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Unmasking the Mask “Debate”—a Message from Your Friendly Neighborhood Quadriplegic Civil Rights Legal Program Director

Photo of Kevin Williams, CCDC Civil Rights Legal Program Director, wearing a suit and seated in front of poster of Justice Thurgood Marshall with caption, “In recognizing the humanity of our fellow human beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute.”

I have tried to follow what I can regarding everything that has been posted on the mask “debate” subject, but it is time-consuming to follow, and I already have two full-time jobs: (1) I am a civil rights lawyer for people with disabilities;  and (2) I am a quadriplegic which, as many people with disabilities know, comes with it a remarkable number of duties that easily occupy forty hours of my week (managing attendant care, fighting with benefits agencies over “work incentive” programs, managing attendant care payroll duties, addressing durable medical equipment issues and repairs, addressing accessibility issues and failures, dealing with multiple medical appointments with types of medical personnel about whose professions I wasn’t aware before my spinal cord injury, etc.– the usual stuff people with disabilities deal with).

As a quadriplegic for 34 years, paralyzed from the chest down and with limited arm and hand function, pre-pandemic, I had some complicated daily issues. The basic stuff, like getting dressed and getting out of bed. But, because of my quadriplegic hands which I like to call “paws,” I have great difficulty getting my Bluetooth (the only one I found that I can even work) and my glasses on and off independently without dropping them, breaking them or without making my glasses so filthy in the process of taking them on and off independently, I can’t use them. Now, given what I believe is a critical need (and now a duty imposed by Executive Order of the state of Colorado), I cannot get a mask on that loops around my ears on and off effectively. I can’t seem to find any other types of useful facial coverings that work either. I have tried many.

Combine this with the fact that I am an attorney who specializes in disability rights enforcement, and I have to say this whole subject has been very interesting and has become somewhat nauseating. Why? I’ll tell you.

There certainly are a multitude of different forms of masks with varying degrees and levels of protective capabilities and efficiencies. I think we at CCDC have seen and heard and read the gamut of reasons why people claim they cannot wear masks, and some of them even seem reasonable. Recently, for example, CCDC received an email message from a person who said he was an attorney who told us that because he had COPD, he was very upset by the CCDC mask policy which is posted on our website. He stated in his email that he certainly would never recommend anybody use our services because of what he alleged was a discriminatory policy. CCDC designed the policy to address the extraordinary and important healthcare crisis that affects many of our own staff and many people in the general public. As you might be aware, there is a pandemic that is killing people. People with disabilities are often the first to go. Also, has anyone heard the word “comorbidity?” It is a term that is all the rage in newspapers and scientific journals. It is also something that describes the disabilities of many people, including maybe even me.

And, in the case of the “lawyer” who sent the email saying he won’t refer anyone to us because of our “discriminatory” policy, here is what I would have to say about that if a client contacted CCDC regarding such an issue:

First, in order to prove discrimination on the basis of disability, we would have to prove (1) the alleged impairment an individual has (difficulty in breathing, for example) “substantially limits” a major life activity (breathing certainly counts as a major life activity, but how substantially limited is the individual’s ability to breathe as it relates to the COPD and what medical records and doctors we are going to need to be able to prove that to a judge or jury are all questions we must consider. (2) wearing a facial covering (as we are now required to do under Colorado law) somehow prohibits the individual from engaging in the major life activity of breathing (it is pretty unlikely that a mild impact upon the ability to breathe would create a case that would survive dismissal of a lawsuit); (3) is there any other accommodation for that impairment that might allow compliance with the state law mandate and avoid concern regarding the direct threat to the health and safety of others that might alleviate the problem (like a different type of facial covering designed in a way that helps the individual with the impairment and still protects others from getting a potentially life-threatening virus which is the goal here)?

Now, if I can assist someone and jump through all of those hoops, I still have to prove that allowing the individual to avoid wearing the facial covering does not pose a “direct threat” to the health and safety of the individual or others. That is going to require a lot of medical records, medical individuals and their sworn statements and testimony. It is also going to cost a lot of money and take a lot of time. CDDC’s Legal Program might consider taking this on, but what if we can’t prove everything I have listed? A case is not won by someone saying, “I have a disability, and your rule requiring me to wear a facial covering makes things difficult for me.” We need evidence. We need data. We need testimony that is credible. We need proof. AND we need to show the defense of public safety is not real. I would suggest that the evidence of how not wearing a facial covering and spreading germs has a substantial basis in scientific evidence to be able to combat a theory that absolutely no facial covering whatsoever would eliminate the direct threat. I can’t say I know the answer to this question in every case because other than email rants and social media rants and people who make unfounded claims without such evidence is all we have seen so far. If I had all of the evidence before me, I might be able to agree that an individual has a valid claim. Just saying you have a disability and saying that some activity required by law substantially limits you in engaging in one or more major life activities as defined by law is not sufficient to hold up in court, my friends.

Now let’s talk about me some more. I have a limited respiratory capacity (34 years of chest muscles that don’t work as well as having to have been on a ventilator once before after dying from sepsis and having to be resuscitated). I also have a highly compromised immune system as a result of repeated infections throughout my life. These are just a couple of potential comorbidity factors I deal with. Can you tell I really like that word?

Even before the recent Order, CCDC had a mask policy. As did the City and County of Denver. Many people at CCDC gave the mask policy a great amount of consideration. CCDC took into consideration an enormous number of viewpoints. As stated in the policy itself, CCDC always remains willing to update or make “reasonable modifications” to the mask policy and any other policy as needed to address changes in any factors like the availability of the types of masks out there as well as the extremely important need to keep our staff, members, clients and the general public safe. We certainly would not want to create a “direct threat” to the health and safety of our staff and others. Especially the community of people with disabilities we serve and those who run CCDC.

