Public Comment To The National Council On Disability
May 6, 2016
Dear Members of the National Council On Disability and all in the disability community,
The challenges which our community faces in our attempt to achieve the equality promised by law to us in the ADA, in the Rehabilitation and Workforce Acts, and in the Olmstead decision are still pervasive and persistent across the nation. The community of people with disabilities is comprised of people of all ages with many different types of disabilities, all presenting unique challenges for each of us. The task of establishing disability rights comprehensively for all in our community will take many more years, so as we examine the details of very specific disability issues, let us not lose perspective of the widespread problems overwhelming our community and keep part of our focus always on how major systemic improvements in areas such as protection and advocacy, and in public awareness will significantly contribute to improving mental health services and workforce challenges.
With that in mind, as a person with Mild Traumatic Brain Injury and with one eye Congenitally Blind, who has struggled for a decade and a half to return to basic productivity as a horticultural professional, suffering enormous mental duress in the process, I appreciate the opportunity to make my comments to you for the record.
“Mental Health Services in Higher Education”
One of the keys for unlocking the problems of mental health services in higher eduction is through creating a much broader awareness of disability rights and, diverse needs for assistance the disability community are entitled to, and the accommodations and accessibility which should be provided for our equality.
Students in higher education who are struggling with mental or cognitive disabilities are often not believed when they say they have a problem or problems because those disabilities can not bee seen, resulting in worse mental health for the person seeking help. Broadening public awareness would provide much remedy for millions of us.
One of the most important realities of cognitive, mental, developmental, neurological, and other related disabilities which needs to be made better understood in the delivery of services is that adverse situations, bureaucratic processes, and disrespect for our needs creates mental damage, making our condition and functioning worse. Although all people suffer from mistreatment of one kind or another, the negative impact of that violative behavior on those of us with cognitive and mental disabilities is more severe and damaging. The damage is often cumulative and we often begin to develop systemic PTSD as a result.
As Molly Ivins said, ” you couldn’t make this stuff up! “. Recently, staff for a large respected mental health foundation reached out to me through social networking to assist in a problem created by others causing me extreme duress. When I finally noticed the contact a couple of months later on the social network, I contacted that staff member first, and then others, including the executive director, and I never got a return call or email. You can only imagine how frustrated and hurt I felt. Shouldn’t those folks know better as mental health professionals and advocates?
“Direct Care Workforce Challenges”
As a formerly self employed licensed horticulturalist, prior to my brain injury in 2001, I have struggled ever since to return to a higher level of the professional functioning and have not reached my goals largely due to the disservice of others including those obligated to provide services, advocacy, and protection.
I believe that Rehabilitation should be considered a right for all people with disabilities. Too often I have heard the phrase that these services are not entitlements. I believe all people with disabilities should be provided with rehabilitation and support to attain the highest level of productivity we can, even if that does not fit into the traditional workforce model. In addition to bringing more people with disabilities into the traditional workforce, it is important to develop alternate and independent workforce settings, so that the person with disabilities can contribute to society as best they can, as I believe that it is too difficult all the way around for many people with disabilities to be brought into the traditional workforce or to go there.
The difficulties I have faced from my state assistive and rehabilitation department in my attempt to return to professional self employment over the years has continued this past year by the failure to meet with me for five months for an intake as a returning client, not providing a counselor trained in brain injury rehab, and not responding at all to my several requests for ADA Accommodations. It has been a year since I asked for help and I am beginning to believe again, as I did in the past, that trying to work with an agency such as this is only subjecting me to abuse.
Worse still is that my P&A agency has not engaged on my behalf at the level of contact and negotiations I was making with senior state HHSC officials and legal department. The CAP advocate, not attorney, assigned to me insists that the P&A must start all over again at the lowest possible level. There seems to be no concern over the incredible delays in providing service, my ADA unanswered requests, and rehab staff consistently providing misinformation.
In my years of dealing with the disability system, I am convinced that the greatest two impediments to the realization of disability rights are a too unaware public, and the lack of adequate protection and advocacy, from a legal profession and system which do not seem to respect disability rights which are the law as they should. The effects of improving these areas will greatly help all including in those specific areas you address today.
It is hard to understand why the refusal by my state vocational rehab agency to grant me accessibility to an agreed upon mediation as part of a legal administrative appeal process has not been viewed as a violation of my rights of of due process by the U.S. Dept. of Education Office of Civil Rights. There are too many more.
People should be aware that I am tired, as so many people with disabilities are, of people telling me that I do not look disabled. That type of pervasive public prejudice means that we do not get the help we need nor the respect we deserve. Many in the disability community would like to see a new placard representing disability in order to remind the public that there are many types of disabilities, many which can not be seen. Attached is an image of that placard. Greater awareness of invisible disabilities is essential for better mental health for all of us who have them.
Thank you for your consideration and for all the difficult work you do,