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2023 Advocacy Targets

Table of Contents

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Keep students with disabilities in school

Rationale:

Students with disabilities are susceptible to being excluded from school when they exhibit challenging behaviors, even when those behaviors are related to their disabilities. Students with disabilities are excluded from school more often than students without disabilities through suspensions, expulsions, homebound placements, modified day schedules, alternative school placements, and juvenile court involvement. During the 2018-19 school year, for example, students with disabilities received 24% of short-term suspensions, 17% of long-term suspensions, 26% of expulsions, and over 20% of alternative school placements, yet comprised less than 13% of the total student population. These exclusions often result in months or years of lost instructional time for students with disabilities. In 2018-19, the average length of a long-term suspension was 73 school days – nearly 40% of the school year.

Black students with disabilities are excluded from school more often than white students with disabilities. In 2018-19, Black students with disabilities comprised only 31% of all students with IEPs in NC, yet those same students received over 63% of all long-term suspensions and expulsions. White students with disabilities comprised 45% of all students with IEPs in NC, yet received only 21% of all long-term suspension and expulsions.

Sometimes students with disabilities are excluded from school before being formally identified. Studies indicate that up to 85% of children in juvenile detention facilities have disabilities that make them eligible for special education services, yet only 37% received these services while in school. Black and Brown children are over-represented in juvenile detention facilities.

Some students with IEPs who go to school every day also are being excluded from the education that their non-disabled peers are receiving, as a result of lack of effective special education instruction and race and income inequities. This is particularly true in the area of literacy. Recent data and our individual cases indicate that many students with disabilities have literacy deficits that cannot be explained by their disabilities, and thus should be reading at much higher levels than their test scores reveal.

Target Populations

  • Students with disabilities serving a lengthy homebound placement or modified school schedule who can be served in a less restrictive setting if the school provides an appropriate placement, supports and services.
  • Students with disabilities serving a long-term suspension, multiple short-term suspensions, expulsion, or alternative school placement without the benefit of IDEA’s disciplinary safeguards, or who have been selected for discipline because of race or income in addition to disability.
  • BIPOC students with disabilities, or suspected disabilities, with an active juvenile court referral
  • Students with disabilities whose literacy skills are significantly behind their non-disabled peers for reasons related to race, income, or category of disability.
  • Students in NC youth development centers who are not receiving appropriate special education services.

Ensure students with disabilities will attend school free from abuse, including abusive interventions

Rationale:

Many students with disabilities are subject to abuse at school, both because of physical and emotional abuse by school staff, and the use of seclusion, restraint, PRN (as needed) medication, or other techniques. Studies show that children with disabilities are much more vulnerable to abuse than their non-disabled peers. The problem gets worse when children struggle to communicate abuse because of their disability. In some cases, students are at more risk because staff do not report incidents, or the justice system declines to investigate or take legal action.

Students with disabilities should attend school in a safe environment, free from traumatic experiences, abuse, and abusive interventions. DRNC will work to ensure this by investigating allegations of abuse and neglect in schools. We will focus on incidents that can lead to systemic change across multiple schools and school systems.

Target Populations:

  • Students with disabilities in self-contained classrooms and separate schools
  • Students with significant behavior challenges and/or communication challenges
  • Students who were denied access to school records regarding alleged abuse
  • Students who were denied access to police or court services regarding alleged abuse

Advocate for people with disabilities to have fair and integrated jobs

Rationale:

People with disabilities face many barriers to finding work, keeping their jobs, or getting better jobs. Some are unfairly screened out of opportunities, demoted, or even fired. Some cannot receive the accommodations they need. Others are not paid fairly and work in separate settings like sheltered workshops. Still others fear losing benefits if they return to work. We will help make sure people with disabilities have the chance to be trained for fair paying jobs, understand the impact of work on their benefits, and not experience discrimination.

Target Populations:

  • People with disabilities facing employment discrimination or other barriers to employment, |including lack of reasonable accommodations or transition services
  • People with disabilities who lack appropriate training resources to find, maintain, or advance in employment
  • People with disabilities who experience workplace discrimination
  • People with disabilities who lack adequate information about how work may impact their benefits

Enforce the right of people with disabilities to have equal access to their community

Rationale:

Equal access is a bedrock principle of civil rights and the Americans with Disabilities Act. People are regularly denied the full and equal enjoyment of the services offered by businesses, local municipalities, and the State because of their disabilities. Disability Rights North Carolina will work to eliminate public access inequalities by upholding the rights of people with disabilities to live and participate in their communities as equals.

