Employment Support for People with Disabilities

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The author of the article smiling

If you are disabled and you are pursuing employment, you are not alone. You can find many agencies providing employment support that will help you reach your vocational goal.

IS HEALTH CARE ONLY FOR THE “ABLE BODIED”?

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Mr. Larry McDowell presented to our office for a consultation on the afternoon of Thursday, March 17, 2016. When Mr. McDowell arrived, he needed to be guided by holding on to someone in order to get places in the office; he will need to bring someone with him who can assist him in walking as it is a liability for the office staff to physically guide him themselves. Mr. McDowell will also need assistance in going over treatment, signing paperwork, and etc.

 We Apologize for Any Inconvenience.

(Actual copy of letter)

When Larry McDowell went to Affordable Dentures in West Palm Beach, Florida, to have a dental procedure on March 17th, there was no reason that he could possibly believe that he wouldn’t be able to get the same services as anybody else.  But once Mr. McDowell reached the front desk, he was directed to follow someone to the examination room. Mr. McDowell then said, “I’m blind, could you help to where I’m going?” The employee at the desk said nothing. Once a member of the office staff arrived, Mr. McDowell asked for assistance to the examination room – Mr. McDowell asked to hold her elbow.

She said, “No. We can’t help you unless you have someone to help you. We can’t treat you unless you bring someone to assist you.” Mr. McDowell then asked to speak to the dentist. When Mr. McDowell asked where the dentist was, the employee replied that he was in surgery and would be there for the next two hours.  A patient who was watching the interaction told Mr. McDowell, “No he’s not. He’s standing right there.” After the patient’s remark, the employee said to Mr. McDowell, “The dentist doesn’t want to speak to you today.”

Mr. McDowell requested Affordable Dentures to email a copy of written reason to his sister, and they sent the above letter.   It was then while Mr. McDowell was waiting in the office, an employee approached him and informed him he could not wait inside the office any longer and must leave, since the dentist would not be seeing him today—with the knowledge that Mr. McDowell had taken public transportation.

 Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

 Martin Luther King, Jr.

Larry McDowell’s needs were basic human needs, and the outright denial of such services based solely on his disability transforms him, in the eyes of this medical provider, into a human who is not worthy of basic services.  Mr. McDowell is a man who has transformed his life to assist others.  He is a member of the National Federation of the Blind and is currently the  President of the Braille Club of Palm Beach County.  The Braille Club of Palm Beach County organizes social activities and weekly meeting among the blind and visually impaired community in Palm Beach. In his free time, Mr. McDowell seeks to live an ordinary life filled with friends and outings.

“Aside from the public health issues that most racial/ethnic minorities face, minorities with disabilities experience additional disparities in health, prejudice, discrimination, economic barriers, and difficulties accessing care as a result of their disability—in effect, they face a “double burden.”[1]   “Disability-based discrimination in health care is illegal under the Americans with Disabilities Act and will not be tolerated,” said Eve L. Hill, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice. “All types of health care providers – from hospitals to nursing homes, from surgeons to general practitioners – all across the country – need to provide equal access to people with disabilities, including people who are deaf…, the time for compliance is now.”[2]

Notwithstanding the fact that the ADA is over 25 years old, it is common-place that medical professionals, who are dedicated to the health of their patients, are too often dismissive of their patient’s disability-related needs.  Most discrimination against persons with disabilities are not so blatant and ignorant as what occurred with Mr. McDowell.  Some of the issues which serve as barriers to persons with disabilities include inaccessible physical environments, and inflexible policies and procedures that, for example, assume that everyone must be able to independently fill out forms, undress unaided, transfer to high examination tables, and communicate in spoken English to receive standard health care services.[3]

The failure to provide accommodations and an accessible environment will, at the least, lead to health care disparities, and at the worst, lead to injury and death.

