By: Lorinda Gonzalez
…it’s a smile, it’s a kiss, it’s a sip of wine … it’s summertime!
– Kenny Chesney
Sabrina Cohen Foundation
Sabrina Cohen Foundation
Arnaldo Rios-Soto is the 27 year old Autistic Man who was involved in the North Miami shooting on July 18, 2016. Arnaldo was sitting in the middle of the street by his group home with his favorite toy truck, rocking back and forth. His hand movements and rocking behavior was self- soothing behavior that is not unusual for an Autistic person. His behavioral technologist, Charles Kinsey, was trying to get him to go back to the home. Eighty-five seconds after it was announced on the police radio that Mr. Rios-Soto had a toy, Officer Jonathan Aledda aimed his rifle at Arnaldo Rios-Soto, and shot Charles Kinsey. Like everyone, Arnaldo’s family saw the video of Charles Kinsey lying on the street with his arms raised attempting to protect Arnaldo. Until last week, it was believed that Arnaldo was held in a police car for over three hours, until he was returned to the group home.
For the three hours after the incident, North Miami stripped away Arnaldo Rios-Soto’s civil rights and human rights. Even though it was known that Mr. Rios-Soto had a toy, he was arrested and handcuffed at gunpoint, held in police vehicles for hours, and then repeatedly questioned, and interrogated at the police station. At all times, each person knew that
Arnaldo Rios-Soto had a disability and was not able to respond to questions. Nevertheless, North Miami disregarded the trauma that he had undergone as a victim, and held him solely in an attempt to extract a confession to exonerate Officer Aledda. Click here to view the custodial interrogation of Arnaldo Rios-Soto. In treating Arnaldo Rios-Soto worse than any criminal who they recognize have constitutional rights, the North Miami Police trampled the bounds of a civilized society and victimized a person who they were obligated to safeguard.
The question that we are most often asked is – How is Arnaldo doing?
Arnaldo Rios-Soto is not doing well, and it will take years for him to recover. After the incident, he went back to the scene of the shooting and was inconsolable. He continues to believe that any person in a uniform is going to hurt him.
Now, the only placement option to provide the increased care Arnaldo needs was in an intensive residential placement in Central Florida that specializes in persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities who exhibit complex and extreme behavioral disorders. Arnaldo is currently living in a residential behavioral facility in Mt. Dora, Florida, Carlton Palms Educational Center. Gladys Soto and her daughter moved from their long time residence in South Florida to Ocala to be near Arnaldo.
Prior to the incident, Arnaldo was classified as requiring intensive behavioral care at a level one, from a scale from one to six. Currently, he is at the highest level, or level six, of behavioral needs. Unlike adults or persons who can fully verbally express themselves, it is difficult for Arnaldo to convey how he feels.
For adults, post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) manifest by demonstrating a range of symptoms which includes hypervigilance, flashbacks, nightmares, sleep disturbance, mood disorder, emotional numbing, and difficulties with concentration. As a result, PTSD has a correlation with depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, personality disorder, chronic pain, somatization, greater use of medical and mental health resources, and non-compliance with treatment.
However, with a person with intellectual and developmental disabilities who cannot express himself, it manifests itself in aggressive and regressive behaviors. Arnaldo has gained 35 pounds and yells out “Police!” spontaneously, irresponsive of any activity going on around him. He has withdrawn from community or group activities and would prefer to sleep. Because of the lack of appropriate treatment for extreme stress related treatments for persons with intellectual disabilities with limited verbal skills, this will be an extremely difficult road for Arnaldo.
The goal for Arnaldo’s family is for Arnaldo to be able to live at home with adequate staffing and treatment, but Arnaldo has a long road before he is able to do that. There is no question that this tragedy could have been worse, and Gladys still has her son to hug and care for, that serves as no excuse to any human being treated as if their rights and lives are worthless.
Arnaldo and his mother brought claims for a violation of Arnaldo’s constitutional rights, as well as his right to be able to live in the community as a person with a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act. Click here to read a copy of the complaint, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida,
This event should be a clear call to police departments across the nation to learn about the residents with developmental or intellectual disabilities who live in their neighborhoods. For the past ten years, the North Miami Police responded to incidents in Arnaldo’s group home. Instead of obtaining training regarding these disabilities, they arrested, or tazed the residents of the group home. Disability should not be viewed as a crime, people with disabilities should not be assumed to be dangerous or unstable. Stereotypes of persons with disabilities, as well as the stereotypes of caregivers of persons with disabilities led to this shooting.
