Webinar: Disability Rights, State and Federal Perspectives



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Long-time readers of my blog may know that I share webinar summaries in an effort to educate other people. This week, I summarize a webinar about disability rights.  On November 8, 2021, I attended a webinar hosted by the

Center for Disabilities Studies, University of Delaware.

The topic was “Lunchtime Learning: Disability Rights are Civil Rights”. As of this writing, webinar presentation materials and/or recording are not publicly available. In this blog post, I will summarize what I learned.


Presentation 1: Delaware Perspective, CLASI

The first presenter represented

Delaware Community Legal Aid Society, INC (DECLASI).

Specifically, the presenter is part of

DECLASI’s Disabilities Law Program.

CLASI is the protection and advocacy (P&A) organization for disability legal services in Delaware. Civil rights are personal liberty rights guaranteed by state or federal laws. Examples:

The Delaware Constitution


Americans with Disabilities Act.

Each state has a P&A organization. For the convenience of my readers, here is the

resource from the National Disability Rights Network containing contact information for Protection and Advocacy agencies.

The presenter then spoke about disability history and the purpose of Protection and Advocacy organizations.


Disability History

In the 1970’s, people with disabilities were warehoused in a school called WillowBrook. Conditions at the facility was aired at the national news in 1972. P&A systems were first established in 1975 because people were outraged by the news report.

Purpose of Protection and Advocacy Organizations

P&A systems advocate for the right of people with disabilities. Example: rights under Medicaid can include a needed assistive technology device. CLASI also advocates for social service or medical facility accessibility rights of people with disabilities. Individual advocacy means advocating for the rights of one person. Systemic advocacy can also be done, which means advocacy for many people with disabilities. CLASI has also provided input about standards of care during COVID (how to provide care in hospitals without discrimination against people with disabilities). People with disabilities who need a support person to make medical decisions must be allowed to reasonably have that assistance even during hospital COVID restrictions.

Legal Protections for People with Disabilities

Here is a link to the

Mental Health Patient’s Bill of Rights referenced in Delaware Code.

When people are in a psychiatric hospital, this protection helps ensure appropriate placement. There are limits on seclusion and restraint. Patients have the right to participate in their treatment plan and receive sufficient treatment.


During elections, people with disabilities need the ability to independently mark and return their ballot. A collaboration between DECLASI and the

National Federation of the Blind

Was also discussed. As mentioned in the

DECLASI press release: “Accessible Voting Restored for July 7 Primary “,

Both organizations contacted the Delaware Department of Elections to ensure voting is accessible for Delawareans with disabilities. The presenter then spoke about additional advocacy efforts by CLASI.


Additional Advocacy Efforts by CLASI

CLASI provided technical assistance related to legislation eliminating subminimum wage. They have also provided technical assistance to State Councils work on alternatives to guardianship (supported decision-making). The presenter also discussed Delaware laws protecting people with disabilities. The presenter ended her presentation by focusing on Delaware laws protection people with disabilities.


Selection of other Delaware Laws Protecting People with Disabilities


Mental Health Treatment Act

helps ensure provision of community-based services for people with mental health disabilities.  The

Delaware Fair Housing Act

mirrors the

federal Fair Housing Act.

However, the Delaware version provides additional protections. Example: people in Delaware cannot be discriminated against based on income level. The Delaware fair Housing Act applies to people in group homes or congregate settings. People with disabilities cannot be subjected to additional credit or background checks which other people are not subject to. A reasonable housing modification which must be permitted by a landlord is installing grab bars. The

Delaware Equal Accommodations law

ensures that state and local agencies provide services to people with disabilities. Under this law,  a person with disabilities cannot be denied access  or services. Complaints under this law must be filed with the

Division of Human Relations.

The complaint filing period is 90 days. A representative from a federal agency then spoke.


Presentation 2: Federal Perspective, HHS Office of Civil Rights

The second presenter was from the

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Civil Rights (HHS).

HHS OCR has jurisdiction over state and local governments which receive money from HHS. Example: HHS OCR has jurisdiction over prescription drug plans and nursing homes. Complaints can be filed electronically or via mail. A complaint should be filed within 180 days of a problem. Participants were encouraged to file complaint with the entity in question before going to the federal level. An example of an issue requiring investigation is quality of care. If an investigation is opened, one item typically investigated is if discrimination was deliberate. People cannot be retaliated against for participating in or filing a complaint. HHS OCR looks to see if an entity has a non-discrimination policy. The presenter then spoke about long COVID as a disability.


Long COVID Can Be a Disability

The presenter stated that

guidance about long COVID as a disability

was released jointly between two offices of civil rights:  U.S. Department of Justice and Health and Human Services. Long COVID is considered to be a disability. This is the case if someone with long COVID is limited in one or more life activities as a result of COVID. Being regarded as having a disability or record of a disability is not covered under the HHS/DOJ guidance. HHS OCR emphasized that disability rights remain in effect (are required) during the COVID public health emergency. This means that modifications to policies may be necessary to accommodate people with disabilities. The CLASI representative stated the same. Bottom line: It is important for people with disabilities to understand their rights.


Question for Readers

What disability laws are you interested in learning more about? I will return with another article.


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