Deaf Inmates Will Receive Services in Miami-Dade Jails


Disability Independence Group and Disability Rights Florida Resolve Lawsuit against Miami Dade Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to Provide Services to Deaf Inmates

Miami FL, October 19th, 2016, Disability Independence Group, a jailcellnon-profit organization that advocates for the rights of people with disabilities, and Disability Rights Florida, Florida’s federally-funded Protection and Advocacy organization, have resolved a lawsuit concerning Miami-Dade County Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (Miami-Dade County) over its systemic failure to comply with federal measures intended to protect individuals with disabilities processed and incarcerated at their locations throughout the County. Upon filing the case, Miami-Dade County endeavored to resolve the matter to ensure that deaf inmates do not suffer from discrimination in the jails.

The case came about because of the experiences of numerous individuals who are Deaf who have faced discrimination in Miami-Dade County jails.  The Complaint recounts the ordeals of two individuals who are Deaf who have suffered directly from Miami-Dade County’s failure to comply with the federal laws intended to protect such individuals.  As a result of non-compliance with disability rights laws, Deaf prisoners are not provided adequate access to communication with their family and lawyers, adequate medical services, and may be assaulted and victimized without recourse.  This follows a nationwide trend as several disability rights groups have filed similar lawsuits.

Joel Martos is a profoundly Deaf individual who communicates primarily using American Sign Language (ASL) which is his native language.  He relies on ASL interpreters and other auxiliary aids to communicate with individuals who do not use sign language.  Throughout a period of more than three years of incarceration, Miami-Dade County failed to provide Mr. Martos with even the most basic communication accommodations.  He was denied accommodations beginning at intake, underwent medical tests and psychological examinations without any communication and was denied other programs in the jail.  Because Mr. Martos was unable to communicate, he had no understanding of programs available or conditions of probation and had no meaningful contact with family, friends or lawyers.

Joshua Santuche is a profoundly Deaf individual who also communicates using ASL.  Mr. Santuche was arrested in October 2015 and was not provided with an interpreter upon arrival at Miami-Dade County jail.  Mr. Santuche attempted to communicate with officers through hand gestures that he was Deaf and needed an interpreter, but was ignored by some officers and ridiculed by others. At no point was Mr. Santuche provided with a videophone or any other means of communication to contact an attorney, a bail bondsman, or his family.  At his bond hearing, no ASL interpreter was provided.  Had Mr. Santuche’s mother not been available and present at the hearing to interpret for him using what she refers to as “survival sign language”, Mr. Santuche would have remained incarcerated.  At the majority of subsequent hearings at the Miami-Dade County Courthouse, no ASL interpreter had been provided despite Miami-Dade County having ample knowledge and time to secure one.

“This settlement ensures that Deaf inmates will be treated fairly.  Like hearing inmates, Deaf inmates will be able to communicate with their lawyers and families, not be subject to discipline or medical examinations without a full understanding, and will not be victimized by other inmates.” said Matthew W. Dietz, Litigation Director of Disability Independence Group, “Without communication, a Deaf inmate is required to become invisible, to avoid confrontation, to avoid medical need, to avoid rehabilitative services, to avoid recreational services, and wait endlessly in isolation for the incarceration to end.”

“As Florida’s Protection and Advocacy organization, we have a responsibility to ensure that the rights and dignity of individuals with disabilities are being respected,” said Molly J. Paris, Staff Attorney at Disability Rights Florida. “The law requires that individuals who are Deaf are properly accommodated and are afforded the opportunity to communicate so that instances of unnecessary incarceration or re-incarceration are avoided.”

dadecountyjail_pretrial_detention_centerThe Settlement requires Miami-Dade to timely provide qualified interpreters for all programs and services of the jails, including: booking, intake process, at classification hearings, medical or psychological treatment, disciplinary hearings, religious services, educational classes, Narcotics and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings or the equivalent, and interactions with staff that implicate an inmates’ due process rights.  It also provides access to and use of video relay phones and TTYs (communication device that allows the typing of messages), and repairs and replacement batteries for hearing aids and cochlear processors.  The county employees will receive training regarding the needs of and effective communication with the Deaf, and procedures for identifying and providing accommodations to Deaf inmates.

