In this issue:


Activity on the Hill
What to Expect for the 2015 Legislative Session

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overnor Herbert and legislative leaders are predicting a more than $600 million surplus in next year’s budget. While there probably won’t be much left to expand programs or services once education, roads, buildings, and the rainy day fund claim their share, at least it’s a start. However, it looks like major policy decisions will drive the 2015 Utah state legislative session which begins later this month:

  • Governor Herbert’s Healthy Utah plan would offer quality health insurance to the approximately 95,000 Utahns making just over $15,000 a year who don’t have access to affordable alternatives. A conservative estimate is that over a third of these individuals have a mental illness and/or substance use disorder.
  • The governor’s budget requests about $10 million to implement the recommendations of Utah’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative. The reforms focus on reducing costs by providing the treatment and support people need to stay out of jail or prison or be successful once they return home.
  • The Prison Relocation Commission is considering moving the prison to one of three new sites. New facilities will enable the Department of Corrections to provide more and better mental health care and reduce the use of solitary confinement for inmates with a serious mental illness.
  • According to the Division of Services for People with Disabilities (DSPD), the division is having a hard time bringing individuals off the waiting list because it can’t find providers who can afford to serve them. Therefore, the governor’s budget includes a $2.9 million request to increase reimbursement rates for Medicaid home and community-based waiver services.

Each of these priorities, and perhaps the budget as a whole, depend on possible savings from Healthy Utah to realize their goals. Unfortunately, the the Health Reform Task Force recently decided not to make it one of its recommendations to the full legislature.

Other issues the DLC will be actively engaged with include:

  • Joining other community organizations to make sure cities can’t deny a landlord the choice to rent to a person with a criminal history. Many prospective renters may have a nonviolent criminal history resulting from a mental illness.
  • Opposing any attempt to remove the protections around source-of-income in the Utah Fair Housing Act. This is particularly important issue for tenants who rely on Social Security or Section 8 vouchers.

Finally, we will support other selected legislation or appropriation requests consistent with the DLC’s mission, goals, and priorities.

All of these pieces have the potential to make a significant difference in the lives of Utahns with disabilities. Several are interconnected. Each is facing substantial opposition. We need you to be in constant contact with your legislators, friends, neighbors, and coworkers from now through the end of the session and beyond. Policymakers and the public need to hear how critical these systemic changes are, and what they will mean to you or your family. They need to have confidence that a strong majority of the state’s residents support common sense, cost-effective solutions which benefit all Utahns in their efforts to become, or continue to be, active, productive, and contributing members of their communities. Over the next month, we will be working with our partners to develop tools to make it easier for you to share this, as well as your own message, far and wide.

Until then, please visit our public policy page regularly. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you would like more information or have questions or concerns. As always, thanks for your interest and support.




 

 2014 Disability Law Center Annual Report
NOW AVAILABLE!

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he DLC Annual Report for 2014 is now available on our website. You may also request a printed version by contacting our office at (800) 662-9080, or emailing us at disabilitylawcenter.org/contact-us/. Discover how our work is making a difference for individuals and for all Utahns with disabilities. Browse client stories, learn about our systemic advocacy, and glance over our yearly financials. Enjoy!


 Changes to Vocational Rehabilitation May Impact Utah’s Workforce

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ig changes are coming to the State of Utah’s Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program. They will impact individuals who are currently getting help from VR to go to work. Certainly, thousands of willing-to-work Utahns, who may need help in the future, could be left without critical VR support.

First of all, who will receive VR services is changing because the agency will soon be implementing an Order of Selection. This means that certain groups of individuals with disabilities will have priority for VR services. The final details are not certain, but, we are watching the situation closely and will pass along concrete information when we have it.

A more immediate concern is the sudden discovery by VR that they don’t have the money to continue to support those who are already eligible, have an employment plan and are receiving services. Critical employment related services could be suspended for a time, for folks like:

  • Jerry, who was injured at work and has been re-training for a new occupation,
  • Sue, who has been working with a therapist to overcome anxiety that has kept her from working,
  • Ricardo, who completed a diesel mechanics program and only needs tools to get a job.