By Matthew W. Dietz
As a father of a 19-year-old in a volatile time where a tweetstorm of thoughtless insults can turn into a firestorm of bombs, I worry about the future of my son and all young men of his generation. Currently, the United States Armed Forces is an all-volunteer military force, and there has not been a draft since 1973. However, reactivating the draft is a possibility in the event of a need to supplement the military — all men between 18 and 25 are potentially subject to military conscription or “the draft.” In the event that Congress and the President authorize a mobilization to increase the number of active troops, a lottery would be held based on birthdays which determines the order of men to be drafted. Those with low lottery numbers receive examination orders and are ordered to report for a physical mental and moral evaluation at a Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) to determine whether they are fit for military service. Once the person is notified of the results, a registrant will be given ten days to file a claim for exemption.
Disability is a reason for an exemption. The United States military requires that all enlisted and commissioned personnel be ready for “active duty.” This means one must at all times be physically, emotionally, and psychologically ready to serve – to the military’s standards of fitness. The military has standards for fitness to be inducted into the military, and the purposes of the standards are to ensure that inductees are:
(1) Free of contagious diseases that probably will endanger the health of other personnel.
(2) Free of medical conditions or physical defects that may require excessive time lost from duty for necessary treatment or hospitalization, or probably will result in separation from the Service for medical unfitness.
(3) Medically capable of satisfactorily completing required training.
(4) Medically adaptable to the military environment without the necessity of geographical area limitations.
(5) Medically capable of performing duties without aggravation of existing physical defects or medical conditions.
The goal of the military preparedness is to develop a fighting force without the need of special accommodation for disability. In as much as a person would need an accommodation, including, but not limited to, specialized equipment, medication, or additional services, may potentially lead to a danger to the unit. As such, the military lists the conditions and impairments that are disqualifying.
Physical Disabilities – There is a listing of a plethora of physical disabilities that are potentially disqualifying for a person that is conscripted. This includes issues regarding functioning of bodily systems and physical deformities.
The military is currently very selective with regards to allowing persons with learning or other mental disabilities to be inducted into the military. Part of becoming an effective soldier is to learn to suppress one’s individual needs for the needs of the unit. Thus neurodiversity is not valued as much as conformance to the operation as a unit that can follow orders. As such, many cognitive, learning, or developmental conditions would be disqualifying:
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – A person may be disqualified from military duty if
In 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 11% of children 4-17 years of age (6.4 million) have been diagnosed with ADHD. Apparently, dependence on stimulants for ADHD is disqualifying. These medications include Strattera, Adderall, Ritalin, Vyvanse and many other medications. Currently, one in three children with ADHD take medications for this disability.
History of learning disorders, including but not limited to dyslexia – a person will be disqualified UNLESS applicants demonstrated passing academic and employment performance without utilization of academic and or work accommodations at any time since age 14.
Autism – Pervasive developmental disorders) including Asperger Syndrome, autistic spectrum disorders, and pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified.
Psychosis – Current or history of disorders with psychotic features such as schizophrenic disorders, delusional disorders, bipolar disorders or other and unspecified psychoses.
Depression – History of depressive disorders, including but not limited to major depression, dysthymic disorder, and cyclothymic disorder requiring outpatient care for longer than 12 months by a physician or other mental health professional, or any inpatient treatment in a hospital or residential facility.
Mood Disorders – Depressive disorder not otherwise specified, or unspecified mood disorder
Adjustment disorders – History of a single adjustment disorder within the previous 3 months, or recurrent episodes of adjustment disorders.
Behavior Disorders – Current or history of disturbance of conduct, impulse control, oppositional defiant, other behavior disorders, or personality disorder.
Encopresis (fecal incontinence) after 13th birthday.
Eating Disorders – History of anorexia nervosa or bulimia, and other unspecified disorders of eating occurring after the 13th birthday.