The Plaintiffs are represented by attorneys Matthew Dietz from Disability Independence Group and David A. Boyer and Molly J. Paris from Disability Rights Florida.

For more copies of the Complaint and the Settlement Agreement, please click the links.

Disability Rights Florida was founded in 1977 as the statewide designated protection and advocacy system for individuals with disabilities in the State of Florida. It has been advocating for access to services, education, employment, independence, and the elimination of abuse and neglect for over 35 years.

 Disability Independence Group is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that promotes recruitment, education and employment of persons with disabilities thereby improving their lives through competitive employment and financial stability; and through the changing of society’s perception of person with disabilities.  

Summer Fun and Discrimination against Kids (with or without disabilities)!


By: Matthew Dietz

A graphic with a white background and black text that reads keep calm and no kids allowed with a crown above it

Unless the housing facility is a qualified 55 and over housing development, a housing provider cannot have rules that treat children differently, and less favorably than adults. When the US Congress amended the Fair Housing Act in 1988, it prohibited housing practices that discriminate on the basis of familial status.When it amended the Act, Congress recognized that “families with children are refused housing despite their ability to pay for it.” In addition, Congress cited a HUD survey that found 25% of all rental units exclude children and that 50% of all rental units have policies that restrict families with children in some way. The HUD survey also revealed that almost 20% of families with children were forced to live in less desirable housing because of restrictive policies. Congress recognized these problems and sought to remedy them by amending the Fair Housing Act to make families with children a protected class. So any rules, that do not have a legitimate safety justification, cannot indicate a “preference, limitation, or discrimination” against children under the age of 18. This includes rules that prohibit children from common areas in the facility with or without supervision, or limit the facilities of the housing development to adults. All rules must apply to children and adults equally, and cannot solely target children’s behavior.

If rules have a legitimate safety rationale, then such rules may be legitimate. But, again rules such as all children under sixteen must be supervised by an adult does not have a safety rationale, but a discriminatory basis against loud teenagers. On the other hand, a fifteen year old at a gym may injure him or herself on free weights without having supervision.

Summer camp must be inclusive

Over the past fifteen years, I have had several cases involving children who were not permitted to go to the summer camp of their choice, or were segregated in the summer camp because of the child’s disabilities. A summer camp, like any other public accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act, must provide reasonable accommodations for campers with disabilities, and must not segregate them from othJordan4er students. Camps operated by governmental entities or colleges have a broader duty to accommodate campers with disabilities than some private entities that do
not have the same resources as a governmental entity. Examples of situations which I have encountered over the years are as follows:

  • Children who are Deaf – Deaf kids have the right to a qualified sign language interpreter for all programs and services of a camp that involve communication that is long, complex, or important. Examples of this would be instructions on how to play a complicated game, story time, puppet shows, and educational instruction. If there are games that involve communication, then an interpreter would be appropriate so the Deaf child is included.
  • Autistic kids – If a child who lives with autism has a one-on-one aide at school, for the same reasons, that child may need a one-on-one aide at a camp. Further, if a child needs further instruction in a game, or assistance with social interactions, that would be an accommodation that must be provided.
  • Kids who have a medical condition such as Diabetes – If a child has a medical condition, or needs assistance with a medical condition, such as diabetes or HIV, then the question is whether the child poses a direct threat to his or her own health or the safety of others. If a child needs minor assistance with a medical condition, or can manage his or her own medical needs and monitoring, a camp cannot discrimiJordan2nate against these children.
  • Kids with mobility impairments or other physical disabilities – Camps, like any other public accommodations, must have their facility accessible to children with disabilities. Older camps must do modifications that are readily achievable, easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense, and those camps altered or built after 1991 must be constructed accessibly. The camp is also responsible for making reasonable accommodations for campers with disabilities, which may involve some personal services, such as assistance in dressing, if similar services are available for able bodied campers.
  • Kids with allergies – Kids who have allergies cannot be excluded from camps, and camps must be prepared to exclude certain allergens to accommodate a camper, and be trained in the event a camper has an allergic reaction. It would not be unreasonable to expect camp counselors to learn how to administer epinephrine auto-injector (“Epi-pen”) shots and dispense asthma medication, assist in administering Diastat for seizures in emergencies or otherwise teach camp counselors in basic first aid or CPR.

