tisdale replied that the board has committed to a firm end date to the service reduction.
“We will give this a stated amount of time, and look to staff to deliver those results,” Tisdale said.
Read the original article by clicking here.
Pueblo advocates among flyers who’ve experienced losing mobility far from home
After a United Airlines flight three years ago, Isabelle Briar ripped open her thumb as she pushed her wheelchair away from the gate. The airline had cracked the metal grip ring, leaving a sharp, protruding shard.
The same airline ignored Cindy Otis’ complaints about damage to her power chair in 2006, responding weeks later and only after she had an attorney write a letter threatening to sue.
In 2017, U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, boarded a flight hours after writing federal Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. Duckworth wanted to know why the agency again delayed requiring airlines to track damage to wheelchairs and scooters.
Upon landing, the Army veteran and amputee noticed her wheelchair no longer moved.
“They bent the metal bracket with the casters,” Duckworth said. “We’re talking about heavy-duty metal. I wonder, how are you managing to break these chairs?”
Last year, Duckworth slipped a provision into the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration. It requires major commercial airlines to track mishandled mobility aids for the first time. Each month, airlines must tell the DOT how often they gate-check wheelchairs and scooters, as well as how often passengers report those devices as damaged, lost, delayed or stolen.
That requirement took effect in December, but some airlines reported challenges providing accurate figures that month.
However, between January and August— the latest month for which data is available — U.S. carriers reported having mishandled at least 6,915 chairs. That’s an average of 29 times a day.
While it’s just 1.6% of the chairs and scooters checked on flights, more than a dozen travelers told GateHouse Media that damage to their mobility aids can have significant medical, emotional and financial consequences. Some avoid flying altogether, saying the risks are too great.
“They are essential mobility equipment. It’s important stuff,” said Ben Mattlin, a Los Angeles writer and power chair user. “God, if that many pets were injured every day, it’d be an uproar.”
Duckworth said the general public fails to grasp the severity of the situation when a wheelchair is damaged or lost.
“Imagine if in a single year (that many) people had their legs broken by an airline as a result of flying,” Duckworth said. “The effect is the same.”
United Airlines did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Not an object
Travelers said people often see their chairs as objects rather than critical, customized extensions of their bodies that enable independence.
“We literally cannot function without them,” said Briar, a video game streamcaster from Nebraska.
Because wheelchairs are not one-size-fits-all, they can take weeks to repair and sometimes cost thousands of dollars to replace a single part. Daily users require devices that routinely cost as much as a car, and the most specialized power chairs might cost as much as a small house.
If the damage from a flight isn’t immediately devastating, or if airlines refuse to pay for repairs, some people said they have lived with broken mobility aids.
Duct tape holds together a key metal beam of Briar’s wheelchair.
“Because of the nature of the way the chair fits, I didn’t realize my seat was missing half of its support until I transferred back into it in the (airport) bathroom,” she said.
United Airlines nearly lost the metal rod in a plane’s cargo hold, she said, and refused to pay for repairs. Staff members used duct tape to hold the support rod in place instead, she said.
Noting the prohibitive cost to repair it and the days she’d be without her aid, Briar said, “I’m still using it in that condition.”
Tips for Pueblo travelers
Though she has not heard of cases specific to Pueblo, Kristen Castor, nonattorney advocate for the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, said airline damage is a reality for many wheelchair owners.
“If they don’t have a wheelchair, they don’t have mobility — and they have been tossed out of the airport without their wheelchairs,” she said. “I’ve got a story from New York: One of the activist friends I work with, her chair was destroyed by the airline. She finally has gotten a chair from them, but it takes a long time to fight that.”
Wheelchair pieces including armrests, footrests as well as the electronic controls on powered wheelchairs are especially vulnerable to damage, Castor said. She also recommends that wheelchair owners dismantle the chairs themselves before boarding a plane.
Julie Reiskin, executive director for the coalition, boards a flight once a month on average and said she has experienced damage to her wheelchair after flying on two occasions.
“In both cases the airlines did take responsibility to pay for the repairs; however, in both cases my chair was still functional, so I was not in a situation of being in a strange city with no workable chair,” Reiskin said. “That is my worst nightmare.”
“Some people can walk a bit or can use other chairs, but many of us who are considered ‘full-time’ wheelchair users have customized seating; so we cannot sit in any chair that is not ours — at least not without risking injury or at least serious pain,” she said.
To avoid damage, Reiskin said she takes severe precautions when traveling with an airline. Before flying, she brings laminated instructions on chair maintenance with her, removes the headrests and footrests, informs airline employees and arrives at the gate two hours early.
“Most of us who travel a lot probably are living closer to the city, but there may be folks in Pueblo that are active travelers,” she said. “I think it is much worse for those who are not active travelers, because they do not have all of the tips and tricks about how to travel with a motorized wheelchair.”