Stuttering – Any current receptive or expressive language disorder, including but not limited to any speech impediment or stammering and stuttering of such a degree as to significantly interfere with production of speech or the ability to repeat commands.
Suicidal behaviors – History of suicidal behavior, including gesture(s) or attempt(s) or history of self-mutilation or injury used as a way of dealing with life and emotions.
PTSD or OCD – History of obsessive-compulsive disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder
Anxiety – History of anxiety disorders, panic disorder, agoraphobia, social phobia or other acute reactions to stress UNLESS:
Current or history of dissociative, conversion, or factitious disorders, depersonalization (300.6), hypochondriasis, somatoform disorders, or pain disorder related to psychological factors
Current or history of psychosexual conditions, including but not limited to transsexualism, exhibitionism, transvestism, voyeurism,and other paraphilias. Whenever I think of this factor, I cannot help but remember Maxwell Q. Kinger from M.A.S.H.
Current use of Marijuana, or any of alcohol dependence, drug dependence, alcohol abuse, or other drug abuse is disqualifying. A history of such use may be disqualifying as well.
As part of my practice, when a person requires an accommodation, I am a stickler for developing a history of disability and receipt of accommodations, and then when subsequent accommodations are needed, the proof will be at hand. In the same way, this information is essential in establishing ineligibility for the draft. It is good practice to obtain all copies of Individual Education Plans, reports of disability by doctors, and prior requests for accommodations, and provisions of accommodation, as well as a medication log. All of this information should be kept in a binder as well as electronically.
Rest assured, you can play a role to serve your country. If you believe that you are still able to serve, you can always seek a waiver of disability. But even with a disability, you can work in a civilian role in the military. A federal mandate states that all U.S. Military bases must have 10% of their civilian workforce composed of individuals with disabilities. The U.S. Navy boasts that they have been ranked number five in the nation among all employers—private sector corporations included—who employ individuals with disabilities.
Department of Defense – Medical Standards for Appointment, Enlistment, or Induction in the Military Services – Policy No. 6130.03 – http://dtic.mil/whs/directives/corres/pdf/613003p.pdf
Army Regulation 40–501, Medical Services – Standards of Medical Fitness – http://www.apd.army.mil/pdffiles/r40_501.pdf
In 2016 DIG Builds Partnerships at the INTERSECTION of Domestic Violence and Disability
In 2016, one of DIG’s greatest accomplishments was becoming part of the solution for the serious problem of access to domestic violence and sexual assault services for persons with disabilities. We did this by spending the year building partnerships with three organizations that are the pillars in our community for serving victims of abuse. They are MUJER ( Mujeres Unidas en Justicia,Educacion,y Reforma, inc.) CVAC ( Coordinated Victim assistance Center of Miami Dade County), and Dade Legal Aid.
With a grant from the Office of Violence Against Women, US Dept. Of Justice (only 6 awarded in the country) we spent this year creating a Charter that will direct our work together for the next two years.
One organization can never offer all the services victims/survivors with disabilities need when experiencing violence and abuse. With funding so scarce, it is almost impossible for one organization to serve everyone and offer all services. That is why the only solution is creative and meaningful collaborations. The Miami Inclusion Alliance (MIA)’ that we formed this year, is such a collaboration. The four of us have come together to forge a partnership that will lead to a safer, more accessible system of care for victims who are persons with disabilities. This partnership will allow each of us to expand our understanding of victims/survivors’ needs and combine our resources to create a system of services that is more complete and integrated.
What Can Be Achieved when you build the right Collaboration? NEW and CREATIVE SOLUTIONS
To do that you must:
That is what we have done in 2016 and we look forward to even more important work in 2017.
Florida joins the 27 other states and the District of Columbia to approve medical marijuana for the treatment of conditions or recreational use. The legal questions that it raises are important. When can it be used? Can you lose your job if you use marijuana, or can you lose your housing if you use medical marijuana?
Primarily, a person with a disability could not rely on the Americans with Disabilities Act for protection for a right to use medical marijuana. Marijuana is treated like every other controlled substance, such as cocaine and heroin and continues to be illegal under federal law. The federal government regulates drugs through the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and cannabis is classified as a Schedule 1 drug, which means that the federal government views marijuana as highly addictive and having no medical value. Accordingly, under the ADA, marijuana is considered to be an illegal drug, and users of it are explicitly exempted. ( See https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/15/1114 .) In addition, there is no protection under the Federal Fair Housing Act for the use of controlled substances as defined under the CSA. ( See https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/42/3602 .)