These potential situations constitute extreme personal hardships for individuals and a loss of economic growth in Utah.

The only hope is if the Utah State Legislature authorizes a one-time budget line item to make sure that people currently being served by VR continue to get what they need until they have a job. After all, more people working is good for everyone.

We invite you to join us in contacting your local legislator and asking them to take care of Utah citizens with disabilities who are preparing to work. Ask them to approve one-time money needed for VR to do the job. If you need to know who you should contact and how to reach them, feel free to call our office at 800-662-9080, and ask for STAT. You can also find your local representative at: utah.gov/government/contactgov.html.


 American Express Center for Community Development Award

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he Disability Law Center would like to express its gratitude to the American Express Center for Community Development for their recent support of our legal advocacy work on behalf of the 300,000+ Utahns with disabilities. The generous $15,000 grant from the AE Center for Community Development will enable us to continue helping people with disabilities who encounter employment-related issues.

The AE Center for Community Development encourages “good citizenship by supporting organizations that cultivate meaningful opportunities for civic engagement.” The Center supports non-profits each year through foundation and corporate giving activities.


 Harvesting Change
A Garden for Everyone

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or Sandra Jones, growing vegetables, fruit, flowers and herbs is a “spiritual thing”. As a garden steward at Harmony Park Community Garden, Sandra’s acted as liaison with the county, assisted garden patrons and worked toward creating a space that everyone can enjoy.

One day while visiting the garden as a family, the Jones’ trip became a real trial. You see, Sandra’s daughter uses a wheelchair. “I had a heck of a time getting her in there and I thought I’d never get her out!” said Sandra reflecting on their ordeal. She mentioned the access issues to the county and even suggested that they write a grant to address the problem, but her suggestions were ignored. Last spring, when Sandra herself started using a walker, the muddy grass leading up to the garden and the woodchip pathways inside posed serious obstacles. Although she likes to be as independent as possible, the barriers were too much for Sandra. “If my daughter wouldn’t have been there, I wouldn’t have made it. The wheels of my walker kept getting caught, causing me to pitch forward. I needed her there to catch me from falling. After that visit, I knew I was done for.”

After Sandra called the Disability Law Center, we investigated and found that the pathways did not meet the federally-defined accessibility standards. The DLC sent a demand letter to the county and the county responded positively by paving a concrete path from the parking lot to the garden and covering the wood chip pathways inside with a rubberized playground surface. Sandra’s been back to visit since the construction was completed, and reports that the new paths are “awesome!” After spending a season away, she’s again looking forward to growing fresh fruits and vegetables, and enjoying summer days in the garden with family and friends.


bLAWg:
Quality Community Living for Everyone

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edicaid-funded home and community based services (HCBS) provide necessary supports to individuals with disabilities and older adults who need help to live in the community. However, some of these services have been provided in restrictive settings, instead of people’s homes and communities. For example, the DLC has visited numerous day programs for adults with disabilities, and although there are many programs that provide high quality services, we have also observed programs in which individuals were isolated, with little to no interaction with the community, and no opportunities for skill building. To address this problem, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced a new rule to help people get services in integrated settings. The new rule requires states to ensure that individuals who are receiving services through HCBS programs have full access to the benefits of community living and are able to receive services in truly integrated settings.

To comply with the new rule the Utah Department of Health must write a plan that describes how people with disabilities will get the supports they need to stay healthy, live where they want, do work they like, and make decisions about their lives. Because states will not be allowed to use federal money for services that isolate people from the community, the Department of Health must tell us how people are receiving supports now. More importantly, the state must tell us what needs to change so Utahns with disabilities and those who are aging have a real opportunity to be active, productive, and contributing members of their community. The plan must describe in detail how the change will happen so that people don’t lose the supports they depend on.

The Department of Health has already published a draft plan that has been made publicly available. The state’s next step will be to update this plan based on public input that was gathered earlier this fall. The final plan will then be submitted to the Centers to Medicare and Medicaid Services for approval in March. We anticipate the state will hold additional public comment periods that will allow individuals to provide further input on the state’s plan throughout the coming months. For up to date information about the status of the plan and the state’s planning process you can join the Department of Health’s mailing list. The state can’t write a good plan without your help, so we encourage everyone to become actively involved in the planning process. If you would like more information, you can read our take on the state’s plan and the changes we think will make the plan better.


