DRO is working on bills at both the federal and state level to protect individuals with disabilities from abuse in schools and the community.
The national network of Protection and Advocacy (P&A) organizations (like DRO) is represented in Washington DC by the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN). Recently, NDRN urged legislators, on our behalf, to support hate crime prevention legislation. The proposed bill would grant agencies the authority to investigate and prosecute federal crimes based on the victim’s disability, whether real or perceived, and would authorize funding to states to help with the prosecution of hate crimes.
In a letter signed by almost all P&As, we reminded legislators that through much of our country’s history, people with disabilities — including those with developmental delays, epilepsy, cerebral palsy and other physical and mental impairments — were seen as useless and dependent, hidden and excluded from society, either in their own homes or in institutions. Now, this history of isolation is gradually giving way to inclusion in all aspects of society, and people with disabilities everywhere are living and working in communities alongside family and friends.
But this has not been a painless process. People with disabilities often seem “different” to people without disabilities. They may look different or talk differently. They may require the assistance of a wheelchair, a cane, or other assistive technologies. They may have seizures or have difficulty understanding seemingly simple directions.
Unfortunately, disability bias can manifest itself in the form of violence. Federal hate crimes legislation would broaden the definition of hate crimes to include disability, sexual orientation, gender and gender identity. It would make grants available to states and local communities to combat violent crimes committed by juveniles, train law enforcement officers, or assist in state and local investigations and prosecutions of bias-motivated crimes.
Violence against individuals with disabilities is not limited to adults. On Monday, March 9, the Oregon House Education Committee will hold a hearing on House Bill 2599. This bill would strengthen Oregon law that is designed to lessen the bullying of students in our schools. It would make school districts adopt policies to train staff and students about avoiding and reporting bullying and designate a staff person to accept complaints of bullying. DRO supports this bill that will provide a reasonable way to address the harassment of all students, including students with disabilities.
Testimony in support of HB 2599
March 9, 2009
TO: Representative Sara Gelser, Chair, House Education Committee
FR: Bob Joondeph, Executive Director, Disability Rights Oregon
RE: HB 2599
Disability Rights Oregon (DRO) is the Protection and Advocacy organization for Oregon. In this capacity, DRO provides legal-based advocacy services to Oregonians with disabilities. A large portion of our individual case work has always been on behalf of children and parents who are seeking appropriate special education services.
Sadly, it is not uncommon for students we represent to be the victims of harassment and violence on the part of fellow students. And needless to say, a hostile school environment may be a major impediment to a child’s ability to make progress in his or her education.
Oregon has made great strides in freeing adults and children with disabilities from isolation and needless institutionalization. People with disabilities in our communities may still seem “different” to people without disabilities. They may look different or talk differently. They may require the assistance of a wheelchair, a cane, or other assistive technologies. They may have seizures or have difficulty understanding seemingly simple directions.
These perceived differences evoke a range of emotions, from misunderstanding and apprehension to superiority and hatred. While these feelings may find expression among adults as well as children, our schools offer the opportunity to identify instances of intolerance and educate our youth about disabilities and the effects of bullying.
This is why DRO strongly supports passage of HB 2599.
We have also been authorized to express the support of the Community Mental Health Coalition for HB 2599. The Coalition, composed of mental health providers, advocates and consumers recognizes the vulnerability to and impact of bullying on children with mental health concerns.