All of this work to create a policy has been done only to result in having extremely nasty insults hurled our way as a result. Luckily, “screaming” arguments usually in ALL CAPS through social media or some other quick and easy method that does not involve actual face-to-face communication with human beings (pardon the choice of words given the subject matter) which are rampant regarding the subject of wearing masks do not force CCDC to take a case or provide assistance without implementing a policy for the intended purpose of saving the lives of those we serve. I can’t help you with your legal claim if either of us dies from COVID-19.

Back to me again. What I have found that works best for me is the basic disposable mask that I wear all day long as a beard cover or chin cover most of the time. I have the good fortune of being able to work at home most of the time to avoid exposing you to the virus (or vice-versa), but there are all sorts of reasons why we all must go out for various reasons, sometimes unexpectedly. Therefore, I have to leave my mask on all the time. I call it my “beard cover” when it hangs below my mouth and nose so I can eat and drink. It is the only method I have found so far that works. I can use my quadriplegic paws to pull the mask up over my nose when I do have to go out. It is quite a look. Yes, it is uncomfortable. Yes, the loops hurt my ears, especially since I have only found one Bluetooth that works effectively for me without having to have somebody with me 24 hours a day and because I have to wear glasses as mentioned above which, along with the mask, rest on my ear all day. Contact lenses don’t work for quadriplegics. But, let us all remember, I am trying to save you from the germs I might have and not know about because this pandemic like other versions of COVID is tricky and doesn’t let you know you’re sick until you have already spread the germs.

Now, you might want to ignore the science that would prove the defendant’s case of “direct threat” if I had to sue on your behalf.  But I can’t bring a case for you unless I have a good faith belief in the claims I must prove and the defenses I must defeat. You are welcome to represent yourself pro se (meaning on behalf of yourself without a lawyer), and I wish you luck, but you still have to convince a court and/or jury of the types of facts I have discussed.

I want to make sure that CCDC would never discount anyone with an actual disability who is willing to engage in the “interactive process” with us regarding how to interact and not create a direct threat to themselves, our staff and others in the many activities CCDC might be involved with. This process is also required under the law for those seeking reasonable accommodations to laws, policies, practices and procedures. CCDC will always make reasonable adjustments and accommodations as needed to accommodate anyone’s disability. Remember, however, when you engage in the “interactive process,” you need to disclose what your disability is, how it substantially limits a major life activity, etc. You need to explain why you need an accommodation such as not wearing a mask. You can send more email messages in ALL CAPS to me if you disagree, but that’s the truth of the matter. Facts are stubborn things. Law is even more obstinate when you have to apply those stubborn facts if what one alleges is even a provable fact. You see, we lawyers have to prove facts. We don’t get to just say stuff to a jury or a judge in ALL CAPS! (Including underlining, bolding, italicizing and fancy fonts won’t sway your judge either, I promise.) We don’t win by doing so.

One of the “disabilities” people have claimed any mandatory mask policy violates includes, “I have to see your face because I read lips.” I do realize the type of mask I wear covers my mouth.

To begin with, CCDC’s policies allow multiple forms of communication that do not require face-to-face contact especially when initial meetings are involved.

In addition, we have had so many expert witnesses in so many cases involving deaf clients who have provided expert reports and/or testimony regarding the generally high level of the ineffectiveness of lip-reading.

Nevertheless, I do understand that the need to see facial expressions is helpful to some people with some communication disabilities. Of course, this assumes we can prove all the factors I listed above.

People have suggested wearing a “face shield.” Because I spent a great deal of time researching what kind of face-covering would work best for me to prevent you from getting my germs, I found out the problem with a face shield is twofold for me: (1) a face shield is really only effective when worn with a mask as well; and (2) I can’t find one that doesn’t just fall off of my head on a regular basis. The same is true of the chin cover I discussed earlier. For example, I was driving to a medical appointment and had my mask simply fall off my face into my lap as I was driving. (By the way, with adaptive equipment, for those of you who don’t know, quadriplegics can drive. For that matter, for those of you don’t know, quadriplegics can also be lawyers.) When I arrived at the medical appointment, an appointment at which I needed to be in close contact with medical personnel, I just used my quadriplegic paw to hold the mask up to my face and requested that the medical personnel help put the ear loops back around my ears. That is what I call a reasonable accommodation based on my disability under the circumstances. I assure you that the medical staff person was wearing a mask and other personal protective equipment at the time. I would not have allowed this to happen if that was not the case for the protection of both of us.

Consequences related to spreading the virus: Having been on a ventilator before, I do not want to subject anyone else to that experience if I can help it. And, as a matter of personal choice, I do not want to have to go that process again. That certainly does not mean that I will not continue representing, as I have, my friends, colleagues and clients who use various breathing devices in order to survive each day. (Many of them also have figured out ways to use facial coverings. ) It is amazing what a person with a disability can do when that person thinks through a problem that when solved might save someone’s life when that person takes a moment to think it through. Of course, that takes a little research and more time then screaming in ALL CAPS. That is what I find so personally annoying about people who say I have [fill in the blank] disability, and, therefore, I CAN’T wear a facial covering.  People with genuine disabilities are the most resourceful people I have ever met. We find ways to get things done that non-disabled people simply take for granted. Like…how to drive when you can’t use your lower extremities and have substantial limitations in your upper extremities. It is a facial covering, people! Figure it out! There are very few situations, if any, I have come across that lead me to believe that there is absolutely no face covering or some other reasonable accommodation that absolutely won’t work for almost all people — those with disabilities and those without — in almost any circumstance. When the goal is saving lives, putting up with some inconvenience and creative thinking is the better approach, in my view.

