DomesticShelters.org – New Resource for Those Experiencing Domestic Violence

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Though it may be the most wonderful time of the year, the Holiday season can be dangerous for individuals and families impacted by domestic violence.  Those who work in this field explains that the increase of incidences during the holidays is exacerbated by the build up of anger and stress, which accompanies the season.  The holiday season also marks the time of year when children experience domestic violence at the highest rates seen.  It may be a joyous celebration for many of us; however, we cannot forget or fail to protect and assist those who are enduring brutal, and sadly, potential life-ending, abuse.

A few weeks ago, I came across an article spotlighting a new tool to assist in finding shelter and support for individuals and families experiencing domestic violence.  Being that I wrote an article on this subject in October discussing the prevalence of disabled women and domestic violence, I knew that I had to take a more detailed look at this tool.

DomesticShelters.org – A New Website Seeking to Close the Information Gap

In late August, the National Coalition of Domestic Violence (NCADV) and the Theresa’s Fund partnered and developed a comprehensive tool that identified 3,001 domestic violence provider organizations throughout the United States, and gathered 156 data points on each entity.  Their collaborative efforts created the largest database of its kind ever established, and its existence allows visitors to Domestic Shelters to input their location, language, and service preferences with just the click of a mouse.  The search results yield proximate, relevant opportunities for users to receive the most appropriate assistance pertaining to their specific need(s) and situation(s).

My Test Drive of DomesticShelters.org

Being that I only share and spotlight online tools that I have personally reviewed, I thought that I would definitely do this for Domestic Shelters.  I went on the website, and was impressed with how colorful and eye-catching the graphic design layout was.  The bright colors created an inviting presence for users who are seeking this pertinent information.  (Click image to enlarge for better viewing.)

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The website’s usage ability is very simple:  enter your zip code, and if needed, select a language and service preferences.  When I entered the Columbia, SC zip code, 29201, the following organizations came up:  Sistercare and Women’s Shelter.  Since I am more familiar with Sistercare due to the active advocacy presence the organization has within the Midlands area, I decided to select Sistercare as the organization I wanted to learn about.

The information provided for Sistercare is crucial for those seeking its services.  Key points for me were the hotline number; TTY/TDD number for those who are hearing impaired; toll free number; and languages spoken, which is important to note for our ethnically diverse community.

The only information that was not included in Sistercare’s profile was whether the facility was wheelchair accessible, which is important for disabled South Carolinian women and families to know if they required such access.  (The lack of accessibility within domestic violence shelters and disability training for staff are incredible barriers that negatively impacts one’s ability to fully utilize these facilities.)

Overall, I was very pleased with how user-friendly Domestic Shelters was.  The “Leave SIte” button (which connected to the Weather Channel’s website when I selected it) allowed users to promptly leave the webpage for safety reasons.  I have seen a few domestic violence focused organizations with this feature, so it is considered a standard safety measure to ensure that those seeking or inquiring about assistance can do so without fear of their abusers knowing.

Final Thoughts

The Domestic Shelters website is an empowering game-changer for survivors, helping professionals, and community members who want to arm themselves with knowledge about the organizations that focus on serving and advocating for this particular population.  Domestic Shelters has an undeniable potential to close the information gap for those desiring to leave abusive situations and find their strength and voice with the aid of these organizations.

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of NCADV.  Screenshot is my own.)

Innovation Tool: Modified Power Wheels Cars for Toddlers with Disabilities

For our youngest disabled children, assistive devices that would allow them to gain independence by moving freely in their homes is a considerable and serious gap that exists for them.  University of Delaware and Fisher-Price aim to change that by offering affordable, adapted Power Wheels Cars for our kids who cannot afford to be slowed down by their disability.

Why This Level of Independence is Imperative for Our Disabled Toddlers

Modified Power Wheels Car 2For children under the age of three, there are no wheelchairs currently available on the market that would allow them to move about independently.  This lack of innovation unfairly keeps our children stationary, and hinders their growth development.  A child who has limited mobility should not be stifled in their desire to explore and play in their environments – they should have the ability to roam about and get into any and everything not nailed down, as other toddlers their age.  Waiting until a child is three years old and/or possesses the ability to maneuver a wheelchair is too long for their cognitive, motor, social, and language development to remain static.  We cannot continue to cause our disabled children to lag behind in their growth as curious, exploratory beings.

The Idea Behind Modified Power Wheels Cars

In 2011, Go Baby Go was created by University of Delaware pediatric researcher Cole Galloway to narrow this independence gap for our disabled tykes.  The goal was to develop modifications that families of disabled children could purchase at affordable prices, and make adjusts on their own.

Since its creation, there are currently 40 international Go Baby Go sites available to provide these cars to and modify them for families.  Through the project, over 500 cars have been modified and made available to families, and 500 more have been acquired through groups that were inspired to make this product available after learning about it either online or by word-of-mouth.

How These Modified Power Wheels Cars Are Adapted

The Power Wheels cars are rewired to add on/off switches, and the steering wheels have large buttons on them that allows the child to activate the car and make it move the way they like.  The PVC pipes and pool toys, the popular foam kickboards and water noodles, are added onto the cars to support the kids while “driving.”  Kids are secured in the driver’s seat of their cars with Velcro straps and seat belt buckles as they zoom around (safety first before we let them go loose).

These modified cars are incredibly affordable for most families – it costs approximately $200 to purchase and adapt each car to a child’s needs.  In comparison to the $1,000+ price tag for the “cheapest” wheelchairs on the market, these cars can fit into the budgets of most families in need of them.  In reality, the prices of these cars cannot compare to the invaluable reality they offer children who use them – their freedom and independence.

This Is Share-Worthy!

I urge each and every one one of the SWH readers to pass this along to parents/guardians, helping professionals, and others who could benefit from knowing about modified Power Wheels cars – disabled children deserve the right to gain access to this tool so that they can access the world around them without limits.

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of UD Go Baby Go via its Facebook page.)

HUD Awarded $7.5 Million to Assist Disabled & Elderly Americans Live Independently

Wheelchair in Front of Adapted Home 1In late September, HUD’s Secretary Julián Castro made the announcement that nearly $8 million in grant funding will be used to assist thousands of people with disabilities and senior citizens receive healthcare, meals, and other daily living activities and services in the comforts of their own homes, arranged by service coordinators.  Living independently as a disabled person or senior citizen, if possible, is important to one’s psyche, sense of well-being, and being afforded the opportunity to be fully comfortable in your own living quarters.  Becoming aware of the $7.5 million grants HUD awarded through its Multifamily Housing Service Coordinator Program (MHSC), I knew that I had to share this positive move towards increasing independence opportunities with the SWH readers.

Secretary Castro made the following statement about how the use of service coordinators will be vital to these particular populations:

Service coordinators connect senior citizens and those living with disabilities with the services they need to live independently … These grants will go a long way toward ensuring these vulnerable populations are well served and allowed to age in place.

The 39 grants awarded will be bestowed upon 39 owners of private housing developments that receive rental subsidies from the Department to house those who are low-income in 21 states.  The grant awardees are subject to hire or contract service coordinators who will be responsible for providing social services and assistance to residents who are disabled and elderly.  The grant money will cover costs related to salary, benefits, quality assurance, training, office space, equipment, and other related administrative expenses needed to retain and support these coordinators working for the grant awardees to provide these resources to residents.

Why is this grant award announcement so important?  Having the ability to stay in one’s home while conquering severe medical conditions has been proven to be beneficial to one’s overall health and improvement.  There is truly no place like home, and when you have chronic illnesses or disabilities, being in familiar surroundings eliminates the issue of having to recover in cold, foreign, unfriendly, sterile environments such as nursing homes and hospitals.  Being comfortable, location wise, is a priority for those with disabilities and our seniors, just as pain management and effective medical treatments are.  Being a helping professional, I have seen clients’ health and will to fight deteriorate when they were removed from their homes, and I have witnessed the complete opposite – clients’ health stabilized or deteriorated at a slower rate because they had the opportunity to remain at home.  Of course, remaining at home may not be the opportune choice in certain circumstances, but if it is favorable, it should be heavily considered as a possible option versus being institutionalized or hospitalized.

Another key point to note is that it is more cost-effective and cost-efficient for someone to remain in their home instead of being placed in an institutional setting; the latter would cost thousands of dollars each year just to house one resident.  The need for more federally-supported programs to assist in allowing individuals to live independently will undeniably reduce the financial strain on our healthcare system when it comes to this aspect.

