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Deaf Access to Justice: Community Forum

Last year, the Deaf community was shook up by the controversy and circumstances surrounding the shooting deaths of several deaf individuals by police officers. After these tragic news, more personal stories by Deaf people’s experience of interacting with police, including wrongful convictions, were shared within the community. As a result, a deep concern for a Deaf individuals’ safety became wide spread.

To address those concerns, The Regional Center for Independent Living (RCIL), and The Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf (HEARD), collaborated and created a Deaf Access to Justice Forum inviting everyone from the Deaf community. The forum, held last Thursday evening on March 16th at the Rochester Recreation Club for the Deaf (RRCD), was also a part of the RRCD’s Rochester Education Awareness Program (REAP). Our Deaf, DeafBlind, DeafDisabled, and Deaf Immigrant community volunteers acted as panelists to share important information and resources with the Deaf community. We also had additional community volunteers representing at least seven different local organizations attending the forum!

During the forum, we presented challenging real life scenarios on how to communicate effectively when it comes to interacting with police, immigration officers, courtroom officers, judges, lawyers, and interpreters. The purpose of this event was to help Deaf individuals to understand that the US justice system may not understand their needs and therefore react inappropriately.Videos were shared to demonstrate real-life worse case scenarios and how Deaf individuals can react safely and better prevent themselves from being involved in these situations. We discussed the potential risks of using “Deaf Driver Communication Visor Cards” and safety tips on how a Deaf individual can protect oneself when being pulled over by police. We also viewed “Deaf in Prison: Interacting with Signing Cops” produced by HEARD, in which critical information was given for all Deaf people to remember that cops may not trained to understand Sign Language or Deaf culture. The film sent the message that police may not always have a Deaf individual’s needs in their best interests. Tips were offered for Deaf people to remember to say if they are arrested or being interrogated by a police officer:

1. “I am deaf.”2. “I have the right to have a lawyer present.”3. “I have the right to have a qualified neutral interpreter present.”4. “I wish to remain silent.”
At least 50 Deaf and DeafBlind people were in attendance at the forum and they were captivated by the information and resources shared. The Deaf attendants were eager to learn more about how justice systems work and how to further protect themselves and their Deaf loved ones. There were much more information that was not covered during the forum due to large audience’s participation in meaningful discussions. Due to the incredible success of the event, RCIL and HEARD received requests to host another Deaf Access to Justice forum to educate the Deaf community in depth on how to interact with police appropriately and how to understand their own rights regarding the justice system.

If you would like to learn more about RCIL’s Deaf and Police Integrative Committee and HEARD’s efforts, please contact either Jonathan Dollhopf at 585.286.2725, jdollhopf@rcil.org or contact Joanne Galvez at 585.286.3496, jgalvez@rcil.org.

Community Forum
Community Forum Interpretation
Community Forum Jonathan

Dustie Huff

Peer Support Integration Program

Check out one of RCIL’s very own Peer Support Specialists highlighted by ACCES-VR! Dustie Huff works out of the Rochester ACCES-VR office providing peer counseling on transportation coordination, health care management, housing navigation, and providing food and clothing referrals. Learn more about this program at our Peer Integration Program webpage. For questions, please email us at info@rcil.org or call us at 585-442-6470.

The Leadership Academy goes Long Distance

Disability Pride is a critical first training for anyone wanting to get involved as a disability activist, an advocate or an ally.  The Regional Center for Independent Living here in Rochester, NY is pleased to be in the third week of the Leadership Academy: Disability Pride course.  This is part one of a five course series that covers Disability Pride, Advocacy, Public Speaking, Media Relations, and Community Leadership on Boards and Committees. 

We are excited to have a large and diverse group of participants and are especially pleased that our disability learning community has been extended to include participants from Maryland and Washington DC for the first time.  While most people are familiar with video-conferencing and may have experienced that in a school classroom or in a business meeting, we have broken through some new ground for RCIL with using video conferencing for distance learning.  This is a first for RCIL’s Leadership Academy. 

