Disability Protesters Arrested at White House to Mark 25 Years of the ADA

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Rights for the Disabled
Americans With Disabilities Act Annual Celebration, Image Credit: Maryland GovPics

April 21, 2015;Disability Scoop

Persons with disabilities could and should be considered a population whose civil rights are, unfortunately, regularly ignored if not trampled. While some advocates have raised the civil rights dimension of disability issues, somehow the press and the public don’t address disability issues in this way. In light of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act coming on July 26th, some disabled-rights advocates are taking their concerns to the streets—actually to the street in front of the White House.

A group called ADAPT organized some 200 persons to protest at the White House on Monday, with 54 of the demonstrators arrested for “blocking passage.” Specifically, the demonstrators called for enhancement of community-based living options as an alternative to institutionalization of persons with disabilities.

This isn’t an issue to be brushed off. One of the demonstrators, Flip Polizzi Rivera, who came as part of a contingent from Rochester, New York, tweeted that he would “rather go to jail than die in a nursing home.”

“I am forced to live in a nursing facility,” the 27-year-old Rivera said in a Twitter message before he was arrested. “I want to live in my own home. It’s important @BarackObama understands what we face.”

The alternative that Rivera and his colleagues are asking for is in-home attendants that allow persons with disabilities to continue living in their own homes. According to C. Jean Grover with the Regional Center for Independent Living in Rochester, providing in-home attendants is less expensive than forcing people into nursing homes.

“There is an institutional bias in our funding streams,” Grover told the Democrat & Chronicle. “The bias is that if somebody ceases to be able to function as they used to, the bias is to throw them into a nursing home rather than assisting them in managing their services. We have to readjust how the money is allocated. It’s a matter of managing services effectively to allow people to stay in their own homes.”

Grover sees this as a civil rights and human rights issue for persons with disabilities, which is the approach that ADAPT takes in its organizing. According to a statement on its webpage, ADAPT “is a national grass-roots community that organizes disability rights activists to engage in nonviolent direct action, including civil disobedience, to assure the civil and human rights of people with disabilities to live in freedom.” Like the organizing of traditional civil rights groups, ADAPT is pushing for new legislation to expand the rights of persons with disabilities to stay in their own homes, specifically by adding a new title to the ADA, the Community Integration Act, which would require states to offer community-based services first and offer people currently in nursing homes a community- or home-based alternative to their current living arrangements.

Although rights for persons with disabilities is not necessarily a partisan political issue, Congress hasn’t been in the mindset of passing much legislation that expands the rights of anyone, persons with disabilities or others, so ADAPT’s presence at the White House was aimed at getting President Obama to issue an executive order that would acknowledge the inhumaneness of warehousing persons with disabilities in nursing homes and take steps to affirm the rights of persons with disabilities to live in “integrated, least restrictive settings in their own homes and communities.” That tracks the language of the Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision, a landmark civil rights decision that is sometimes little recognized outside the disability community and subject to widely varying state-level implementation. Therefore, the ADAPT position also calls for the executive order to provide greater federal oversight over states’ implementation of Medicaid and specifically to promote adequate wages for home attendants. (ADAPT also calls for the president to name Vice President Joe Biden the nation’s “Ambassador for Community Living,” have him visit ten model programs for transitioning persons with disabilities into their communities, and convene roundtables across the country to develop effective community living integration systems.)

In an email from an ADAPT spokesperson late on Tuesday, ADAPT reported that a representative of the Department of Health and Human Services met with the ADAPT group and “promised to work with us on all our demands.” With that positive response from the executive branch, the ADAPT advocates split up, half going to the Democratic National Committee and half to the Republican National Committee to get both parties to support legislation to clarify and strengthen the community living mandate of the ADA and the enforcement of Olmstead.

Our response? Good for them! This is what direct action is capable of doing in the context of civil rights. Rivera and his companions weren’t just tweeting about the civil rights of persons with disabilities who are warehoused and incarcerated in nursing homes; they were putting themselves on the line, subject to arrest, to make a point, and that they did. As NPQ has written, there are multiple issues affecting persons with disabilities, not just community living, that suggest that this nation is a very long way from protecting the civil rights of the nation’s largest minority.—Rick Cohen


  • Laura Kelly

    My developmentally disable daughter was removed from ICG ,Intermediate Care Facility, to a NJ group home owned by non-profit agency, this past year. The move has put my daughter’s life in peril. The agency, Community Options, a national organization provides substandard care. They employ many individuals who are caring and hard working but unfortunately not educated or trained to do very challenging work. The direct care staff continually have to pull double shifts and often lose their days off, which renders them exhausted the majority of the time they are at work administering very powerful medications. The house manager/staff qualification requirement is a high school diploma or equivalency. I find many of the staff/managers are unable to read at a high school level. NJ licensing and inspections continues to provide provisional license to the home, despite failing every licensing inspection since its opening. I have had numerous conference calls, emails and even retained an attorney to tried to improve the situation for my daughter and housemates to no avail. I even had a private conversation with our governor C. Christie, in which he told would me he would,” get it taken care of” and I even supplied the group home’s licensing reports to his staff for him to review. Group homes may be a great alternative to the less disable but after my experience, people with significant disabilities are safer served in institutional settings, where direct care staff are surrounded by clinicians and supervised by qualified staff to give them supports to be effective care givers. Unfortunately, the majority of people in and out of group homes to see what is actually going on is the employees of the agency and the state. Neither one very reliable.

  • Kebo Drew

    While it is difficult to be a family member of a person with disabilities, discrimination and inequity makes it much hard to exist as a person with disabilities.

    The point of this is to listen to the needs and demands of the community that articulates AND *experiences* life with disabilities. As a person who is becoming increasingly more disabled, I want the voices of my community at the forefront speaking about disability justice. Period.

  • Lawrence Roffee

    This is a nice article on important events in the disability rights movement. It is too bad that you used some old image of Maryhland Governor Martin O’Malley.with some people with disabilities. They are clearly not demonstrating in front of the White House. Please give decent respect to people with disabilities and use real pictures of demonstrations. Or do we all look alike to you?

  • Aine Creedon

    Our apologies, as a nonprofit we depend on creative commons licensed photos for all article content, and this photo is not of protestors but just of an annual celebration of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

    We would love to put up picture of the protestors but could not find any with CC licensing to use on the website. If you have some images you would like us to share please email me directly and I’m happen to take this down.