by Dale Buterbaugh
My name is Dale Buterbaugh. I have the opportunity to serve on various statewide Health Care Policy and Financing committees as well as some local committees. I must say that I have learned a great deal and even shared a few ideas as well, They all have been very receptive and encouraging at the same time. What do I like and don’t like about Medicaid? Boy I really had to think about this and how it has either been good or what I think could change with the Medicaid system. This is hard as I am trying to think not just about myself but of others, too. I have been on Medicaid most of my life, and like any system it does have its ups and downs. It saddens me that some of the much needed medical care stops for those who are over 18 and then picks up again with people over 60 but with a lot of restrictions so to speak, like i could get my eyeglasses paid for or hearing aids etc all that till I turned 18. Much of this is still needed throughout my adult life. Right now I have no way to afford them unless I can solicit donations or foundations like Easter Seals or Hear Now to help me off-set the cost of the hearing aids . I wish all individuals could go for 30 days without hearing and see how it affects you when you lose the ability to hear. When it comes to glasses, they are considered a luxury for me as I can not afford them and it takes me a long time to save to get a pair.
I hate that not just Medicaid but most all insurance systems require prior authorization to get some services which could mean the difference between life and death for some people, I guess that we could be thankful that if a person is having a heart attack that we can be seen right away. Someday that could change and we might have to call the dr a few days ahead and, say hey, “Doc I think I am having chest pains, I need appointment ASAP.” Or have the fear of doctors turning you away because you have Medicaid and not Blue Cross etc.. I will say thank you to Medicaid for the fact that my sister is a leukemia survivor and has been cancer free for a long time now. There are times that she feels that either she owes something back or has taken advantage of a system that without it, she would not be here with us today. She just feels like she should have died and not take the medicaid help. It did save her life. I am thankful and grateful for Medicaid helping her.
I could have used some short time long term care services during my time of healing from a recent surgery to repair my Achilles’ tendon. Help to get around town to be independent and get out of the house, but I could not afford the rides nor do I qualify for the service. I just stayed home and watched TV all the time. I am not able to get out and exercise inorder to be in better health But at the same time I do not qualify for that type of services which saddens me and frustrates me. That I have to give up my freedom just because I can’t afford or get help that I would like or feel that I need. People that run the insurances say “Oh you had a common illness so therefore we are going to limit your care and needs”. But in reality it does not work that my life should not be compared to the theory if there’s one bad apple then the whole bunch are bad etc. I am an individual not a whole group, so please don’t treat me like I am a group and not a person
From Kevin Williams, CCDC Civil Rights Legal Program Director
I won’t be joining you, but thanks for the invitation.
As we all know, there is “no place like home for the holidays.” So why is it that I and so many of my friends, colleagues, clients and CCDC members who use motorized or other wheelchairs can’t join you and yours for such festivities at your inaccessible house? The answer is simple. You hate us. No, I’m just kidding. The real reason is the law does not apply to “single-family homes,” meaning homes do not have to be accessible to people who use wheelchairs. (For those who don’t speak legalese, “single-family homes” mean “houses.”) So, thank you very much for your invitation, but unless you plan to throw me a turkey leg while I sit in your front yard longingly peeking in the window and seeking to enjoy everyone’s company around the Thanksgiving table, I will be unable to make it.
I know, I know. You have no problem carrying me up the stairs to get in your front door, but my motorized wheelchair weighs a few hundred pounds, and, after using a wheelchair for 33 years and eating (perhaps too much) at Thanksgiving dinners over the years, I’m not as svelte as I once was either. So “carrying” those of us who use wheelchairs is not only demeaning, but dangerous.
Finally, you might want to check your homeowner’s insurance policy before considering this option:
Even those of you with the best intentions (those who want to carry us) sometimes fail. This usually disrupts the holiday meal as well.
And yes. Maybe those cool foldout ramps that I carry around in my van for just such occasions might get me in the front door, but we should probably consider the ramifications of our situation if I have to use the restroom. Any thoughts about what I should do there? My guess is that the bathrooms in your house are probably not accessible. Beyond that, even if I get up this first step, often there are many more once I get inside. The ramps don’t always work. In fact, the first picture shows three steps leading to a porch with yet another step to the front door. My ramps definitely would not work under the circumstances.
But don’t worry! It is not your fault! I’m not going to sue you (well, I guess that depends on who invites me). It is simple. The federal and state Fair Housing Acts do not require your house to be accessible. Even if it was built last week. You have no legal obligation to provide me with an accessible house.