Two participants are connecting to the training remotely through our video-conferencing portal.  One is Deaf and one is hearing.  Still others are using their phones at home and calling in to tele-conference when lack of transportation or other circumstances prohibit coming to trainings in person.  This has been used by our hearing participants, but is also available to our deaf participants who use a video phone and video relay service.  Here in Rochester, in our conference room we host 20 more participants, half of which are Deaf and half are hearing, plus 2 wonderful sign language interpreters and Damita Peace, our Curriculum Instructor who is fluent in sign. 

Having an RIT Deaf student from Ghana is a true honor.  Starting a school for Deaf children in Africa who do not go have any type of education opportunities in their life is one of her accomplishments.  Other accomplishments from class members include, television appearances as a motivational speaker, leadership and presidency in a deaf grassroots movement, co-founding a group for youth with disabilities (our own YO group), board membership and board leadership as Chair of RCIL.  Several members have retired from their careers as office manager, engineer, full-time Mom and more to become part of the disability rights movement.  We are thrilled with ALL of our individuals.  A great group.

If you are interested in upcoming Leadership Academy offerings, please contact Damita Peace (dpeace@rcil.org or 585-442-6470). If you are a person with a disability and would be interested in mentoring a participant through the leadership academy or various youth programs, please let Damita know. 

We are also always looking for guest speakers, whatever your area of expertise (finance, management, living with a disability, professionalism, advocacy, art, etc.) to share their talents and experience with us in classes. 

Together we build a strong community.  Together we build a formidable foundation.  Together we change the future.

Wellness & Recovery Training

Wellness Training

Provided by Peer Integration Specialists

WHEN: October 7, 2016 10am-12pm
WHERE: ACCES-VR 109 South Union Street Rochester, NY

Plans: Wellness and Recovery plans help prevent crisis situations. The plans help individuals stay prepared when life events occur that trigger chaos in their lives.

Training: Open for all who use ACCES-VR’s services. The training will help people to design a plan with primary supports to develop a sense of security and give individuals a guide book for when trouble is occuring.

RSVP: Interested?
RSVP by Thursday, October 6th to:
Matt Fico or by calling 585.238.2963
Dustie Huff or by calling 585.238.2913

Jonathan Dollhopf

Police Interaction with the Deaf

By: Johathan Dollhopf

In recent weeks, two men with hearing loss have been shot and killed by police. Daniel Harris, 29, was deaf and used American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate; Darnell Wicker, 57, had a lesser degree of hearing loss and did not use ASL. The controversy and circumstances surrounding these killings is a serious concern within the Deaf community.

Daniel Harris was shot near his home in Charlotte, NC, by a state trooper after an eight-mile pursuit. In the minutes before his murder, a state trooper tried to pull Harris over for a speeding violation. When Daniel got out of the car, he was shot at the scene. Harris’ brother said Daniel tried to communicate with the officer in ASL right when he got out the car. According to Harris’ brother, Daniel was afraid of police.

Darnell Wicker lost his life in Louisville, KY, when two police officers fatally shot Wicker in the his girlfriend’s apartment. A dispute between Wicker and his girlfriend led to police being called. While Wicker retrieved a knife and a handsaw from inside the apartment, his girlfriend’s daughter told the 911 dispatcher about the weapons Wicker possessed. When the police arrived on the scene Wicker was leaving the apartment, and was armed with these items. When the police officers ordered Wicker to drop the objects, Wicker did not comply. We know from a body camera worn by the officers, that the first shot was fired less than ten seconds after the officer got out of his squad car.

Regardless of Daniel Harris’ and Darnel Wicker’s actions, they were shot and killed because they couldn’t hear the officers’ orders. Since these murders, members of the Deaf community frequently feel scared for our own safety. As a deaf man, I worry that I may find myself in a situation where I need to communicate with cops, but am unable to do so. I have this same concern for my friends with hearing loss.

