California’s protection & advocacy system
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On October 11, 2013, the Developmental Disabilities Peer/Self-Advocacy Unit along with the Office of Clients’ Rights Advocacy were asked to present at the Supported Life Conference in Sacramento. The topic for two sessions was the power of communication and how to reduce stigma and discrimination in the community. The training was developed based on a poster publicized last year exploring the topic. The first session consisted of attendees exploring the poster and taking their own personal journey by sharing what the different squares mean to them and how they have been affected by that particular square. Each square represents a symbol or idea. During the discussion, a woman in her 50s pointed to the “R” word square and talked about how her, brother to this day, calls her the “R” word. She was very emotional and attendees got up during the presentation to hug and console her. People rallied around her and praised her for being brave. This session provided a safe environment to share personal stories to develop strategies to help gain a voice.
In the second session, there was a focus on finding allies and combating stigma and discrimination while finding teachable moments. An exercise was performed while answering questions on the board such as, “if you could hide your disability, would you?” The questions were placed around the room and each attendee was given two sticky notes indicating a “yes” or “no” answer. Participants moved around the room marking their answers. After a few minutes, the trainers had people look around the room at the answers. The participants realized they had more allies in the room by the number of colored paper on the wall than they had believed. The woman who was emotional in the first session received great ideas from the group about how to talk to her brother when he uses harsh words and also to communicate with him how she feels when he calls her the “R” word. This trainings was important to DRC staff because it provided the opportunity for the facilitator to both teach and learn. It provided a time to take a step back and look at how we see ourselves, and to have open discussions about how we view the world and how the world views us and to learn from the negative, so we can appreciate the positive.
Disability Rights California collaborates with other advocacy organizations as a great way to learn about outreach needs in the community. The Office of Clients’ Rights Advocacy (OCRA) has strong ties with Matrix Parents Network and the Area Board 4 advocacy agencies. Together, agencies identify needs in the community and learn more about what types of services are offered from the regional center. On April 27, 2013 OCRA collaborated with Martin Gonzalves (a self advocate), Matrix Parents Network, and the Area Board 4 to provide an outreach workshop about regional center services in Solano County. The training in both Spanish and English, was attended by family members and regional center consumers. Martin provided a wonderful and informative training about the services and supports he receives from the regional center. Matrix, the Area Board, and OCRA explained the types of services offered by regional centers, the Individual Program Plan (IPP) development process, and the appeal process. When attendees were asked what was the most valuable part of the workshop, one parent stated, “What to expect and the process of the regional center.” Another family member said, “Understanding how regional centers operate and what my rights are.” The workshop was a great way to learn more about regional center services and OCRA looks forward to future joint events.
The OCRA office serving Tri-Counties Regional Center consumers provided a short presentation and staffed two booths at the Ventura County SELPA Transition Fair on March 6, 2013. The fair brought together a number of community support and advocacy organizations to provide information and resources for students transitioning to adult services. Resource booths offered information on independent living services, regional center services, Social Security, mental health services, Department of Rehabilitation, and medical services in the community. SELPA divided the fair into two separate rooms, providing resources for those on the high school diploma track in one room, and those on the certificate of completion track in another room. OCRA staffed a booth in each room and provided information and publications. The fair served as valuable networking opportunity.
The annual celebration on August 25, 2013 attracted 300 plus attendees. For the last 10 years this event has been focusing on reaching out to migrant farm workers in the Monterey area. The event brings together educational, employment, recreational, and health agencies that are able to provide assistance to Spanish speaking Latino families to who are agricultural workers in the region. At the event, families are able to find many different resource tables staffed by agencies that provide education and employment services along with other services. The attendees and agencies were very pleased with DRC’s information and were interested in hearing more about services DRC provides after making available information on the Client Assistant Program (CAP), transition plans, special education, benefits, and many of our services.
