Response to the Iowa Girls Justice Initiative Recommendations: “Serious, Violent, and Chronic Juvenile Female Offenders: Service and System Recommendations for Iowa” dated February 2017.




A Response to Iowa Girls Justice Initiative Recommendations: “Serious, Violent, and Chronic Juvenile Female Offenders: Service and System Recommendations for Iowa” dated February 2017.  (See   The IGJI recommendations begin by noting that serious, violent, and chronic juvenile female offenders are at the center of a system and service crisis in juvenile justice in Iowa.  The authors of this report offer a different way to look at this “crisis”.  We do not believe this “crisis” is caused by the lack of a locked or staff-secure facility for “Serious, Chronic, and Violent” girls in Iowa, as the IGJI recommendations would have you believe.  Rather, we believe the “crisis” is caused by a lack of female-responsive, culturally competent, trauma-informed, treatment-oriented, developmentally appropriate services for girls across the continuum of services for ALL girls involved with the juvenile justice system.

The authors of this response recommend that one way out of this “crisis” is to provide a level of community-based services here in Iowa that is not currently a part of Iowa’s juvenile justice continuum.  One such organization that provides such services would be Youth Advocacy Programs (YAP).  They serve similarly situated youth quite successfully in other states that have used this organization as an alternative to the use of locked facilities.  If these girls cannot be served by these community-based services at home, then the authors recommend the use of these community-based services in a therapeutic foster home or regionally based group home for the youth.  These services should be properly funded by the State of Iowa.

Read the Response to Iowa Girls Justice Initiative Recommendations February 2017



Nathan Kirstein

Staff Attorney

515-278-2502 Ext. 25





Save The Date – Fair Housing Training!


Fair Housing Training, “Disability, Dogs, and Doors,” will be held in Sioux City on April 7 and in Cedar Rapids on April 28, 2017.


Come in the morning to hear about “Build It Right IOWA” and learn about the design and construction accessibility requirements for multifamily housing complexes. Then stay in the afternoon to hear about assistance animals and learn more about the duty of housing providers to provide reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities.


The training is free and open to the public. Register early so you can be one of the 60 participants who will be guaranteed a seat, snacks, and presentation materials!


For more information regarding this important training, please go to


You may register at

Download a printable Save the Date Card here!

DRI publishes report examining the troubling systemic issue of individuals with mental illness who end up in Iowa’s county jails.


In honor of Human Rights Day this past weekend, DRI is proud to release our most recent publication “In Jail and Out of Options: An Examination of the Systemic Issues affecting the Housing and Treatment of Iowans with Mental Illness in County Jails.” This report, comprised of three parts, describes how individuals with mental illness have come to end up in county jails, how they are treated while they are incarcerated in these facilities, and what community stakeholders around Iowa are doing to combat this problem.

Click here for the FULL REPORT, “In Jail and Out of Options: An Examination of the Systemic Issues affecting the Housing and Treatment of Iowans with Mental Illness in County Jails.”

Only interested in one part? Use the links below to navigate to the part you want to retrieve:

Part I: Transinstitutionalization of Individuals with Mental Illness from Hospitals to Jails — How Iowa’s County Jails are Responding

Part II: Mental Health Treatment and Medications in Iowa’s County Jails

Part III: Systemic Solutions




Disability Rights Iowa files amicus brief in workplace discrimination case.

Judicial Building

On August 31st, DRI filed an amicus (friend-of-the-court) brief with the Iowa Supreme Court in support of an employee with mental illness.  The case is about licensed mental health professionals, who worked for Magellan, directing hatred and ridicule towards another coworker who was suffering from major depression, the same type of serious mental illnesses for which their member-patients needed their help. They created a hostile environment when she tried to return to work after taking medical leave to cope with and recover from her depression. The brief deals with the stigma of mental illness in the workplace and society at large.


Click here for the Full Amicus brief.

A special thank you to the Iowa State Fair

Iowa State Fair globe

In 2012, the Disability Rights Iowa team attended the Iowa State Fair to assess its accessibility. What they found was that one of Iowa’s biggest events was not as inclusive and accessible as they had hoped. Recommendations were made and the Iowa State Fair took their responsibility to the disabled community seriously.

Four years later, the progress they have made towards accessibility and inclusion has been no less than remarkable. Between facilities updates, sign language interpreters and accessible shuttles/parking, it is clear that the fair has taken valuable steps towards making the festivities accessible to all.

Three Disability Rights Iowa employees who have a disability had the opportunity to attend the fair this year. Tai Tomasi, who is blind, was very impressed with the shuttle system and the improvements they made to curb cuts inside the fair. Emmanuel Smith noted that he used to have to plan his day around accessible restrooms, but this year he found they were all around the fairgrounds. Zach Mecham was pleasantly surprised with wheelchair access on the grounds. He was able to navigate the fair independently this year with no issues.

The staff at Disability Rights Iowa know what a process it is to make a facility as old as the fair accessible. We recognize that there is more to do but commend the fair’s efforts to improve on accessibility. We just wanted to take this opportunity to say thank you and keep up the good work!

Hinterland music festival makes accessibility a priority

                                         ___Hinterland photo


Over the past several months, Disability Rights Iowa had had the good fortune to work with Sam Summers, organizer of the Hinterland Music Festival , to address issues of accessibility encountered during Hinterland’s first year. From our first conversation, it was apparent improved accessibility was a priority. While we realize making an event of Hinterlands size fully ADA compliant and accessible will be a multi-year effort, Sam repeatedly went above and beyond to ensure that Hinterland was as accessible as possible in the time frame allowed, even as the St. Charles site posed significant challenges. By providing accessible parking, accessible seating areas, accessible golf carts to assist attendees in enjoying the rolling hills of Madison County, a dedicated ADA check-in where individuals could get assistance, and accessible portable toilets, Hinterland to great efforts to make sure any issues of accessibility were considered and addressed.