The shootings might have been prevented if police had received training on Deaf-interactions, and their respective squads had implemented procedures and protocols on how to interact with Deaf and hard of hearing individuals. In response to these senseless tragedies, the Deaf community is demanding that all police departments must work with us to improve existing practices and prevent such brutality from happening again. 

To improve relations and interactions with Deaf individuals, troubled police precincts should looks at the strides of fellow departments. Perhaps because Rochester, NY, has the one of the largest per capita Deaf populations in the nation, the Rochester Police Department (RPD) has a good relationship with the Deaf community.

In fact, there is a Deaf and Police Integrative Committee that meets every month, where we discuss about issues and concerns regarding to procedures. We make sure that the policies and procedures are updated and effective. In the past, the Committee and RPD worked together to develop a visor card for Deaf individuals to hand to officers, giving us the ability to easily inform police of our hearing loss (The visor cards are now to the public. If you or anyone you know needs one, please can contact me at the email address or phone number listed below. Currently, the Committee is developing a training workshop to educate cops on interactions with Deaf and hard of hearing individuals.

If you would like learn more about Police Integrative Committee or visor card, please contact me at jdollhopf@rcil.org or call at (585) 286-2725. 

The Disability Integration Act: A Game Changer in the field of Medicaid Managed Care

By: Nate Baldo

While seeking attendant services, have you ever been told “We don’t need to authorize attendant services, because your family can provide these services to you informally”? How about “We can’t provide the attendant hours you need because the providers we contract with don’t have enough aides”? Maybe even “I’m sorry, we don’t provide 24 hour services. You have to go to a nursing home for that”? For many of us, these barriers are all too common when dealing with our Managed Care plans, where community living can feel more like a financially based privilege, not a guaranteed civil right.

Under the Disability Integration Act (DIA), all of the aforementioned barriers (and many more) would be rightly classified as discrimination, and thus a violation of our rights. Currently in the U.S. Senate HELP (Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions) Committee, The Disability Integration Act (S.2427), is groundbreaking legislation that guarantees community living, and more specifically community-based long term services and supports as a federally protected civil right.

A critical component of securing this right is the specific prohibitions listed in Section 4, entitled “Discrimination” of the DIA. Some of these prohibitions include:
1. Requiring us to use informal supports such as friends or family members as part of a plan of service.
2. Failing to provide sufficient funding to ensure that we are able to hire and retain qualified attendants.
3. Forcing us to attend a day program as a substitute for receiving attendant services in the home and community.
4. Failing to inform those of us in institutions of our right to return home with community-based long term services and supports (LTSS).
5. Imposing policies, such as cost caps, that prevents us from receiving the proper services we need to live independently (this discrimination is particularly systemic for those of us who require a higher level of LTSS).

For too long, we have been forced into institutions, where every aspect of our life is controlled by a medical hierarchy. When the DIA is passed into federal law, these all too common discriminatory practices will be illegal, and after years of relentless struggle and advocacy, our right to live in the community will finally be affirmed. 

YO! Youth Own has a new Youth Activities Specialist! Welcome Onnie Heard to the RCIL team!

By: Onnie Heard

Hello. My name is Onwaniqua “Onnie” Heard and I am excited to be a new member of the RCIL team as the Youth Activities Specialist for YO! – Youth Own. YO! is a youth-led group that has gained traction over the past few years and functions not only as a peer support system, but is also a youth leadership group focused on community outreach and advocacy for youth with disabilities.

As a recent undergraduate at Hamilton College, I became a seasoned Human Services worker. I coordinated outreach events, volunteered, and undertook the job as a Residential Advisor. I greatly enjoyed being an event coordinator for the Hamilton Association for Volunteering, Outreach and Charity (H.A.V.O.C). In this position, I worked with youth to help make their community a better place by volunteering in soup kitchens, nursing homes, elementary schools, and with Habitat for Humanity. 

I am greatly appreciative to be welcomed aboard at RCIL where I can use the talents I acquired to help YO!-Youth Own flourish! In the past, YO! has participated in events such as ADAPT trips in Washington D.C., assisted with homeless outreach projects and various other community support events, as well as attended parades, festivals and had many game nights and bowling outings. These events continue to make YO! a group that participants are proud to be a part of and I am glad to join! 

