Spotlighting the Launch of the DOJ’s Elder Justice Website

Recently, the United States Department of Justice announced the launch of the Elder Justice website which was created to help further combat elder abuse and financial exploitation of seniors. Being the caregiver of a member of the Silent Generation and being a helping professional, I understand how dire it is to protect the older members in our society, and to report any forms of abuse or neglect they may endure.

Elderly Black Woman 1With a plethora of resources out there, it can be overwhelming to figure out what information is appropriate and current to utilize and pass along to those who need it. The U.S. Justice Department has taken steps to provide an online informational “hub” for older Americans, their families, law enforcement, helping professionals, and other stakeholders who have a vested interest in ensuring that older Americans’ rights and humanness are respected.

The Focus Behind Elder Justice:

The need for such a new resource is imperative, especially since one in ten Americans over the age of 60 suffer from abuse and neglect in this country.  Elder Justice’s aim is to be another proactive measure to assist in preventing elder abuse and financial exploitation.

Elder abuse can consist of an older individual experiencing physical, emotional/mental, financial, and/or sexual abuse; and neglect in one’s well-being and care, which can include health care.  The devastating effects of elder abuse is not just felt by the individual targeted, but by those within the community as well.  Elder abuse dwindles the resources set aside for elderly individuals, families, businesses, and public programs (including Medicare and Medicaid) by billions of dollars each year.  This depletion causes tremendous strains on our healthcare, financial, and judicial systems to transpire.

Protecting the elderly has continued to be a priority of the Justice Department, which were evident by the remarks Associate Attorney General Tony West made at the outreach event of the website launch in mid-September:

The launch of the Elder Justice website today marks another milestone in reaching our shared goal of keeping older Americans safe from abuse and neglect  …  The more we embrace our elders with respect and care, the stronger our society will be.  This tool helps move us closer to that goal.

Various forms of abuse and neglect are not the only issues concerning our seniors the Elder Justice website tackles.  Financial exploitation by consumer scams and healthcare fraud are forms of deception this population experiences.  Seniors are estimated to lose almost 3 billion dollars each year from these kinds of exploitation.  The consequences can greatly diminish older adults’ quality of life by creating a loss of independence and self-sufficiency, and increasing the infliction of health and psychological distress.  The Justice Department has taken several steps to focus on these matters, such as prosecuting those who purposefully targeted seniors with scams involving reverse mortgages and lotteries.  In regards to healthcare fraud, the implementation of enforcement, prevention, and consumer protection initiatives has aided to curb financial exploits of our seniors.

What to Expect When You Visit the Elder Justice Website:

Assistant Attorney General Stuart F. Delery made the following statement about what the public and professionals can find on the Elder Justice website:

The website provides resources and a means for improved communication among prosecutors, supports victims and families, and establishes a mechanism for collaboration for researchers and practitioners … While there are many other victim support websites available, we believed that the department could add significant value in this domain by consolidating information nationwide and making it more user-friendly.  The Civil Division will continue to strengthen its efforts to protect the elderly.

The website is easy to navigate, and seems to be very accessible for users of different technological abilities.  There are several tabs on the left column of the homepage that directs visitors to resources and information that may pertain to their unique situation or interests, such as “support for victims and families,” “practitioner resources,” “financial exploitation,” and “researcher resources.”  Each resource link provides several subcategories of information for that particular topic.

The “support for victims and families” resource link has the best information available on the website, in my opinion, because you can search for organizations in your particular state.  When I viewed the resources for South Carolina page, I was amazed at the simplistic layout the information listed was arranged in – the information was housed in an easy to read table format with the title headings “organization’s name,” “address,” and “contact numbers.”  Every organization listed was categorized under its appropriate mission focus, so that users would understand the kind of assistance to expect if they were to contact that organization.

You can also search for organizations by keyword, distance, zip code, or categories.  The various ways of finding organizations in your particular state/area is a great feature because it widens the possibility of connecting with agencies that could be a lifeline for you, your family, or your clients.  I critically viewed the functionality of the website through two lenses:  As a self-proclaimed semi-techie, I judge resource websites like this harshly because it should not be complicated or frustrating to search and locate information that could help and possibly save lives.

The website is accessible and can be effectively used by a layman or a professional equally with very little difficulty, which is how most websites should be.  As a helping professional, the Elder Justice website will make it easier for social workers and other professionals to be more aware of what resources they can direct clients and families to who are in need.  To me, the website is a great page to bookmark for future use, and to share with those who could benefit from the data compiled.

Final Thoughts About Elder Justice:

I was pleasantly surprised at the launch of a valuable resources such as this on the federal level.  As our elderly population grows with the Baby Boomers gracefully entering their golden years, the development of this website is indeed timely.  Though this website focuses on the elderly, it can be used for all populations that are vulnerable to abuse, neglect, and exploitation, including those with disabilities.

As one ages, the likelihood of acquiring a disability increases exponentially, so many of the adults who make up our senior population are living with disabilities or will be.  Their quality of life and well-being matters, just as that of a younger person.  Our seniors need us to protect and support them as they adjust to aging, and possibly living with chronic health conditions.  Resources like Elder Justice makes it easier to inform, empower, protect, and advocate for them, and to encourage them to empower and advocate for themselves.