On October 28, 2013, DRC Bay Area staff completed a training for parents and advocates regarding recent changes in the law about positive behavior intervention and planning. Participants learned that even though statutory language had been repealed as part of the California budget bill process, school districts are required to provide appropriate behavior evaluation, planning, interventions and services to students with behavioral needs. Participants were individuals from a variety of ethnic, racial, and socio-economic backgrounds. The publication, on “Changes in Education Law Regarding Positive Behavior Assessment and Planning” were distributed. The participants stated that they appreciated the information and eight families requested an intake to discuss their special education issues.
Hmong Empowerment Resources & Outreach (HERO) which aims to lift up the Hmong community through social, political and economic activism held a resource fair to collect donations of backpacks and school supplies for families in Fresno on August 3. DRC was proud to be part of this festive event. Staff members Lisa Navarro and Mazie Moua talked with numerous individuals about DRC services and its mission to assist individuals with disabilities. One family wanted more information about education and how to go about understanding special education. DRC staff provided background information and encouraged the family to contact DRC.
Over 150 families took part in the Capitol City Community Block Party/Health Fair held on September 28. The collaborative event involved Disability Rights California, Sacramento County Public Health, Easter Seals, the Homeless Intervention Program, and more than 50 other community organizations. Many families were provided food bags, haircuts, dental exams, health screening, massages, and lunch. Various musical performances were held throughout the afternoon. DRC staff Phyllis Preston-Fowler and Kathy Rossow provided information on social security overpayments, special education rights, and the rights of people with disabilities.
Approximately 200 individuals attended the 2013 Jobtoberfest, an event organized by San Diego’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities. The Committee is comprised of a variety of agencies that provide employment support to consumers with disabilities. The event is one of the largest job fairs for people with disabilities in San Diego, sponsored by local businesses including Qualcomm, Harrah’s Rincon Casino and Sea World. Companies, agencies and community-based organizations are encouraged to come out and hire participants who attend the event. Sea World, the Internal Revenue Services, and the San Diego Unified School District were present to interview individuals on the spot or provide information about the company and its resources. Community organizations, such as Access to Independence and the Department of Rehabilitation attended to provide return to work services and information. Disability Rights California staffed an informational booth and interacted with people who have disabilities and diverse ethnicities who were searching for employment or resources that would assist them to return to work.
DRC will organize the second Latino Disability Conference. The conference will offer 12 disability related workshops in Spanish, with emphasis on special education, mental health issues, benefits, advocacy skills and much more. Community agencies will have the opportunity to share information and resources with the public. Disability Rights California staff is excited about the upcoming conference, since the 2012 one was so successful. Community members have requested that the 2014 event take place in LA and this will be possible as the California Endowment has made its meeting space available.
Disability Rights California (DRC) staff conducted a training on Social Security Work incentives to advocates, consumers and family members at the Progressive Employment Concept (PEC) on November 8, 2013. The training focused on employment supports and work incentive programs available to individuals who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and/or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). DRC staff also discussed employment supports and work incentives services from the Department of Rehabilitation (DOR). Participants at PEC appreciated how DRC tailored the presentation to meet the needs of advocates, consumers and family members. An advocate of PEC commented that a lot of their uncertainties on how individuals can work and keep their benefits were addressed.
Disability Rights California (DRC) staff, Jonathan Elson along with the California Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities (CCEPD) presented a session entitled, “Meeting Employer Demand: Health Workforce Trends and Federal Regulatory Opportunities” at the 5th Annual Statewide Conference of the California Health Professions Consortium (CHPC). This conference brought together leaders from health pipeline programs and academians, health employers and associations, health professions schools, workforce and economic development, government agencies, private industry and funders. The focus was to come together in innovative ways to ensure a high quality diverse health workforce, improve health in communities and increase work opportunities for youth. The presentation by DRC staff focused on the new Section 503 rule that introduces a hiring goal for federal contractors and subcontractors that 7 percent of each job group in their workforce be qualified individuals with disabilities. The Rule also details specific actions contractors must take in the areas of recruitment, training, record keeping and policy dissemination — similar to those that have long been required to promote workplace equality for women and minorities. Attendees were given strategies for taking advantage of the new requirement to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities in the health care and related fields. Related topics of promoting integrated competitive employment for people with developmental disabilities and employees’ rights to reasonable accommodations were covered as well.