I believe CCDC has gone out of its way in establishing a policy that allows reasonable accommodation for anyone alleging they can’t wear a facial covering for any number of reasons. Again, we are always amenable to tweaking the policy, but the truth of the matter is, for most of our activities, there are many other ways to communicate without subjecting our staff (or anyone with whom CCDC members interact) to individuals who do not wear masks or vice versa. The same is true for all human beings in all circumstances. Work with your local independent living center or department of vocational rehabilitation. Be creative. Be considerate of others.

And please stop LYING!

All I can say is I strongly agree with a comment made by a fellow disability rights lawyer on a listserv: “The continued co-opting of disability laws for entitled political nonsense is frustrating, to say the least, and detracts from those who really do have difficulties and need accommodation.” Michelle Uzeta, thank you!

As an individual who has lived with quadriplegia for 34 of 53 years of my life, I have absolutely had it with fakers. You know who you are. You make the law that was so extremely hard-fought-for and has changed the lives of many of us with disabilities a joke. We are sick of you.

In general, if you inquired of any non-disabled individual what the worst thing is that could ever happen to that individual or a member of that individual’s family, the ready response would be “to become disabled,” as in paralyzed, blind, deaf, etc., and then have so many of these same individuals take advantage of disability-related accommodations that are truly needed turns my stomach.

By the way, when I say those rights were “hard-fought for,” I ask anyone who has never used a wheelchair because of the disability if they would be willing to become disabled and require the use of a wheelchair and then to hurl themselves out of that wheelchair in front of buses in the busiest intersection of Denver, Colorado to protest the inaccessibility of “public” transportation?

JUL 5 1978, JUL 6 1978. Demonstrators Sleep On the Job. Four demonstrators sleep in the street Thursday morning after spending the night blocking two Regional Transportation District buses near the corner of East Colfax Avenue and Lincoln Street. They were among about 30 persons who maintained an overnight vigil to dramatize the need for greater accessibility to public transportation for the handicapped. The buses, stopped and barricaded by about 30 persons early Wednesday, were freed Thursday morning. The barricade has served its purpose, said Wade Blank. Credit: Denver Post (Denver Post via Getty Images).

Or, how about the numerous individuals with disabilities who literally crawled up the steps of our United States Capitol during the “Capitol Crawl” to protest the inaccessibility of government buildings. These are the activities that helped get the ADA passed.

`

"Capitol Crawl" photo of protesters with disabilities crawling up the Capitol steps in Washington, DC to protest the lack of accessibility and get the Americans with Disabilities Act passed.Photo of the “Capitol Crawl” showing protesters with disabilities crawling up the inaccessible United States Capitol steps in order to protest the inaccessibility for purposes of getting the Americans with Disabilities Act passed.

This is why so much fakery leads me to have an extraordinarily increased lack of faith in the ability of human beings to show any empathy. Most non-disabled people will readily say they would rather be dead than disabled. (I might have even said that or thought that way when I had the accident that caused my injury when I was 19. Now, I actually think incurring a disability was the best thing that ever happened to me, but that would be another very long post.)

Beyond that, historically, individuals with disabilities are always the “first to go” (I mean — to be exterminated) when supremacists of any kind try to eliminate anyone they feel does not meet their standards for supremacy as occurred during the Holocaust. Again, you can fact check me if you like before sending your email.

This, along with the current debate regarding racial inequity all serves to provide further evidence of what seems to me like an incredible moral decline in humanity. During my 34 years as a quadriplegic and my 23 years of law practice in the area of disability rights, here are just some of the highlights of what we continue to see happening here in Denver, Colorado (once awarded for being the most accessible city in the country for people with disabilities):

(1) Individuals with strollers who demanded and continued to demand that our regional transportation system allow them to use the designated wheelchair seating sections on buses as well as light rail trains sometimes falsely claiming that the individual or the child in the stroller has a disability that requires the use of the limited wheelchair seating sections.

(2) Individuals who are willing to click the magic box on ticketing websites that states that you or someone in your party requires the use of a mobility device in order for the non-disabled individuals to get front row seats at Colorado’s beloved Red Rocks Amphitheatre (at which the only available wheelchair seating and this historic concert venue is located at the front or back of the venue and could not be placed elsewhere without great difficulty). These fakers even go as far as to use the tickets themselves and dance wildly next to those of us who use wheelchairs and need to sit there, or resell them on some other website at highly inflated prices close to the time of the show saying things like “great front row seating tickets except you might have to sit with a bunch of people who use wheelchairs (read as “cripples”).” Or they simply buy up the entire front row wheelchair seating section preventing those of us who want to attend the concert from being able to do so.

(3) Individuals who borrow a relative’s vehicle with a license plate demarcating the vehicle as one that may park in an accessible parking space or simply borrowing or stealing placards demarcating the same in order to get closer parking spaces especially at times like holiday shopping seasons when the individual has no disability whatsoever that would require the use of such a license plate or placard uses it for the purpose of being able to park closer.

(4) People who fake the need for a service animal or emotional support animal which has become rampant and caused everyone to go online and get a “vest” or fake letter from an alleged medical professional saying they have a need for the animal when there are so many individuals who have a legitimate need and the training service animals are so important to the lives of so many of the people CCDC serves. (I think many of us will have a hard time forgetting the story of the “emotional support peacock.”)

And now, [drumroll, please!] coming to you from some of the greatest fakers in the world for no other reason than politics and the inability to give a moment’s thought to how to save another person’s life or keep the individual from going through extensive, complicated medical treatment that may have extraordinary lasting consequences:

(5) People who won’t wear masks or just don’t like wearing masks who pretend that they are protected by civil rights laws and privacy laws regarding disability screaming (incorrectly) “and you are not allowed to ask me what my disability is” when there is no real disability-related reason to do so. Or those who just refuse to think of the potential consequences:  I recently heard someone who is the 80-year-old relative of a friend say, “Everyone will think I’m a Democrat if I wear a mask.” Therefore, she refuses to wear a mask.