Seeing that the well-being and quality of life of disabled and elderly Americans is on the consciousness of federal entities like HUD is imperative to ensure that everyone has a fair chance of living independently to the best of their abilities in our communities.

(Featured headline image:  Courtesy of The Little House Company.)

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.)

HUD Charges University with Housing Discrimination of College Student with Support Dog

A new school year means that disabled college students are adjusting to their new environments, and are making accommodation requests to their school’s disability services department that will allow a smoother transition.  Accommodations can range from needing note-taking assistance, placement in a quieter environment to take tests, and/or being able to use service/support animals on campus.  Such accommodations are protected under several federal mandates, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and other pieces of legislation that outlaws discriminatory practices based on disability status(es).

Support Dog 1In mid-August, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released a statement that it had charged Kent State University, one of the largest universities in Ohio, with discrimination.  The University, along with four of its employees, allegedly refused the accommodations request a disabled student made to allow her emotional support animal to live with her in the university-owned and operated housing unit she resided in.

Details of the Alleged Discriminatory Practice Conducted:  

According to HUD, the student filed a complaint stating the details of the claimed misgivings she and her husband experienced from the university regarding this matter.  The student and her spouse resided in housing designated for families and upperclassmen attending the University.  The student was receiving services from an on-campus helping professional, and the professional stated in documentation that the appropriate means for the student to cope with the disabilities she faced was by having an emotional support animal.

The student, acting on the helping professional’s recommendation about her care, sought and retained the services of an emotional support animal, and filed a reasonable accommodation request to the university about housing the animal.  The housing unit the student resided in had a “no pets” rule, and the student was hoping that the university would waive this policy, given that her support animal would be providing her assistance surrounding her disabilities.

The student claimed that the university did not respect her support animal housing accommodation request; though they did honor the requests she made regarding the academic accommodations she needed.  Her inability to obtain the housing waiver for her support animal caused her and her spouse to move and search for housing off-campus.  When the alternative housing arrangements were made, the student and her spouse contacted Fair Housing Advocates Association (FHAA), Inc. about this incident.

What the Fair Housing Act States about Housing Accommodations:  

In this case, refusing to accommodate a student with an emotional support animal violates the Fair Housing Act.  The Fair Housing Act (FHA), passed in 1968, prohibits housing discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, disability status, and family status.  In regards to disability, the Fair Housing Act states the following about reasonable accommodations and housing providers’ responsibilities:

Your landlord may not:

• Refuse to let you make reasonable modifications to your dwelling or common use areas, at your expense, if necessary for the disabled person to use the housing. (Where reasonable, the landlord may permit changes only if you agree to restore the property to its original condition when you move.)

• Refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services if necessary for the disabled person to use the housing.

Example: A building with a no pets policy must allow a visually impaired tenant to keep a guide dog.

(Excerpted from Fair Housing – It’s Your Rights.)

In this case, the Fair Housing Act prohibits the refusal the student claimed to have experienced – housing providers like Kent State University cannot refuse to provide reasonable accommodations to waivers regarding “no pets” policies, especially when the accommodation is needed for the disabled person to live an independent life.  Gustavo Velasquez, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, made the following statement about housing providers honoring a service/support animal accommodation requests:

Many people with disabilities rely on therapy animals to enhance their quality of life. .. The Fair Housing Act protects their right to a service animal and HUD is committed to taking action whenever the nation’s fair housing laws are violated.

Why Other Colleges & Universities Should Keep a Close Eye on this Case:  

Until a ruling is handed down in this case (if it is seen in court), Kent State University and its employees are innocent of any wrongdoing and discriminatory practices.  However, this case should be on the radar of the colleges and universities in this country.  As I say time and time again, being ignorant of the law IS NOT an excuse to hindering someone’s rights.  As a former disabled college student, I remember several students of various disabilities with their service and support animals in the classrooms, cafeterias, and dormitories.  These animals serve a purpose – they are NOT toys or pets; students deserve, and have the rights, to utilize the incredibly freedoms these animals bestow upon those who need them.

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of Working Service Dog.)

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.)

Wal-Mart Responds to Article about Being Sued for Disability Discrimination by the EEOC

Wal-Mart Logo on Buggy 1

On Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014, I published an article titled, Wal-Mart Being Sued for Disability Discrimination by the EEOC in Chicago, here on Social Work Helper.  My article summarized the press release the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) posted about it taking legal action against the gigantic corporation Wal-Mart for allegedly rescinding work accommodations for an employee with an intellectual disability, and later disciplining and terminating him from his position.

On Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014, I was contacted via email by Betsy Harden, who is a part of Wal-Mart’s Media Relations department.  Ms. Harden requested that I update my article with Wal-Mart’s response to the lawsuit, in order to give Wal-Mart’s side of the story.

Below was the said email from Ms. Harden, with Wal-Mart’s statement about the lawsuit in bold:

Hi Vilissa,

I am writing regarding your story, “Wal-Mart Being Sued For Disability Discrimination By The EEOC In Chicago.” Did you reach out to anyone on our team for a comment? We always appreciate the opportunity to respond to stories that include us. I’ve included our response below – could you please update your story to include this?

“We strongly disagree with the allegations raised in the complaint. Walmart does not condone or tolerate discrimination of any kind, and our company has thousands of associates who regularly perform their jobs with reasonable accommodations which we have provided. Our review of the facts in this case show that at no time did Mr. Clark ever request a workplace accommodation, nor did he ever indicate that a disability interfered with him performing his job. We ended Mr. Clark’s employment for repeated safety violations.”

Please don’t hesitate to call or email with any questions.

Thank you!

My first reactions to receiving her correspondence was shock, then enthusiasm.  Both responses stemmed from the fact that a mega supermarket chain like Wal-Mart caught wind of my story, a story that got on my radar from a posting on the Disability.gov’s newsletter the week prior.  I decided to inform Deona Hooper, the Founder and Editor of Social Work Helper, about Ms. Harden’s email, and she and I agreed that a response to the email was needed, and the request for an article publishing Wal-Mart’s statement would be granted.

Here was the response I sent to Ms. Harden about her request:

Good afternoon Ms. Harden,

Thank you for providing a statement from Wal-Mart about the pending legal situation filed by the EEOC branch in Chicago.  I do plan to write a follow-up article with Wal-Mart’s statement in full regarding this matter.

According to the EEOC’s press release, Mr. William Clark’s prior accommodation was rescinded, then he begin receiving disciplinary actions, which supposedly led to his termination. When Mr. Clark began his 18 years career at Wal-Mart, had he received a written accommodation(s), specifying what his need(s) were so that he could complete his job tasks and requirements to the best of his ability?

As a writer, I do my best to ensure to provide both sides of the story, in this case Wal-Mart’s and the EEOC’s, to my readers and the public.  Ms. Harden, if there is additional information or statements you would like to provide on behalf of Wal-Mart for the follow-up article, that would be greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,
Vilissa Thompson, LMSW

At the time this article was published, I have yet to receive a response from Ms. Harden about my question regarding if Mr. Clark had received written accommodation(s) for his particular need(s).

As I noted in my reply to the Wal-Mart representative, I aim as a responsible writer, and avid disabled advocate, to ensure that both parties are able to provide accurate information and statements to issues that affect the inclusion and equality of disabled Americans.  It is only fair that I reach out to the EEOC about the statement Wal-Mart sent me about this legal matter.  I was able to make contact with an EEOC employee at the national headquarters, and received the contact information of a paralegal who would be able to shed more light about this case.  I did contact the paralegal via email, sharing the email exchanges between the Wal-Mart representative and myself, and requesting if the EEOC would like to submit a statement/response to Wal-Mart’s stance about the lawsuit.  At the time this article was published, I have yet to hear from the EEOC paralegal.

The fact that Wal-Mart responded so quickly shows that the Corporation does care about its image, as far as being perceived as a fair and accommodating employer.  Until a ruling is handed down in court, Wal-Mart is innocent of any wrongdoing in this case.

This is the first legal case that I have been drawn into by one of the parties, and I plan to keep the SWH readers updated on any future responses I may receive from either Wal-Mart or the EEOC about this case, and the verdict of the lawsuit.

SWH readers, what are your thoughts about Wal-Mart’s statement, and the possible outcome of this case?  Share your thoughts with me below.

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of CNBC.)