DRI staff Tai Tomasii and Charlene Joens were able to attend this year’s event, and because of Sam’s commitment to accessibility, Tai’s visual disability posed no barrier to her enjoying the festival along with thousands of other Iowan’s. Her multiple discussions with attendee’s with disabilities revealed just how drastically Sam’s efforts improved the experience at Hinterland for people with disabilities, and we can’t thank him
enough for his work. It’s because of the efforts of Mr. Summers and many other dedicated business owners around the state that we are making huge strides towards ensuring that Iowa lives up to the promises of the American’s with Disabilities Act, and the spirit of inclusion it represents. Thank you Sam and all the staff at Hinterland!

Iowa State Fair takes strides in accessibility

The Iowa State Fair has taken positive steps towards accessibility in recent years. They have put together a transition plan and begun to carry it out in significant ways. Two of the facilities that have already been updated are the Cultural Center and the Youth Inn.

Other steps the Iowa State Fair has taken towards accessibility include ADA/accessible parking, assisted listening devices for select buildings and sign language interpreters for the Fun Forrest. Sign language interpreters are also available upon request for specific events. More information can be found on the Disability Assistance page. You can also download the Iowa State Fair accessibility-guide for details on accessibility.

Making Hard Time Harder: Report Outlines Need for Accommodations for Inmates with Disabilities


June 22, 2016

As many as 31 percent of U.S. inmates in state prisons report having at least one disability. Inmates with disabilities often spend more time in prison, under harsher conditions, than inmates without disabilities. Today, the Amplifying Voices of Inmates with Disabilities (AVID) Prison Project, a project of Disability Rights Washington, released the report Making Hard Time Harder: Programmatic Accommodations for Inmates with Disabilities Under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The report outlines lack of accommodations for inmates with disabilities.

“People are sent to prison as punishment, not for punishment,” says Mark Stroh, Executive Director of Disability Rights Washington. “In drafting this report, we have found that inmates with disabilities are often neglected and excluded from programs, rehabilitation, and basic medical care, subjecting them to additional forms of punishment solely due to their disability.”

The report includes case examples submitted by protection and advocacy agencies (P&As) engaged in prison work in 21 states. Colorado, Washington, and South Carolina all reported cases in which essential mobility devices, such as wheelchairs and walkers, were taken from inmates. One case resulted in an inmate’s inability to access showers or outside yard for almost two years. Idaho and Illinois reported systemic litigation seeking the provision of video phone services for inmates who are deaf or hard of hearing. Alabama reported inmates with intellectual disabilities could not access medical care in a written request, and were therefore unable to receive needed medical attention, prompting federal litigation.

Disability Rights Iowa, the P&A for the state and a contributor to the report, tells the story of its advocacy on behalf of inmates with mobility disabilities in Iowa’s state prisons. After receiving complaints that the programs and services of a facility were inaccessible, the P&A conducted monitoring. The P&A found that that the chapel and auditorium were located at the top of very steep stairs and therefore inaccessible to many inmates with disabilities. Disability Rights Iowa advocated with the prison’s warden and inmates with mobility disabilities can now use an elevator to access the chapel and auditorium.

From individual assistance to large scale federal litigation, these case summaries demonstrate the breadth and depth of work by P&As in prisons, and demonstrate that despite the passage of the ADA over two decades ago, much state prison work remains to be done.

Report recommendations to address this crisis in our nation’s prisons include:

1. Creation of independent corrections ombuds offices at the state level in order to address inmate concerns before they rise to the level of litigation.
2. Systemic accessibility reviews by state departments of corrections to identify both physical and programmatic barriers for inmates with disabilities.
3. Increased federal funding to the protection and advocacy network for corrections based monitoring and advocacy.
4. Increased training for prison ADA coordinators and collaboration between these staff members and the local P&As to address inmate concerns.

The report is available at, where original interviews with inmates on disability issues in correctional settings can be accessed.

About the AVID Prison Project
AVID is a prison advocacy initiative that focuses on the needs of current and former prisoners with disabilities. The project was developed by Disability Rights Washington and is a collaboration between the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) and Protection and Advocacy agencies (P&As) in Arizona, Colorado, New York, South Carolina, and Washington, with communication assistance from the P&As in Louisiana and Texas.


Contact: Whitney Driscoll,

Disability Rights Iowa as an LGBTQ Safe Zone

Disability Rights Iowa is proud to announce that we have recently been certified through One Iowa as an official “Safe Space” for LGBTQ individuals. We here at DRI will continue to strive to provide a safe and welcoming space for all Iowan’s, holding always to the principles of inclusion and equality so central to our mission. Thanks to all at One Iowa for their incredible work.


Check Out Iowa WIPA’s New Blog!


The Iowa Work Incentives Planning and Assistance program is excited to introduce to new resource, The Iowa WIPA Blog !

The Iowa Work Incentives Planning and Assistance program or WIPA is a grant funded program sponsored by the Social Security Administration that provides work incentives planning and assistance services to Social Security beneficiaries who receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), who want to pursue gainful employment/self employment.

Work Incentives promote employment/self employment and greater independence for people with disabilities who are initially entering, or re-entering, the workforce.

Click Here for more information about the Blog and the resources you can find there.


Disability Rights IOWA aims to defend and promote the human and legal rights of Iowans who have disabilities and mental illness. We promote safety, opportunity, access, and self-determination for all Iowans through a program of:

  • self-advocacy education, information, and referral;
  • non-legal advocacy;
  • and legal and systems advocacy.

Our legal and systems advocacy aims to resolve major issues called priorities. View our current Areas of Focus, or suggest Areas of Focus.