When I have tried to work with legislators to address this issue, I have found that I meet with great resistance from a constituency most legislators have called “home builders associations.” What they say is people can’t sell their house if it looks like a “handicap house,” and people surely don’t want to live in a “handicap house;” after all, they are so ugly. But is that true? Does having a single ramp or a flat, level entrance or 32-inch wide doors or a restroom that has enough room to accommodate an accessible toilet and/or a roll-in shower really cause some sort of depreciation in the value of your home? Does anyone have any data to back this up? I think not, but data and evidence do not seem to matter much these days so I guess we will just take the word of the home builders association. In point of fact, as an individual who has sold an accessible property, I can tell you on a personal level, those features actually increased the resale value. This is in part because accessibility opened up the opportunity of homeownership to a wider market of people. The person who bought my last home was an individual who used a wheelchair. Because I had created a van-accessible parking space in the garage in the building and built a roll-in shower, and because the home was a condominium that is required to meet minimal Fair Housing Act requirements (e.g., there was a ramp to the front door), the buyer found these features to be very helpful and something he could not find everywhere else he had looked.
Here’s the deal: the federal and state Fair Housing Acts require very minimal accessibility features. Also, those very minimal accessible features only apply to multi-family housing (essentially, apartments and condominiums). In these multifamily housing units (the requirement is four or more units connected together either on one level ore by an elevator), there are seven basic requirements, and they are very minimal as set forth in the Fair Housing Act Design Manual.
Single-family homes ARE NOT REQUIRED TO BE ACCESSIBLE AT ALL! There is no requirement in the federal or state Fair Housing Acts that any access be provided. (By the way, don’t be confused. The Americans with Disabilities Act does not apply to housing — at least not what I am discussing here.) There is also a state law in Colorado that requires some things related to accessibility that are not included in the Fair Housing Act, but even these do not apply to single-family homes. The bottom line is houses simply are not required to be accessible by any law. Guess what? As a result, they aren’t accessible. Not even a little bit. Very many of us who use wheelchairs are simply excluded from an enormous amount of everyday, normal human activity that the rest of you take for granted.
Why?! There is no good reason with respect to newly-designed houses. It is much more complicated and expensive to remodel a house to make it accessible than it is to build the house that way in the first place.
Stop for a moment and think about all of the activity that occurs inside your or a family member’s house. The holidays and all of the get-togethers with family and friends during this time of year simply exclude a large and growing portion of the population who use wheelchairs and who cannot access many houses. Unfortunately, because of the resistance to incorporating a handful of simple design features into newly constructed houses, your homes are no place for us for the holidays. And let’s put holidays aside. Think of how much human activity occurs inside people’s house — where people get together for almost any social experience you can imagine. Beyond that, I keep hearing about many of my friends who can walk who have been out “door-knocking” for candidates running for office. (I hear this kind of stuff is really popular in places like Iowa.) But I can’t even do that because I can’t get to your door. I can’t get into my neighbors’ houses to even say hello because their front doors are not accessible.
I was able to buy a house that was made accessible, in large part, by the previous owner before I moved in. I have continued to make accessibility improvements in the 10 years I have lived there. I find the fact that hardly anyone has addressed the issue of providing accessibility to single-family homes a little strange because my friends and family who can walk love my accessible house. My house (built in 1957) has been converted in many different ways to be accessible to people who use wheelchairs. I have a large ramp with shrubbery in front of it at the front door. I have another ramp in the garage so I can get to my accessible van. Many of the kitchen counters have been lowered and have open space underneath them so people use wheelchairs can get to the sink and the stove. The vast majority of the doorways to my house are at least 32 inches wide, and I have an enormous concrete deck with a hot tub built-in so someone can either transfer from a wheelchair directly to the hot tub or use the lift I had installed. The house has two bathrooms. One of them has a roll-in shower. The other one has a bathtub. (Most houses built these days would have glass-enclosed showers that would have to be totally ripped out and redesigned if the house were to be used by someone who uses a wheelchair. Many of my family and friends who have stayed at my house have used my roll-in shower without complaint. After all, it is just a shower.) In fact, there is nothing about any of the accessible features of my house that makes them inaccessible to people who do not use wheelchairs. I don’t think most people even notice. More often than not, my houseguests who do not use wheelchairs who walk say they really love the open spaces and wide doors and other access features. So many of my friends who are not tall love the lowered counters. The accessible deck (accessible by French doors from the living room and sliding glass doors from the master bedroom) with ramps to the yard and to the sidewalk that leads up to the gate is fantastic. Why would you not want these features? What is wrong with a “handicap house?”