Wal-Mart Being Sued for Disability Discrimination by the EEOC in Chicago

Earlier this month, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) took action by filing a lawsuit against Wal-Mart for allegations that the supermarket chain unjustly fired an employee with an intellectual disability who worked at the Rochford Walmart store in Illinois.  The grounds of the lawsuit pertains to the claim that the store revoked the employee’s workplace accommodations, and as a result, made it difficult for him to complete his job tasks, was unfairly disciplined, and ultimately fired from his position.

Wal-Mart Lawsuit 1John Rowe, the Chicago EEOC district director, stated the following about the investigation the EEOC conducted on the discrimination allegation:

What our investigation indicated is that Wal-Mart rescinded a long-standing practice of giving written job assignments to the employee, William Clark. That accommodation had been the key to permitting Clark to successfully perform his job during an 18 year career at Wal-Mart and to his meeting the company’s performance expectations. We determined that shortly after rescinding the accommodation, Wal-Mart began disciplining Mr. Clark for supposed performance issues, and that ultimately lead to his termination.

(Quote from the EEOC’s press release about Wal-Mart lawsuit.)

The EEOC did not pursue a lawsuit at first with this case; it tried unsuccessfully to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.  The EEOC filed its case on July 1st, 2014, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Western Division.  The EEOC filed the suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits workplace discrimination under Title I.  Title I outlines the responsibilities of places of employment to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled employees.

John Hendrickson, regional attorney of the EEOC’s Chicago District Office, stated the following as to why the EEOC took the stance it did in suing Wal-Mart for disability discrimination:

The EEOC’s position in this case is that Wal-Mart just took away — with no good reason — an effective workplace accommodation of an intellectually disabled employee. That reversal fatally compromised the employee’s ability to continue doing a job he had done so well for many, many years, and ended up with him being fired.

It’s hard to fathom what drove Wal-Mart to this course of action, but the EEOC response will definitely not be a mystery. We intend to show that the company’s action was a particularly senseless violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act — an especially hurtful injustice — that Mr. Clark is entitled to full make whole relief and to punitive damages, and that the public interest requires strong injunctive measures to correct Wal-Mart’s practices.

(Quotes from the EEOC’s press release about Wal-Mart lawsuit.)

This is not the first lawsuit the EEOC brought against Wal-Mart this year.  In March, Wal-Mart was ordered to pay a $363,419 settlement for an EEOC sexual harassment and retaliation case.  In that case, Wal-Mart was found to be in violation of federal laws by permitting a co-worker to sexually harass an employee with an intellectual disability working at a Wal-Mart store in Ohio.

Wal-Mart promotes itself as being a supermarket store that cares about its customers and employees, but it seems that the giant chain has a peculiar way of accommodating and protecting the rights of its disabled employees.  As customers of goods, we have a responsibility, regardless of our abilities, to inspect the conduct of such businesses, and possibly reconsider where we spend our hard earned money if they are found guilty of discriminating against certain groups.

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of CNYCentral.)

Archie Comics Debuts New Character with a Disability

On June 18th, the anticipated issue of Archie Comics featuring a new character that is a wheelchair user had hit comic book stores. Harper, the cousin to the diva socialite Veronica Lodge, made her debut, and boy, are those within the disability and comic book communities buzzing about it. Harper, from various news articles published about her arrival, is described as a “spunky fashionista” with an incredible “dynamic personality.”

Archie-Comics-Issue-656-Cover-193x300The idea behind Harper’s creation in the series stemmed from a conversation between Archie Comics writer and artist Dan Parent, and Archie fan Jewel Kats, a children’s book author who has a disability. (I spotlighted Kats’ book, Cinderella’s Magical Wheelchair, in an article on my blog.) It is truly amazing that a conversation sparked an incredible idea, which birthed an empowering character.

My “Geekdom” About Harper’s Debut:

I first learned of Harper’s debut on social media, when I saw sketches of Harper on Archie Comics’ Tumblr page. When I saw the sketches, I was taken aback – I could not believe that there was finally a character with a physical disability in the fictitious town of Riverdale. I have written about my “geekdom” on Tumblr and Facebook, and others responded with the same enthusiasm I had.

I have been reading Archie Comics since I was a child, and though I loved the fact that the comic book series did display diversity within its characters, the fact that there was not a character that I could relate to fully was missing. To see Archie Comics, a brand that has been around since the 1940s, create a character for disabled female comic book readers (young and old) blew my mind. I felt that finally, someone understood that disabled girls and women needed a comic book character that represented them, and normalized their way of life. I could not wait to get my hands on this issue, and read about this amazing new character to the Archie Comics clan.

Archie Comics’ Focus on Disability Did Not Begin With Harper:

Though Harper is the first character with a physical disability in the series, she is not the first disabled character, nor the first time that Archie Comics addressed disability in its books. In Archie: Clash of the New Kids, Carla Teal made her debut as a visually impaired student at Riverdale High. Carla was one of 50 students who transferred to Riverdale during the closure of Pine Point High School. Carla, who is African American, was depicted as witty and amiable; someone who did not let her impairment slow her down, nor wanted to be viewed as helpless by her peers.

Carla, using light-hearted humor, showed the flirtatious redhead Archie how to “lead” her to class, and told why she likes to keep classmates “guessing” about her knowing things without being able to see. Carla’s presence was significant – you do not typically see female characters of color with disabilities in comic books, and most importantly, depicted in ways that are not offensive or stereotypical. Carla was independent, yet willing to share her experiences with those that saw her wholeness; not just her disability.

Why Harper’s Presence Is So Important in Comic Books:

For Issue #656, Harper’s presence is important because she, too, is a female character of color with a disability. As a disabled woman of color, I am always seeking empowering portrayals of the disabled and of color experiences. Racial, gender, and disabled representations in literature, especially comic books, are lacking, despite the fact that readers are composed of various racial, ethnic, gender, and disabled backgrounds. There is a big issue in the comic book industry regarding diversity, and many avid readers and creators/illustrators are demanding that more characters are created to accurately picture the world we live in. Archie Comics, being a trailblazer in the comic book industry, heard the outcry, and has taken action to create the diverse characters readers want:

Harper is the latest in a long line of characters we’ve introduced to make Riverdale feel like a city in today’s world, said Jon Goldwater, Co-CEO and publisher of Archie Comics.

In regards to Harper’s debut as the first character with a physical disability, Goldwater remarked that:

Harper is, first and foremost, a funny, fashionable and witty teenager. The fact that she’s disabled is only one part of her story, and we’re excited to welcome her to Riverdale and Archie Comics.

Archie Comics’ proactiveness to creating Harper, and Carla, shows why this brand is so respected within and outside the comic book industry.

My Thoughts About Issue #656:

Archie Comics, Harper Explains Her DisabilityI read Issue 656 over the debut weekend, and I was impressed at how Harper’s personality and vivaciousness jumped from the page. She reminded me so much of myself; she is an entrepreneur, lovable, funny, and unique. She is a woman on the go, and four wheels and two elbow crutches will not slow her down. I love the fact that she has various interests, just like I do. She explained her disability to Archie that allowed him to grasp how she viewed herself, and she stood up to her cousin Veronica who tries to protect her from being hurt by Reggie, the Riverdale prankster that has taken an interest in her.

The latter stood out to me because Harper showed that disabled women, in particular, are not delicate flowers that needed sheltering – we deserve to experience love and romance as anyone else, and that includes heartache, if it happens. Her outspokenness about who she is, and how she wants others to treat and view her was a powerful testimony to read because it validated our humanness and desire to not be treated differently. People with disabilities are more than what makes them perfectly imperfect, and Harper’s storyline definitely made that fact known.

I Want More Harper!:

This issue of Archie Comics was a quick, short read. It left me wanting to read more about Harper, and see how she becomes more integrated in the series. Archie Comics created a lovable, strong female character with a disability, and those in the industry should take copious notes of how you can successfully diversify your characters. I cannot wait to read more issues featuring Harper, and seeing what antics she, and the rest of the Riverdale High gang, get into.

Final Thoughts:

Have any of you read the recent issue of Archie Comics with Harper’s debut? What are your thoughts about her arrival to Riverdale? If you are a disabled female comic book reader, what feelings/emotions did Harper’s story evoke in you? What can be done to prompt the comic book industry that readers of all abilities will read about disabled characters?

(Featured headlining images: Courtesy of Archie Comics on Tumblr.)