 Myth vs. Fact:
The Cost of Workplace Accomodations


Myth: 99% of all green Jell-O is consumed in the state of Utah.

Fact: In 2001, the Utah state senate recognized Jell-O as a favorite snack food and the governor declared an annual Jell-O week.

Myth: Accommodations for employees with disabilities are expensive.

Fact: 58% of accommodations for employees with disabilities actually cost nothing.

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common misconception is that accommodations for employees with disabilities are expensive. However, according to an ongoing study conducted by the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), since 2004 employers report that 58 percent of accommodations cost them ZERO dollars. The rest typically cost less than $500.

Employers often assume that accommodations are expensive, high-end electronics and technology. Many forget that assistive technology can include any item, piece of equipment, software or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities. According to JAN, simple items such as tennis balls, headlamps, and even curtains could all be used as a reasonable accommodation in the workplace. Assistive technology to help accommodate workers can be high-tech or low-tech. It is important to note that some types of assistive technology (AT) that are more expensive may be necessary.

The type of accommodation needed will always depend on an individual’s particular situation – including their job and their disability. One thing for employers to consider is that, in some cases, something as simple as putting curtains up to reduce glare on a computer screen for an employee with migraine headaches is much less complicated (and more than likely much less expensive) than searching for the best anti-glare computer monitor on the market.

So remember, before jumping to the conclusion that an accommodation will break the bank, low cost and effective accommodations do exist. Employers and employees can find a wealth of information on job accommodations on the JAN website askjan.org.

If you are a person with a disability and are in need of an accommodation at work, you can contact the Disability Law Center for more information and, if necessary, legal consultation to help you resolve issues with your employer. Visit us at www.disabilitylawcenter.org or call us at 800-662-9080.



2014 Community Justice Awards
Celebrating Inclusion

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he Disability Law Center’s 3rd Annual Community Justice Awards recognized Smith’s Food & Drug Stores, Superior Service & Transport, and the Kostopulos Dream Foundation for being “Champions of Inclusion” to Utahns with disabilities. Thank you to all those who celebrated the evening with us. Special thanks goes to this year’s keynote speaker, Representative Ronda R. Menlove, as well as our honorees and our sponsors Robert Baird & Co., Leavitt Group, Mountain America Credit Union, and Snell & Wilmer.

The evening was filled with vibrant music, courtesy of the band Spicy Jazz, tantalizing food, silent auctions and an inspirational program highlighting the need for inclusion of Utahns with disabilities. “I hope the message that you will take is that people with disabilities have incredible abilities,” said keynote speaker Rep. Ronda Menlove, whose granddaughter lives with a hearing impairment.

The award recipients echoed Representative Menlove, citing that people with disabilities are often an “un-tapped resource” that employers should turn to more often. “Since our company is really all about customer service, we try to make sure that the stores that we have reflect the communities we serve,” said Peter Barth, Vice-President of Human Resources at Smith’s Food & Drug.

The Community Justice Awards are presented annually by the Disability Law Center to those whose contributions have advanced the lives and opportunities of people with disabilities. All proceeds from the Gala help Utahns with disabilities obtain legal support to fight discrimination, receive critical services, maintain employment, and free themselves from abuse and neglect. To learn more about what “inclusion” means to Smith’s Food & Drug, Superior Service & Transport, and The Kostopulos Dream Foundation check out the short videos available at disabilitylawcenter.org.


Facts About the DLC
Demographics from the Past Fiscal Year

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he majority of the people we served last year describe themselves as either having a mental illness or a physical impairment as their primary disability. However, we do serve people with a range of disabilities.

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ost of the inquiries our intake team received dealt with rights violations and discrimination in housing and employment. Other common topics included rehabilitation services, abuse/neglect issues, and special education.

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isabilities can affect anyone. For that reason, we’re working hard on reaching out to the Hispanic community in Utah to ensure that our services meet their needs and we’re excited to see the community responding to our efforts.