DRO negotiates services for Ohio inmates

January 13, 2014 / jails and prisons

Eleven inmates who are blind or have a visual impairment and are incarcerated in the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (DRC) system are receiving services and accommodation for their disabilities. Staff from Disability Rights Ohio (formerly Ohio Legal Rights Service (OLRS)) negotiated with the DRC to provide accommodations and vision and vocational services to the inmates.

DRO staff, after receiving complaints from inmates who were denied access to prison programs, met with those inmates and reviewed DRC policies on requesting accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). DRO assisted the inmates in filing reasonable accommodation requests and appealing DRC denials of those requests. During the appeal process, DRO helped the inmates argue that denial of access to programs and services in the prison was a violation of Title II of the ADA. Subsequent negotiations with the DRC resulted in the provision of specific services and accommodations for the inmates who are blind or have a visual impairment.

The DRC, based on the accommodation requests and negotiations, contracted with a local entity to provide vision and vocational services to assure program access to the targeted inmates. The contractor provides evaluations, functional assessments for low vision aids and is providing daily living skills and mobility/orientation training. The contract includes provisions for developing a vocational plan and re-entry assistance to these inmates.

Accommodations for the inmates through the DRC now include:

  • canes,
  • safer path of travel to dining areas and assigned seats,
  • mobility assistants,
  • reading and writing aids/signature aids, and
  • assistive technology including:
  • magnifiers,
  • solar shields,
  • Braille labeling,
  • Braille locks,
  • talking watches/alarm clocks, and
  • lamps, flashlights, reading stands/lap desks.

Inmates report that the accommodations and training they receive improve their safety and help them organize and manage routine activities. They describe considerable improvements in communication, mobility and independence.

Without these services, the rights of inmates who are blind or have a visual impairment may be violated if they cannot participate in the same programs and experiences as other inmates. DRO continues to negotiate with the DRC to ensure accommodations and access to programs available at facilities for inmates with disabilities. Representing people with disabilities who claim discrimination or denial of needed accommodations in prison or jails is one of DRO's ongoing priorities.

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