The most common issue at Disability Independence Group is doctors and hospitals that refuse to provide sign language interpreters for people who are deaf. Instead these professionals choose to communicate in English by writing notes or using technology that fails to work accurately and timely.  This leads to miscommunication and does not allow the deaf patient to have the full opportunity for medical choice as any hearing person would expect. This failure to communicate leads to misdiagnosis, failure to take the appropriate medicines, and continued illness.  When it comes to psychiatric treatment, it often exacerbates the symptoms. Other issues that often arise are as follows:

  • Medical professionals often ignore persons with disabilities and speak to their family member or caretaker, solely because of the assumption that the person with a disability cannot fully grasp the issues regarding their care and treatment.
  • Doctor’s offices and hospitals do not always have medical equipment such as a wheelchair-accessible weight scale or a height-adjustable exam table. Due to barriers, individuals with disabilities are less likely to get routine preventative medical care than people without disabilities.[4]
  • Further, despite universal precautions, health care providers may still be hesitant to treat patients who are HIV positive or live with AIDS.

However, the main issue is the fact that because of the difficulties that persons with disabilities encounter, such persons are less likely to receive needed health care.  According to a Disability Healthcare Access Brief published by the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, 19% of people with disabilities reported that they did not receive medical care needed in the previous year, compared to 6% of non disabled persons.[5]

People with disabilities tend to be in poorer health and to use health care at a significantly higher rate than people who do not have disabilities.  Larry McDowell is not a statistic, but instead a blatant example of an issue which needs to be addressed.  Equality in health care is not a benefit, but a basic right.

Roseline Joseph receives a Christmas Gift from the Coral Gables Police Department to welcome her medically fragile grandchild home

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jocelyne joseph

Roseline Joseph and her two children with Sharon Langer and Coral Gables Police Lieutenant Bart Barta

Today, Roseline Joseph welcomed Coral Gables Police Lieutenant Bart Barta to her home and received $300 in gift cards as a holiday gift from the City of Coral Gables Police Department.  Ms. Joseph was just granted custody of her grandson, who is a medically-fragile three year old with a disability, and requires 24-hour per day medical care and supervision.   This little boy has been in foster care and in skilled nursing facilities since he was an infant.  Instead of presents in Ms. Joseph’s home, it was filled with medical supplies and equipment awaiting the return (at 4 P.M.) of the best present that Ms. Joseph could hope for.  Sharon Langer, guardian ad litem for the child and Development Director of Disability Independence Group, is overjoyed at the reunification of the family and another child out of a nursing facility to a forever home.

Ms. Joseph’s gift was made possible by a  long-standing member of the Coral Gables community, who wished to remain anonymous.  This Santa Claus gave the Coral Gables police department  gift cards  to be distributed in and around the city during holiday weeks, and to  victims’ homes, families in need and to others facing times of hardship.

Sharon Langer Recognized with the Anti-Defamation League Miami Jurisprudence Award

Sharon Langer and Debbie and Matthew Dietz
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On November 19, 2015, Sharon Langer, Development Director of Disability Independence Group, and Alan Dimond of Greenberg Traurig were both recognized with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Miami Jurisprudence Award.

Sharon Langer’s remarks included the following

For the past 100 years, the Anti-Defamation League has stood up against anti-Semitism, bigotry, and other pernicious stereotypes in our country and around the world. Like Anti-Semitism or any other form of bigotry, the roots of disability discrimination stem from the belief that persons with disabilities do not have the same natural rights to be a member of our communities. From my 28 years at Legal Aid of Miami, I brought my lifetime of experience at Legal Aid to Disability Independence Group to join the fight for equality for persons with disabilities. ADL has been involved in this fight for one hundred years, and we are ready to join this fight to ensure equal treatment.

Persons with Disabilities make up more than 20% of the population in Florida. Children with Disabilities are subject to incarceration at much higher rates than other children; persons with disabilities are at greater risk of becoming victims of domestic violence and hate crimes; and most persons with disabilities are excluded from basic opportunities for integration in the community and basic opportunities for employment, housing, medical treatment, education, and religious and cultural life.

The Anti-Defamation League has been a national leader on hate crimes laws. Nine years before the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act, in 1981, ADL drafted a model hate crimes penalty enhancement statute, inclusive of disability. The vast majority of the 45 state hate crimes laws, including Florida’s, are based on this model. Furthermore, for 13 years, ADL lead the coalition that successfully advocated for the 2009 the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention, which includes disability.