On top of all of that, it is so much more expensive to make a house accessible after it has already been built to be inaccessible. Even widening a door to make it 32 inches can be an extremely costly endeavor and sometimes almost impossible.
Here is another consideration. Have you ever moved a couch or a bed or a refrigerator? Having a ramp, 32-inch-wide doors and wide-open spaces throughout your house make it much easier to accomplish this task. The moving company that moved me into my house said it was the easiest move they had ever made. What is it about stairs that is so cool? Why do we have them? They seem dangerous. Maybe they are.
Now, of course, no one would INTENTIONALLY exclude us, would they? I mean you have been actively lobbying your state and federal legislators and asked them to require that single-family homes be made accessible, haven’t you? I thought so. You would never want to discriminate against us.
Why haven’t we done that? Are the home builders right? Is there something disgusting about the so-called “handicap house?” Do a couple of grab bars next to the toilet just make you sick to your stomach? Does this all stem from some deep-seated fear that you all might need to use those accessible features in the future and you refuse to accept that?
You really should check it out because you could get your state or local or even national legislators to sign on to the concept of “visitability.” This just means that all houses must be designed and constructed with basic accessibility features, including a zero-step entrance, wide passage doors, and at least a half-bathroom on the main floor that meets basic Fair Housing Act requirements. As the word suggests, the idea behind visitability is to make your home accessible enough that your friends, family and loved ones who use wheelchairs can visit.
This is one of those flat, level entrances I mentioned. Pretty hideous, isn’t it? I mean, who in the world would want to live in a house with that atrocious flat level entry? It is so disgusting!
Yuck! Who could live like this? There goes the neighborhood!
Repulsive! Now we’ve gone too far!
Certain U.S. cities and even the United Kingdom have adopted various types of visitability laws that require some measure of very simple accessibility be incorporated into the design and construction of all new housing. Austin, Texas, for example, has an ordinance that applies to any permit for construction of a new single-family or duplex dwelling with habitable space on the first floor and requires that house must meet certain visitability requirements., 
Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that I really appreciate your invitation, but I will not be attending because I can’t get in the front door (or any other door) and I can’t use the restroom. I’m going to my boss’s house. She uses a wheelchair. So does her partner. Their house is pretty darned accessible. I look forward to having Thanksgiving dinner with my friends and colleagues, many of whom use wheelchairs, at my friend’s house. When I go there, I can get in the house, I can have Thanksgiving dinner with my friends and colleagues; I can even use the restroom. Isn’t that crazy? Having people who use wheelchairs come to your house for a holiday gathering? Seems silly, right? I ask everyone reading this who owns a home that is not wheelchair accessible to stop and think how many times you have your friends and family visit you at your home. Now, stop and think about whether a friend or family member who uses a wheelchair could join you. Now, stop and think about what you’re going to have to do when you need accessible features in your house.
And, seriously, I thoroughly understand and completely confess there may be many reasons why you would not want me to be at your Thanksgiving dinner table, but are you really going to use the “my house is not wheelchair accessible” excuse? I mean this is getting old. You know somebody who uses a wheelchair who cannot easily access your house and use basic facilities like the restroom. Admit it! Do you just not invite that person, or do you go through great difficulties getting that person in and out of your house and dealing with the restroom situation?
Happy Thanksgiving! And special holiday wishes to you and yours if you are part of a home builders association that has actively opposed any legislation requiring or encouraging the advancement of visitability features in newly designed and constructed homes. It would be a shame if you hurt yourself carrying a relative up your front stairs for Thanksgiving dinner. And please be careful not to trip on one of those steps.
Maybe I will swing by after all. What are you having for dessert?
November 26, 2019
 Trust me, this is their language and not mine. I would never use that word in describing a house, but that is what they say.
 https://www.huduser.gov/portal/publications/PDF/FAIRHOUSING/fairfull.pdf (visited Nov. 25, 2019).
 See “Injuries and stairs occur in all age groups and abilities,” a 2017 article published by Reuters, claiming that, “More than 1 million Americans injure themselves on stairs each year, according to a study in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine,” at https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-injuries-stairs/injuries-on-stairs-occur-in-all-age-groups-and-abilities-idUSKBN1CE1Z4 (visited Nov. 25, 2019).
