Our Systemic Projects
DRI’s efforts have been successful in many cases. We are proud to advocate for the disability community, which faces disproportionate discrimination and inequality in everyday life. We fight discrimination by amplifying the community’s voices to implement systemic change. This can include class litigation where the goal is to bring about long-term change to a group of people harmed by abuse, neglect, unlawful discrimination or other harm.
Boys State Training School Lawsuit
In November of 2017, Disability Rights Iowa, along with our co-counsel Children’s Rights and Ropes & Gray, filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court on behalf of boys with serious mental illness at the Boys State Training School in Eldora, Iowa. Despite their significant need for mental health treatment, the boys were severely under-treated. Also, students were locked in solitary confinement cells for long periods of time and the facility used a horrible 14-point restraint bed to punish students.
The urgency for something to be done triggered DRI to take action through a lawsuit. The case went to trial in June 2019 and wrapped up in March 2020 after the judge ruled in favor of the state training schoolboys, stating all actions performed by the facility violated the boys’ Constitutional rights. The judge ordered the facility to make sweeping changes to provide appropriate mental health services and banned solitary confinement as a form of punishment. The restraint bed is considered a torture device, and the judge ordered its immediate removal from the facility. To monitor these changes, the judge appointed Kelly Dedel to oversee the facility changes and report back over the next two years. This case remains open in federal court, and DRI, along with co-counsel, represents the boys’ class in this case throughout the court-appointed monitoring period.
Representative Payee Program
This is a program in collaboration with the Social Security Administration to monitor representative payees in Iowa, identify cases of misuse of beneficiary funds and educate representative payees about their responsibilities.
A representative payee is a person who acts as the receiver of Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income for a person who is not fully capable of managing their own benefits. Unfortunately, government investigations – some of which were conducted by P&A agencies – have uncovered representative payees who have stolen or misused funds, exploited, neglected and even abused the people with disabilities they were supposed to be helping.
In March 2018, legislation was passed by the U.S. Senate to increase oversight and protection for some of our nation’s most vulnerable citizens. The bill, called the Strengthening Protections for Social Security Beneficiaries Act (H.R. 4547), increased independent oversight of the Social Security Administration’s Representative Payee Program.
Collaboration with Other Agencies
Curbside Voting Signs
Although Iowa has allowed curbside voting for a long time, the public was unaware of this voting option. To correct this, Disability Rights Iowa worked alongside the Iowa Secretary of State to design and provide curbside voting signs for each voting precinct in Iowa. The curbside voting signs were sent to over 1,700 precincts. DRI also worked on a series of educational videos to explain curbside voting and promote its accessibility for Iowans with disabilities. Together with the Secretary of State, DRI could expand knowledge and use of curbside voting in Iowa.
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