An Ohio special interest group for the developmentally disabled filed a class-action lawsuit March 31 against Gov. John Kasich, the state of Ohio and several other governmental organizations, claiming those with developmental disabilities face unjust segregation in the state.
The group, Disability Rights Ohio, claimed that the state unfairly gives preference to institutionalizing the disabled as opposed to putting them in community-based programs.
“Ohio has a history of segregating people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in institutions. Originally in state schools — now called developmental centers — that were horrible places that had horrible conditions,” said Michael Kirkman, executive director of Disability Rights Ohio.
While Kirkman said the conditions in such facilities have vastly improved due to reforms and legislation, he believes the state still illegally separates the disabled from the rest of the population.
“What continues is a practice of preferring to have larger institutional settings — in other words, segregated away from other people without disabilities — regimented in how people spend their days. We think these kinds of qualities violate the Americans with Disabilities Act and in particular, that they be served in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs.”
In a press release from the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities, one of the groups targeted in the lawsuit, the organization denies the allegations brought forth against them.
“Over the last few years, Ohio has made more progress than ever before to strengthen Ohio’s community-based system and to honor the choices of developmentally disabled citizens, parents and guardians wanting to move out of institutional settings and into their communities,” the press release said.
The department said almost $300 million have been spent on creating community-based options for individuals who do not feel like they belong in an institutionalized environment. The press release, however, didn’t name any of those community-oriented options.
While the Department of Developmental Disabilities criticized Disability Rights Ohio and the lawsuit brought forth by them and claimed the tactic is nothing new for the organization, it said the state will continue to be a “good partner” in making sure reforms are carried out.
“Disability Rights Ohio needs to decide if their mission is best advanced through a constructive partnership with the state or continued litigation which only stalls our progress by draining resources on court battles,” the release said.
Kirkman said the group has had regular meetings with the department as early as last spring, but he said the talks about this issue were ultimately unproductive, leading to the lawsuit. He believes the facts fall on the side of the nonprofit corporation he represents.
“Statewide, there are about 5,800 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities currently segregated in large intermediate care facilities, and over 40,000 people are on waiting lists for waiver services that would allow them to have appropriate supports in the community,” Kirkman said in a March 31 press release. “Of those, 22,000 individuals are at serious risk of institutionalization. Historically, these waiting lists are long and excruciatingly slow-moving. As of 2013, the median wait time for people in ICFs to access home and community-based services exceeded 13 years.”
In addition to Gov. John Kasich and John Martin, director of the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities, John McCarthy, director of the Ohio Department of Medicaid, is also targeted by Disability Rights Ohio in the lawsuit.