Target Populations:

There are many ways to deny persons with disabilities equal access to a public place, program, or service, making this target population vast. While not an exhaustive list, the following are some specific examples of issues DRNC has addressed within this target:

  • Healthcare providers that refuse to consider patients with disabilities for organ transplant or other aggressive treatment
  • Summer camps or school extracurricular activities that refuse to modify rules to accommodate campers or students with special medical conditions
  • Businesses that refuse to allow patrons to use service animals
  • Courtrooms that refuse to provide sign language interpreters or braille materials
  • Public streets that are not wheelchair accessible or do not provide audio descriptions for crosswalks
  • Colleges and schools that refuse to permit classroom or testing accommodations
  • Organizers of large, public events that fail to allow aides and companions

Address North Carolina’s Over-Reliance on PRTFs

Rationale:

On any given day, 700 North Carolina children are in a Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facility (PRTF). Many of these children are in crisis because they could not get the behavioral health services they needed in their homes and in their communities. Why? Because there are not enough providers in the community. Because the providers do not have the tools they need to serve kids with more than one type of disability. Or the child can’t get services for more than one type of disability. Because North Carolina does not prioritize community-based treatment.

Instead, North Carolina spends hundreds of dollars per child, per day, on PRTF placement. These children are removed from their families and their communities. A disproportionate number of these children are people of color, or in the child welfare (foster care) system, or living in poverty. They may be sent to PRTFs across the state or on the other side of the country. We know through DRNC’s monitoring activities that PRTFs can be physically dangerous and emotionally traumatic for children. The kids receive little or no actual treatment there. And studies show that children have better outcomes, at a lower cost, when receiving services in the community. Yet North Carolina does not prioritize less costly, more effective community-based treatment. DRNC will work to reduce reliance on these restrictive institutions and to shift resources back into the community for our youth.

Target Population:

  • Children and youth placed in PRTFs or at risk for placement in PRTFs, particularly:
    • Children and youth in DSS custody
    • Children and youth of color
    • Children and youth with more than one disability or “complex needs”
  • Children and youth who have been in multiple PRTFs
  • Children and youth who are ready for discharge, but remain in a PRTF because of a lack of community services

Reduce unnecessary institutionalization of individuals with disabilities and advance home and community-based healthcare services and supports

Rationale:

The current health and human services system is biased towards institutionalization over home- and community-based services. Often, people with disabilities who could successfully live in the community with sufficient services and supports are stuck in institutional settings. Others currently living in the community are put at risk of unnecessary institutionalization and segregation due to cost-cutting measures and a flawed implementation of the service delivery system. The pandemic that began in 2020 further highlighted inadequacies in the healthcare system, especially the provider network, for individuals with mental health needs. The number of involuntary commitments (IVC) continued to increase throughout North Carolina as individuals desperate for services found themselves IVCed as a last-ditch effort to receive needed services lacking in the community. People should not have to be hospitalized or institutionalized to receive medically necessary services. This current system violates the rights of individuals with disabilities to receive services in the least restrictive environment under the Integration Mandate of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Olmstead decision. Additionally, the State fails to deliver medically necessary services provided for under the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic, and Treatment provisions of Title XIX of the Social Security Act (Medicaid Act) that would allow children and adolescents to remain in the least restrictive community setting.

This Target will take a holistic approach to address these issues to reduce institutionalization, promote community integration, and promote access to medically necessary services so that adults and children with disabilities live where they want and have the services needed to enjoy full inclusion in the community.

Target Populations:

  • People with disabilities in institutions who have been denied transition to the community because of a lack of available home and community-based services
  • People with disabilities in the community facing institutionalization or re–institutionalization due to a denial of services or lack of available home and community-based services
  • Children and youth dually diagnosed with both mental health and intellectual/developmental disabilities facing increased risk of institutionalization because of a lack of coordinated service and/or inadequate home and community-based services

Protect the housing rights of people with disabilities under both federal and state law

Rationale:

For the past few years, disability discrimination has been the number one source of housing discrimination complaints in North Carolina. Predictably, DRNC has noticed a steady increase in requests for help from individuals experiencing housing discrimination. Callers have been denied reasonable accommodations or modifications to make sure their home is accessible for their needs, thereby denying them access to their homes equal to individuals without disabilities. Others have been subjected to harassment due to their disability and/or threatened with eviction due to their disability-related needs or behaviors.

Many individuals, due to their disabilities, do not understand the eviction or summary ejectment process in North Carolina. They are often unaware of their rights and available defenses to evictions based upon their disabilities and are unable to adequately represent themselves in proceedings. Finding housing post eviction can be especially tough on individuals with disabilities due to stigmas and discrimination that make finding safe, accessible, and affordable housing a challenge. It is an even greater challenge when individuals with disabilities are also people of color, LGBTQ+, and/or indigent.