 See, e.g., “Increasing Home Access: Designing for Visitability,” published by the AARP in 2008, at https://assets.aarp.org/rgcenter/il/2008_14_access.pdf (visited Nov. 25, 2019). Page 32 provides a listing of locations that have enacted laws or ordinances. I want to stress that I have not investigated the correctness or authenticity of references to laws or ordinances requiring visitability. The purpose of these references is to allow the reader to get a glimpse of what is possible.
 Ordinance No. 20140130-021 R320 “Visitability,” http://www.austintexas.gov/edims/document.cfm?id=205386 (visited Nov. 25, 2019).
 See “Accessibility and Visibility Features in Single-family Homes: A Review of State and Local Activity” by Andrew Kochera, published in March 2002 by the AARP Public Policy Institute, a division of the Policy and Strategy Group at AARP. https://assets.aarp.org/rgcenter/il/2002_03_homes.pdf (visited Nov. 25, 2019).
The East Colfax Community Collective, a newly formed grassroots organization advocating for anti-displacement policies, held a press conference Tuesday ahead of the East Area Plan workshop scheduled this Saturday to voice community concerns and call for more equitable and inclusive engagement with its most vulnerable residents.
Collective leaders highlighted challenges facing renters, refugees and the disabled community in East Colfax. The group wants deeper protections against displacement before Denver’s Community Planning and Development Department (CPD) moves forward with two major development projects.
“Before these developments are built on the backs of these communities — their tax dollars, their homes — we hope to see safeguards in this plan that will give residents some recourse if pledges are not honored, so what is said is actually done,” said Kim Brewer with the group Rename Stapleton.
Specifically, the group called for an expansion of wealth building programs and Section 8 vouchers, along with concrete metrics to prioritize the creation of 30% and below area median income housing, for accommodations for the disabled community, and a more involved and fair engagement process to ensure the East Area Plan meets community needs.
“How does it happen that a city that seems to embrace equity at every chance it gets, clearly and profoundly lacks the ability” to take care of its most vulnerable populations, asked Tim Roberts, president of the East Colfax Neighborhood Association.
“I have been attending meetings organized by CPD regarding the East Area Plan since the summer. The format of those meetings has not allowed for many resident discussions on particular aspects of the plan, and I am not confident that City Planning is actually listening to the residents’ concerns,” said Towanna Henderson, an East Colfax community leader.
“We have invited City Planning to meet with the East Colfax Community Collective to ensure that our voices are heard and to work together to develop an inclusive and equitable process for our residents,” she said.’
As of 2015, according to the East Area Plan Briefing book, East Colfax represents more than a third of Denver’s eastern area of about 33,000 people. Nearly 25% of East Colfax residents are immigrants, and a third of its population speaks a language other English at home.
More than 30% of its families are living in poverty.
The East Planning Area neighborhoods include South Park Hill, Montclair, Hale and East Colfax.
“As a collective, we are committed to bringing our communities to the table,” said Brendan Greene, the collective’s spokesman. “We look forward to having the city join us at our table, meet with the collective, think outside of the box and create the solutions we need to protect our community before
the East Area Plan is finalized.”
Denver City Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer said in a statement that more than 300 neighbors have RSVP’d for the East Area Plan workshop and that CPD “expects a full house.”
The workshop will be held from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. this Saturday, Nov. 23, at Johnson and Wales (1900 Olive St.).
In 2017, when Medicaid was once again on the congressional chopping block, Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition (CCDC) [and ADAPT] continued to fight on behalf of the 560,000 Coloradans with disabilities, 26 percent of whom rely on Medicaid.
Currently, Medicaid is the largest payer for critical services for people with disabilities, ranging from medical treatment and primary care, wheelchairs, ramps and other home modifications, to services for children in schools and job training for adults. And according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Medicaid pays for half of all long-term services and supports for people with disabilities across the country.
“These home-based and community services keep our population in their homes, rather than be institutionalized,” says CCDC staff member Shannon Secrest, whose 16-year-old son receives home care services through a Medicaid waiver designed for kids who will need long-term supports and services.
Thus, for CCDC, the fight to protect Medicaid is also a fight against the forced institutionalization of people with disabilities. “There are millions of people with significant disabilities who depend on long term care and services,” says organizer Dawn Howard. “Otherwise, they’d be in nursing homes.”