This fight against hate extends to persons with disability in ways that must be addressed. Persons with disabilities are victimized at a rate three times higher than persons without disabilities. In 2012, 1.3 million violent crimes, that included rape and physical assault, occurred against persons with disabilities. PEOPLE With Disabilities are:

  • 3 times more likely to experience violent victimization as adolescents
  • 3 times more likely to experience rape, sexual assault, aggravated assault and robbery
  • 3 times more likely to be sexually abused as children

Disability Independence Group has been awarded a Training and Enhanced Services to End Violence against Women by the Office of Violence Against Women. With our partners, M.U.J.E.R, a sexual assault and domestic violence center, Dade Legal Aid, that provides representation to victims and CVAC – Miami Dade County’s Victims Assistance Center we will spend the next three years working with experts from the federal government to create sustainable change within and between our organizations that will result in accessible, safe and effective services for victims who are persons with disabilities.

The ADL has long been involved in education and outreach to ensure that everyone is aware that persons with disabilities are entitled to equal rights and opportunity. The best way to reduce discrimination is to prevent stereotypes from being continued. At DIG, we identified an issue that persons with autism were subject to misunderstandings during police interactions as the officer would not have knowledge of Autism, and would interpret disability-related behavior as criminally suspicious behavior.

As a response to reduce assumptions and stereotypes about autism, DIG created the Wallet Card program to ensure that persons who live with Autism have a tool that they could use to self-identify their disability when they encounter law enforcement personnel and other first responders. The Wallet Card is a laminated card that a person with autism of a developmental disability carries with them that is individualized and notifies a first responder of the specific disability-related issues. Along with the Card, we have trainings both for persons with autism or other developmental disabilities, and for first responders. Thus far, we have produced almost 2,000 cards, and will be adopted by the Miami-Dade County Commission as a project for Miami-Dade police in December.

The Anti-Defamation League has also been instrumental in the fight to dismantle the School to Prison pipeline. The “School-to-Prison Pipeline” refers to the policies and practices that push our nation’s schoolchildren, especially our most at-risk children, out of classrooms and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Students who qualify for special education too often receive inferior services in segregated settings and incur repeated disciplinary actions. According to the U.S. Department of Education, students with disabilities are more than twice as likely to receive an out-of-school suspension (13 percent) than students without disabilities (6 percent). Students with disabilities represent 12 percent of the overall student population, yet make up 25 percent of all students involved in a school-related arrest. Many families reject special education because of the stigma attached to disability, or additional academic and behavioral supports are not provided to children who have been identified as a child with a disability. School-to-Prison Pipeline reform must include diversion from the juvenile justice system to provide the programs necessary for students with disabilities in the education system.

We are proud to have ADL as our ally in this fight, and look to their lead in protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable, every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” As I look out into this audience, I see my friends in the steps towards justice, and those who have sacrifices and struggled for the future that we all work towards.

Samuel Rony is Awarded the Caribbean Bar Association Award

DIG Intern Sam Rony
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Each year, the Caribbean Bar Association (CBA) awards various Judicial and Legal Services Internship opportunities to law students. In the summer of 2015, the CBA awarded three law students in South Florida with either an eight-week Judicial Internship in South Florida, or an eight-week Legal Services Internship with Legal Services of Greater Miami. In addition, each recipient received a $3,000 stipend. To be eligible to receive the scholarship for the 2014-2015 academic school year, the applicants were asked to write an essay describing how redistricting negatively affects Caribbean-American voters. After reviewing multiple essay entries, Samuel R. Rony, a St. Thomas University School of Law second year student, was selected as one of the recipients. Samuel was placed with The Honorable Magistrate Judge Patrick A. White in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. We are pleased to announce that Samuel is one of Disability Independence Group, Inc.’s Fall 2015 Interns.

 

Give Miami Day

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the logo for the 2015 Give Miami Day

DIG is excited to announce that we will be participating in The Miami Foundation’s Give Miami Day 2015. Give Miami Day is an annual 24 hour online giving event. It allows anyone in our community to make an impact by supporting local non-profit organizations. It will begin midnight November 19th and go until midnight November 20th. To support DIG and donate on the day of the event, visit http://givemiamiday.org/#npo/disability-independence-group-inc.

Welcome Lisa Goodman to DIG!

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DIG is pleased to introduce Lisa Goodman, as our new Staff Lisa Goodman signing the official documentsAttorney.

Lisa graduated Cum Laude from the University of Miami School Of Law in May 2015, and was hired once she passed the Florida Bar Exam. During law school, Lisa was awarded the C.A.L.I. Excellence for the Future Award from her work in the University of Miami’s Children and Youth Law Clinic. It was because of her work with that clinic that she knew she wanted to enter the Civil Rights arena of law which ultimately led her here.