The real number of mishandled wheelchairs is likely much higher than 29 per day, said advocates for people with disabilities.
That’s because many passengers don’t formally report damages to the airlines. Other times, the damage might not immediately be apparent.
Eric Howk, a guitarist for popular rock group “Portugal. The Man” flies more than 100 times a year.
Even though his manual wheelchair is often damaged and delayed while flying, Howk said he never has filed a federal complaint or requested a Complaint Resolution Officer — staff members trained to resolve disability-related issues. He notes he is lucky to have the physical ability and financial means to fix most damage himself.
That said, he currently sits in a replacement chair provided by Alaska Airlines.
“I watched a ground crew member snap the back off the chair,” he said.
Alaska Airlines, which reports damaging fewer than 1% of mobility aids, said in an email that it’s “always committed to improving where we can – especially in this area.”
In the first seven months of this year, American Airlines had the worst record, mishandling 1,846 devices — or 3.7% of all the mobility aids it gate checked.
“We are working hard to build tools and training so that every wheelchair is returned to the passenger in great condition,” an American Airlines spokesperson wrote in an email. “This data and other information are being used to develop a comprehensive plan for improving the customer experience for the long term.”
Several airlines — Allegiant, Hawaiin, JetBlue, Spirit and United — did not respond to multiple messages seeking comment on the new federal regulations.
Hope for change
Duckworth hopes the new requirement will help federal regulators better monitor the issue and identify ways for airlines to improve, as well as empower travelers to make informed buying decisions.
“Ultimately,” she said, “it’s about treating medical devices with respect.”
A USDOT spokesperson said by email that the agency publishes the data in its monthly Air Travel Consumer Report but did not mention any other plans for the new information.
Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, a former Texas congressman, announced in a blog post Tuesday that he would strengthen enforcement of the Air Carrier Access Act, among other policies, if elected.
Chair users have their own common-sense solutions they say airlines should adopt, such as adding a special section in cargo holds to safely secure mobility aids away from other luggage. Others said airlines should store folding manual chairs in the cabin rather than the cargo hold — something already required, but rarely followed, under federal rules.
The most popular solution: Let passengers keep their chairs and sit in them during flights.
“They don’t demand anyone else to put their legs in cargo, but they do when your legs are wheels,” said Jennifer Brooks, a power chair user from Syracuse, New York.
Some wheelchair users said they are exhausted and skeptical about the likelihood of change.
“There have to be consequences,” said the East Coast cybersecurity expert. “They’ve had anecdotal data for years at this point. … We know what the data says already. We know what’s happening. There needs to be some enforcement.”
This story is the first in an ongoing series. Fill out this short form to share your story of flying with a mobility aid or to tell the reporter what questions you would like answered in future stories: http://bit.ly/ChairTraveler. Jessica Fraser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 941-361-4923.
Original Article, click to read
Sheryle’s service is will be on Thursday, October 24th at 3:00 PM at Newcomer Funeral Home
CCDC is saddened to announce the passing of disability rights all-star Sheryle Hutter. Sheryle was a CCDC staff member until last year, before that she was a Board Member, and dedicated volunteer advocate. Among her many significant accomplishments was the development of our current advocacy training program. Her efforts made it a professional level class, eligible for continuing education units from the University of Denver. Sheryle developed the curriculum in partnership with the University College at DU and created enough evidence-based curricula with a robust evaluation to qualify it for a college-level class.
Sheryle was born on September 26, 1944 and died October 13, 2019. She was married to the love of her life Don Hutter on January 27, 1962. They renewed their vows this past January. She leaves behind two sons, Don Jr, and Ron Hutter. Ron works as the CCDC event assistant and is on the Arc of Aurora Board of Directors. He followed in his mother’s advocacy footsteps, something that made Sheryle very proud. Sheryle is also survived by all five siblings: Vicki Shultz, Pam Farnoik, Tommy Collins, Scott Collins and Brent Collins. She leaves behind many nieces and nephews, colleagues, friends and admirers.
Sheryle’s professional history began when she owned and operated a square dance shop, then had an interior design business and finally became a grants manager for the Cherry Creek School district where she worked for more than 30 years. Sheryle poured her significant talents into several organizations as a volunteer. She was involved with Special Olympics for more than 30 years. She started the program in the Cherry Creek District and there are now over 10,000 athletes participating across the state. Her son Ron is an athlete and coach with Special Olympics. Sheryle was a leader in the all-volunteer organization PADCO (Parents of Adults with Disabilities of Colorado). PADCO takes strong unapologetic advocacy positions. Sheryle and founder Dr. Denver Fox uncovered fraud in the intellectual and developmental disability (I/DD) system that was later verified by government auditors. She found a glaring error in legislation missed by several professional lobbyists that took needed services away from hundreds of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and she forced a correction to maintain needed services.