Many of the families involved with CCDC are low-income, due primarily to the state’s Medicaid asset limit, which requires recipients to have $2,000 or less when they apply for long-term care. “If your total assets are $2,000, most likely you’re qualifying for SNAP and WIC and TANF and Section 8,” says Shannon. As such, she considers the work of CCDC as intersecting with a host of other issues, including food security, housing, employment, and poverty.
And disability can and does happen to anyone. “If there’s one level playing field about disability, it’s that it doesn’t discriminate,” says Shannon. “You can become disabled at any point. So the notion that it’s just those other people is just not the reality.
In Colorado, CCDC has been a loud champion of Medicaid, advocating for Medicaid as an issue that spans political, class, or geographical divides. In 2017, they initiated a rallying cry in hashtag form, which continues today. Behind the #VoteForMedicaid hashtag is a declaration and a direct message to current and prospective candidates:
In order to be elected in the state of Colorado, you must stand up for Medicaid.
CCDC has reached out to ally organizations across the state to gain support for their social media campaign, asking them to use the hashtag and sign on to a letter of support. “We reach out to anyone,” says Shannon. “It could be the home builders association that was building ramps. Anyone and everyone.”
So far, over 100 organizations have signed on to CCDC’s letter of support and many have also jumped aboard the hashtag campaign, sharing it with their members and encouraging digital storytelling about the importance of Medicaid. That storytelling is essential, because both Dawn and Shannon say much of their work to advocate for Medicaid involves a good deal of myth-busting—about disability in general, but also the logistics and cost of home care versus institutionalization.
First, cutting Medicaid funding ignores a stark reality: there simply aren’t enough nursing homes in the United States to house and care for the millions of people who would lose access to their home service.
Second, while Medicaid is often seen as a policy priority of the progressive left, Dawn says the values behind it reach easily across the aisle. Preserving Medicaid makes both moral and fiscal sense. “We really talk a lot about choice and fiscal responsibility,” says Dawn, noting her Republican colleagues and fellow organizers who lobby in DC on behalf of Medicaid. “They say, ‘I’m a Republican and Medicaid is a human right.’”
Shannon says, “The bottom line is, keeping people in their homes is far cheaper than any kind of institutionalization.” She pauses. “But it’s also our desire. Our desire is to have the freedom to be able to come and go and choose our caregivers and make decisions that affect our daily lives.”
DENVER, CO, November 12, 2019 … The number of reported hate crimes in Colorado increased by 16 percent between 2017 and 2018 while the number of reported cases nationwide slightly decreased, according to the FBI’s annual hate crime report released today.
In its annual Hate Crime Statistics Act (HCSA) report, the FBI found that total hate crimes decreased nationwide slightly in 2018 after three consecutive years of increases. The agency reported 7,120 total hate crimes in 2018, compared to 7,175 in 2017. Race-based hate crimes were once again the most common type of hate crime. Nearly 50 percent of race-based hate crimes were directed against African-Americans. Hate crimes directed at LGBTQ individuals increased by almost six percent, including a significant 42 percent increase in crimes directed against transgender individuals. Anti-Hispanic hate crimes increased 14 percent, the third straight year of increased reporting. While religion-based hate crimes decreased by eight percent from 2017, nearly 60 percent of hate crime attacks were targeted against Jews and Jewish institutions in 2018.
In Colorado, there were 123 reported hate crimes in 2018 compared to 106 reported incidents in 2017. Last year in Colorado, the FBI documented 78 crimes based on race/ethnicity/national origin, 24 based on sexual orientation, 16 based on religion, three based on gender-identity and two based on disability. Hate crimes directed at individuals based on their race, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability all increased from 2017 to 2018 in the state, according to the report.
A diverse group of community partners called the Colorado Coalition Against Hate (formerly Mountain States Against Hate; full list below) today said more must be done to address the disturbing trend of increased hate crimes and incidents in Colorado. The coalition was formed in 2017 to counter hate crimes in Colorado by educating the public about hate crimes and partnering with law enforcement to improve incident response and reporting.
Coalition partner statements:
Scott Levin, Regional Director, Anti-Defamation League Mountain States Region:
“It is intolerable that Jews and Jewish institutions continue to experience the greatest number of religion-based hate crime attacks in Colorado and across the country. A little more than a week ago, the FBI thwarted a white supremacist’s plot to attack a Pueblo synagogue and a small band of white supremacists distributed anti-Semitic propaganda in Boulder, Denver and Fort Collins. It is clear that anti-Semitism is not a thing of the past. ADL will continue to do all it can to defend Jews and all victims of hate and bigotry.”