However, the Florida Fair Housing Act and the Florida Civil Rights Act contain no such limitations based upon the federal definitions of Controlled Substances. Instead, the regulations under these laws rely on the definitions of controlled substances under Chapter 893, Florida Statutes.
While there is a right that allows the use of medical marijuana for certain disabilities, whether employers can refuse to hire or fire a person who uses medical marijuana is not that clear. Similar to many other states, Florida has promoted drug free workplaces, and if an employer implements a drug-free workplace and complies with the drug-free workplace requirements, an employer may require testing for drugs and alcohol, including marijuana. See § 440.101, Fla. Stat. et seq. To the extent that an employer does not comply with the requirements of Florida law for a drug free workplace, it cannot rely on the exemption to test, fire or hire employees. However, all workplaces for state employees are deemed to be drug-free workplaces.( § 112.0455, Florida Statutes.)
To the extent that an employer is not a “drug free” workplace as defined by Section 440 or 112, then medical marijuana would be treated as any other prescribed medication that may impair a person’s ability to do a job. The employer must consider each individual’s circumstances to determine whether a reasonable accommodation of the underlying disability is possible and the person can still do the job with the accommodation. In other words, if a person can do the essential requirements of the job while on medical marijuana, then the accommodation may be appropriate.
There are two exceptions. The first is whether the use of marijuana creates an undue hardship to the operation of a business, which means an action requiring significant difficulty or expense. The other issue is whether the use marijuana causes a real, and not stereotypical, direct threat to the safety of the employee with a disability and other employees, then the employer may be permitted to not hire an applicant or terminate an existing employee for the use of medical marijuana.
Similar to other entities that are obligated to follow federal law, federally subsidized housing is established by the United States Housing Act of 1937, and is administered by United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, required HUD to enact guidelines that landlords must maintain a drug-free housing policy on the premises of public housing, and defines “drug-related criminal activity” as illegal use or possession with intent to use a controlled substance as defined in the CSA.
However, there are no similar restrictions for housing that is not public or HUD subsidized housing that must follow HUD guidelines. As such, the use of marijuana would be treated like any other medication or legal smoking device. If a person lives in a facility that bans smoking, the resident would need to ask for a reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act to smoke. However, because of the effects on other residents, some housing providers may deem the accommodation not to be reasonable, or to cause a fundamental alteration to the housing services offered. In order to respond to issues regarding reasonableness or fundamental alteration, I would suggest an ionizer or other devices to ensure that the smoke smell does not leave the confines of the home.
Choosing how a person with a disability enhances their lives or ameliorates the effects of a disability is an element of the right of self-determination. To have persons without disabilities remove this choice is invidious discrimination.
By: Lesly Lopez
To be eligible for disability benefits, a person must be unable to engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA). A person who is earning more than a certain monthly amount (net of impairment related work expenses) is ordinarily considered to be engaging in SGA. The amount of monthly earnings considered as SGA depends on the nature of a person’s disability. The Social Security Act specifies a higher SGA amount for statutorily blind individuals; Federal regulations specify a lower SGA amount for non-blind individuals. Both SGA amounts generally change with changes in the national average wage index.
Substantial Gainful amounts for 2017 are:
For statutorily blind individuals for 2017 is $1,950.
For non-blind individuals, the monthly SGA amount for 2017 is $1,170.
What is Substantial Gainful Activity anyway?
Social Security Definition of Disability: To meet our definition of disability, you must not be able to engage in any substantial gainful activity (SGA) because of a medically-determinable physical or mental impairment(s):
That is expected to result in death, or that has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months.
We use the term “substantial gainful activity” to describe a level of work activity and earnings. Work is “substantial” if it involves doing significant physical or mental activities or a combination of both. For work activity to be substantial, it does not need to be performed on a full-time basis. Work activity performed on a part-time basis may also be SGA. “Gainful” work activity is:
Work performed for pay or profit; or Work of a nature generally performed for pay or profit; or Work intended for profit, whether or not a profit is realized.