Bullying of Students with Disabilities in Our Schools

by Vilissa K. Thompson, LMSW

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gn-FAiutC_Q[/youtube]

Though the 2013-2014 school year is ending for the summer, the bullying of students with disabilities epidemic has made headline news this academic term.  A recent headlining story took place late May in Richmond, California, where a father boarded a school bus, and attacked the student who allegedly bullied his 9-year-old son, who has autism. Burris Hurd was charged with child abuse and corporal injury to a child, and was held in jail on a $50,000 bond.

Reports stated that Hurd’s son identified an 11-year-old student to his father that he claimed had bullied him. Hurd, supposedly inebriated, reacted by grabbing the alleged bully by the hair, pulled and raised the student by his hair out of his seat, and shoved the child on the side of the bus.  Hurd also made threats to the suspected bully, and other students on the bus.  The bus driver failed to restrain Hurd from assaulting the student nor did he report the attack to school officials.

It was the attacked student who reported the incident to the principal, who then contacted the police department. Both students attend the special education program at Wilson Elementary School in Richmond. It is without saying that Hurd’s actions towards his son being bullied by a student was highly inappropriate, life-threatening, and extremely counterproductive to finding a solution to the program.No adult should ever put his or her hands on a child, whether disabled or not, in any fashion that will yield bodily harm and/or intimidation. Though parents and guardians of children with disabilities tend to be overprotective and on high-alert as to how their child(ren) are treated by others, assaulting someone is never the answer to resolving the issue that may exist.

The Astounding Reality of the Bullying of Students with Disabilities:

According to PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center, research found that students with disabilities are two to three times more likely to be bullied than their non-disabled classmates.  One research study discovered that 60% of students with disabilities have reported experiencing some form of bullying, which is an incredibly higher percentage than non-disabled students who reported being bullied (which was 25%).

How Bullying Affects A Student’s Ability to Learn & Thrive in the Classroom:

The effects of bullying can negatively impact the educational experiences of students with disabilities.  Contrary to what we adults would like to believe, bullying is NOT a harmless rite of passage that children endure; its only purpose is to embarrass, ostracize, and belittle the student targeted.

Bullying has the ability to adversely influence the targeted student’s access to education, to the point where the student’s academic success can be jeopardized.  Here are some of the devastating effects of bullying on a student’s educational experience:

  • School avoidance and higher rates of absenteeism
  • Decrease in grades
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Loss of interest in academic achievement
  • Increase in dropout rates

Bullying Based on a Student’s Disability Status is Considered Harassment:

Bullying and harassing behavior can be deemed as:

  • Unwelcomed conduct, such as verbal abuse, name-calling, epithets, and/or slurs
  • Graphic or offensive language, or written statements
  • Threats (verbal or implied through non-verbal communication (i.e., pounding fist into palm))
  • Physical assaults
  • Other behavioral conducts that may be physically threatening, harmful, or humiliating

The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) have both stated that bullying may be considered as harassment when it is based on a student’s identity status(es), such as race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or religion.

The issue of bullying and/or harassment due to a student’s disability status are outlined under two federal policies:  Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990.  (The OCR is responsible for reinforcing Section 504, and Title II of the ADA.)  Students with disabilities who have a 504 plan or Individualized Education Plan (IEP), which are used in addressing, outlining, and implementing any accommodations and resources they may need in the school environment, qualify for the legal protections under these mandates.

The Responsibilities of School Officials in Addressing Bullying:

Bullying 3In the Dear Colleague letter issued by the OCR in 2000:

States and school districts also have a responsibility under Section 504, Title II, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which is enforced by OSERS [the Office for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services], to ensure that a free appropriate public education (FAPE) is made available to eligible students with disabilities. Disability harassment may result in a denial of FAPE under these statutes.

In the letter, the OCR also addressed how bullying and harassment has the potential to stymie a student with an IEP from receiving an educational opportunity that is appropriate for their needs:

The IDEA was enacted to ensure that recipients of IDEA funds make available to students with disabilities the appropriate special education and related services that enable them to access and benefit from public education.  The specific services to be provided a student with a disability are set forth in the student’s individualized education program (IEP), which is developed by a team that includes the student’s parents, teachers and, where appropriate, the student.  Harassment of a student based on disability may decrease the student’s ability to benefit from his or her education and amount to a denial of FAPE.

The OCR released another Dear Colleague letter in 2010 as a reminder to school officials of their responsibilities to protecting the civil rights of students with disabilities from bullying and harassment.

Under these federal policies, parents and students have legal rights when bullying and harassment occurs.  It is the school administrators and school districts responsibilities to ensure that a non-threatening environment is available to all students, and are to take proactive measures to eliminate situations that may affect a student’s physical and emotional safety, and academic achievement.

What Can Be Done To Combat Bullying:

Responding Appropriately to Bullying Allegations Made by Students with Disabilities

From the headline story covered at the beginning of this article, the parental response was undeniably ineffective in grasping an understanding of what was taking place between the alleged bullying victim and accuser.

Parents/guardians, educators, school district officials, and other adults involved in students’ academic experience, have to realize that they are the frontline advocates for bullied students with disabilities. Advocating for the safety of students and ensuring that students are able to function fully in the school environment should be the top priority for everyone; losing that focus will be ineffectual handling of the situation.  Students with disabilities who are bullied need to feel that those who are supposed to protect them will do so.  Receiving that protection and support from these adults will allow students to be comfortable in discussing what has transpired between them and their classmate(s) in order to resolve the problem.

One key thing for adults to realize:  it is NEVER the bullied students’ responsibility to “fix” the problem; if they could do that, then they would not need adult intervention.

Educate Yourself About What Your State is Doing to Fight Bullying in Our Schools

Bullying and harassment are not only mentioned in federal laws – many states have enacted laws addressing the detrimental effects and responsibilities of schools.  StopBullying.gov, a federal resource that provides information about bullying and cyberbullying, targeted populations, and what can be done to ameliorate and extinguish this issue, has a webpage called Policies & Laws that gives you the opportunity to learn about the anti-bullying mandates in your state.

Create a School & Community Environment Where Peer & Self Advocacy are Supported

Allowing students to be stand up for themselves and their classmates when bullying and harassment occurs is a powerful peer supporting mechanism to establish in school and community settings.

Students know who are the “instigators”/”bullies” in their schools, but they may not want to be the one to “snitch” on their friend or classmate.  Teaching students that they have a responsibility to stand up for what is right by speaking up when it is necessary has the potential to reduce the occurrence of bullying and harassment by more than 50%.  The reason peer advocacy is so effective is because a student who confronts a peer about their bullying behavior resonates more than it would coming from an adult

Teaching self-advocacy to students with disabilities will allow them to find their voice.  Learning to be direct about what they need, and when they feel unsafe will eliminate feelings of intimidation or shame due to bullying.  Self-advocacy is an empowering tool that students will be able to use not only in the school environment, but also in the workforce, addressing public policies, etc., when they become adults.  It is truly never too early to promote self-advocacy to disabled students; it is an imperative life skill to have.

Resources About Bullying in Our Schools

Awareness and action regarding bullying are dire so that all students will can learn in our schools without fear or isolation.  StopBullying.gov’s Prevent Bullying page and PACER’s Resources webpage has a plethora of online tools for parents, educators, and students to fight against bullying.

Final Thoughts about Bullying:

We cannot afford to bury our heads in the sand anymore; our students are hurting, and in some cases, are taking their own lives, because of bullying.  It is our responsibility as parents/guardians, educators, helping professionals, and community residents to work together to protect and empower our students of all abilities.

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of JLSL.)

African Americans Speaking Out About Alzheimer’s Disease

This month, we learned that former model and restaurateur B. Smith has been living with Alzheimer’s Disease.  Smith, dubbed the “black Martha Stewart” due to her career paths as a designer, author, and TV host, shared her story about remaining steadfast in fighting the disease, and having the support of her husband and business partner.

Hearing B. Smith’s candidness about the uphill battle of living with Alzheimer’s was empowering, especially since African Americans typically do not share their stories about Alzheimer’s.  Being an advocate and putting a face on what Alzheimer’s “looks like” in the African American community is a powerful testimony for and from Smith; her story validates the experiences of those living with Alzheimer’s, and the caregivers and families who care for their loved ones each and every day.

Alzheimer’s Prevalence

More than 5.2 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s, with over 200,000 being those 65 years and younger.  Of this population, 3.2 million are women and 1.8 million are men; women make up two-thirds of those living with the disease.  It is estimated that by 2050, the number of those with Alzheimer’s will triple from 5 million to 16 million.

Last year, almost 16 million American families and friends provided 17.7 billion hours of unpaid care to those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias.  This unpaid care has the value of $220.2 billion.

