February 2019 E-News: Valentines Greetings From DRA

In This Issue

A Letter From the Managing Directors

Dear DRA friends, colleagues, and supporters,

This Valentine’s Day, thanks to your support of the Larry Paradis Legacy Fund, DRA is doubling down on our commitment to carrying out the vision articulated by our late co-founder:  “We are committed to using the law as an instrument for social change to make the world a fair place for people with disabilities…” –Larry Paradis, July 2016.

This means continuing to build on the strong foundation laid by Sid Wolinsky and Larry Paradis to ensure equal access to health care, employment, disaster preparedness planning, voting, and housing.  It also means responding to the current, pressing needs of our clients, who are demanding:

  • safe streets—with life-saving audible pedestrian signals, smooth sidewalks, and compliant curb-cuts;
  • equal educational opportunities—regardless of a student’s diabetes, mental health disabilities, or hearing or physical disabilities;
  • access to transportation—including New York’s MTA, the Bay Area’s BART, and Uber and Lyft’s ride-sharing services; and
  • equal treatment for persons with disabilities detained in juvenile detention, criminal detention, and immigration facilities.

As the year ahead unfolds, we look forward to keeping you abreast of our casework, opportunities for engagement, and our organizational strategy. 

In this newsletter we say a fond farewell to a departing board member, introduce you to one of DRA’s long-standing talented attorneys, congratulate our recently promoted attorneys, give you a sneak peek toward our 2019 gala, and, of course, report on our recent impact. 

We couldn’t do any of it without you.

With gratitude and happy Valentine’s Day,
signed by Managing Directors Kate Hamilton, Stuart Seaborn and Michelle Caiola

A Conversation With Staff Attorney Rebecca Rodgers

Rebecca Rodgers

Staff Attorney Rebecca Rodgers was one of DRA’s first New York attorneys, joining the organization more than five years ago. She spoke with Administrative Assistant Chris Maccarone about her work and what makes DRA unique. 

Chris Maccarone: How long have you been a part of Disability Rights Advocates, and what drew you to the organization?

Rebecca Rodgers: I’ve been part of the DRA team in the New York office since September 2013.  I learned about the organization while doing a fellowship at a law firm that frequently co-counsels with DRA.  I wanted to work in the field of disability rights, and I learned that DRA was one of the premier litigation firms doing this type of work in the country, regularly taking on and winning precedent-setting cases such as those establishing the right to inclusion in emergency preparedness policies and procedures and the right of blind individuals to access the Internet.

CM: Why is DRA’s work so important and urgent?

RR: DRA’s work helps to secure the rights of people with disabilities to participate fully in the world. Too often in our history, people with disabilities have been left behind and hidden away from the world at large.  Our work helps to secure access to education, employment, health care, transportation, and more so that people with disabilities have the same opportunities to live and participate in the world that people without disabilities do.  And, at its most critical, DRA’s work in the field of emergency preparedness saves lives.    

CM: What aspect of DRA’s work are you most proud of?

RR: DRA is fearless.  We regularly take on the most entrenched problems, such as the pervasive inaccessibility of the New York City subway system, where fewer than one-fourth of stations have elevators.  I am proud to be part of a group of coworkers that never gives up on advocating for clients, no matter what setbacks we may face.

Talking With Bill Alderman

Bill Alderman

Bill Alderman is Senior Counsel at Orrick, Herrington, and Sutcliffe, LLP.  He’s served on DRA’s Board of Directors since September 2006 and his final Board term ends this month. He spoke with Managing Director, Development & Operations, Kate Hamilton about his time with DRA and his hopes for its future. 

Kate Hamilton: What brought you to DRA/how did you first learn about our work?

Bill Alderman: I’d always been aware of DRA’s work through general media.  I first got involved when a friend, who had co-counseled with DRA on a very early disability rights case with Sid, suggested that I might be interested.  I’d always admired Sid from afar—going back to his Public Advocates days.  I jumped at the chance to get involved.  I started by co-counseling on DRA’s Chabner vs. United of Omaha case.  This precedential case established the obligation of a life insurance company to have an actuarial basis for charging higher premiums to people with disabilities.  Howard Chabner was a lawyer who had a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy and his insurance company was charging him a double premium.  We worked on that case shortly after DRA was formed—in the 90s.  I then went on to join the Board of Directors in 2006.