I certainly am not suggesting that there are not circumstances listed above involving an actual individual with a disability with a legitimate need, but we all know people are taking advantage. When people take advantage, it just inspires others to do the same or to believe that the accommodations that people with disabilities need are not real or are not needed. It also is a constant reminder of how despised people with disabilities are. So much so that there is an increasing number of people who simply don’t care and will do anything to take advantage of the necessary accommodations we do need. Even if it means possibly killing us.

People complain all the time that all of the “handicap parking spaces” are always empty even though I can never find a parking space that will accommodate my side-loading wheelchair ramp, so they use that as an excuse as to why they should be allowed to park there when there are no other spaces available.

I hope everyone who is using an alleged and fake disability as a reason for not wearing a mask stays well and healthy and survives this pandemic. You are doing your fellow human beings an enormous disservice. I also wish you well in surviving both this pandemic and the rest of your life without having to incur the types of disabilities you are faking to take advantage of our needed accommodations. Personally, I have absolutely no problem living life as a quadriplegic. What I do have is a serious problem with people who take advantage of laws that have changed my life and allowed me to help change the lives of other individuals with disabilities dramatically despite your utter inhumanity.

Kevin W. Williams
CCDC Civil Rights Legal Program Director
(720) 336-3584
kwilliams@ccdconline.org (any email messages containing ALL CAPS addressing the topics raised herein will be deleted immediately without being read)

P.S. And if this is what it takes to survive the pandemic, so be it!

 

Photograph of Kevin Williams with medical gloves stuck on his hands with toilet paper wrapped around his neck, a mask as described above on his face and a bottle of gin and a can of spray disinfectant in his lap.

 

Restaurant Review from CCDC

 

You will not find restaurant reviews on the CCDC blog often, and almost never by me, but today is different.  CCDC took the members of our legislative team who were available to lunch today at Pizzability at 250 Steele Street to thank them for their many hours of tireless work this session.  They were an admirable team and deserved more than lunch.  However, lunch and our undying gratitude are what we can provide.  Our amazing community organizer Dawn Howard chose the location.

Like most restaurants in Cherry Creek North, it is physically small.  Unlike any other restaurant in that area where I have eaten, I did not feel in the way—even when I was objectively in the way.  In any space, when a bunch of us come in at the busy hour we can be..well…in the way.  It only takes a couple of wheelchairs, never mind some canes, walkers, dogs, and general klutziness to make us seem like we are taking over.   When we are doing an action that is exactly what we want, but when we go to eat out, whether individually or in a small group we do not want to feel as if our mere presence is an inconvenience.   So today we show up and our presence overwhelms the place both physically and logistically.  Yet we are greeted with warmth and genuine pleasure that we are there.   When I was objectively in the way blocking an aisle no one bumped into me, no one asked me to move, no one gave me “the look”.  No employee rushed to serve me quickly for the purpose of getting me out of the way.

Most of our crew had ordered but there were three of us left when I arrived.  The bill for three lunches in Cherry Creek North came to $16.   The food was good.  Most significant for me is that they had Gelato—I saw that and forgot about pizza.  The slices that my colleagues ate looked terrific.  They were big, and hot and had many varieties. Salads were an option also and non-alcoholic drinks appeared to be free with the pizza.  They had some alcohol for sale as well…soon they will have pairing suggestions.

As you might guess by the name, this is a restaurant that sells mostly pizza and most of the employees are people with disabilities, particularly people who appeared to have intellectual and developmental disabilities.  Most of the customers eating there today appeared to have disabilities as well.

My personal food tastes are more in line with other places in Cherry Creek North.  Earlier this week I had an hour in between meetings in that part of town and went somewhere else.  The food I like (and admit it is kind of ridiculous food) is more like an overpriced salad with things like goat cheese, grapes, and cranberries.  I had that with unsweetened tea (trying to be good diet wise) and while the food was delicious, and there was much more physical space in this place than at Pizzability, I felt completely in the way the entire time I was there.   It was uncomfortable.  While no one was rude or even unkind it was my presence was made people uncomfortable.   I had to ask several people to move to get to a space to eat.  I actually considered getting it to go even though it was raining and cold that day.  I am sure the people in this restaurant (staff and customers) would have been relieved had I just taken the food to go.  Today, when some of choose to sit outside at the tables (it was probably 60 degrees and felt lovely) they asked repeatedly if we were sure we were comfortable and offered to move things around if we preferred to be inside.  The offer was made in a manner that showed respect and that they valued our business.

There were other cool features.  The menus are paper and you circle what you wanted and write your name.  Accessible for Deaf folks and people that do not speak English, do not read, etc.  Some work would be required to make it accessible for blind folks (there is a menu online).  There was a “sensory corner” with various objects.  Each plate was different and they were painted by artists from the Access Gallery (an art gallery for disabled artists).

There did appear to be someone without a visible disability running things and the way she talked there was a training component for employees.  (I learned later on their facebook page that this is indeed a training program)The employees were working hard and seemed happy, and the work is real work that valued employees do in restaurants every day.  If part of the goal is to train workers for “integrated” jobs, I am sure that will work.  However, some employees may want to stay and be around others with disabilities.   Maybe some will become supervisors or trainers.  Maybe some will prefer to keep doing the great job they are doing today.

Is this segregated?  Maybe?  Not sure that it matters because it is a choice. Doing a good job and being paid for work, and continuing to learn and improve at one’s job is what adults do in our society.  Other groups have businesses that are primarily run by and serve specific communities.  They do not eschew customers from outside groups but they cater to their own communities.  This is how disenfranchized communities build economic power.  There are “pink pages” advertising gay-owned businesses.  There are Latinx and Black Chambers.  Why not promote and support more disability-run/disability positive businesses?  Non-disabled people can work and eat there but the atmosphere and culture stay disability positive.  Just like as a white person I can go to eatery owned, staffed, and patronized mostly by people of color.  I am welcome to show up but not to inappropriately take over the culture of the place (as white people often want to do).   Communities of color started and continue these businesses because there is an economic and cultural need for spaces that do not have to bend to the dominant culture.   That is cultural pride, not involuntary segregation.  We need to start understanding the difference.