Sheryle was involved in many capacities with the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition. She joined as a volunteer in the late 90’s, later she served on the Board of Directors and acted as Treasurer for several years. After her retirement from the Cherry Creek School district, she threw herself into advocacy, lobbying on behalf of CCDC, and creating the advocacy training program that is in place today. Sheryle was also involved in local Arapahoe County and City of Aurora politics. Sheryle has mentored and encouraged many people with disabilities and parents of people with disabilities. Sheryle had a strong sense of disability pride, and that is evident in the work of her son Ron. Sheryle was passionate about improving the quality and accessibility of health care, enforcement of the American’s Disabilities Act, and ethical and transparent behavior of nonprofits that are funded to support people with disabilities.
Sheryle has received several awards for her work in the disability community including the Dan Davidson Award given by the Colorado Developmental Disabilities Council and the Lucile Weiss Memorial Award for Education from CCDC. Sheryle will be dearly missed. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that people honor Sheryle by voting, becoming active and involved with your community and doing something to improve health care and access for people with disabilities and/or senior citizens in your communities.
By: Jaclyn Allen
DENVER — It is a terrible choice: either give up on work or lose the health care needed to live. For a small group of Coloradans, it is a choice that looms large as they approach the age of 65.
“I really want to keep working. I enjoy it,” said Curtis Wolff, who became a quadriplegic seven years ago, after surviving the West Nile Virus. “I am still able to do a lot of things. I am a trainer for a contractor for the State of Colorado.”
But certain health care expenses aren’t covered by insurance, including wheelchairs and personal care. Fortunately, Colorado has a Medicaid buy-in program for working adults with disabilities,which allows Wolff to keep making and saving money and still get Medicaid benefits.
But there is one major problem: the program ends when people turn 65 years old.
“This program is only good until age 65, and I can’t even retire until 67 in the first place,” said Wolff, who said that even after that, Medicare will not cover long-term care expenses and other benefits that Medicaid does.
If he wants to keep receiving Medicaid after he turns 65, he has to get rid of all assets over $2,000.
“Really, after working hard you whole life you basically have to lose everything in order to just survive. It’s just not fair,” he said.
Josh Winkler with the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition (CCDC) said federal lawmakers probably assumed people could get on Medicare at 65 or that many with disabilities would not live past that age.
“As set up right now, the system is broken,” said Winkler, who said a bill drafted at the federal level to change the 65 age limit has gone nowhere. “I know several people who have worked for 20 plus years with their disabilities, and their plan is to die before they turn 65 because they don’t have a plan at 65.”
CCDC is looking for a state solution, allowing people to keep working, keep their assets and keep buying in to Medicaid if they have already been part of the buy-in.
Nearly 9,000 people take part in the Medicaid buy-in for working adults with disabilities, but Winkler said that probably only a few dozen Coloradans would need the age limit extended beyond 65.
Winkler and Wolff believe it could save the State money in the long term, and CCDC is working on drafting legislation at the state level and finding a lawmaker to sponsor it.
“Something needs to change,” said Wolff, who is about to turn 63 and just hopes the change happens in time for him. “I might have to go to a nursing home and that would be the worst-case scenario and I really don’t want that to happen.”
Original Article by Denver 7 TheDenverChannel.com
by Haven Rohnert
After a decade of being a stay at home parent, when I was 19 to 29, my children’s mother and I parted ways. It was the first time I had to survive on my own, with complicated medical conditions, hundreds of miles away from close friends and family.
I got on a hospital’s program for people with low incomes, which provided me the minimum medical treatment to survive. When I secured SSI, during these rough times, I received Medicaid which gave me better coverage, to combat my disabilities.
I stopped having the type of seizures which caused me to wake up in the hospital many times. I still had 3 to 5 partial seizures a week, so I and my neurologist discussed surgery as an option.
I had my first surgery and that stopped every type of seizure, for over a year. After I started having symptoms that felt like a seizure could come on but never did, we discussed having a second surgery. I had the second surgery. In about a week, I will have a hospital stay to see if it’s safe to start tapering off one medication at a time. We started tapering of one medicine approximately 7 months ago, but I had reactions which may be seizures or possibly just withdrawal symptoms. Being monitored in the hospital will let doctors and I know what causes the reactions.
Through all this, Medicaid has been by my side and has kept me safe and provided treatment that I couldn’t afford with other insurance. Medicaid has also been great for preventative treatment that has allowed me to raise my kids and work safely for over 11 years. With Medicaid’s 1619 B program, which allows people with disabilities to keep their insurance, after surpassing the income limit, if a person cannot work without the coverage, I was able to work my way off all other government benefits. I am happy to pay for my insurance now, through the Medicaid buy-in program. Medicaid is a lifesaver and a door opener.
**All Blogs reflect the opinions/experiences of people with disabilities or family members of people with disabilities. They do not reflect CCDC’s official position on any portion of Medicaid services.