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of Healthy Black Woman.)

Attorney General Eric Holder Signs Proposal to Improve Movie Theater Experience for Disabled Americans

On July 25th, 2014, the Justice Department released a statement announcing that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder signed a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that will affect Title III regulation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Title III of the ADA focuses on public accommodations, such as restaurants, hotels, theaters, doctors’ offices, libraries, and the like, and states that these establishments may not discriminate based on disability status(es).  The NPRM Attorney General Holder supports focuses on requiring movie theaters to provide closed captioning and audio description that will improve movie accessibility for those with visual and hearing disabilities.

Attorney General Holder made the following statement about the proposed amending:

This proposed rule will allow all Americans, including those with disabilities, to fully participate in the moviegoing experience.  With this proposal, the Justice Department is taking an important step to ensure consistent access for people with vision and hearing disabilities.  Twenty-four years after its passage, the Americans with Disabilities Act remains a critical tool for extending the promise of opportunity and inclusion for everyone in this country.

(Excerpt from the DOJ’s Press Release statement about proposed amendment.)

Interior of a Movie TheaterWhat do these proposed new accommodations mean for disabled moviegoers?  The closed captioning access would allow for captions to be delivered to a patron’s seat, and would only be visible to that user.  The audio description access would allow patrons with varying degrees of visual abilities to participate in the movie-going experience by making available a spoken narration of key visual moments in the movie; such as action points, setting locations, facial expressions made by the characters, costumes/clothing worn, and scene changes.  These descriptions will be transmitted via an user’s wireless headset.

The amendment proposed would establish a nationwide standard for movie theaters to showcase movies that would allow closed captioning and audio description to be made available to patrons would would benefit from the accommodation.  However, there are two caveats to this proposal:

  • The first being that theaters can be non-compliant if providing such accommodations would prove to be an undue burden or fundamental alteration.
  • Secondly, the DOJ is not requiring theaters to add the accommodations to movies that cannot be adapted with these features.

As someone who is hard of hearing (HoH) and uses two digital-style hearing aids, this proposal would greatly benefit me as a moviegoer.  Though my hearing aids assist me greatly, having the closed captioning option as an accommodating tool would enhance the movie theater experience for me, and others like myself.  Closed captioning and audio description features provide more social inclusion for those who would utilize them.  As we look ahead to the 25th anniversary of the ADA in 2015, this proposal is a great reminder that there is still a tremendous amount of work left to ensure that people with disabilities have equal access and opportunities, justice, inclusion, and acceptance in our society.  Individuals with visual and hearing disabilities, along with those with other forms of disabilities, are still in great need for more accommodations and accessibility to be made available to them – a few ramps, braille on elevator pushkeys, and wide bathroom stalls are not enough.

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of AI Squared.)

Funding Free Tracking Devices for Children with Autism

Mom with Son Wearing Backpack 1Last week, the Justice Department announced that it would promptly make funding available to provide free tracking devices for children with autism.  The devices will be provided to families with children who are at risk or have a history of, wandering and elopement.  U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder stated that the Department already has the funding needed to make this technology available.  Police departments have been given the green light to apply for funding; departments can use the funding awarded to pay for tracking devices to be allocated to families that want them.  This new plan is modeled after the federal program in place that supplies similar devices to families of those with Alzheimer’s disease.

The wandering and elopement of children with autism have gained much attention due to the tragic passing of Avonté Oquendo, a 14 years old teen who went missing in New York in mid-October.  So many across the nation had hoped and prayed for Avonté’s safe return to his family, including yours truly.  Avonté’s story shone a spotlight on the thousands of children with special needs who are reported missing each year in this country.

The numbers regarding those with disabilities who are reported missing are astounding.  In 2012, there were 30,269 individuals with disabilities who were reported missing, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (the FBI) National Crime Information Center (NCIC).  Of that figure, 3,570 were those under the age of 21, and 26,699 were those age 21 and older.  The number of children missing in 2012 was noticeably less than what was reported in 2011.  In 2011, 6,340 of those reported missing with a disability were under the age of 21.  If we were to combine those figures, almost 10,000 children with disabilities were missing within the past three years.

The focus on those with autism is dire because children with autism spectrum disorders have a higher risk of wandering and eloping than children with other special needs.  It has been noted that about half of children with autism will wander and elope; close to one-third of these children are nonverbal, and are unable to communicate their identities to someone if they are spotted.  Children with autism who wander from safe environments such as their homes or school grounds have a tendency to seek bodies of water or may have interests in active highways, trains, and the like.  Any of these predicaments or fascinations could cause the child to place her or himself in harm’s way while they attempt to “explore” these new surroundings.

The action taken by the Justice Department and U.S. Attorney General Holder is encouraging; the needs of people with disabilities, especially our children, are in the consciousness of those on the federal level.  This new technology has the potential to save the lives of our children, as well as others who may wander from their safe environments.

What are your thoughts about this new initiative?  Is your family one of many in this country who could benefit from using these tracking devices?  If you are currently utilizing a tracking device to keep your loved one(s) safe, what benefits or drawbacks of this technology have you experienced?  Share your thoughts and stories regarding this subject with me.

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of Digital Trends.)

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