Disability Rights Ohio Urges State Lawmakers to Act Responsibly and Reject Senseless Retaliatory Amendment
May 11, 2021
The proposed Protection and Advocacy Transparency Amendment would not only detrimentally impact Disability Rights Ohio’s daily work, protecting the rights of Ohioans with disabilities, but go well beyond the congressional intent of the system itself
A proposed amendment presently in front of members of the Ohio Senate Finance Committee would subject Disability Rights Ohio (DRO), a private nonprofit organization that receives no state dollars, to unprecedented state legislative oversight. The retaliatory provision would have a chilling effect on effective advocacy, impacting the lives of Ohioans with disabilities and infringing on DRO’s ability to provide strong and independent advocacy for people with disabilities, and is a clear violation of federal law.
“Since 1980, DRO has held the designation of Ohio’s protection and advocacy organization. Under federal law, we are mandated to investigate instances of abuse and neglect and to protect the rights of people with disabilities,” said Kerstin Sjoberg, DRO’s Executive Director. “This provision would take away our independence and in turn, threaten the health and safety of adults and children with disabilities across Ohio.”
The proposed amendment would create a joint committee to examine DRO’s operations, including whether a new entity should be designated as the state’s protection and advocacy entity every two years. Yet it is not within the authority of the state legislature to re-designate a protection and advocacy system and no other non-profit organization has this level of legislative oversight. Further, the protection and advocacy system was created after investigations into horrific conditions at institutions like Willowbrook State School in New York, and Congress created this system to be independent of states to prevent anything like Willowbrook from happening again. If Ohio does not have an independent protection and advocacy system and client assistance program, Ohio would be out of compliance with federal law and federal funds for programs that benefit Ohioans with disabilities would be threatened.
“DRO welcomes all opportunities to speak with legislators and we are fully transparent with the General Assembly in regard to our programs and work,” Sjoberg added. “This attempt to assert power over a private entity that protects the rights of people with disabilities should be troubling to all.”