We use SGA as one of the factors to decide if you are eligible for disability benefits. If you receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, we use SGA to decide if your eligibility for benefits continues after you return to work and complete your Trial Work Period
-Substantial Gainful Activity (Social Security Administration) https://www.ssa.gov/oact/cola/sga.html
-Social Security Administration. 2017 Red Book: How we define disability? 2017 edition.
“Happiness is not something you postpone for the future; it is something you design for the present.”
– Jim Rohn
By: Lorinda Gonzalez
Being happy seems so simple, yet can be a daily challenge if you seek it in the wrong places. Our society teaches us that to be happy you have to work long hours, make lots of money and accumulate “things.” Cars, homes, jewelry, those new Christian Louboutin red bottom heels. All of these material items are supposed to bring us happiness, but do they really? Once you have acquired wealth and power, are you really happy? I believe that happiness is much deeper than the accumulation of material items. Sure, I love my collection red bottoms and stylish clothing as much as any other girl, but my true happiness comes from focusing on the joys of life and expecting miraculous things to happen in my experience rather than dwelling on lack.
Miserable? Try to refocus.
As a person with a disability, achieving happiness can be difficult if we’re focused 24/7 on our limitations. Recently, I had a long chat with a good friend of mine in Texas who has the same disability as me. She owns her own home, has a long-term boyfriend and her dream job, yet she’s unhappy. “I just wish I wasn’t disabled anymore. Being in a wheelchair sucks.” Her negative attitude and focus on lack is what’s bringing her unhappiness. This perception of her life completely blinds her from seeing the gifts and joyful parts of her experience. During our conversation I said to her, “Why don’t you look at the bright side for a minute. What is going right in your life?” After a few minutes of refocus, she began to see how beautiful her life really is, which in turn made her happy.
Happiness Comes from the Inside – Creating a Beautiful Outside World
If you haven’t heard of the Law of Attraction, I seriously recommend you Google a book called, The Secret. In summary, the book and 2-hour movie teaches us that on a metaphysical level, our thoughts create our reality. If you focus on lack, sadness, stress, or what’s going wrong in your life, you’re going to get more negative experiences. But, if you can shift your attention to what’s working right and feel a sense of gratitude, you’ll be shocked to see the beautiful things YOU attract into your life experience.
Law of Attraction
Since learning about the Law of Attraction, I’ve manifested everything from money to new clients and work opportunities, trips to cool destinations, and more love than I knew my heart could hold. Anything you want you can have, if you just focus on the good and “feel” what it will be like to have what you want before it manifests in your life. Don’t believe me? Try it. Think of something small you want…a cup of coffee, an old friend to contact you, finding unexpected money. Focus on what you want and think ONLY about what it feels like to have your desire. Before you know it, the manifestation will come and The Secret will become your new fav book.
References: The Secret by Rhonda Bryne (Movie is recommended; Free on Netflix)
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 and editor since 2009. She recently participated in Bold Beauty Project where she was a model supporting the cause of showcasing women with disabilities as beautiful and sexy. 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-founder of NMD United, a 501c3 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.
For a person with depression and anxiety, an emotional support animal provides the impetus to wake up in the morning and go to school or work. For Austin Cline, a student at Hillsborough Community College, Luna, his dog, gives him the ability to leave his parents house, go to college and then go to his job. For years, Austin lived with chronic depression and anxiety. He tried exercise, diet and medication, but was not doing well. Austin researched and discussed an emotional support animal with his psychologist as part of his treatment, and she prescribed the emotional support animal for him.
At Hillsborough Community College, Austin lives in a dormitory-style apartment that does not allow pets. However, Austin did research on the internet and knew that he had rights under the Fair Housing Act to have an Emotional Support Animal as a modification of the no-pets rules to accommodate his disability. The dorm-style apartment is managed by Peak Campus Management, and Peak Campus Management operates dozens of dormitory apartments with thousands of tenants across the country.