We need businesses like this in our community..that is by and for our people.  Where non-disabled allies are welcomed but where our disability culture and our vibe will stay the dominant feeling.   We need to stop defining success by how much we interact with people who do not have disabilities.

I know that I preferred eating lunch in a disability positive environment, among not only my peers/colleagues with disabilities but among other customers and employees with disabilities.   I would rather eat in a place where I feel comfortable and welcome than in a place where I am obviously in the way.  The next time I happen to have an hour in between meetings in Cherry Creek North, Pizzability will get my business!  I encourage you all to do the same.  I am sure they will also welcome those of you without disabilities too.

2019 Legislative Session Wrap Up

This was a busy session as is typical whenever there is a new administration and many new legislators.  Despite some unfortunate partisanship that caused delays,  the reading out loud of 2000 page bills, hearings that occurred during a blizzard, and overnight sessions some great work did get done that will benefit the people of Colorado including people with disabilities.

Before talking about the bills, I want to call out the amazing CCDC team that worked at the Capitol this year.

  • CCDC Board Co-Chair Josh Winkler showed his typical leadership working some bills very hard, following the budget, and mentoring some of our newer volunteer lobbyists. Other board members that participated in the process were Scott Markham and Dr. Kimberley Jackson.
  • Our volunteer lobbying team consisted of Francesca Maes, Michael Neil, Jennifer Roberts, Haven Rohnert, and Linn Oliver with help from Jennifer Remington, Auralea Moore, and Tim Postlewaite.
  • Valerie Schlecht did a fantastic job as our contract lobbyist for mental health issues and stepped up on several other issues as a volunteer. Dawn Howard our community organizer, AKA Cat Herder in Chief did a great job making sure everyone knew what was happening, where people were needed, etc.

CCDC wants to thank our many partners, in particular the Arc of Colorado, Arc of Aurora, Arc of Adams, the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, the Colorado Children’s Campaign, 9-5 Colorado, ACLU of Colorado, Colorado Senior Lobby, Disability Law Colorado, Colorado Common Cause, PASCO, and Accent on Independence Homecare amongst others.  We also want to thank Colorado Capitol Watch for a great product that made tracking the bills easier.

Because this was a year with many new legislators and many groups rushing to push through bills that had struggled in years past, many of which were bills we were going to support, CCDC made a deliberate decision to NOT run our own proactive bills this year but to focus on our coalition work, and building relationships with the many new Senators and Representatives.   We laid groundwork for policies we want to promote over the next few years while focusing on the many coalition bills and responding to bills that affected our community.    We followed 139 bills.  This report shares the highlights-not every bill that we worked on during the session.

Housing:

This is being dubbed the year of the renter.    There were many bills that helped renters, along with some that will fund affordable housing.

  • HB 19-1085 Increases the property tax/heat/rent rebate program both the amount of the grant and the income limits for people eligible for this grant through July 2021.
  • HB 19-1106 Limits rental application fees to actual costs
  • HB 19-1118: Requires landlords to expand the notice before eviction from three to 10 days, hopefully giving people a way to either find a new place to live or cure the problem that led to the eviction
  • HB 19-1135 Clarifies that income tax credits for retrofitting a home for accessibility are available when one retrofits a home for a dependent.
  • HB 19-1170 Improves warranty of habitability in housing to make it work for tenants.
  • HB 19-1285 and HB 1332 Affordable housing funding
  • HB 19-1309 Creates mobile home park dispute resolution and enforcement program, also increasing time to move if there is sale or eviction.
  • HB 19-1328 Responsibilities of landlords & tenants to address bed bug infestations.
  • SB 19-180 Creates an eviction defense fund to help low-income people

Health Care:

  • HB 19-1044 Allows for an advanced directives for behavioral/mental health.
  • HB 19-1120 Multiple approaches to address and prevent youth suicide
  • HB 19-1151 Revisions to the Traumatic Brain Injury Program funded by the Brain Injury Trust Fund.
  • HB 19-1176 Enables a study of various methods of health care reform including an option for universal health care.
  • HB 19-1189 Reforms wage garnishment laws to take into account medical expenses and medical debt.
  • HB 19-1211 Reforms what health insurance companies can and cannot do regarding prior authorization. This is to stop insurance companies using prior authorization to harass doctors and deny patients.
  • HB 19-1216 Measures to reduce the cost of insulin.
  • HB 19-1233 Health care payment reform to promote increasing utilization of primary care.
  • HB 19-1269 Mental Health Parity-variety of measures to require both private insurance companies and Medicaid to pay for mental health care appropriately.
  • HB 19-1287 Increases treatment funding for substance use disorders
  • SB 19-001 Expands the Medication Assisted Treatment pilot program
  • SB 19-005 Gives state permission to request permission from the federal government to import drugs from Canada to give Colorado residents price relief
  • SB 19-010 Funds professional mental health services in schools
  • SB 19-073 Creates statewide system to allow electronic uploading of advance directive documents so in the case of emergency any hospital can ascertain the wishes of the individual. This is voluntary.
  • SB 19-079 Requires some doctors to submit prescriptions of controlled drugs electronically
  • SB 19-195 Creates a system to better coordinate children’s mental health policy
  • SB 19-222 Increases mental health services for people at risk of institutionalization
  • SB 19-238 Requires the 8.1% increase for personal care and homemaker be passed directly to workers, and sets up stakeholder group to address issues with personal care workforce.