To make matters worse, North Carolina is on the cusp of a housing crisis. There is currently a 191,000-unit shortage for very-low-income and extremely-low-income families. This shortage disproportionately affects persons with disabilities who make up 20% of individuals receiving federal rental assistance in North Carolina. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has highlighted the importance of a safe and affordable home, North Carolina’s eviction rate is more than twice the national average. Eight cities in North Carolina are among the top 100 cities in the country with the highest eviction rates. Five of those eight cities rank in the top 25 US cities with the highest eviction rate.

DRNC is committed to combating housing discrimination, including discriminatory evictions, to ensure people with disabilities and their households may live independently in accessible homes in the communities of their choice. This goal will be achieved through education and training, individual representation, and systemic advocacy.

Target Populations:

  • People with disabilities who have been denied equal access to fair housing
  • Persons with disabilities and their households at risk of losing their housing due to discrimination related to their disability or a failure to accommodate their disability-related needs

Advocate for a safe, equitable and just criminal justice system for people with disabilities

Rationale:

People with disabilities are not only overrepresented in North Carolina’s prisons and jails, they are also overrepresented in violent interactions with law enforcement and face challenges accessing equal treatment throughout the criminal justice system. DRNC continues to identify and advocate for improvement in the treatment of people with disabilities in prisons and jails as well as work to make the ADA’s right to access programs and services a reality in these institutions. We recently expanded this target and continue to be a leading advocate for people with disabilities in prisons and jails. This expanded target encompasses investigating the experience of people with disabilities at steps along the criminal process and identifying reforms needed to ensure the system is safe and fair for people with disabilities.

In the prison context, the Department of Public Safety continues to house inmates with mental health disabilities in solitary confinement without needed out of cell treatment. DPS fails to identify and accommodate thousands of inmates with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, leaving them at risk of abuse as well as idled in prison and ill prepared for successful reentry. The prison-ADA system fails to identify and accommodate prisoners with disabilities. DRNC’s goal is to remedy the ADA system in NC prisons so that inmates with disabilities are no longer discriminated against and are able to access programs and services while in prison and as part of their preparation for successful reentry upon release.

Jails are neither designed nor funded to provide mental health treatment, yet with the erosion of public mental health services they have increasingly become de facto mental health facilities. The disparities for immigrant individuals with mental health disabilities are even worse. Suicides continue to occur at an alarming rate in NC Jails. Advocacy is needed to ensure Jail Administrators appropriately respond to an inmate’s mental health needs. Sadly, we have learned that Jail Administrators are also failing to protect the increasing numbers of arrestees in crisis due to substance use. There are few organizations monitoring conditions in our NC Jails, and DRNC can have a meaningful impact on the quality of care for people with disabilities.

DRNC has developed innovative, cross-team projects, collaborations and policy advocacy to focus attention on the identification and treatment of people with Traumatic Brain Injury in our criminal system, assisting recently released people in obtaining state identification when they re-join their communities, and the abolition of long-term solitary confinement in NC prisons. We continue to monitor all criminal justice related issues to ensure that we efficiently and effectively target our advocacy in the areas where we can be most effective in reforming the most damaging aspects of our criminal justice system when encountered by people with disabilities.

Target Populations:

  • People with disabilities confined in NC Jails
  • People with mental health disabilities in prison who are not identified and/or are not receiving appropriate treatment
  • Disabled prisoners who are not receiving accommodations and who are denied equal access to prison programs and services
  • People with disabilities who come in contact with law enforcement and the criminal court system
  • People with disabilities who are re-joining their communities after a period of incarceration

Advocate for people with disabilities before, during, and after a state declared disaster/pandemic

Rationale:

COVID-19 has created an evolving situation with varied impacts on DRNC’s work, including our disaster recovery work, and to our clients, who have been disproportionately harmed by the pandemic. DRNC’s in-person outreach and advocacy efforts for communities in Eastern North Carolina have been upended as we prepare for hurricane season during an ongoing pandemic. Advocacy for the most at-risk disabled people is crucial for them to access to needed programs, services and supports to remain healthy, safe, housed, independent, and free from abuse and neglect.

The intersection of poverty, segregation and racism affect DRNC’s clients in many ways, including disaster recovery. DRNC sees inequities in long-term disaster recovery for many of our clients. Disabled people who have been relegated to flood-prone parts of the state experience homelessness and housing instability even before disaster strikes, exacerbating their ongoing hardships. Many households with disabilities are living on the margins due to lost jobs, savings, and/or housing, and inequities in health care and other resources. Almost four years after Hurricane Florence, many people with disabilities are still awaiting funding that will assist them with their recovery, and there remains a tremendous shortage of affordable, accessible housing. At the same time, the pandemic has disproportionately harmed and killed disabled people, and continues to put them at greater risk as our society endeavors to move forward. Advocacy, outreach, education, technical assistance, and access to vaccines and public health are required to assist the most vulnerable disabled people and ensure emergency response and recovery systems adequately address their needs.