Lisa has a B.A. in advertising from the University of Florida. After graduating from UF but before attending law school, Lisa worked as a social media coordinator and we look forward to her utilizing those skills for us in addition to her legal work.

She comes to us fresh, enthusiastic, and ready to work with and meet all of our clients.

Lisa Goodman and Judge Muir

A word from Lisa…

Greetings to all DIG newsletter readers!

It is truly an honor to work at DIG. In my short time here, at DIG, it already feels like home and it is wonderful to be a part of the DIG family. I appreciate the warm welcome and I look forward to working with many of you!

Lisa

Litigation: When the denial of a reasonable accommodation leads to tragedy

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By: Matthew Dietz

Most times when a person requests a reasonable accommodation or a modification because of a disability, the accommodation or modification assists a person to live independently or lessens the effect of a disability. This includes a closer parking space, grab bars in the bathroom, or an assistance animal. However, there are many times when a need for an accommodation is a matter of life and death. In a recent case filed by DIG and Belvin Perry of Morgan & Morgan, the denial of a reasonable accommodation led to Samuel Rosario’s death at his apartment at the Logan Heights Apartments in Sanford, Florida.

Sammy Rosario had four adult children, two boys and two girls, and many grandchildren, but he valued his stubborn independence and insisted on living on his own. Sammy lived at Redding Gardens, a Public Housing Property where only elderly and disabled individuals were admitted. He was admitted to this specific property because he lived with numerous medical conditions, including memory loss, seizure disorder, and mobility impairments.

In October 2011, Orlando Housing Authority (OHA) assisted in the relocation of residents that lived at Redding Gardens, and Sammy was moved by OHA to Logan Heights Apartments, a privately owned, tax credit, multi-family development. Sammy was relocated to a one bedroom apartment on the third story, with access by three flights of stairs. However, on the same day of the move, the OHA Relocation Specialist telephoned Sammy’s daughter, Stephanie Fernandez, to tell her that her father could barely make it to his second floor apartment at Redding Gardens and OHA refused to allow Sammy into the moving truck to the new apartment.

Stephanie frantically searched for her dad and could not find him at either development, so the entire family conducted a dragnet for Sammy Rosario. Sammy Rosario was found lost, delirious and bleeding close to a major highway. An ambulance was called and he was taken to the hospital. Once released, Sammy could not see. He was legally blind. Stephanie called the relocation specialist, informed them of her dad’s condition, his inability to live independently or on the third floor, and requested assistance for her father to live in a first floor apartment and to be allowed to live with an aide. No action was taken on their request.

For the next two years, Sammy, and his daughters Stephanie and Stacie, provided, asked, and pleaded for a first floor apartment and the ability to have a live in aide for Sammy, so he could live as independently as possible. They provided doctors notes, but were given various excuses by OHA, including the lack of adequate funding for relocation.

In the fall of 2012, the Social Security Administration denied Sammy Rosario’s application for Social Security Disability. Because Mr. Rosario’s disability was so obvious, Mr. Rosario appealed the decision. However, notwithstanding the determination of Mr. Rosario’s doctors of his disability, OHA decided that Mr. Rosario was now not considered “disabled”. This was due to a finding of the Social Security Administration that Mr. Rosario was not classified as disabled and Mr. Rosario and his daughters were advised that no accommodation would be provided and that Mr. Rosario was now not even entitled to a rent subsidy based upon his disability.

Stephanie did not accept this determination, reviewed the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regulations on her own, and advised the housing authority that the denial of an accommodation was contrary to HUDs own regulations, as the HUD regulations specifically permit a finding of disability on factors other than a finding from social security. It just did not make sense as if the Social Security Administration was wrong in its determination, Sammy would be entitled to retroactive payments; however, if the housing authority was wrong, it could not retroactively give Sammy his accommodation he needs to live independently. In August of 2013, Sammy Rosario and Stephanie Fernandez had enough, and they filed a Fair Housing Claim against OHA. Even after the filing, the OHA affirmed their denial, but advised Ms. Fernandez that “Should Mr. Rosario win his appeal to the Social Security Administration’s denial, please contact our office and we will reconsider our decision.”