KH: What kept you at DRA?  What sets DRA apart from other organizations?

BA: The efficiency with which impact/results are achieved.  DRA is selecting cases that need to be litigated, litigating them efficiently, and over the years has achieved so many strikingly good results.  And of course—the nice people.    

KH: What are you most proud of DRA accomplishing during your tenure as a board member?

BA: Oh boy.  That’s like trying to choose among your children.  I can’t choose just one accomplishment.  It’s the aggregate impact of lots of different matters in lots of different areas.  They’re all important and have made a big difference and I’m proud of them all. 

KH: What do you hope DRA goes on to accomplish in the years ahead?

BA: I hope to see DRA expand its targeted impact beyond the East and West Coast.  A lot of what DRA does has nation-wide impact but more needs to be done.  When DRA was founded, the West Coast benefitted.  Now the East Coast as well.  There’s a lot of discrimination going on, maybe even more than on the coasts, between the coasts.  DRA’s model is scalable.  We can and should be doing more!

KH: How are you staying engaged with DRA and disability rights now that your board-term has come to an end?

BA: I’m continuing to chair DRA’s Audit Committee.  I’m working on the organization’s strategic planning.  I will continue to be a donor to DRA and am always available for advice if anyone wants to ask for it. 

KH: Anything else to share?

BA: Yes.  I’d like to offer a shout out to Sid and Larry—in terms of the vision for creating the organization, shepherding it for the first 25 years, exercising their vision and leadership for so long; it’s a pretty remarkable story.  Above all remarkable for winning cases and achieving structured settlements that have had a huge impact.  DRA almost never loses a case.  That’s pretty spectacular.  This highlights the importance of the Larry Paradis Legacy Fund—ensuring that DRA can and will tackle the cases that are more of a long shot—high risk and high reward to keep their vision alive. 

Congratulations and Promotions

DRA would like to congratulate the following attorneys, who are moving into new management positions: Maia Goodell and Thomas Zito are  now Supervising Attorneys. Rebecca Williford and Christina Brandt-Young, who rejoins DRA next Tuesday, are Managing Attorneys. We are excited to promote these talented and hard-working DRA attorneys!

DRA’s 2019 Gala

An aerial photo of guests at tablesNew Yorkers, get ready!  DRA will be returning to New York this fall for our 2019 gala—where we will celebrate this year’s outstanding Eagle awardees and look forward to the next 25 years of DRA’s impact.  Venue and date to be announced soon.

Impact Report

A laptop with large chunky headphones plugged in.

Hulu Will Join Streaming Services Offering Audio Description

On October 18, Hulu, under a DRA settlement, agreed to make its website and apps accessible via screen readers and to provide audio description where possible. The streaming service joins Netflix in committing to increase the accessibility of its programming and interfaces to individuals who are blind or visually impaired.

A wall of post-office boxes.  

California Department Of Health Care Services And County Agents Send Blind Medi-Cal Recipients Printed Information They Cannot Read; DRA Files Suit

On October 22, DRA joined a coalition of advocates and consumers in challenging CA’s failure to provide blind Medi-Cal recipients with materials in accessible formats. Too often, consumers receive important health information from the Department of Health Care Services or county agents in a format they cannot read. The suit calls for the state and counties to identify those needing accessible materials and to send materials to them in those formats.

A classroom with rows of desks and chairs  

DRA And American Diabetes Association Challenge Lack Of Diabetes-Related Care In NYC Schools

On November 1, DRA and American Diabetes Association, sued the New York City Department of Education and several other city agencies. The groups argue that the DOE’s failure to provide basic diabetes-related care—measuring a student’s blood sugar, administering insulin, and planning for emergencies—to students with diabetes illegally excludes them from school and related activities.

A close-up picture of a wire fence.  

Santa Clara County Jails To Improve Access For Inmates With Mobility Disabilities

On November 13, DRA and co-counsel Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP reached a settlement with Santa Clara County, CA in a jail accessibility lawsuit filed in 2016. County inmates with mobility disabilities lacked access to programs, assistive devices, and accessible housing, bathing, and dining facilities. The county has committed to improving its facilities and procedures so that inmates with mobility disabilities can live safely.

On December 7th, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of CA preliminarily approved a class action settlement in the case.