Target Populations:

  • People with disabilities who have been affected by disasters/ pandemics and need of support, services, resources and legal advocacy to remain in or return to their homes and communities
  • Outreach and education to disability community, advocacy groups, disaster preparedness and response systems, and the public about the rights of disabled people before, during and after a disaster

Promote the right of self-determination

Rationale:

Advocating for the right of people with disabilities to self-determination is fundamental to DRNC’s purpose as North Carolina’s Protection & Advocacy organization. People with disabilities have the same right to self-determination as everyone else. They are entitled to be informed, exert control in their lives, receive respectful support from those they choose to turn to for help, make decisions free from coercion, to act on their own behalf, and to direct their healthcare.

Guardianship threatens individuals’ right to self-determination. It permits an individual, a corporation, or the government to stand in the shoes of a person with a disability and make decisions on their behalf. This relationship results in the loss of some or all decision-making authority belonging to a disabled person. Although North Carolina’s laws state that guardianship should seek to preserve the rights of individuals to manage their property and personal affairs within their comprehension and judgment, the reality is that the current process does little to achieve the statute’s stated goal. Guardianships, too often, result in the complete removal of person’s right to make decisions about their own life. Guardians fall prey to false notions that adults with disabilities cannot engage in decisions about their life or function in society. As a result, those under guardianship are segregated from their community, isolated, and marginalized and oppressed. People with disabilities that are of color, LGBTQ+, and indigent are multiply marginalized and face additional challenges navigating guardianship proceedings.

Self-determination is one of our most fundamental rights and it does not end with a determination of incompetency. Decision-making is a skill that can be honed with practice, and varies across time, subject matter, and circumstance. DRNC will advocate for alternatives to guardianship that will allow people with disabilities to make their own decisions about their property, personal affairs, and especially their healthcare. We will empower them to surround themselves with people who can help with weighing options and considering likely consequences. We will advocate for equitable guardianship proceedings with strong due process protections. And we will enforce the fundamental right of individuals to direct their own healthcare, fighting against forced treatments and the over–use and misuse of IVC as a means for treatment of mental health.

Target Populations:

  • People with disabilities who would like to restore their competency
  • People with disabilities who have public or corporate guardians who have been denied help from their guardians to transition from institutions to the community with supports
  • People with disabilities who have been denied the opportunity to participate in decisions about their own healthcare, including through the IVC process

Enforce the rights of people with disabilities to vote

Rationale:

Despite significant efforts to increase voter turnout, voters with disabilities still vote at disproportionately lower rates than non-disabled people. Reasons for this disparity include significant structural and procedural barriers, and lack of focus on the needs of disabled voters by policy-makers, boards of elections, political parties, funders, voter engagement advocates and volunteers, and others. DRNC will maximize our voting rights impact by ensuring that coalition partners who work on voter engagement and mobilization are making their efforts and information accessible, and explicitly considering the needs of voters with disabilities in their planning. DRNC will emphasize the benefits of early voting, identify and address barriers at polling sites, and dismantle access barriers to voting, including absentee voting.

Target Populations:

  • Voters with disabilities
  • Subgroups include: blind voters, voters living in facilities, and voters living alone in the community with minimal support from or connection to others

DRNC’s Work Outside the Advocacy Targets

Monitoring and Investigations

As the Protection & Advocacy organization for North Carolina, DRNC is federally mandated and empowered to conduct monitoring and investigations in facilities where people with disabilities live and receive services. We work to keep them free from abuse and neglect. This has been and always will be a critical part of DRNC’s efforts. Within our resources and priorities, we will:

  • Monitor various types of facilities to identify, prevent and remedy instances of abuse and neglect against people with disabilities, and keep them safe;
  • Ensure legal compliance, safe conditions, and appropriate services;
  • Identify individuals who could live in the community with supports;
  • Investigate deaths and allegations of abuse or neglect in facilities;
  • Advocate for systemic reforms.

Information, Referral and Self-Advocacy Support

Another important part of the work we do at DRNC is to support self-advocacy among people with disabilities. We continually offer information and referral services, conduct outreach and education, and provide self-advocacy materials to help people with disabilities and other advocates learn about and enforce disability rights.

Public Policy Advocacy

DRNC engages in public policy advocacy with funds we are able to raise from individual donors.

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