Social Security reversed its decision and granted Sammy Rosario benefits back to September 2011 – less than three months after the filing of the fair housing complaint – but OHA did not reconsider. Instead, they advised that Ms. Fernandez would need to go through the entire reasonable accommodation process again. Instead of allowing Mr. Rosario the accommodation he needed, the OHA decided to use the accommodation as a negotiating point in the fair housing investigative process instead of immediately providing the necessary accommodation.

On March 19, 2015, Samuel Rosario had an accident where he fell, causing injury to his head and bruising to his eyes. He was admitted into the hospital for nine days, where he received needed physical therapy. Soon after arriving back home on May 29th, 2015, Mr. Rosario was found dead in the kitchen of his apartment. After an investigation and autopsy, it was determined that the cause of Mr. Rosario’s death was an unwitnessed fall, causing head injury. After completing the investigation, the Sanford Police Department determined that Samuel Rosario was injured while experiencing an unwitnessed seizure and was desperately seeking for help. The evidence of the trail of blood led from his bedroom to the bathroom, where there was a considerable amount of blood. The blood trail continued into the kitchen where Samuel Rosario experienced another seizure or fainted and hit his head, which was ultimately determined as the cause of his death.

On August 29, 2014, the Florida Commission on Human Relations determined that there was cause to believe that Samuel Rosario was denied a reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act. However, unlike the reversal of the Social Security Disability determination, the denial of an accommodation cannot be granted retroactively, and Stephanie and her brothers and sister cannot bring their father back.

If Sammy Rosario had a live in aide, he would not have died. He would not have fallen, and if he had fallen, he would not have bled to death alone in his home. Over fifty percent of all fair housing complaints filed against housing providers in the United States are as a result of a denial of a reasonable accommodation or a reasonable modification in a home. Most of these accommodations cost nothing to a provider, yet may mean the difference between living independently and living in an assisted living facility or nursing home, or as in this case, the difference between life and death. For a federally subsidized housing provider, such as the Orlando Housing Authority, the subsidized housing provider has the obligation to pay for and provide a modification to the premises (such as a roll in shower or permanent ramp), or an accommodation by a change in a rule, such as a larger apartment to accommodate a live in aide, or relocation to a first floor apartment.

Disability Independence Group and Morgan & Morgan is pleased to represent the family of Samuel Rosario to ensure that a housing provider cannot ignore the needs of their residents with disabilities, and that accommodations are essential to independent living.

Litigation: When the denial of a reasonable accommodation leads to tragedy

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By: Matthew Dietz

Most times when a person requests a reasonable accommodation or a modification because of a disability, the accommodation or modification assists a person to live independently or lessens the effect of a disability. This includes a closer parking space, grab bars in the bathroom, or an assistance animal. However, there are many times when a need for an accommodation is a matter of life and death. In a recent case filed by DIG and Belvin Perry of Morgan & Morgan, the denial of a reasonable accommodation led to Samuel Rosario’s death at his apartment at the Logan Heights Apartments in Sanford, Florida.

Sammy Rosario had four adult children, two boys and two girls, and many grandchildren, but he valued his stubborn independence and insisted on living on his own. Sammy lived at Redding Gardens, a Public Housing Property where only elderly and disabled individuals were admitted. He was admitted to this specific property because he lived with numerous medical conditions, including memory loss, seizure disorder, and mobility impairments.

In October 2011, Orlando Housing Authority (OHA) assisted in the relocation of residents that lived at Redding Gardens, and Sammy was moved by OHA to Logan Heights Apartments, a privately owned, tax credit, multi-family development. Sammy was relocated to a one bedroom apartment on the third story, with access by three flights of stairs. However, on the same day of the move, the OHA Relocation Specialist telephoned Sammy’s daughter, Stephanie Fernandez, to tell her that her father could barely make it to his second floor apartment at Redding Gardens and OHA refused to allow Sammy into the moving truck to the new apartment.

Stephanie frantically searched for her dad and could not find him at either development, so the entire family conducted a dragnet for Sammy Rosario. Sammy Rosario was found lost, delirious and bleeding close to a major highway. An ambulance was called and he was taken to the hospital. Once released, Sammy could not see. He was legally blind. Stephanie called the relocation specialist, informed them of her dad’s condition, his inability to live independently or on the third floor, and requested assistance for her father to live in a first floor apartment and to be allowed to live with an aide. No action was taken on their request.