THERE WERE A NUMBER OF BILLS RELATED TO THE COST OF PRIVATE INSURANCE AND HOSPITALS.  PLEASE CHECK OUT THE COLORADO CONSUMER INITIATIVE OR THE COLORADO CENTER ON LAW AND POLICY FOR REPORTS ON THOSE BILLS.

Good Government:

  • HB 1062 Allowing sale of property at the Grand Junction regional center
  • HB 19-1063 Allows information sharing between adult and child protective services and allowed people who are subject to adult protective services to see their own records.
  • HB 19-1084 Requires that staff of legislative council prepare demographic notes on certain bills. For a handful of bills each future session the citizens and elected officials of Colorado will be able to have research on how a bill affects specific (often underrepresented) populations.
  • HB 19-1239 Creates a grant program to do outreach for the 2020 census.
  • HB 19-1278 A variety of changes to election law making it easier for voters
  • SB 19-135 Requires a study of state procurement disparities to see if state contracting is being fair and inclusive to businesses owned by people of color, women and people with disabilities.

Education:

  • HB 19-1066 Requires schools to count special education students in graduation rates.
  • HB 19-1134 Research for better methods to identify dyslexia in young children
  • HB 19-1194 Limits schools ability to expel and suspend children in and below the 2nd grade
  • HB 19-066 Creates grant program to help defray costs of high cost special education students

Employment:

  • HB 19-1025 Limits employers’ ability to ask about criminal backgrounds (with appropriate exemptions) before employee goes through the application process.
  • HB 19-1107 Creates job retention and employment support as part of the Department of Labor and Employment
  • SB 19-085 Increases enforcement for those facing pay-based discrimination
  • SB 19-188 Creates a study of Family Medical Leave

Transportation:

  • HB 19-1257 and HB 19-1258 Brings to the voters a request for state to keep and spend excess revenue for transportation and schools
  • SB 19-239 Creates a stakeholder process to address the changes in transportation

Justice Systems:

  • SB 19-036 Creates pilot program to remind people of court dates
  • HB 19-1045 Provides funding for an office of Public Guardianship
  • HB 19-1104 Creates a right to counsel for parents who are facing custody loss to be represented through the office of respondent parent counsel.
  • HB 19-1777 “Red Flag” bill that sets out when a judge can temporarily take away someone’s gun if they are at imminent risk of harming themselves or someone else. CCDC was initially concerned that this might be based on diagnosis, but it was not.  It is based only on behavior, has many protections and excellent due process.
  • HB 19-1225: Prohibits money bail for some low-level offenses to avoid people being jailed for not having small amounts of money for non-violent crimes.
  • SB 19-172 Makes it easier to prosecute people that abuse at risk adults and makes it clear that inappropriate confinement is abuse and illegal.
  • SB 19-191 Creates defendants’ rights to pretrial bonds to reduce the number of people with low-level crimes sitting in jail just because they are poor.
  • SB 19-223 Reforms regarding the competency process in the criminal court system

State Budget (aka the long bill SB 19-207)

  • Increases personal care and homemaker rates for CDASS and IHSS by 8.1%
  • Funds housing inspections for host homes in the I/DD system for basic life-safety issues
  • Creates an Office of Employment First at JFK Partners
  • State funded SLS and Family Support Services waiver slots
  • Creates a Supported Employment pilot at HCPF for I/DD waivers
  • Provides funding for HCPF customer service
  • Provides funding for food and travel for HCPF Member Experience Advisory Council
  • Provides state mental hospital funding for Disability Law Colorado settlement

Disability Specific:

  • HB 19-1069 Allows Colorado to create our own certification system through the Colorado Commission on the Deaf, Hard of Hearing and Deaf/Blind CCDHHDB to adopt or develop a certification system for American Sign Language interpreters. This is address the shortage of interpreters, especially in the rural areas.  THANKS TO THE INDEPENDENCE CENTER OF COLORADO SPRINGS FOR LEADING THIS BILL.
  • HB 19-1151 Revisions to the Traumatic Brain Injury Program funded by the Brain Injury Trust Fund. THANKS TO THE BRAIN INJURY ALLIANCE OF COLORADO FOR LEADING THIS BILL.
  • HB 19-1223 Provides application assistance to people on the Aid to Needy Disabled program to help them obtain approval for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). THANKS TO THE COLORADO CENTER ON LAW AND POLICY FOR LEADING THIS BILL
  • HB 19-1332 Funds the talking book library
  • SB 19-202 Creates a path for accessible ballots for people who are print disabled to allow such individuals to vote in private in our all mail ballot system. THANKS TO THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND OF COLORADO FOR LEADING THIS BILL.

Overall it was a good year.  There were some disappointments, but there always are—now we have to make sure the bills we like get implemented and make sure people know about these new laws and programs.

 

 

Annual ADA Access Awards Luncheon on September 25, 2019

CCDC -ADA Access Awards Logo

 

CCDC invites you to attend and support our 2019 ADA Access Awards Luncheon, to be held on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019, from 12:00 – 1:30 p.m. (doors open at 11:30 a.m.) at the United Club in the Broncos Stadium at Mile High. At this event, we will recognize and honor community organizations and individuals who go above and beyond in their advocacy efforts for the disability community and who have done this work with equity in mind. All proceeds from this event benefit the programs of CCDC all year-round.

Our thrilling keynote speaker this year is Dr. Phil Mitchell, M.D.!
Pictured here at a July 2017 TEDX Talk is Dr. Phil Mitchell.
Pictured here at a July 2017 TEDX Talk is Dr. Phil Mitchell.

