Joe’s blog – #85 – Further adventures with Doug the Blind

My on going adventures with Doug the blind, and quest to help him secure his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. On 15 September 2016, 2 grievances were filed on Doug’s behalf. His contentions are:
1) that Deerfield and DOC have failed in its affirmative obligation to provide him, a blind person, with a secure way to access the telephone services provided to sighted prisoners; and
2) that they have failed to provide him with braille training, denied him access to or, use of, the necessary braille equipment, and failed to provide access to a qualified person skilled in teaching braille.
The Warden had 30 days in which to respond to the grievances. Just prior to the 30 days passing, the grievance coordinator granted The warden a continuance, until 17 November 2016, in which to respond to the complaints. The reason given for the extension, “Awaiting information”.

On the morning of 18 September 2016, the Unit Manager rushed the Wardens responses to Doug. The warden deemed both grievances to be “UNFOUNDED” based on information that was in her possession well before the continuance was sought.

Here is what I find troubling about the Wardens responses to Doug’s complaints.
The warden did not dispute that Deerfield and, its staff, are not in compliance with the ADA where the blind are concerned. The warden deemed Doug’s complaints “UNFOUNDED” because they “are…working on getting…accommodations through Barry Morano, State Americans with Disabilities Act Coordinator.”

The Warden’s response to Doug’s complaints is a classic non sequitur. The warden concedes that, as of right now, Deerfield is not in compliance with the ADA where Doug is concerned which is the sole basis of Doug’s complaints. The warden then deems Doug’s complaints unfounded because they are working to correct the problem and hope to come into compliance at some unspecified point in the future.

Here’s the rub: the ADA was made the law of the land in 1990. The U.S. Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision penned by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, made it clear that the ADA extends to state prisons based on a clear reading of the statute. Moreover, since 1993, ADA regulations have mandated that government agencies conduct a self-evaluation of its programs and services, or lack thereof, related to persons with disabilities, and make modifications. Further, the absence of ill motives or intent is not an excuse for failing to conduct the Title II self evaluation and program modifications. Let’s be clear, Title II of the ADA unequivocally states that:
“no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity.”

In short, since 1990 and, definitely since 1998, Title II has required that prison officials modify their programs to accommodate prisoners, such as Doug, with disabilities.

Doug the Blind has been housed at Deerfield for approximately 2 years, and all knew he was blind since the day he became their ward.

The Wardens responses that Doug’s complaints are “UNFOUNDED”, notwithstanding, the fact remains to this very day that Deerfield and, DOC, are not in compliance with the ADA where Doug is concerned. To pretend otherwise is to blink at reality. To deem Doug’s grievances to be “Unfounded” , while knowing that he is not being provided the means to use the law library, take educational and, vocational, programs, while denying access to the necessary equipment he needs to access programs, to not provide him with trained assistance, to not provide him with mobility training, etc., etc., etc., is to pretend to be as blind as Doug actually is.

If the DOC and, especially Deerfield, really intends to do the right thing by coming into compliance with the law then a good way to clear the air would have been to deem Doug’s grievances “FOUNDED” then take the necessary action to correct the problem, and come into compliance with the law. This does not have to be an adversarial process but has become so due to the willful stubbornness of some, not all, administrators here at Deerfield. And, due also to some lower level staff who provide inaccurate and, sometimes outright false, information to their superiors in order to cover their butts. Sadly, the Warden relied on some of that information in her response to Doug’s grievances. Because of that Doug has to appeal the Wardens decision up the chain of command to her boss. That’s what happens when you do not verify that the information you rely on to make a decision is not accurate.

I’ll give but one example: the Warden deemed one complaint unfounded because the counselor who oversees the unofficial, slipshod, when her time permits, program for the visually impaired, stated that Doug never requested access to the necessary equipment. When in fact he did make the request, and can prove that the same counselor informed the Hadley School for the blind that the equipment they would provide at no cost was not permitted. The counselor informed Doug that security would not authorize it. But it was later discovered that the real reason the counselor denied Doug access to the equipment was due to her not having space in her office to store it. Doug has proof of that in writing. Other administrators were already aware of that fact.
The warden states that “an investigation into your complaint revealed that….you had not submitted a request to receive some of these items…”. Apparently it was only a one sided investigation.

Stay tuned for the next episode of my Further adventures with Doug the Blind, given the DOC’s track record thus far I’m certain the saga will continue.

Peace, Joe G.
Deerfield 11/19/2016

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