Disability advocates say Ohio violates ADA

Posted at 10:35 AM, Mar 31, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-31 17:49:43-04

A disability rights organization filed a class action lawsuit against the state of Ohio Thursday alleging it violates the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to provide community-based services to developmentally disabled residents.

Disability Rights Ohio says approximately 27,800 people with developmental disabilities are forced to live in institutions or are at risk of institutionalization because the state's system does not provide residential, employment, and day services in a timely manner.

Once institutionalized, it becomes extremely difficult for a developmentally disabled individual to leave an intermediate care facility (ICF) and return to a home or community setting, according to the lawsuit.

Disability Rights Ohio said the "median wait time" for a person in an ICF to access services that allow them to move into a community setting is 13 years.

"No one should be forced to live in an institution," said Kerstin Sjoberg-Witt, advocacy director and assistant executive director at Disability Rights Ohio.

"We're not trying to shut down institutions," she said.

"We want to expand options. . .  this is about the individual and family members making choices," said Sjoberg-Witt.

North Ridgeville resident Nathan Narowitz, 24, is one of the lawsuit's plaintiffs. He has severe developmental disabilities and is unable to drive, cook,  or be left alone at his home.

His mother, Jeannine, applied for a waiver for services four years ago.

It would allow her and her husband continue caring for their youngest son at their home and help prevent Nathan from being institutionalized if they are unable to take care of him.

So far, they have not received any help and have been told they are more than 600 people ahead of them on Lorain County's wait list.

"It's dreadful, like there's no hope," she said.

"What's going to happen to him if something happens to us?"  said Narowitz.

NewsChannel5 Investigators reached out to state officials for a comment.

A spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Development Disabilities sent us the following statement:

"Over the last few years, Ohio has made more progress than ever before to strengthen Ohio’s community-based system and to honor the choices of developmentally disabled citizens, parents and guardians wanting to move out of institutional settings and into their home communities; nearly $300 million new dollars have been committed to expand community-based options for individuals with developmental disabilities and their families. It’s nothing new for Disability Rights Ohio to initiate a lawsuit and the state remains committed to be a good partner and leader in ensuring necessary reforms are completed. Disability Rights Ohio needs to decide if their mission is best advanced though a constructive partnership with the state or continued litigation which only stalls our progress by draining resources on court battles."

State officials also said $300 million was set aside in the Ohio's FY 15-16 budget to help people living in institutions move into a community-based settings.

State Representatives Robert Sprague (R-Findlay) and Mark Romanchuk (R-Ontario) released a joint statement, which can be viewed here.