When it comes to medical care, Alzheimer’s is the most expensive condition in America.  With the projected tripling of those living with Alzheimer’s, this medical care expense strain will be astronomical.

Concerns Surrounding African Americans & Alzheimer’s

Senior African American couple holding handsAccording to the Alzheimer’s Association, many Americans dismiss the early warning signs of Alzheimer’s, inaccurately believing that what they are experiencing are normal developments in the aging process.  This misunderstanding of the aging process versus Alzheimer’s is especially true for African Americans, who are two times more likely to develop late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, and other dementias, than whites.  Missing the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s greatly disadvantage African Americans, as we are less likely to receive a diagnosis for our condition, which correlates to delayed treatment and planning.

How Alzheimer’s Disease Affects My Family

During the Summer 2008, my beloved Grandmother was diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer’s at the age of 78.  She, as well as us, noticed her having difficulty with routine tasks after she had a mild heart attack two years prior.  We decided to tell her general practitioner about our concerns, and he suspected Alzheimer’s, and placed her on a medication regimen to slow down the progression of the disease.  It has now been six years since the diagnosis, and we battle this disease every day.  Grandmother’s memory may not be as lucid as it used to be, but she is firmly holding on to the independence she still has, despite the disease.  Seeing her remain steadfast through it all gives me the strength when it comes to caregiving.

Resources for Those Living with Alzheimer’s Disease, & Caregivers

There are programs and organizations established for those who are impacted by this disease.  In order to overcome the struggles both those living with Alzheimer’s and caregivers endure, you have to educate yourself about the disease, and the supports that exist to help you during this journey.

The Alzheimer’s Association is a well-respected organization that works tirelessly to educate and support individuals and families affected by this disease, and create awareness about the prevalence in America and worldwide.  The Alzheimer’s Association has several resources that may benefit those affected:

African Americans & Alzheimer’s:  http://www.alz.org/africanamerican/

Provides information about warning signs, caregivers testimonies, and brain health, etc., specifically for African Americans and families affected.  

Living with Alzheimer’s:  http://www.alz.org/living_with_alzheimers_4521.asp

I Have Alzheimer’s Disease:  http://www.alz.org/i-have-alz/i-have-alzheimers-dementia.asp

Support Groups for Caregivers:  http://www.alz.org/apps/we_can_help/support_groups.a

2014 The Longest Day:  http://act.alz.org/site/TRfr_id=5860&pg=entry&s_src=alzfooter

2014 The Longest Day, a day observed around the world to honor the strength, passion, and endurance of those living with Alzheimer’s.  The goal is to raise funds and awareness to propel the mission of the Alzheimer’s Association.  The Longest Day is held on June 21, 2014, which is the Summer Solstice (the longest day in the year, and the first day of the summer season).  

Other resources for caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s

Help Guide – Support for Alzheimer’s & Dementia Caregivers:  http://m.helpguide.org/articles/caregiving/alzheimer-dementia-caregiver-support

AlzOnline – Alzheimer’s Caregiver Support Online:  http://alzonline.phhp.ufl.edu

Final Thoughts About Alzheimer’s

Education, medical research, awareness, community support, and acceptance are dire so that we can one day live in a world where Alzheimer’s does not rob us of those we love, and their memory.  I love my Grandmother, and Alzheimer’s will never be able to break the bond we have, no matter what lies ahead for us.

(Featured headline image:  Courtesy of A Place for Mom.)

Rock the Disabled Vote in South Carolina!

by Vilissa K. Thompson, LMSW

2014 is a midterm election year, and it is imperative for South Carolinians with disabilities to rock the disabled vote!  Voting is our civil right in this country, and you should not be prevented to exercise this right simply because you have a disability.

Your Vote Is Your Voice 1With the June 2014 SC Primary coming upon us, I wanted to ensure that every registered disabled voter in the state was aware of their rights in regards to accessibility, the new Photo ID requirement, and how to file a complaint if your civil rights are violated.  Equal access and justice when it comes to education, healthcare, and employment are just a few key issues that will be affected by how we as citizens vote this year.

People with disabilities are the LARGEST minority group in this country, and make up over 648,000 strong in the Palmetto state; this means that we are an undeniably important voting bloc, and our voting power has to be exercised, now more than ever.


Accessible Voting Machines & Polling Places:

Voting Machines

Each South Carolina voting precinct offers accessible voting machines that has the following features:  audio ballot, headphones, and Braille-embossed buttons. The voting machine’s design makes it user-friendly; and each machine has large fonts, a 15-inch full-color touch screen display, and is lightweight to be portable for curbside and tabletop use.

Polling Places

Each South Carolina county election commission has an obligation to find polling places that are accessible to ALL voters.  For every election season, increasing accessibility at polling places is a priority.  Such accessibility considerations include:

  • Wider entrance doors
  • Entrance ramps and curb cuts
  • Railing along the stairs and sidewalks
  • Paved parking and designated disability parking
  • Van accessible parking spaces
  • Sidewalks from the parking spaces to the building entrance
  • Door handles that can be opened with a closed fist
  • Signs to direct the voter to entrances that are accessible
  • Electronic curbside call systems

Voting Accommodations:

Receiving Assistance When Voting

Voters with disabilities including those with visual impairments, and literacy difficulties, have the right to seek assistance during the voting process.  If you fit into any of these groups, you must inform the poll manager(s) that you will require assistance to vote.  You have the right to choose anyone to assist you in casting your ballot except the following persons:  your employer, an agent to your employer, an officer of your union, or an agent of your union.

If you have a hearing impairment, you have the right to request printed instructions to cast your vote.  The poll manager(s) is required to have this documentation on hand to distribute, as needed.

Curbside Voting

If you are unable to access your assigned polling place or stand in line to vote due to your disability, you may cast your vote from your vehicle.  You do not need to have a disabled parking placard to access the curbside voting option.  Poll managers are supposed to monitor the designated curbside voting location every 15 minutes.  Unless you require assistance to cast your vote, only you are permitted to be in the vehicle while voting.  Your driver and other passengers who may be with you are not entitled to receive this accommodation unless they meet the qualifications (disability status and/or being age 65 or older).

The Photo ID Requirement –  Know Your Options:

2014 will be the first election year in South Carolina where Photo IDs will be required to be shown in order to vote.  When voting in person, the following forms of photo identification will be accepted:

  • SC Driver’s License
  • SC Department of Motor Vehicles ID Card
  • Voter Registration Card with Photo
  • Federal Military ID
  • U.S. Passport

If You Do Not Have a Photo ID

You can get a Photo ID for FREE from your county voter registration and elections office OR your local Department of Motor Vehicles office.

If You Forget to Bring Your Photo ID to Your Polling Place

You have the option to vote a provisional ballot that will count only if you show your Photo ID to the elections commission prior to certification of the election (usually Thursday or Friday after the election).

For the June 2014 SC Primary, you will need to show your Photo ID to your county election commission by Thursday, June 12th before 1:00 p.m.  

For the November 2014 General Elections, you will need to do so by Friday, November 7th before 1:00 p.m..  

If You Cannot Obtain a Photo ID

If you are unable to obtain a Photo ID due to your disability status, you may be able to state that you have a reasonable impediment because of your status.  A reasonable impediment is any valid reason, beyond your control, which has created an obstacle for you to obtain a Photo ID.

How this works

Bring your non-photo voter registration card with you to your designated polling venue, and inform the poll manager(s) about not being able to acquire a Photo ID.  You will be giving the opportunity to vote a provisional ballot after signing an affidavit, stating your claim for reasonable impediment.

Your provisional ballot will be counted UNLESS someone proves to your county election commission that you lied about your identity or having the impediment.

Other qualifying circumstances for this exception includes:

  • Conflict with work schedule
  • Lack of transportation
  • Lack of birth certificate
  • Family responsibilities
  • Religious objection to being photographed
  • And any other obstacle you find reasonable

Considering Voting Absentee?:  

Voting absentee is a great option for those who have a disability and/or are elderly, limited transportation options, and/or do not have a photo ID.

Request an Absentee Application

You may request an absentee application by mail or in-person.  If you decide to obtain your absentee application by mail, you can make your request by phone to your county voter registration office, or get the application online.

Once you have received your absentee application, you must complete and sign it, and return it to your county voter registration office as soon as possible.  (Return your application no later than 5:00 p.m. on the 4th day prior to the election.  The 4th day is Friday for all Tuesday elections.)  You may return your application several ways:  by mail, email, fax, or personal delivery.

