Handicap This! September-October 2013

by Suzanne Rose

Minors with mental health problems and other disabilities are held in “unconscionable conditions” of 23- hour solitary confinement, deliberately cut off from education and rehabilitation at a San Francisco Bay area juvenile hall, alleges a lawsuit filed in federal court in Northern California. The class-action suit against Contra Costa County probation and school officials accuses them of locking young people in small cells for days at a time in response to behavior stemming from the children’s disabilities, and then depriving them of education as part of a three-tier system of isolation.

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Samantha Torres, of New Bedford, Mass., said her 5-year-old daughter Nadia, who suffers from a chromosome abnormality and can’t speak, was thrown out of a theater with her family because she was making giggling and humming noises that she makes when she’s happy. Nadia was humming along with “Beauty and the Beast” when they were asked to leave. A theater marketing director said the girl was distracting others and the family was offered different seats. Torres says they were never offered the chance to change seats and that the only people bothered by Nadia were the ushers.

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A Providence, R.I., school for developmentally disabled students allegedly violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by making students work manual labor for little or no pay. The Harold H. Birch Vocational School operated a “sheltered workshop” that segregated kids with disabilities from other students. The school denied them the opportunity for integrated employment when they completed their education by funneling them into a similar program after graduation. The pupils, contracted to private businesses, worked at bagging, labeling, collating and assembling jewelry. Some were not paid at all. Those that were, received between 50¢ and $2 an hour, sometimes working weekends.

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