A board certified emergency physician who has practiced in the Denver metro area after completing his residency at Denver Health Medical Center where he served as chief resident, Dr. Mitchell joined the CCDC volunteer board of directors in 2018. Dr. Mitchell completed medical school at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey and was appointed to the Alpha Omega Alpha honor society in his third year. Dr. Mitchell has served as the medical director at Parker Adventist hospital for over a decade. Currently serving as the VP of Medical Affairs for DispatchHealth, he has devoted his time to developing clinical treatment guidelines, creating mechanisms to provide high level, acute, and post-acute care in the home in an evidence-based and compliant manner, and educating midlevel providers in home-based acute care medicine. In July of 2017, Dr. Mitchell delivered a TED talk at TEDx Mile High titled, “The ER Housecall for the 21st Century”.   We are so appreciative of Dr. Mitchell’s time and acceptance of our invitation to be our keynote speaker in 2019.

Along with the keynote address, CCDC will honor four Coloradans who have made major contributions to advancing social justice for people with all types of disabilities.  At this luncheon, CCDC will also pay tribute to Carrie Ann Lucas, a nationally renowned disability rights activist who passed away this past spring.

Sponsorships are available and start at $500 each. To learn more, email this year’s Annual ADA Access Awards Luncheon organizer Lucinda Rowe at lrowe@ccdconline.org or call 720-994-0313.  To RSVP click here.

Event Date: 09/25/2019 – 11:30am – 1:30pm
Event Location: Broncos Stadium at Mile High, United Club Level (inside the stadium), 1701 Bryant Street, Denver, CO  80204

Our special thanks to 2019 Champion Level Sponsors, AOI Home Care and Rocky Mountain Health Plans!

Accent on Independence
Logo of AOI Home Care
Logo of Rocky Mountain Health Plans

 

Listening Tour Report

CCDC held a listening tour around the state in 2018. Please find the report here…if you want the exhibits and the presentation used during the tour please email me at jreiskin@ccdconline.org. We are not posting it because even though the information about “what is happening next” was accurate at the time, it has already changed. We are attaching the handout we gave about how to determine the validity of news sources.

We are still seeking feedback and would love your feedback on this report.

Help CCDC with our 2020 Strategic Plan

The CCDC Board of Directors is writing/updating our strategic plan.  This is the first of several surveys we will have to get members input.  If you get this survey via an email from CCDC then you are a member.   https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/5J5PLQW

If you get this survey from another source then you are NOT listed as a member and should join as a member.  It is free and you can choose what topics, if any, about which we will contact you.   You can join at www.ccdconline.org

Your feedback is important.  This survey is about our organizational values.   Our current plan summary is attached.   stratplansummary

The next survey will be about our VISION.

Thank you for your time.

Congratulations to Jared Polis and Other Winners

CCDC wishes congratulations to our new Governor Jared Polis and looks forward to working with this new administration.   Our expectations of a new governor are clear and doable.   We look forward to advancing the rights of people with disabilities so that we can show our capabilities as full citizens.  This means a dramatic increase in the number of people with disabilities who are employed.  This means a dramatic improvement in the high school graduation of students with disabilities and making sure that students go to college or some sort of vocational program.   This means a government that values people with disabilities by having high expectations and providing appropriate supports.   This means a government that involves us at every level…on boards, commissions, as employees in state agencies, and on the transition team.    Governor-Elect Polis stated last night that his administration will be inclusive.   We expect to be part of this inclusion and to have disability representation in historic proportions and stand ready to help make that happen.

CCDC congratulates all of the representatives and senators that won their seats as well and we look forward to working with all of you on these same goals.

We will be solidifying legislative priorities for the next two years soon but among them will surely be:

1) Increasing protection for renters such as statewide source of income discrimination protection and habitability laws.

2) Extending the Mediciad Buy-In for Working Adults with Disabilities to people over the age of 65 and for more than 10 days in between jobs, even if we have to use state funds.   With the federal government giving the states carte blanche we should be able to get approval.

3) Getting safety protections for people living in host homes.

4) Consumer direction for all HCBS services.

5) Improving our case management systems, especially transition from institutions.

We will be focusing on money for solid transportation that has a focus on transit and affordable housing that is inclusive of everyone including those with very low income.   We will be working on increased accountability around behavioral health and overall health care in the Medicaid program.

On a federal level with the Democrats having a majority in the house, we will be holding Congresswoman DeGette accountable for her promises to us to fix the Electronic Visit Verification mess and exempt consumer direction and family caregivers.   We will also expect help with improved access to quality complex rehab equipment (power wheelchairs) including accountability for repairs.

While Colorado definitely went blue, this does not mean that CCDC will stop working with our Republican allies.   We have always been and always will be a bipartisan organization.  Our issues cross both parties.  Disability does not discriminate.

CCDC was very proud of the VERY STRONG voter turnout in the disability community.   Approximately 90% of our members had already voted before Monday and we are sure the rest voted Monday or Tuesday.     Voting is the first step of realizing NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US.

CCDC in the News: Denver dad of 8-year-old he calls ‘a danger to the community’ getting help from health care company Father: ‘Beacon is changing its tune.’

Channel 7 News cover story about CCDC helping once again: Julie Reiskin, CCDC Executive Director, quoted. 

CCDC Comments on Human Services Rule about Aid to Needy Disabled

This testimony was sent to beth.kline@state.co.us in support of a rule change that will be heard by the Board on August 3rd in Durango.  For information about the board meeting see https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdhs-boards-committees-collaboration/state-board-human-services

 

To Human Services Board:

From:  Julie Reiskin, Executive Director, CCDC

RE:  Support for Aid to Needy Disabled Rule Package

Dear Members of the Human Services Board:

I am writing as the director of the largest statewide, disability-run, disability rights organization in Colorado in full support of the AND rule package…and to encourage you to continue with reforms to better support clients that need this program.   Our friends from the Southwest Independent Living Center, the Colorado Center for Law and Policy and the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless will also be testifying and this letter is a supplement to their direct testimony.