Completing Your Absentee Ballot

Once your absentee application have been received and processed, you will be mailed an absentee ballot.  In your absentee ballot packet, you will find ballot instructions that will inform you on how to cast your vote absentee.  Once you have completed your ballot, you may either mail it or return it in-person.  You can also designate someone to return the ballot to your county voter registration office on your behalf; be sure to complete the authorization to return absentee ballot form that is in your packet for this option.

If You Experience Voting Discrimination:

Unfortunately, voting discrimination is alive and well in 2014, despite the plethora of federal laws that exist to combat this issue.  If you experience voting discrimination because you are a person with a disability, you have the right to file a complaint at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).  The DOJ takes every complaint and report of your civil rights violation seriously.

The Voting Section of the DOJ oversees possible violations of the federal voting rights laws.  Below are the various ways in which you can file your voting complaint:

  • By telephone (toll free):  (800) 253-3931
  • By telephone:  (202) 307-2767
  • By fax:  (202) 307-3961
  • By letter to the addresses below:

U.S. Postal Service mail (this includes certified and express mail) should be sent to:

Voting Section
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
Room 7254 – NWB
959 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20530

Deliveries by overnight express services (such as Airborne, DHL, Federal Express, or UPS) should be sent to:

Voting Section
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
Room 7254 – NWB
1800 G St., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20006


Where to Learn More About Voting with a Disability in South Carolina:

Most of the information provided in this article was obtained from the SC Votes webpage.  SC Votes has a special tab on its website for voters with disabilities, where you can learn more about voting assistance and curbside voting, watch helpful videos, obtain instructions for voters who are deaf or hard of hearing, and print a large voter registration application.  You can also learn about key deadlines for this election year by reviewing the SC Election Calendar.


For My Non-South Carolinian Disabled Voters:

If you would like to know more about voting with a disability, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) has a great resource page for voters with disabilities:  http://www.eac.gov/voter_resources/resources_for_voters_with_disabilities.aspx


Remember, an informed voter is an 
EMPOWERED voter.  Rock your right to vote!

(Featured headline image:  Courtesy of  Your Mira.)

Do People with Disabilities Have the Right to Marry and Cohabit?

The right to marriage and cohabitation as persons with disabilities are not always granted or respected in society.  I learned about a case in New York where a newlywed couple filed a discrimination claim against a group home that refused to allow them to live together.  Paul Forziano and Hava Samuels are both in their 30s with intellectual disabilities.  They wed April 2013 and made the request to live together as a married couple to the group home.

Wedding Ring & Band 1The group home denied their request, stating that the arrangement would be “impossible” and “fraught with difficulties.”  The couple and their parents ardently believed that not allowing them to live together violated their rights, and they filed a lawsuit regarding their claim.  Last month, a federal judge struck down their lawsuit, on the grounds that the couple did not prove that they were discriminated against by the group home because of their disability statuses.  Forziano and Samuels plan to appeal their case.

The notion of people with disabilities wanting companionship, intimacy, and to be married has been considered “ridiculous” and “disgusting” throughout the history of society.  The driving force behind such erroneous, and dangerous, thoughts is that people with disabilities do not desire love, sex, or long-term committed relationships.  Nor are those across the disability spectrum able to “understand” the concept of marriage, or able to give consent as to who they decide to spend their lives with and/or share a residence with.

To stymie such rights to happiness based on incorrect stereotypes about those with disabilities is in fact discriminatory and dehumanizing; it IS a CIVIL rights violation.  The Forziano and Samuels case is not uncommon; people with disabilities, particularly those with intellectual disabilities, face incredible stumbling blocks to gain access to something that the rest of society takes for granted.  Let’s not forget about our disabled LBGTQA brethren who, depending on which state they live in, would not even be afforded the opportunity to marry.

To deny someone the right to marry or cohabit because they are disabled is archaic; when will the policies and institutions that exist to assist people with disabilities catch up with the times?  What would be your reaction if a judge or a facility made the decision to not recognize your union/marriage, based solely on the fact that you and/or your significant other had a disability?  Have you experienced such discrimination?  If so, what action(s) did you undertake – filed a lawsuit, moved to another group home/facility that recognized your union/marriage, etc.?  Incidents like this shows that society has a long ways to go in accepting and respecting the humanness of those with disabilities.

(Featured headline image:  Courtesy of Cilento-Wedding-Planner.)

Disabled College Student Attacked on MBTA Train in Boston, Mass.

by Vilissa K. Thompson, LMSW

Earlier this month, a college student with a disability was brutally attacked while riding the MBTA train in Boston, Massachusetts.  The student, whose name has not been release to the public, was 21 years old, and living with cerebral palsy.  The student was verbally and physically assaulted by a 63 years old man named Thomas Kennedy.  Kennedy, reportedly ranked of alcohol, sat next to the student on the train, and began hurling ethnic and homophobic insults, then progressed to punching and kicking the student.

The student was taken to Boston Medical Center for treatment from the injuries he sustained from the violent attack.  The police was able to identify Kennedy as the attacker by using the surveillance cameras that were located inside Downtown Crossing.  At the time of this article, Kennedy was later arrested on the day of the attack, and charged.

Disabled Passenger Catching Subway TrainThis story caught my attention because the use of public transportation, whether it is subways/trains, buses, cabs, etc., is something that people with disabilities rely heavily on, especially if you live in a city like Boston.  No one should fear being physically or verbally violated from riding the train or bus; everyone has the right to utilize public transportation without being harassed or victimized because of their disability status, or other social identifiers.

Discrimination and assaults of people with disabilities when it comes to public transportation is not uncommon.  There are several stories of bus drivers refusing to assist wheelchair users by unloading the elevator lifts so that they can board the bus, bus drivers not stopping to pick up wheelchair users, and bus and train stops being inaccessible for those with disabilities.  All of these incidences violate the federal rights of people with disabilities to utilize services that are for public use.

My experiences with public transportation has been pleasant; however, I know that is not the case for some of you, whether disabled or not.  If you have been discriminated against and/or victimized while using public transportation, share your experiences with me.  Where the perpetrator(s) arrested?  Was disciplinary action taken against public transit employee(s) who refused to serve you because you were disabled?  In order to make public transportation truly accessible and safe for all, we have to report these incidents and the individuals behind such acts.

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of Enable Magazine.)

Recognizing April 2014 as Fair Housing Month

by Vilissa K. Thompson, LMSW

Woman in Wheelchair In the Kitchen 1

The U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) declares April as Fair Housing Month.  Fair Housing Month is HUD’s way of commemorating the passage of the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which was enacted shortly after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, disability, sex, and family status.  More recent protections were added to prevent housing discrimination based on one’s source of income.

In addition to the legal protection of the aforementioned identifiers, twenty states, the District of Columbia, and more than 150 cities, have expanded the Fair Housing Act to forbid discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals and families.  HUD established regulations to ensure that the Department’s core housing programs are available to all eligible recipients, regardless of their sexual orientation, in 2012.

The following quote from HUD’s Acting FHEO Assistant Secretary Bryan Greene explains why celebrating Fair Housing Month is so important:

Fair Housing Month is an opportunity for all of us to reflect on just how far we’ve come to make our housing more equitable and how far we still have to go to end housing discrimination.  Fair housing is about giving people the opportunity to pursue their dreams and whenever this opportunity is denied, not only do families lose, our entire nation loses.

When it comes to disability, HUD developed the Disability Rights in Private and Public Housing Initiative.  Below are the rights people with disabilities have under the Federal laws that focus on housing:

Prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities.  It is unlawful for a housing provider to refuse to rent or sell to a person simply because of a disability.

Requires housing providers to make reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities.  A reasonable accommodation is a change in rules, policies, practices, or services so that a person with a disability will have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling unit or common space.

Requires housing providers to allow persons with disabilities to make reasonable modifications.  A reasonable modification is a structural modification that is made to allow persons with disabilities the full enjoyment of the housing and related facilities.

Requires that new covered multifamily housing be designed and constructed to be accessible.

(Excerpted from HUD’s Disability Rights in Housing webpage.)

This year’s theme is “Fair Housing Is Your Right:  Use It!”  HUD aims to raise awareness about your housing rights, and discuss the overt and covert forms of housing discrimination that still persists today.  I have read and written stories about housing discrimination, and am aware that key legislation like the Fair Housing Act are steps toward the right direction in creating equality and justice; however, more has to be done to ensure that all Americans, regardless of their disability status and other identifiers, are afforded the same opportunities to obtain housing that fits their needs.