Parents can choose to send their child to a segregated camp, because some camps may provide special skills or advantages for children with disabilities, but the choice of going to a specialized camp is a choice, such as camps where all children are deaf.
However, all children may not be able to go to integrated camps. For example, there may be children with developmental disabilities or intellectual disabilities who would not be able to care for themselves at a sleep-away camp, and it would be a fundamental alteration of the camp’s programs to develop a program for one child’s disability. Further, if a child is dependent on mechanical supports, a camp would not be required to hire medical personnel to accommodate medically complex children. For these kids specialized camps are a phenomenal way to get out and enjoy the community. For example, Nicklaus Children’s hospital operates the VACC camp for technologically dependent children which includes swimming, field trips to local attractions,campsite entertainment, structured games, “free play”, to promote family growth and development while enhancing these kids’ self-esteem and social skills.

It’s so damn hot – my kid has asthma and needs an air conditioner

Last year, we represented a mother who had a child who lived in HUD-subsidized low-income housing. Asthma is often triggered by inhalation of air particles that contain allergens such as pollen, mold spores, dust mite droppings and animal dander. Air conditioners contain filters that collect and store these particles, keeping intake to minimum. Air conditioning also helps eliminate humidity on hot Florida nights which enables mold and algae to grow much more rapidly than it could if it were living in dry air. Some children and adults suffer from asthma to the degree that not having air conditioning may result in serious harm and hospitalization. Requesting to install an air conditioner unit in a home or apartment would be a reasonable accommodation for a person with a disability.

According to the Fair Housing Act, a tenant with a disability can request a reasonable modification. According to HUD Guidance, “A reasonable modification is a structural change made to existing premises, occupied or to be occupied by a person with a disability, in order to afford such person full enjoyment of the premises. Reasonable modifications can include structural changes to interiors and exteriors of dwellings and to common and public use areas.” Under the Fair Housing Act, a housing provider must permit the modification, the tenant is responsible for paying the cost of the modification. If the housing provider is a public housing authority or a housing provider that receives federal financial assistance, the modification must be paid for by the housing provider unless providing the modification would be an undue financial and administrative burden.
Another example modifications can be a pool lift!

Discrimination in Pool Rules

  • No inflatable flotation devices.
  • Water wings, swimmies, floats, bathing suits rings, and other inflatable devices are not permitted in the pools.
  • Absolutely no dogs allowed in pool area

Also, under the Fair Housing Act, persons with disabilities can ask for “reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford … person(s) [with disabilities] equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.” So when a person is required to use water wings, floats, special swimming devices, they can do so. In order to request an accommodation, the person needing an accommodation should ask the housing provider, and if the disability is not obvious, then the person may need to obtain verification from a doctor, therapist, or any other provider verifying the disability and need for the accommodation.

In addition, “no dogs allowed” rules do not apply to service or emotional support animals, where their presence is necessary for the person with a disability equal use and enjoyment of the premises. The Fair Housing Act and the ADA does not override public health rules that prohibit dogs in swimming pools. However, service animals must be allowed on the pool deck and in other areas where others are allowed to go.

Fear should not be a barrier to full community integration


By: Matthew Dietz

On August 18, 2015, Carl Starke, an Autistic man, was shot by three teenagers who were casing the Wal-Mart parking lot for cars to steal; they spotted Carl in the parking lot, and followed him home. They somehow noticed that he had a disability – he was marked as a “soft target”. The plan was to steal his car, but when he arrived home at the condominium development where he lived with his mother, they shot him dead.