Aid to the Needy Disabled (AND) is the program for the poorest of the poor, the most severely disabled with the fewest resources.   People on AND are living so far below the poverty level they are not even on the radar. AND was meant to be a bridge between the time one becomes disabled and the time one can get on some sort of permanent disability benefits.   It is also meant for those with disabilities that last between 6 and 12 months—making the person unable to work for a long time but not eligible for Social Security. Sadly, for some who are unable to navigate the complicated Social Security process, AND ends up as their only means of support for too long.    The disability community, provider organizations, and some state agencies have tried to create programs to help this group of citizens whose disabilities are of a nature that make complying with rules, deadlines and procedures as impossible for them as walking up a flight of stairs is for someone whose legs are paralyzed.   Despite our best efforts, we have not been able to fund a support program that serves all in need.

Even when it is a temporary solution, the system still needs to work with an understanding that one is always in a desperate situation to even apply for AND.  To be considered one must have NO income, no savings, and no support. It is such as a small amount of money that if people have other options they will take those other options.  When someone is waiting for SSI or SSDI and they accept AND the funds have to be paid back when the client receives his or her backpayment. Given that these individuals are already saddled with debt, both formal and informal, people do not sign up for this program when there are other options.   Moreover, applying for ANY disability benefit is a humiliating and demoralizing experience, even when everyone involved is kind (which sadly is not always the case). One must tell strangers about extremely personal details, over and over again. One must confront the fact that one cannot do easy tasks that are considered natural for all adults in our society.  One has to admit that one cannot support oneself or loved ones (if there are any left). Applying for benefits is one more loss, often part of a cascade of defeat. It is imperative that the Board understand the backdrop against which our fellow citizens are applying. Sensitivity training should include trauma informed care as well as an understanding about grief and loss and the disability process.    While disability is NOT a tragedy, the systems that we encounter early in our disability journey do create trauma and find people at their lowest point, when they are still believing that disability is a tragedy.

CCDC strongly supports the following proposed changes for the following reasons:

  1.       Extend the time an AND applicant has to return a completed Med-9 from 10 days to 30 days:  This is important because ten days is not adequate to find a doctor and get the form filled out.  Often the application for AND is done with the application for Medicaid. If one does not have an existing relationship with a doctor, one cannot just find one quickly.   Even if one does have a relationship, not all doctors will do these so sometimes people have to find a different provider to do this form. Along these lines, we supported the law to allow psychologists to fill the form out and support CDHS making rules to allow other licensed professionals such as Social Workers to complete forms, particularly when the disability is mental health.  It is in professional purview of any LCSW to diagnose and assess the severity of any mental disability. Ten days is not adequate and the short time limit created many re-applications which takes time from everyone.

  2.      Extend the time an AND applicant has to verify that they’ve applied for SSI/SSDI from 10 days to 60 days on the initial application and 30 days on subsequent applications:   The SSI process is incredibly complicated and doing a rushed application will result in a denial no matter how eligible the client is—because something will be missed. It is best if the client has an advocate to assist with the process and it is unlikely that any advocate could do an application with a client in ten days.   An advocate needs to meet the client, get releases signed, review the medical records, draft materials, and often do research. Once there is a denial an appeal is necessary and while the client can get AND benefits for the duration of the appeal, this adds to the already problematic backlog of disability determination cases in the Social Security appeals system.  Waiting up to two years for a hearing is now common. This is part of how the AND program has moved from a temporary stopgap to a way of life. During the long wait, clients often lose their place to live, and then miss notices and then lose their appeal for failure to follow up. They then have to start the process again.
  3.      Provide provisional AND benefits to applicants that have met all eligibility requirements (except the SSI verification) while they work on their SSI/SSDI application:  If the client has no benefits while they work on the application the chances of this ever getting done are decreased dramatically. Benefits help pay for things like bus passes to go see their advocate, copayments for medications and treatment (SSA will deny if an applicant is not receiving treatment) as well as basic such as personal hygiene items.  
  4.      Eliminate the social factors matrix assessment:    This matrix has been a burden on worker and client alike and is neither necessary nor appropriate.   We support the elimination of this matrix. As noted above, people applying for AND are already suffering from significant lack of resources and lack of social support.   Another complicated process to make the clients go over and over this, using scarce county worker time does not benefit anyone.

People have been working on this for a long time, and there has been a lot of engagement in this process.  Please pass these rules and continue to work on ways to make the AND benefit easier for those in such desperate need to receive.  As a state we are compassionate people and need not make it harder for people at what is often the lowest point of one’s life.

I am willing to answer any questions but my colleagues who will be at the meeting will be in the best position to answer direct questions at the meeting.

 

Sincerely

 

Julie Reiskin, LCSW

Executive Director

CCDC

Nominations for Memorial Awards Now Open

 

Dear CCDC Members:

 

It is time once again for you to submit nominations for our memorial awards. You may use this link .  You can only nominate one person per survey, but you can fill out the survey as many times as you want. We have many people for whom awards are named, we do not offer every category every year. We have selected 12 award categories and will give 6 awards on September 17th at 5:00 p.m. at the Lowry Conference Center at 1061 Akron Way.

These awards will be announced on September 01. Anyone is welcome to attend the awards ceremony. We will be putting out an Evite in early September.

These memorial awards generally recognize people currently active in the disability community and are in the memory of those from our community who are no longer with us. Please nominate people, and share the link widely. Nominations will be open until AUGUST 16TH at 8:00 PM. Please nominate deserving community members for these awards and share far and wide.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/Memorial18 

 

Thanks Julie

 

P.S. This is different than our October 3rd Commnunity Awards Event. The October event is our annual fundraiser and acknowledges people in the broader community. If you want information on that celebration please contact Laura Gabbay, our director of Development and Evaluation, at lgabbay@ccdconline.org. There is no reason why you cannot attend both celebrations of the great people and great work being done throughout our community.

 


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