Mary Faithfull, Executive Director
This past February marked my 26th year with Disability Rights Texas (DRTx), with 13 years as executive director. And as we approach the end of another 12 months, I am no less amazed now as I have been each year at the continuing successful efforts of our staff as they work to protect and advocate for the rights of people with disabilities.
Though the stories are numerous, I thought I would tell you about a few so you can share in my pride in seeing thousands of people each year break through obstacles of discrimination and ignorance so they have an equal opportunity to achieve their personal goals and dreams.
Protecting the brave men and women who have served
Many men and women serving in combat are now returning to civilian life, and the struggles they face are numerous. Some have unseen disabilities, like Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and service animals provide physical and therapeutic support that is critical.
Unfortunately, because these disabilities are unseen, a person’s need for a service animal is not apparent. Many are confronted with discrimination by retail establishments, the hotel industry, housing, and more.
One veteran we represented was a member of the U.S. Army with PTSD resulting from an incident that occurred while serving. Our client has a highly trained service dog that assists with symptoms. On the way back home from a long trip, the veteran and spouse stopped at a hotel to stay the night, but the clerk said the dog was not allowed.
The veteran referred the clerk to the website of the hotel chain which indicated service animals were allowed. The clerk still denied access. So the couple left and drove several hours during the night to get home.
The veteran later called DRTx who filed a Department of Justice (DOJ) complaint for mediation on the client’s behalf. The case was favorably resolved for the client in a confidential resolution agreement.
Restoring medical care coverage to children with disabilities
We’ve seen an increase in the number of children on Medicaid who are being denied coverage for much needed medical services and/or equipment. To keep up with the demand of representing these children in Medicaid Fair Hearings, we started our Children’s Medicaid Pro-Bono Project, enlisting the help of private attorneys with companies such as Dell and Chase Bank.
One case involved a teenage boy who sustained a spinal cord injury in an accident. He was unexpectedly denied approval by Medicaid for a respiratory device that he had already been using for three years. One of our pro-bono attorneys argued on his behalf at a Medicaid hearing and was able to get the breathing equipment re-approved.
Large arena makes big changes in accessible seating
Bruce is an individual with mobility impairments who uses a walker or cane. He’s also a country music fan. He tried to purchase accessible VIP seats for a George Strait concert at a major city arena but was told there were none.
So Bruce contacted DRTx for assistance, and we reached out several times to the venue owner with no response. We then filed a DOJ complaint on the client’s behalf. Before it was processed, the owner responded and agreed to write new ticketing policies addressing the sale of accessible tickets, develop an manual about accessibility at the arena, and establish a committee to improve and regularly review patron access. The owner has since taken action on all of these items.
Although Bruce didn’t get to attend the concert, he will now have the same access that is his right by law and that all individuals have to attend and enjoy activities at the site.
Young woman with hearing disability gains back independence, choice
K.K. is a 25-year-old individual who is deaf. Her parents had full guardianship over her and prevented her from going to college or seeking employment and insisted that she live at home despite her desire and ability to be independent They also prevented her from applying for independent living services through the Department of Rehabilitative Services (DARS) and participating in anything related to the deaf culture.
DRTx filed for restoration on behalf of K.K. After a challenging 18-month process, DRTx was successful in getting K.K. restored under a limited guardianship and changing her guardian to someone who she selected and would allow her to participate in decision making for her life. K.K. is thrilled with the results and has moved to another city where she wanted to live.
These are just a few stories about the thousands of Texans with disabilities who we help every year to have equal access and opportunity to work, go, and live as they choose.
When you give to DRTx, you help protect the legal rights of people with disabilities and give them the dignity and worth that all individuals, with or without disabilities, deserve.