While Peak Campus Management allows emotional support and service animals, it promulgates rules and regulations for those animals which either surcharge an animal owner for having an animal, or it limits the animal users’ use and enjoyment of the premises. Under the Fair Housing Act, rules, policies, or practices must be modified to permit the use of an assistance animal as a reasonable accommodation in housing when its use may be necessary to afford a person with a disability an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling and the common areas of a dwelling. For all the rules, see Peak Service Animal Rules.
A Landlord may not require a tenant to pay a fee or a security deposit as a condition of allowing an assistance animal. However, if a tenant’s assistance animal causes damage to the tenant’s unit or the common areas of the apartment, the landlord may charge the tenant for the cost of repairing the damage or deduct it from the standard security deposit imposed on all tenants.
It is cruel to require that all cats that are emotional support animals be declawed. Declawing is a process in which is a process where a cat’s claw, the bone, nerve, joint capsule, collateral ligaments, and the extensor and flexor tendons must all be amputated. In human terms, it is similar to cutting off of a person’s finger at the last joint of each finger. Again, if the cat damages furniture, the tenant would be responsible for the damage. Having a rule which requires a person to mutilate their cat that he or she needs for depression would certainly dissuade a person with a disability from even moving into the facility.
The only defense to denying an assistance animal is whether the animal would pose a direct threat to others. While some people may have allergies or other reasons that a person does not want to live with or near an animal, the remedy is to switch roommates, rather than having an accommodation dependent on another person’s desires.
A person that has an emotional support animal does not have their animal with them at all times. Emotional support animals are not service animals and are not permitted in public accommodations, schools or other governmental facilities. Rules that require than an animal cannot be left unattended on the premises, and even in their apartments and rooms unattended require the person with a disability to be isolated.
No matter how a surcharge is worded, cleaning fees, agreement to indemnify and hold harmless, releases, or any other way or method which dissuades a person from having an accommodation are prohibited. For housing providers that allow pets, conditions and restrictions that housing providers apply to pets may not be applied to assistance animals. For housing providers that do not allow pets, a housing provider cannot create new conditions and restrictions on persons who have assistance animals, other than the animal cannot be a direct threat to the health and safety of others and that they are responsible for the damages that their animals have caused.
Under the Fair Housing Act, a person with a disability is entitled to an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling and the common areas of a dwelling. This includes the common areas of the apartment, going into friends units with the dog, or even having a person visit who has a dog or cat that is an assistance animal. In as much as a landlord cannot prevent a person who is blind with a guide dog from visiting a person who lives in a no-pets building, a landlord cannot prevent a person with an assistance animal from visiting a tenant.
For more information, please see
Disability Independence Group, Inc.’s Assistance Animal Page
Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA | PDF This eight-page document provides guidance and answers questions about the ADA’s service animal provisions.
Revised ADA Requirements: Service Animals | PDF This publication provides guidance on the term “service animal” and the service animal provisions in the Department’s new regulations.
“Service Animals and Assistance Animals for People with Disabilities in Housing and HUD-Funded Programs” Department of Housing and Urban Development guidance on how the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) intersect regarding the use of service or assistance animals by persons with disabilities.
By: Matthew Dietz
Rachel Siler was looking forward to moving to Miami Beach in April 2016. Rachel went to art school in Chicago and after graduating from college she started working in the Independent Living and Disability Rights Movements. Aside from this passion she has also represented the disability community within the Occupy and Anti-war Movements. When she isn’t fighting for social justice she enjoys reading, antiquing and designing.
For the past thirteen years, she had lived in cold and windy Chicago working at Chicago’s Access Living, assisting people with disabilities and a coordinator of Chicago ADAPT, an organization that has dedicated disability rights activists that engage in nonviolent direct action, including civil disobedience, to assure the civil and human rights of people with disabilities to live in freedom. She found a job as an independent living specialist at the Center for Independent Living of South Florida and was ready to move to sunny Miami Beach.
As a wheelchair user herself, Rachel knew what she needed in order to live independently in Miami Beach. She needed to live near to public transportation, a safe surrounding area, a building with an elevator, a residence that was affordable and accessible, and adequate green space so that her service animal, Minty could be walked. Before moving down to Florida, she visited the area and hired a real estate agent. During her visit, she looked at eight residences. However, none these residences met her needs. When she returned home, the agent sent Rachel information about a condominium on Miami Beach at Abbot House Condominum, and it was perfect – one of the largest homes that she ever lived in.