For more information on YO! – Youth Own, please feel free to contact me at oheard@rcil.org or (585) 442-6470. You can also visit our website at www.rcilyo.org or “Like Us” on Facebook – Yo – Youth Own. 

RCIL to Start a New Component of Homeownership Program this Summer, the Home Owner-occupied Program!

By: Reggie DeJesus

The Regional Center for Independent Living (RCIL) is excited to share the news with you! This June, RCIL will begin a New program called the Home Owner-occupied Program which allows individuals who are interested in our Homeownership program the opportunity to purchase a 2 unit duplex home in the City of Rochester and utilize Home funds to renovate both units for accessibility purposes! This will all be made possible by funding RCIL was awarded from the NYS Home Local Program. The funds will allow RCIL to assist eight first time homebuyers with various disabilities. Once the process is completed, the homebuyer will have the opportunity to occupy one unit and in essence be the landlord of the second unit. 

On March 10th RCIL was notified by the NY Homes and Community Renewal Program (NYS Home Local Program) that we were awarded a two year grant in the amount of $358,800. Each home in the program will be eligible to receive $44,850 for environmental modifications to both units (each unit will be allocated $22,425).  Thanks to this grant funded opportunity prospective homebuyers will be able to use the rental income portion as a means to qualify for a mortgage. Partnering in this endeavor with RCIL are representatives from the Housing Council who along with RCIL’s Housing Specialist, Jane Chase will be working hand-in-hand with the prospective homebuyer. The Housing Council will also provide several trainings on “How to be an effective landlord” so that homebuyers participating in this program will be fully prepared to take on the role of a landlord. Once the home has been purchased, the environmental modification portion of the project will be facilitated by the RCIL Accessibility Specialist. I will oversee the entire process and assist as needed. At the end of the two years this program is going to help bring 16 accessible units (8 homes total) to our community!

If you have a disability and have never been a homeowner, this program could be a great opportunity for you. If you are interested in learning more about this opportunity or applying for this program, please feel free to contact Jane Chase at 585-442-6470 or jchase@rcil.org for more information.  We look forward to kicking off this new program at RCIL!

Leadership Academy & D3 are back! Introducing our New Curriculum Instructor

My name is Damita Peace and I am excited to be joining the CDR/RCIL team with a focus on education.  Last year RCIL piloted three modules (or courses) within a Leadership Academy Curriculum we established, and took the Youth Leadership Curriculum (“D3: Disability Rights, Disability Culture, Disability Pride”) into the Rochester City School system.  These programs were so successful that the need for a dedicated position to continue this great work was in order and I am thrilled it is me!

Some of you may know (or recognize) me as a Sign Language Interpreter, and that continues to be a field that I work in, but my background and most of my career experience has been in the field of college teaching.  I have taught at Rochester Institute of Technology, National Technical Institute for the Deaf, and Roberts Wesleyan College to name a few.

The D3 Program we plan to fully implement in school districts (starting with the Rochester City School District) will allow students to embrace disability culture and have a better understanding of disability, the history and movement, and break down barriers and stigmas that exist within school settings that disability is scary or different. We are hoping to back in the schools this fall!

Additionally, the Leadership Academy will be back up and running soon! This program will allow individuals with disabilities who enroll and participate to:

  • Gain more understanding of the history of the Disability Rights movement
  • Develop their own sense of Disability Pride or to continue their journey towards becoming a leader in the Disability Rights Movement
  • Learn more about Ableism and how to address these biases within themselves and in the world around them
  • Gain skills necessary in addressing the media, local government, systems and social inequalities around them
  • BE EMPOWERED to take action and to make a difference on a national stage, or in our local community
  • Understand that leadership comes in many forms and sizes and each one of us can play a vital role advocating for disability access and equality.

