Disability Rights Maryland (DRM) is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, although many Marylanders remain unfamiliar with our work. I cannot help but see this as an opportunity, since people generally express their vigorous support when I tell them what DRM does for our community. With that in mind, I would like to introduce you to DRM and share some of our recent accomplishments.
DRM, formerly the Maryland Disability Law Center, advocates to improve the lives of Marylanders with disabilities. As Maryland’s designated Protection & Advocacy agency, DRM is the only organization dedicated to meeting the legal needs of Marylanders of all ages and with all types of disabilities. We are committed to producing broad-based, systemic change within our resource limitations, by focusing on laws and policies in areas such as education, housing, mental health facilities, transportation, and more.
I currently have the honor of serving on DRM’s Board of Directors as Vice President and Nominations Chair. I was appointed to the board in 2015, but my involvement in the world of disability advocacy goes back much further. In my legal practice, I frequently help parents of children with disabilities or special needs determine custody arrangements and parenting plans. I have experienced firsthand the kind of creative problem solving these cases often demand. Accommodations sometimes look more complex than people may realize. I once represented a child with cerebral palsy, for instance. As an advocate for my client, I needed to express his wishes to the Court, despite the fact that he could not communicate with me or understand what was happening.
That kind of institutional challenge is one of the many reasons why DRM exists. Without the services and platform DRM provides, those who cannot speak for themselves experience mistreatment and injustice by systems that were not created with them in mind.
Here are a few wins we have secured for the disability community in Maryland over the past several months:
- DRM’s Fair Housing team has continued its work on accessibility and fair housing complaints. People with disabilities are the most likely demographic to need affordable housing, and yet they and their families face disproportionately high levels of discrimination and misunderstanding. Our team not only represents individuals in housing and accommodation disputes on a case-by-case basis, but works to get referenda, such as an Affordable Housing Trust Fund for Baltimore, on local ballots.
- We recently concluded an investigation into systemic problems at state mental health facilities, and found that patients were involuntarily secluded into their rooms up to 23 hours per day due to frequent behavioral incidents with other patients. On our recommendation, the Office of Health Care Quality also investigated the situation and implemented our suggestions.
- We have a pro bono program focused on placing special education and Medicaid cases with private attorneys. Our funding comes from a volunteer lawyer services corporation. We only have a staff of so many lawyers, however, so we are always looking for more resources: time, money, and manpower.
- DRM also has teams dedicated to managing Medicaid complaints, rights for those with developmental disabilities, and advocacy for special education students.
With your help, our organization will make an even bigger impact in the months and years ahead. If you would like to learn more about Disability Rights Maryland and help us advance the legal rights of people with disabilities, visit disabilityrightsmd.org.
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