During Fair Housing Month, how do you plan to ramp your voice about the housing discriminatory practices that exist to prevent people with disabilities, LGBT members, minorities, and other groups from accessing housing?  If you have experienced such discrimination in your quest in obtaining housing, are you willing to share your story?  What actions can be taken within your community to bridge the gaps in creating available housing options for those with disabilities, minorities, LGBT members, and other groups?  Share your stories, thoughts, and ideas with me to commemorate this observance.

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of the New York Times.)

The Need for Congress to Pass the ABLE Act

by Vilissa K. Thompson, LMSW

U.S. Capitol Building 1

The ABLE Act has the potential to improve the financial and employability statuses of people with disabilities in this country, if enacted.  The Achieve a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act gained the attention of the disability community when it was first introduced into Congress on February 13, 2013.  The ABLE Act was not decided on last year due to the fact that the Congressional session ended before the bill could be considered; however, it has the support of over 400 co-sponsors in the House and Senate.  Having such a large amount of support gives many disability advocates, including yours truly, great hope that the Act will be considered and passed this year.

The purpose of the ABLE Act is to prevent disabled savers from losing their benefits by affording them the opportunity to open special tax advantaged saving accounts.  Under current policy, those who receive social security benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid cannot have saving assets of more than $2,000 in an account, and cannot earn income over $700 a month.  Those two financial restrictions unfairly places beneficiaries in the proverbial “a rock and a hard place.”  If beneficiaries have assets or income that exceed these financial thresholds, their benefits will be cut off.  If they decide not exceed these financial thresholds, then their employment and independence opportunities will be severely reduced.

I will give you a fictional example of the “rock and a hard place” choices people with disabilities like myself endure when it comes to wanting to be independent, but fear losing one’s benefits:

“Anita” was offered a part-time telecommuting position that would pay her the current minimum wage rate of $7.25 an hour.  Anita currently receives SSI and Medicaid benefits because she has a physical disability.  In order to keep her benefits, Anita could only work 24 hours a week, which would total $174 a week of earned income for her.  With this weekly schedule, Anita would earn $696 a month before taxes, which would put her under the $700 monthly financial threshold amount by $4.  

Anita would have to report her new income source to the Social Security Administration (SSA), which would take into consideration her total earnings, and not the amount Anita actually brings home after taxes.  The SSA has a special mathematical formula it utilizes to figure how much of Anita’s earned income should be counted against her benefits.  Anita’s monthly wage before taxes was $696; SSA would subtract 85 from this amount, and then divide that amount by 2 to figure how much her SSI benefits for that month should be reduced.  So, $696 – 85 would equal $611.  $611 divided by 2 would be $305.50.  Social Security would count $305.50 against Anita benefits, which would reduce her SSI benefits amount from $721 a month to $415.50 a month.  (The 2014 cost of living adjustment (COLA) for SSI beneficiaries is $721.)

This gross reduction of SSI does nothing to elevate Anita out of poverty.  Anita would have only $1,111.50 ($415.50 in reduced SSI, and the $696 (before taxes) she earned from working) to live off each month, which is not enough to cover the basic human needs of food, housing, and clothing.  This example is not hypothetical; it is fact.  This is the dreadful choice people with disabilities have to make:  do I work and put my benefits in jeopardy, or do I live off $721 a month that will keep me deep in poverty, and not allow me to be able to afford housing, transportation, entertainment, have an emergency fund, “nest egg” savings, and other “luxuries” that most take for granted?

This is why the passage of the ABLE Act is imperative – it would extinguish the current barrier of working and saving by ensuring that money saved through ABLE accounts would not be counted against the federal benefits an individual receives.  The ABLE Act would ease financial strains by allowing the tax-free saving accounts to cover qualified, essential expenses such as medical and dental care, community based supports, employment training, assistive technology, housing, education, and transportation.

The bill would assist in supplementing the benefits they already receive from private insurances, Medicaid, SSI, their employment, and other sources.  An ABLE account would provide people with disabilities the same types of flexible saving tools that other Americans have through college savings accounts, health savings accounts, and individual retirement accounts (IRAs).  Returning to our example, if the ABLE Act passed, Anita would be able to open an ABLE account where she could deposit her earned income and keep her SSI and Medicaid benefits intact.  This newfound freedom would allow people with disabilities to work without the fear of being penalized.

Like millions of Americans with disabilities, I am anxiously waiting for the passage of the ABLE Act.  From a personal standpoint, the ABLE Act would open a plethora of doors for me as an entrepreneur and a freelance writer.  Not having to worry about how much I earn or how much I have saved would be a joyous moment.  People with disabilities want the same things as everyone else – to work, have healthcare coverage, and be able to living independently and support themselves and those they love.  The ABLE Act would turn those hopes into reality.  Please urge your federal representatives to support and pass the ABLE Act this year because it is long overdue.

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of The Denver Channel.)

Hospital to pay $75,000 for Discrimination against Child Care Worker with Cerebral Palsy

by Vilissa K. Thompson, LMSW

In late February 2014, a hospital was ordered to pay $75,000 for violating the federal anti-discrimination laws when it refused to hire a volunteer who had a disability.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Chicago District Office was responsible for processing the charges of discrimination that the volunteer alleged to have taken place.

Disabled Worker 5The Bright Beginnings of Osceola County, a day care center operated by the Osceola Community Hospital in Sibley Iowa, was accused of failing to hire a volunteer employee into a paid position due to her having cerebral palsy.  The volunteer was fully qualified for the position, and in fact, had a job where she drove a school bus.  When the EEOC conducted its investigation on the volunteer’s claims, the agency found evidence that the hospital purposefully refused to hire her, in fear that her disability would cause her to not be able to fully tend to the children that would be under her care.

The discrimination the EEOC discovered was in direct violation of Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Title I under the ADA focuses on employment, and here is a summary of what Title I says about employing people with disabilities:

Employers with 15 or more employees may not discriminate against qualified people with disabilities in hiring, promotion, compensation, or any other aspect of employment.

A “qualified person” is an individual with a disability who is able to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodations.

(Excerpted from McGuire Associates’ Americans with Disabilities Act Fact Sheet)

(Reasonable accommodations could include providing adaptive equipment such as an adjustable work desk, modifying the employee’s work schedule, etc.; basically any changes that would not prove to be a hardship for the employer.)

Title I also covers inquiring about a prospective employee’s disability status, and when medical and psychological tests can be conducted:

An employer may not inquire about the medical conditions or disability of a job applicant prior to making a qualified job offer.

Similarly, medical and psychological tests can be given only after a job offer, and only if such tests are directly related to the job.

(Excerpted from McGuire Associates’ Americans with Disabilities Act Fact Sheet)

A quote from EEOC Chicago District Regional Attorney John Hendrickson in the article about the hospital discrimination case resonated with me, and I wanted to share it because it is something that ALL organizations should remember:

“Sometimes it looks like organizations engaged in the health care field or in the performance of other ‘good works’ consider it impossible for them to have discriminated — or to be challenged for having discriminated — particularly when it comes to the ADA.”

“But our experience has been that all organizations, whatever their line of business and however they are organized, are vulnerable to falling into patterns or acts of discrimination if they do not consciously make compliance with federal anti-discrimination laws a priority.”

(Excerpted from the EEOC Newsroom Release.)

Being ignorant of the law is no excuse to not abide by it, or violate the rights of others.  With the labor force participation rate for people with disabilities being at 19.1% in February 2014, in comparison to those without disabilities being at 68.5%, discriminating against those with disabilities is hindering our efforts to seek and obtain living wages to improve our quality of life.  Just as I reiterated the importance for private business owners who serve the public to be familiar with the law when it comes to service animals, it it just as imperative for hiring personnel, organizations, and corporations to be aware of and abide by what is outlined under Title I of the ADA when it comes to employing those with disabilities.

If you are a person with a disability who believes that you have experienced employment-related discrimination under the ADA, do file your complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  The EEOC has 15 District Offices across the nation that are capable of investigating your case.  If you are in the Palmetto State (South Carolina), your District Office is located in Charlotte, NC, and the Local Office is located in Greenville, SC.

Reporting such violations will decrease the occurrence of this practice.  In order to effect change and equality, you have to ramp your voice so that justice and respect for the law will prevail.

(Featured headline image:  Courtesy of Woman.TheNest.)