She entered in to the lease with the owner of the condominium, and was told that a condition of moving in was physically meeting with the condominium association board screening committee and receiving written approval. This was only supposed to be a formality. So, Rachel spoke with the property manager, received permission to move her belongings in on May 21st, and packed and started the trek across the United States with her mother and a friend.
When Rachel came to Miami on May 20th, with her personal assistant, she did not get the reception that she was expecting. The association manager met her and was shocked, he told her that she did not know that she had a “condition”. She then went to a meeting with two of the board members of the Condominium.
Instead of speaking to Rachel, the board member started asking questions of Rachel’s assistant, as if Rachel could not speak for herself –
“No, she can speak for herself,” said the assistant. Rachel continued, and attempted to explain her existence, she explained that she works forty hours per week and she schedules personal assistants around that work schedule. Notwithstanding the humiliation at having to explain the fact that she lives and works like any other person, the screening committee than attempted to try to convince Rachel why she should not live at Abbot House.
Rachel told the Board that she would pay for any modifications to her own residence and the buildings elements are accessible to her and she did not need any modifications. When they could not dissuade her, the association requested that she sign a waiver, releasing the condominium from all liability from any injuries. To live in her home, she agreed, and then was provided the keys to the public areas, including the exterior door with the wheelchair ramp.
But before she could move in, the property manager told her that, the board that approved her tenancy to her face, now decided to decline her rental request, and followed up with an email:
This is to inform you that Ms. Rachel D. Siler, as a prospective tenant of Unit 4A, was denied by the Board of Abbott House Condo under the powers and duties of the Bylaws of the Association (See two (2) pages of the attachment).
By the understanding of the Board of Directors of ABBOTT HOUSE, INC. A CONDOMINIUM, the building has not the appropriate accessibility for people with disabilities conditions for the following reasons:
– The access to the building and other common areas as accessible route are not appropriate. We have not physical access like route, curb ramps, entrances and loading areas,
– There is not an appropriate parking space for a disable people. All of them are narrows,
– There is not a restroom and bathroom accommodation, etc.
All of the above are part of the main considerations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Therefore, the Association cannot be responsible for any future claim requested by Ms. Siler and any other officer of the Miami-Dade County
Stranded in Miami Beach, with no home, Rachel Siler, an independent living specialist, was in a nightmare that she would usually be the person who these issues would be reported to. But in a new city, she did not know where to turn. She reached out to Disability Independence Group.
On Monday, May 23, Rachel Siler, with the assistance of her family and her personal assistant, decided to move into her condominium in spite of Abbot House refusal to approve her lease in spite of their denial. Until a lawsuit was filed, Rachel and her service animal were harassed and attempts were made to block her and her personal assistant from the property.
It is unlawful to deny a person housing based upon insurance liability concerns. Historically, people with disabilities have been stereotyped in many different ways. Some of the stereotypes used to label people with disabilities as incapable of living independently, having a job, having a social and sex life and enjoying their life to the fullest.
The most common barriers to persons with disabilities are not physical barriers, but the attitudinal barriers that lead to this type of discrimination. The Fair Housing Act does not allow for exclusion of individuals based upon fear, speculation, or stereotype about a particular disability or persons with disabilities in general. This prohibition is both in housing, under the Fair Housing Act and with other accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. As discussed in the comments Americans with Disabilities Act, one “cannot refuse to serve a person with a disability because its insurance company conditions coverage or rates on the absence of persons with disabilities. This is a frequent basis of exclusion from a variety of community activities and is prohibited by this part.” See 28 C.F.R. § 36.202.
Turns out that the least of Abbot House Condominium’s worries should have been whether Rachel Siler would not be able to get around in her wheelchair and would injure herself. Maybe instead of assuming she was an invalid who sleeps with her personal assistant, the Condominium Board should have started with the premise that she had a job, a life, and a passion for helping others. The real liability was the failure to acknowledge Rachel Siler as the die-hard disability advocate who works to help others destroy attitudinal barriers and harmful stereotypes.
