#AdvocacyMatters: Victory for One, Victory for All

December 9, 2022 / #AdvocacyMatters

This fall, we closed the chapter on a case with wide-ranging impacts: Garrett v. Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD). This long battle centered on a simple issue: Hunter Garrett’s right to receive needed support through the Kelly Autism Program (KAP) at Western Kentucky University. The KAP program offers services to help students with autism successfully navigate the rigors of college life. For Hunter, this included things like support in communicating with professors or peers, handling stress, and dealing with the unexpected situations that come with the college experience.

In this case, DRO alleged that OOD violated Hunter’s rights under Title I of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which grants young people with disabilities individualized vocational rehabilitation services with the goal of helping them get a gainful job. OOD denied paying for the KAP Program, stating they do not cover these types of programs. We knew this was a violation of Hunter’s rights. The judge in the case agreed with Hunter and found that “the record clearly demonstrates how the OOD repeatedly based its denial of support on arbitrary factors which were unrelated to what was vocationally necessary for Hunter.”

The conclusion of this case is a major win for Hunter and people with autism like him or with other disabilities in Ohio. In the future, DRO and other advocates can point to this case as precedent that requires OOD to determine individualized vocational needs for every disabled Ohioan, and prevents OOD from denying services and supports using blanket policies against a particular type of program. This is a major win for autistic Ohioans, disabled Ohioans, and our system of vocational rehabilitation. Hunter said this best in his own words with a recent interview on WDTN:

“It does feel good, especially considering the precedent this sets for people like me or with similar or differing disabilities. It’s a comforting thought.”

Hunter Garrett was just like every other college student. He studied to be a graphic designer, hung out with friends, and took his classes seriously. He graduated this past May, heading out into the world. All he needed to succeed was a little help from the KAP program, and he was able to make his dreams a reality. Hunter is now actively working as a graphic designer at HVAC Direct in Troy, Ohio, and thriving.

Education should be for everyone, including disabled Ohioans like Hunter. Our #AdvocacyMatters to the Hunters of the world, who can better fight for their individual needs in light of this decision. And because of the bravery of young people, like Hunter, to stand up for what is right, we will see the impact of this decision play out for others. These systemic victories – no matter how long they take – are always worth the fight, bringing us another inch closer to our mission of a truly equitable Ohio.

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