This week, the Florida Legislature is considering renaming a particular section of the hate-crime law to “Carl’s Law” to memorialize Carl Starke. According to Rep. Cyndi Stevenson (R-St. Johns) the law is being changed —to honor Carl’s life and build awareness of Florida’s increased penalties for crimes committed against people with disabilities to help prevent future tragedies.

House Bill 387, as drafted, is well meaning, but, it merely removes provisions on disability-based hate crimes from Florida’s existing hate crimes law – §775.085 – and inserts this language into a new statutory provision. Disability Independence Group is opposing this bill because it fails to protect persons with disabilities and it continues time-worn stereotypes that persons with disabilities are all “incapacitated.”

As reflected by state and federal crime statistics, far too few crimes against the disabled are classified and investigated as hate crimes. From 2002 to 2013, the Florida Attorney General reported a total of 1,319 hate crimes in the State of Florida, but only three of these crimes were based on disability. However, U.S Department of Justice statistics demonstrate that persons with disabilities are more than twice as likely to be victims of violent crime compared to persons without disabilities From 2008-2013, persons with disabilities experienced 1.3 million violent victimizations, which accounted for 21% of all violent victimizations. Part of the discrepancy is the definition of “disability” under the Florida hate crime law, as follows:

the term “mental or physical disability” means a condition of mental or physical incapacitation due to a developmental disability, organic brain damage, or mental illness, and one or more mental or physical limitations that restrict a person’s ability to perform the normal activities of daily living.

This definition would not include Carl Starke. From all reports, Carl Starke, like most persons with disabilities, was far from incapacitated. Carl had a large and supportive network of family and friends in the Jacksonville area. He worked for years at Publix Super Market, and then worked Republic Waste Management as a loader. Carl made daily trips to Game Stop, Home Depot and Wal-Mart, and made friends wherever he went. Carl loved college football and spending time with his family and friends. He enjoyed working on his car and tinkering with various projects. According to Carli Durden, his sister:

“We were lucky to have him for 36 years. We wish everyone could have a Carl in their family,” Durden said. “Carl was autistic but functioned in the highest capacity. He was very special to us and was never treated any differently. His autism was considered a gift to us, and that is what made him our Carl.”

This bill has no effect on providing law enforcement with the tools it needs to investigate and prosecute more hate crimes against persons with disabilities. Increasing investigation and prosecution of bias crimes against persons with disabilities requires substantive changes to Florida’s hate crimes law.

According to 2010 U.S. Census Data, out of the 56.7 million persons with disabilities in the United States, less than two percent have an intellectual or developmental disability. Further, many persons with Autism or other developmental disabilities are fully able to be involved in many, if not all, aspects of society, and make decisions on their own. As such, these persons are not, in any sense of the word, incapacitated. The millions of persons who are have physical disabilities, visual or hearing disabilities may similarly be “soft targets.” Hate crimes demand priority attention because of their special impact. They intimidate the victim and members of the victim’s community, leaving them feeling isolated, vulnerable, and unprotected by the law. With more and more persons with disabilities integrated into the community, vigorous investigation and prosecution of hate crimes against persons with disabilities sends the powerful societal message that persons with disabilities should not have fear as a barrier to full community integration.

Disability Independence Group has joined the Florida Hate Crimes Coalition to attempt to urge the sponsors of this bill to amend it to update the hate crime’s law definition to include all persons that have disabilities as in the Florida civil rights law, and not segregating persons with disabilities from all persons that are protected by the Florida Hate Crimes Act.