By: Andrew Sagona
The Family Café is a free conference for Floridians of all ages with disabilities and their families to learn about the latest developments in the Florida disability community and to attend the annual Florida “Governor’s Summit on Disabilities.” I have been attending Family Café for over ten years, and I still feel the same sense of wonder and excitement now as I did at my first Café.
This is in part because the atmosphere is fun, warm, friendly, and inclusive. There is always something fun to do for everyone and there are new and interesting things to learn at the Café, whether it is information on disability advocacy, an invention that helps people with disabilities, or a law that fights discrimination.
However, the main reason for my wonder and excitement – my favorite part of attending Family Café – is getting to meet new friends and see old friends again. Many of the people at Café attend the conference every year, the result being that you begin to see familiar faces at each conference. For some, like myself, Family Café serves as an annual family reunion of sorts. After attending the conference even once, you make some very close friends – to the point that they become your second family. But because of time and distance restrictions, we are unable to see each other at any other time of the year. So when the three days of Family Café rolls around each year, there is a great deal of anticipation, happiness, and joy when you see your “family” again.
Ultimately, friendship is the defining trait of Family Café. It is the heart of Family Café because there is a sense of acceptance and belonging at the conference that doesn’t exist to the same extent outside of the conference. Many attendees spend all but three days of their year experiencing stares, strange questions, and even discrimination. However, for the three days each June that the conference is held, all of that goes away. For those three days, everyone is kind to each other and no one is viewed as “less than” anyone else. For those three days, everyone is welcomed.
This year marked the 18th Annual Family Café, and it was held from June 10–12 at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Orlando, Florida. According to Family Café founder and organizer Lori Fahey, this year’s conference was the largest in history: approximately 10,000 people in attendance, over 160 training sessions, and more than 100 booths filled the exhibition hall. The Café also featured fun activities, including a Gatorland wildlife show, rock climbing wall, photo booth with Superman, and a fashion show. Each Family Café features three keynote speakers and two and a half days of workshops, which are informational presentations given by professionals, business owners, governmental agencies, and self-advocates covering diverse topics such as education, employment, starting a business, social security, Medicaid, technology, medicine, and advocacy. In addition, Family Café provides many activities for individuals with disabilities like paddle boarding, scuba diving, and sensory rooms.
The conference also has an exhibition hall filled with booths sponsored by vendors, businesses, and government agencies with the goal of letting attendees discover new products and services, or speak to agency representatives to help them with problems they are facing
This year’s “Governor’s Summit on Disabilities” featured information relating to the disability community. The biggest news announced at the summit was the introduction of the ABLE Trust, a savings account for people with disabilities that allows them to save money above the $2,000 limit set by Social Security, as well as the news that, as a result of increased funding, 5,000 individuals will come off the 20,000 people waiver waitlist this year. The summit was attended by Governor Rick Scott, members of the Florida Legislature such as Senate President Andy Gardiner, and heads of governmental agencies such as Barbara Palmer of the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, Pam Stewart of the Department of Education, and Florida Surgeon General Celeste Phillip.
The Family Café conference isn’t just about education and policy, though. It is also about having fun and making new friends–and the fun begins with the hotel. Each year, the hotel chosen for the conference has something for everyone: massive pools for kids to play in, restaurants for families to dine at, and much more. This year’s hotel was no exception. The Hyatt Regency had three pools to choose from, the largest of which featured a water slide and other amenities. The Regency also had numerous eateries, including bars for the adults, an up-scale restaurant, and a 50’s-style diner.
The fun continues with the conference itself. Throughout the three-day event, DJs pumped music throughout the convention hall, enticing children and adults alike to dance. Performance groups, such as bands, a choir, and a dance troupe, performed throughout the Café as well, and they entertained large crowds with their talents. And there were lots of giveaways, with prizes ranging from gift cards to PCs.
The culmination of the fun was a massive dance party that was held on Saturday night. For more than two hours, hundreds of attendees packed a large ballroom and danced the night away to all kinds of popular music. Children and adults “raised the roof,” breakdanced, and danced free style. There were organized dances as well, with songs like “YMCA” and the “Cha-Cha Slide” bringing everyone together to dance in unison. The sense of excitement and pure joy that filled the ballroom was infectious.
For more information on Family Café, visit www.familycafe.org.