For the next two years, Sammy, and his daughters Stephanie and Stacie, provided, asked, and pleaded for a first floor apartment and the ability to have a live in aide for Sammy, so he could live as independently as possible. They provided doctors notes, but were given various excuses by OHA, including the lack of adequate funding for relocation.

In the fall of 2012, the Social Security Administration denied Sammy Rosario’s application for Social Security Disability. Because Mr. Rosario’s disability was so obvious, Mr. Rosario appealed the decision. However, notwithstanding the determination of Mr. Rosario’s doctors of his disability, OHA decided that Mr. Rosario was now not considered “disabled”. This was due to a finding of the Social Security Administration that Mr. Rosario was not classified as disabled and Mr. Rosario and his daughters were advised that no accommodation would be provided and that Mr. Rosario was now not even entitled to a rent subsidy based upon his disability.

Stephanie did not accept this determination, reviewed the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regulations on her own, and advised the housing authority that the denial of an accommodation was contrary to HUDs own regulations, as the HUD regulations specifically permit a finding of disability on factors other than a finding from social security. It just did not make sense as if the Social Security Administration was wrong in its determination, Sammy would be entitled to retroactive payments; however, if the housing authority was wrong, it could not retroactively give Sammy his accommodation he needs to live independently. In August of 2013, Sammy Rosario and Stephanie Fernandez had enough, and they filed a Fair Housing Claim against OHA. Even after the filing, the OHA affirmed their denial, but advised Ms. Fernandez that “Should Mr. Rosario win his appeal to the Social Security Administration’s denial, please contact our office and we will reconsider our decision.”

Social Security reversed its decision and granted Sammy Rosario benefits back to September 2011 – less than three months after the filing of the fair housing complaint – but OHA did not reconsider. Instead, they advised that Ms. Fernandez would need to go through the entire reasonable accommodation process again. Instead of allowing Mr. Rosario the accommodation he needed, the OHA decided to use the accommodation as a negotiating point in the fair housing investigative process instead of immediately providing the necessary accommodation.

On March 19, 2015, Samuel Rosario had an accident where he fell, causing injury to his head and bruising to his eyes. He was admitted into the hospital for nine days, where he received needed physical therapy. Soon after arriving back home on May 29th, 2015, Mr. Rosario was found dead in the kitchen of his apartment. After an investigation and autopsy, it was determined that the cause of Mr. Rosario’s death was an unwitnessed fall, causing head injury. After completing the investigation, the Sanford Police Department determined that Samuel Rosario was injured while experiencing an unwitnessed seizure and was desperately seeking for help. The evidence of the trail of blood led from his bedroom to the bathroom, where there was a considerable amount of blood. The blood trail continued into the kitchen where Samuel Rosario experienced another seizure or fainted and hit his head, which was ultimately determined as the cause of his death.

On August 29, 2014, the Florida Commission on Human Relations determined that there was cause to believe that Samuel Rosario was denied a reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act. However, unlike the reversal of the Social Security Disability determination, the denial of an accommodation cannot be granted retroactively, and Stephanie and her brothers and sister cannot bring their father back.

If Sammy Rosario had a live in aide, he would not have died. He would not have fallen, and if he had fallen, he would not have bled to death alone in his home. Over fifty percent of all fair housing complaints filed against housing providers in the United States are as a result of a denial of a reasonable accommodation or a reasonable modification in a home. Most of these accommodations cost nothing to a provider, yet may mean the difference between living independently and living in an assisted living facility or nursing home, or as in this case, the difference between life and death. For a federally subsidized housing provider, such as the Orlando Housing Authority, the subsidized housing provider has the obligation to pay for and provide a modification to the premises (such as a roll in shower or permanent ramp), or an accommodation by a change in a rule, such as a larger apartment to accommodate a live in aide, or relocation to a first floor apartment.

Disability Independence Group and Morgan & Morgan is pleased to represent the family of Samuel Rosario to ensure that a housing provider cannot ignore the needs of their residents with disabilities, and that accommodations are essential to independent living.

Can Judges from the Florida Supreme Court get a Reasonable Accommodation for a Disability?