The ADA, Service Animals, and Places of Business

Service Dog 1

The article I wrote in January about a restaurant owner’s refusal to serve a veteran with a service dog raised questions about how businesses are to respond to people with disabilities who use service animals.  Today, I wanted to share what the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) have to say about service animals in privately owned businesses that serve the public.

The ADA has a frequently asked questions page about this matter, and I decided to select a few question and answer statements from the page that business owners need to know in order to not offend those who use service animals or violate the mandate.  The key “take home points” within each response will be in bold.

How can I tell if an animal is really a service animal and not just a pet?

A:  Some, but not all, service animals wear special collars and harnesses. Some, but not all, are licensed or certified and have identification papers. If you are not certain that an animal is a service animal, you may ask the person who has the animal if it is a service animal required because of a disability. However, an individual who is going to a restaurant or theater is not likely to be carrying documentation of his or her medical condition or disability. Therefore, such documentation generally may not be required as a condition for providing service to an individual accompanied by a service animal.

Although a number of states have programs to certify service animals, you may not insist on proof of state certification before permitting the service animal to accompany the person with a disability.

What must I do when an individual with a service animal comes to my business?

A:  The service animal must be permitted to accompany the individual with a disability to all areas of the facility where customers are normally allowed to go. An individual with a service animal may not be segregated from other customers.

I have always had a clearly posted “no pets” policy at my establishment. Do I still have to allow service animals in?

A:  Yes. A service animal is not a pet. The ADA requires you to modify your “no pets” policy to allow the use of a service animal by a person with a disability. This does not mean you must abandon your “no pets” policy altogether but simply that you must make an exception to your general rule for service animals.

My county health department has told me that only a guide dog has to be admitted. If I follow those regulations, am I violating the ADA?

A:  Yes, if you refuse to admit any other type of service animal on the basis of local health department regulations or other state or local laws. The ADA provides greater protection for individuals with disabilities and so it takes priority over the local or state laws or regulations.

I operate a private taxicab and I don’t want animals in my taxi; they smell, shed hair and sometimes have “accidents.” Am I violating the ADA if I refuse to pick up someone with a service animal?

A:  Yes. Taxicab companies may not refuse to provide services to individuals with disabilities. Private taxicab companies are also prohibited from charging higher fares or fees for transporting individuals with disabilities and their service animals than they charge to other persons for the same or equivalent service.

What if a service animal barks or growls at other people, or otherwise acts out of control?

A:  You may exclude any animal, including a service animal, from your facility when that animal’s behavior poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. For example, any service animal that displays vicious behavior towards other guests or customers may be excluded. You may not make assumptions, however, about how a particular animal is likely to behave based on your past experience with other animals. Each situation must be considered individually.

Although a public accommodation may exclude any service animal that is out of control, it should give the individual with a disability who uses the service animal the option of continuing to enjoy its goods and services without having the service animal on the premises.

All excerpts are courtesy of the Frequently Asked Questions page about service animals and businesses.

Though some of the statements I highlighted may seem to be ones that should be understood by all, they are not. People with disabilities are denied service and full participation in establishments utilized by the public each and every day in this country, and abroad.

Being ignorant of the law is no excuse when breaking it, especially when it infringes on the rights of a person to use a service or facility.  Business owners have to be knowledgeable about what their responsibilities are when it comes to the law, and people with disabilities have to speak out when their rights have been violated, whether intentionally or not.

Every week, I come across stories of people with disabilities, regardless of their ability, experiencing discrimination at alarming rates.  2014 will mark the 24th anniversary of the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and we are still fighting to “get in” and be treated as equal.  How much longer will the fight continue before the legislation is respected and followed, and we are given the opportunity to fully participate in all facets of society?

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of Wet Noses Dog Treats.)

Federal Contract Workers with Disabilities Included In Minimum Wage Executive Order

by Vilissa K. Thompson, LMSW

Pres. Obama 1Recently, President Obama signed an executive order to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for federal contract workers.  This action will benefit individuals who are contracted with the federal government who are making less than this newly approved rate.  (The current minimum wage rate is $7.25 an hour.)  The minimum wage hike for federal workers will become effective on January 1st, 2015.  Raising the minimum wage coincides with the President’s plans to increase opportunities for the American people.

When the President announced his executive order concerning the minimum wage increase during his State of the Union Address last month, there were one particular group who were left out of his initiative – federal workers with disabilities.  The White House and the Department of Labor did not intend to allow people with disabilities working under federal contracts with special certificates to receive the new minimum wage increase.  The failure to include people with disabilities who work for the federal government was met with great opposition, and those within the disability community advocated for federal workers with disabilities to be included in the President’s order.

Under the current law, federal workers with disabilities may be paid less than the $7.25/hour rate under specialized certificate programs.  This means that it is legal to pay federal workers with disabilities incredibly less than their able-bodied colleagues, even though they are doing the same job.  The current provision creates a disproportionate living wage gap between disabled and able-bodied federal contracted workers.  Without the inclusion of people with disabilities in the President’s order, certain disabled workers would have continued to earn a living wage as little as 22 cents an hour.

With the unemployment rate for people with disabilities being 13.3%, and the labor force participation rate being 18.2% for January 2014, it is imperative for the employability of people with disabilities to be on the consciousness of the President, and our representatives.  Despite being the largest minority group in the country, people with disabilities are not fully integrated within our workforce system, even though there are a great number of programs and services in place to increase employment opportunities for this population.  This “oversight” by the White House and the Labor Department before disability advocates ramped their voices signaled how dire it is for people with disabilities to be politically aware, and involved.

This executive order is a steppingstone in the right direction to increase the minimum wage for all Americans, but what can be done to ensure that people with disabilities are not overlooked or dismissed when future plans are constructed to improve the well-being and economic status of those in this country?  How can we better advocate for ourselves, and demand that those with influence take our needs and concerns seriously?  Share your thoughts and suggestions with me because excluding people with disabilities from momentous initiatives such as this can no longer suffice.

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of Black Enterprise.)

Oklahoma Restaurant Owner Refuses to Serve Minorities, Gays, & Disabled Customers

by Vilissa K. Thompson, LMSW

In Enid, Oklahoma, outrage has spurred over claims that a restaurant owner refuses to serve those with disabilities, African Americans, Latinos, and those who are LGBTQ.  Gary James, the man behind the controversy, has proclaimed that he has the right to deny service how he sees fit.

James is the owner of Gary’s Chicaros, a restaurant and bar that has been in business for over four decades.  James’ establishment has acquired a reputation due to his views about certain groups, and his discriminatory practices against members within those groups.

Person Holding Knife & ForkMatt Gard was a patron at James’ restaurant for years, and was well aware of James’ views about certain groups.  Gard had ignored James’ antics until he found himself a victim of his bigotry.  Gard stated that he was recently denied service at the restaurant because he is a person with a disability.

James claims that Gard caused a scene, which is why he is no longer welcomed at his establishment.  Gard shared his experience on a Facebook page where over 140 people had left comments about James’ discriminatory conduct.

I wanted to share a few statements James provided for an interview on KFOR-TV News Channel 4 in Oklahoma City.  From his statements, James stands steadfastly behind his actions, and is unapologetic about his views:

I’ve been in business 44 years.  I think I can spot a freak or a “f-word.”  [Offensive gay slur]

I don’t deal with these people walking down the street with no jobs on welfare.

If I reached over there and slapped the s**t out of you, you should be offended.  But to call someone a “c-word” [offensive racial slur] or someone call me a bigot, that doesn’t bother me.

I really don’t want gays around.  Any man that would compromise his own body would compromise anything.

Well if you work, you own a business, pay your taxes, you’re more than welcome here.  If you’re on welfare, stay at home and spend my money, there.

(Excerpts from KFOR-TV’s interview with Gary James.)

Learning about this story perturbed me not because a person with a disability was discriminated against, but the mere fact that Matt Gard, and countless others, had failed to challenge James’ offensive practices for years.  It upset me that Gard finally took a stand when he was targeted by James.  Regardless of your racial, ability, gender, or orientation background, when one person or group is targeted, we are ALL affected by the ills of hatred and discrimination.

When we chose to ignore or remain silent in the face of bigotry, our inaction sends the message that the offender has our support. The failure to take proactive measures does not just occur in small towns like Enid, they occur throughout our nation.  We cannot continue to support individuals or businesses who openly offend one or several groups of people.  It is our responsibility to report such incidences and refuse to spend our money at those establishments; those kind of acts speak volumes, and cannot be ignored by the violators.

(Featured headline image:  Courtesy of Pimphop.)

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