  1. The information about the life and tragic death of Carl Starke was obtained through news reports and his obituary.
  2. The Florida Hate Crimes Coalition is comprised of the Anti-Defamation League, Autistic Self Advocacy Network, Center for Independent Living of South Florida, Coalition for Independent Living Options, Disability Independence Group, Emerge U.S.A., Florida Association of the Deaf, Hadassah Florida Central, National Council of Jewish Women, The Deaf Service Center Association, Inc. of Florida

The Key to my Independence


“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will.”
Charlotte Bronte

The term independence can take on many different meanings depending on where you are and what’s most important to you. It encompasses a person’s right to autonomy; the ability to make personal decisions without the forceful opinion of others. Individuals with disabilities – especially those who require consistent assistance completing activities of daily living – find it challenging to live independently. One main reason is a need for a network of paid caregivers who can provide assistance with daily needs. Acquiring this level of care in the home setting has been a battle in the US for many years.

In 2015, there was a shift in how Florida provides long term care to individuals who chose to live at home rather than in an institutional setting. This shift created a partnership between Medicaid and private long term care insurance providers. While still bumpy, the partnership has provided opportunities for disabled adults to acquire much needed care at home rather than being forced into a nursing home. While every person’s definition of independent living differs, when it comes to long term care assistance there are two barriers people with disabilities face: access to insurance coverage to pay for services at home and informed choice.

Staying at Home is Key

One person may define independent living as having his or her own place to live. Others may define it as simply managing their own paid caretakers who provide the majority of required assistance, while still living at home with mom and dad. Regardless of the definition, every person has the right to live in his or her own home rather than be forced into a nursing facility.

In my life, I define independent living simply as living my life my way. I knew at a young age that I wanted to move out of my parent’s home and get my own place. My goal was not to always depend on my mother to provide me care, but instead to live independently by finding a way to acquire long-term care coverage that would pay for personal care assistants to help me on a daily basis. Due to my disability, getting dressed, using the restroom, cleaning my home, driving, etc. are all things that I cannot do on my own. However, living in an institutional setting was never an option. Thankfully, the federal government agrees with me. In 1999, the Supreme Court decision in what’s known as the Olmstead case clarified that it was discriminatory to unnecessarily institutionalize individuals with disabilities. The Court held that states must provide community-based services to persons with disabilities when (1) such services are appropriate; (2) the affected persons do not oppose community-based treatment; and (3) community-based services can be reasonably accommodated.

While in theory this provision of the ADA is great, in reality, states struggle to allocate appropriate funding for home and community based services (HCBS). Many states have long waiting lists that are opened only when a person currently in the program either moves out of state or passes away. In late 2013, Florida began to synchronize their HCBS program with private insurance companies, creating a managed care system overseen by Medicaid. By 2015, all counties in Florida now offer home-based services for eligible individuals with disabilities, with a very short (typically 30 days) waiting period.

Informed Choice – My Way or The Highway

Once you are finally in the HCBS program, you are given two choices: To have your care provided through a home health agency or through patient directed care options. The latter is the best option for me, but there are many people who prefer to use the services of a nursing agency. Patient Directed Options (PDO) is a system where recipients recruit, hire and manage their own caregivers. They are responsible for filling out timesheets, monitoring their employees and managing all human resources tasks with no supervision. While it may sound somewhat daunting, living my personal definition of an independent life is great fun. It’s like running a business that has NO option of failure. Today, I hire personal care assistants who come to my home 365 days per year, 7 days a week. While sometimes a bit of a juggling act, managing my own network of caregivers makes life that much sweeter, because by learning how direct my care, I’m able to truly live my life, my way.

For more information on Florida’s Home and Community Based Services, check out the following links:

Author: Lorinda Gonzalez resides in South Florida with her family and service dog, Remy. She was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy at the age of three, and has used a motorized wheelchair for mobility since the age of nine. As an avid writer and reader, she has worked as a grant writer lorinda and isrealand editor since 2009. With the help of her family, it has grown to become a successful endeavor. Lorinda holds a Bachelor in the Arts Degree in English Writing and Rhetoric, and is currently completing a Masters of Arts Degree in Communications. She is a co-found of NMD United, 501 ©3 and on the board of multiple non-profit organizations. In her free time, Lorinda enjoys spending time with family and friends, painting, listening to music, and traveling to historical locations.