Rex Fuller, CEO, The Center on Colfax:
“As we come closer to Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20, The Center on Colfax, Colorado’s LGBTQ community Center, would like to express our disappointment about the lack of reporting on bias-motivated crimes targeting the transgender community. In the past year, there have been 28 reported murders of transgender people in the United States. We at The Center on Colfax find it hard to believe that none of those murders would be considered bias motivated. In addition to the national issue of lack of reporting, we have witnessed a significant increase of bias-motivated incidents targeting the LGBTQ community locally. We call on all public safety agencies to do better and start including gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation in their hate crime and bias-motivated incident policies, from investigation to survivor services to reporting.”
Rev. Amanda Henderson, Executive Director, Interfaith Alliance of Colorado:
“We are saddened to read about the 16% increase in hate crimes and incidents of hate in Colorado. The Interfaith Alliance of Colorado stands against any and all incidents of hate in Colorado and around the United States. We believe in, and will defend, the dignity and worth of all people regardless of race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, immigration or housing status, or any other characteristic. Hate has no place in our society. We are committed to bringing people together across our differences to work each day for healing and justice.”
Dilpreet Jammu, Executive Director, Colorado Sikhs:
“The 2018 Hate Crime Report is a stark reminder that Colorado is not immune to hate or to hateful rhetoric. The numbers are understated. There are individuals, and groups, in our state that are doing needless harm to so many and wasting precious time and resources. Imagine the wealth we could generate if we eliminated the negative energy and divisions created by some of our leaders, and instead came together as one human race, with a focus on taking care of each other, with compassion to ‘the other’, as is taught by our many traditions and religions. There would be peace and safety for all.”
Barbara Grove Jones, President, NAACP Aurora Colorado Branch:
“Hate crimes against people of color are nearly 60% of the U.S. total with 45% of those directed at African Americans and 13% targeting Hispanics/Latinos. A significant percentage are violent crimes. The trends of these cowardly acts nationwide are traditional with prior years, consistent with those we see in Aurora, and sadly indicative of the times. We continue to fight against this scourge through enforcement, training, victim support and improved reporting with our partners in the Coalition and law enforcement.”
Mardi Moore, Executive Director, Out Boulder County:
“These statistics bear out what we know to be true in Boulder County and our surrounding area. Based upon the climate and this sad reality, our ongoing work with law enforcement and our District Attorney’s Office continues. Our LGBTQ community is resilient, and we will continue our work with increased resolve.”
Rachel Nielsen, Director, Colorado Resilience Collaborative:
“Despite coordinated efforts to prevent hate crimes, understand the problem in Colorado, and provide support for survivors, we are still experiencing an increase in violence. It is difficult to meet the criteria for a hate crime, so many additional incidents of harassment, discrimination, and hate speech are not even reflected in these numbers. This should be a wake-up call to Colorado.”
Daniel Ramos, Executive Director, One Colorado:
“Hate crimes are real and they are on the rise. Far too often, we hear stories of people in this state that feel unwelcome, unsafe, and targeted because of the color of their skin, who they love, how they identify, or how they worship. Today’s report validates the heightened concerns of hate in our communities and highlights the challenges ahead to address this important issue.”
Julie Reiskin, Executive Director, Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition:
“We have learned from history that hate does not work with democracy. Hate is based on fears, on a belief that people who are ‘other’ are somehow less than human. Hate goes against the values that many of us hold dear. Hate does not solve problems. Martin Luther King said, ‘Power without love is reckless and abusive and love without power is sentimental and anemic.’ It is our duty as social justice advocates to combat hate. We do this by showing the love we all have inside us and using the power we can amass by joining together and demanding enforcement of existing laws that give every person within our borders basic human and civil rights.”
Colorado Coalition Against Hate partner organizations:
Law Enforcement Partners:
Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, Colorado’s Premier Nonprofit run by and for people with disabilities working for the Social Justice of all Coloradans with disabilities is looking to hire a temporary employee as a Census Outreach Organizer. CCDC is looking for a highly organized, outgoing, and friendly individual who will be in the community encouraging people with disabilities to participate in the 2020 Census.
Job duties include:
Preference will be given to applicants who have
Compensation: $3,000 a month (December 22, 2019-May 21, 2020 with a possible one-month extension)
Please send your resume, a writing sample, and a sample of previous media materials personally developed. Also, include three references of individuals who can speak to your previous work.
Email the responses to Dawn Howard Dhoward@ccdconline.org
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.