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By: Matthew Dietz

Chief Justice Jorge Labraga

Chief Justice Jorge Labraga

On Monday, September 14th, Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, 62, underwent successful surgery for kidney cancer at Shands Hospital in Gainesville. Doctors had discovered the cancer in its early stages through routine blood tests earlier this year. They advised him to have the kidney removed. Justice Labarga was expected to be hospitalized for seven days. However, after surgery, Justice Labarga began working at his job remotely, with Barbara Pariente, another cancer survivor, serving as acting chief justice during any time he is incapacitated. According to the Court, “Doctors found no signs that the cancer had spread and predict a full and quick recovery for Florida’s 56th Chief Justice and its first of Hispanic descent.”

When Justice Barbara Pariente underwent her battle with breast cancer in 2003, she had a 14-hour double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. After choosing an aggressive treatment and chemotherapy, Justice Pariente continued to sit on the bench while she was undergoing her cancer treatment. She decided to bare her soul and her scalp from the bench when she decided that she was not going to hide the fact that she had cancer:

During Pariente’s liberating courtroom debut, sans wig, there was a Supreme Court ceremony to induct new members to The Florida Bar. In his speech, then Bar President Miles McGrane made references to heroes in the law Atticus Finch and Chesterfield Smith. And then with a nod to Justice Pariente, he said, “I am so honored and pleased that you are doing what you’re doing for your cause. You are a hero to me, and, I think, everyone here.” Clearly touched by his remarks, Pariente’s eyes glistened with tears as the spectators broke into applause.

According to Eleanor Hunter, executive director of the Florida Board of Bar Examiners, Pariente never missed an oral argument throughout her cancer treatment. She also participated in all conferences, including one by telephone and one video conference. Hunter said: “The most remarkable thing to me is while she sat at chemotherapy, she took a briefcase of her work, reading over cases and briefs, with an IV dripping in her arm.”

Justice Barbara J. Pariente

Justice Barbara J. Pariente

Work was not even a question for either Justice Labarga or Justice Pariente. It was what each chose to do. Last month, the DIG newsletter contained an article about the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s new case with DIG client Gregorio Reyes, who was fired from his job while he was recovering from prostate cancer. In all pronouncements by the Supreme Court and the press, the fact that the Justices were returning to work, and that they were able to continue their jobs with a minimal accommodation, appears merely to be an afterthought. While it may be an afterthought for the Florida Supreme Court, it is not for most employers who view cancer and chemotherapy as a reason to question an employee’s ability to work during and after cancer treatment.

Even when the prognosis is excellent, like that of Justice Labarga, some employers expect that a person diagnosed with cancer will take long absences from work or be unable to focus on job duties. The Americans with Disabilities Act protects persons who currently have cancer, or have cancer that is in remission, because they are substantially limited in the major life activity of normal cell growth or would be so limited if cancer currently in remission was to recur. (See 29 C.F.R. §§1630.2(j)(3)(iii) and 1630.2(j) (1)(vii)). However, cancer is not identical for all persons, and the symptoms and side effects depend on many factors, including the primary site of the cancer, stage of the disease, age and health of the individual, and type of treatments. The most common symptoms and side effects of cancer and/or treatment are pain, fatigue, problems related to nutrition and weight management, nausea, vomiting, hair loss, low blood counts, memory and concentration loss, depression, and respiratory problems.

If an employee reveals that he or she has or had cancer, the employer may not ask any questions about the condition, unless: the employer reasonably believes that he or she will require an accommodation to perform the job, the employer observed performance problems, and the employer reasonably believes that the problems are related to a medical condition. In any event, any inquiry or discussions should remain confidential.

For a lawyer or a judge, the accommodations necessary to do the job are relatively simple. The accommodations include working (or even appearing at hearings) from remote locations, allowance of breaks, or a rest area during the day, and time off to go for treatment or to the doctor’s office.

There are other protections that may be available, such as Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2601, and some law firm or other state laws, which may provide medical leave for larger employers or governmental entities.

So, accommodations for a disability is readily achievable for any lawyer.

For more information, see

Questions & Answers about Cancer in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Accommodation and Compliance Series: Employees with Cancer

Reasonable Accommodations for Attorneys with Disabilities, by Matthew W. Dietz

All of the history of Justice Pariente’s condition is from Jan Pudlow’s 2004 in the Florida article – Barbara J. Pariente, Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court
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