Once we get a schedule up and running for the Leadership Academy, I encourage everyone to join and participate in this program!  We will be seeking participants to take the classes, guest presenter to assist me throughout the program, and mentors to encourage and support participants who enroll in the program. Ultimately we are encouraging empowerment and self-advocacy for our people to continue the fight to be FREE.

For more information, please feel free to contact me at dpeace@rcil.org or (585) 442-6470. I can’t wait to get started!


Regional Center for Independent Living (RCIL) Launches Leadership Academy

By: Nate Baldo

Over the last few decades, the Disability Rights Movement has made tremendous progress in working toward the full integration, independence, and civil rights of people with disabilities and seniors in the community. From the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, to the fight for mandatory lifts on public buses, to the establishment of core independent living services for all states, disability rights organizations and advocacy groups have worked tirelessly to ensure civil rights for all people with disabilities. However, there is still so much work to be done. We continue to face an institutionally biased system, a lack of affordable accessible housing, and systemic barriers to gainful employment, just to name a few. In order to continue to see progress and positive change for people with disabilities, and maintain long term viability of the Disability Rights Movement, it is critical that we actively foster the next generation of disability rights leaders.

RCIL has created a Leadership Academy, a ground-breaking, systems advocacy program designed to bring about the leaders of tomorrow. This curriculum consists of four components, including performing advocacy, public speaking, engaging the media, and working in administrative capacities. Each component was designed to enhance skills necessary to becoming a well-rounded disability rights advocate. Participants can enroll in any of these components separately or participate in all four.

The advocacy component will focus on enhancing important advocacy skills. For example it will address how to effectively file legal complaints with government agencies, exploring strategies for organizing and conducting various forms of protest, and presenting a convincing case to legislators. Participants will also learn techniques to effectively communicate with an audience in our public speaking component; for example, telling a compelling personal story.

The media component will focus on inciting public support. This component will address techniques when being interviewed by a media outlet, writing an op-ed article also referred to as an “opinion editorial”, as well as many other important tools related to media. The final, administrative component will assist participants with developing a range of skills necessary to assert disability rights perspectives when serving on a committee or board of directors. Specific topics covered will include organizational planning and understanding the board’s role in finance.

The pilot sessions will be held on a weekly basis from December 8, 2014 to February 9, 2015. Sessions will run from 2:00-4:00 PM at RCIL’s office -497 State Street, Rochester, New York. Participants can enroll in any of the components separately or sign on for all four! Participants will receive a certificate upon completion of this program.

This Leadership Academy is an important investment in securing the disability rights movement’s promising future in the Greater Rochester area, however no need to stop there. It is RCIL’s mission to bring this one-of-a-kind program to a state and national audience in order to ensure a robust and influential disability rights movement for years to come.

To register for the Leadership Academy or request accommodations, please contact Nate Baldo at (585) 442-6470 or nbaldo@rcil.org. RSVP by December 1st, 2014 to be included in the pilot session. Space is limited!

Shelby Bour

Important new service at the Regional Center for Independent Living (RCIL) 

My name is Shelby Bour, and I am thrilled to join the Regional Center for Independent Living (RCIL) as the Healthcare Advocate. I am dedicated to providing healthcare benefit advisement and advocacy as part of RCIL’s benefits team.  
As the Healthcare Advocate I am available to help consumers with all aspects of healthcare benefit planning including: 

  • Assisting with Medicaid, Medicaid Long Term Care, and Medicare, 
  • Explaining the differences among Managed Care plans, 
  • Assisting with health plan selection and enrollment into Managed Care, 
  • Obtaining home services to ensure independence, 
  • Appealing healthcare denials and serving as an advocate throughout the appeal process, and 
  • Representing consumers at fair hearings and advocating for the full integration, independence, and civil rights of people with disabilities. 

The Affordable Care Act and Medicaid’s move into Managed Care have brought many changes to the health insurance landscape. The Regional Center for Independent Living (RCIL) recognizes the impact these changes have made and continues to expand services to further meet the needs of consumers. 
Consumers with healthcare benefit questions or concerns can contact me, Shelby Bour, at (585) 442-6470 or by email: sbour@rcil.org

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