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

Sharon Langer and Debbie and Matthew Dietz

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.

My Summer at DIG


By: Kristin Westerhorstmann

Much like racism or sexism, discrimination based on a disability often falls within the common, yet mistaken, school of thought that these issues simply do not exist anymore, or at the very least, happen rarely. I am a law student getting ready to enter my second year at the University of Miami and have been interning with Disability Independence Group for the summer. From day one, it was apparent that this kind of discrimination is still very prevalent and expands into all areas of law, including criminal, landlord-tenant, federal, state, employment, and many more.

           These problems seem to be largely a result of a lack of awareness, not just on the part of those who may be perpetuating the discrimination, but also on the individuals who are being discriminated against and who may not know the full extent of their rights, attorneys who are unfamiliar with this area of the law, and the community at large. Nearly every instance of disability discrimination I have come across at DIG was due in some part to one or more parities unable to understand the nature or extent of an individual’s disability. I was also very surprised to learn that DIG was one of only a few organizations in Florida that specialize in disability law, and even more surprised to learn that this was not only typical in the majority of states, but considered to be advanced.
Many of these issues are also aggravated by communication problems, particularly when an individual is deaf, blind, or has some other kind of impairment to communication. In many
of these cases, individuals are entitled to an interpreter, although this is not a fail-safe. Sometimes, the interpreter is insufficient or ineffective at communicating the user’s needs or intentions,
resulting in miscommunications. This may put the disabled individual in a difficult position of requesting additional services, which can potentially damage the relationship if the other is unwilling or unable to provide them. This can become a serious problem when the services being sought are significant, such as with a doctor or an attorney. In this situation, the individual can
either make due with an ineffective interpreter, or look to
administrative or legal remedies.
Although the general lack of awareness was eye-opening to me, organizations like DIG, that promote and advocate for disability rights, represent a step in the right direction. I have strong hope that others can learn from this example and join the fight to promote awareness, and to help protect the rights and freedoms of individuals with disabilities.

A note from Matt – March 2014


Matt and Phyllis

When I started practicing Disability Rights in 1998, one of my first clients was Edward Resnick. Edward was a renowned attorney who contracted polio in 1954, and was an attorney and became a quadriplegic. Following passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, he had the hope that his community would quickly comply with the law so he, and his wife Phyllis, could be fully integrated in the community. Despite letters and pleading, it didn’t happen.

After eight years of asking, Edward and Phyllis founded Access Now, Inc., found attorneys willing to learn, and compelled compliance with this civil rights law.   Edward passed away several years ago, and Phyllis recently passed the torch to a new group of disability rights activists with David New as the president.  We all stand on the shoulders of the great people who come before us, and because of what Edward and Phyllis had accomplished,  Miami has become a more inclusive community.



“Why?” is the most common question asked when I said that I was going to  change my practice into a non-profit disability rights advocacy center. My reasons are each and every person with a disability that I have represented over the past eighteen years. With every single person, the issue was not about money, but about the dignity of being a human being, and having the same ability to enjoy life as any other person. Even when I was not successful, I was always able to give my clients the power and dignity to fight for their equality and humanity.
This is a new era where people with disabilities eschew labels and demand their rights. Those who are Deaf or who have vision impairments demand equal access to information, those with depression and anxiety demand emotional support animals, those with disabilities demand the right to have their own families
and make their own decisions regarding independent living, and those with learning disabilities demand testing and course accommodations. Disability Independence Group or DIG is an invitation for persons with disabilities to declare their independence from antiquated notions of a second class existence.
Disability Independence Group will be a center where people with disabilities can learn how to enforce their rights and a training center for future lawyers to learn how to enforce the rights of persons with disabilities. It will advocate for a definition of diversity and integration that includes persons with disabilities. DIG will be a hub for the growing internationalization of disability
rights in Central and South America. We have a big job and big dreams. Matt Dietz with Parrot