Civil Rights Roundtable, Arizona Special Education Coordination, Colorado Special Education Coordination, New Mexico Special Education Coordination, Public Education for Havasupai Community, Civil Rights Alliance, Navajo Nation Advisory Council, Collaboration on Housing Policies for the Navajo Nation, Nihisha Project, Navajo Nation Vocational Rehabilitation Program.
The Special Education Coordination Projects in three states: Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico allowed for the Law Center advocates to lend their expertise in the areas of children's education and disabilities. Partners report the positive influence of having this underserved voice for Native children with disabilities at the table each month. A shut down by public health created an opportunity for regular monthly collaborative meetings to fill the gaps left by the inability to meet in person. This new collaborative practice lessened the risk of students and their families falling through the cracks left by the pandemic.
The Law Center in partnership with the Navajo Nation Advisory Council on Disabilities established an initiative to raise the profile of disability rights issues on the Navajo Nation. Navajos with disabilities, are continually denied their human rights by the Navajo Nation government. This effort is called “Nihisha Campaign\What About Us?” The goals of the Nihisha Campaign: to educate Navajos with disabilities about their rights under Navajo law, to increase the participation of Navajos with disabilities in their community and government, and to raise the profile of issues facing Navajos with disabilities.
KTNN Radio Disability Forum: In view of the Law Center not being able to continue community meetings due to pandemic restrictions throughout the Navajo nation, a Disability Radio Forum was developed in an effort to continue the Nihisha Campaign for FY 2021. October 12 and 14, 2020, two 60 minutes Radio forum was aired by KTNN Radio, in St. Michaels, Arizona. KTNN is a Navajo Nation owned AM and FM Radio Station that covers the Navajo Nation and beyond.
This Radio Forum was to bring more awareness to the Navajo Nation of various Disability related topics. The First forum was on December 12, presentation were on the services being provided by the Native American Disability Law Center to Native Americans with a Disability in the Four Corners Area, the Disability Initiatives of the Navajo Nation Advisory Council On disabilities being addressed with the Navajo Nation Government, and presentation on the 3 major Navajo Disability Laws which included the Vulnerable Adult Protection Act, the Guardianship Act, and the Civil Rights of Individuals with Disabilities Act of 2018. The Second Forum, on December 14, provided presentations on the services being provided to Navajo Elders through the Elder Enrollment Center, information on Special Education, Self Advocacy Groups of the Law Center, Medical Rationing, and Monitoring of Disability Facilities on the Navajo Nation. These Disability topics were presented by various Law Center Staff.
The Law Center continues to regularly post on Face Book and to send emails of notification of various disability webinars, virtual conferences, and information disability rights at a national level.
Navajo Vocational Rehabilitation Program
As reported in last year’s PPR, the Law Center became aware of the Navajo Vocational Rehabilitation program’s failure to provide their client’s with notice of the Law Center’s CAP as a possible resource. After raising the issue with the Navajo VR program, the Law Center was informed that their view was that they needed to provide clients with notice of a CAP, not necessarily the Law Center’s CAP. Since the Navajo VR program was informing clients of the State CAPs, they felt they were complying with the notice requirement. The Law Center, with the assistance of NDRN, reached out to RSA to obtain clarification. As a result of the Law Center raising the issue, RSA issued a directive to the Navajo VR program that clients need to be informed of all available CAPs, the State & the Law Center programs, so that they can exercise informed choice. The Law Center is now trying to confirm that the Navajo VR program has adjusted their practices to inform clients of the Law Center’s CAP.
Navajo Advisory Council: The Law Center is working in partnership with the Navajo Nation Advisory Council in providing legal technical assistance to the Navajo Nation Advisory Council on Disabilities (NNACD). This partnership addresses the needs and issues for Navajos with a disability. Also, the NN Tribal Council, and the Navajo Nation Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services, jointly collaborate to ensure Navajo disability laws protect people with disabilities from discrimination. This joint effort works to bring about equal access to employment, education, housing, public safety, communication, recreation, medical treatment, public and private buildings, and to address access to any and all programs and services on the Navajo Nation.
One sub-set of the work for NNACD is public building access and in creating an amendment to have a budget attached to the work. From January of 2021 to September of 2021 the amendment was on the agenda and considered by the Navajo Tribal Council. The Council has been relying on the Health Education and Human Services standing committee (which has oversight in this area) to be issuing quarterly reports. With additional requests in March of 2021 the quarterly reports had not been submitted. In September of 2021 at the by-monthly meeting of NNACD it was determined that the public building access had been lowered to a “legislative concern” and behind a large backlog of other priorities. On September 27th the president of the Navajo Nation line item vetoed the legislation citing lack of funds. While the collaborative work has not shown tangible results the efforts will continue into 2022 and public building access has been in the spotlight.
On July 27, 2021, a meeting was held with Navajo Housing Authority (NHA) which was attended by Honorable Charles-Newton, a representative from the NN speaker’s office, NHA administrators, and two members of the NNACD, and two representatives from the Native American Disability Law Center. This was to review the status of ongoing concerns of NWD not being able to access housing services. A second meeting was held on August 27, and after a lengthy discussion it was decided that the parties would focus on the six items going forward. With a narrow and specific focus it is believed that 2022 will accelerate the process for NHA to deliver on equity and access for people with disabilities. Equal access to housing opportunities and the ability to enter public buildings is necessary to increase opportunities for Navajos with disabilities to live independently and access employment.
White House Listening Sessions: In January 2021, the Native American Disability Law Center was requested by the Biden-Harris Transition Team to coordinate a focus group to discuss barriers being experienced by American Indians with disabilities. This focus group included the Disability Law Center, the NNACD, Parents Reaching Out of NM, California Disability Law Center, and Idaho Disability Law Center. After presenting to the Biden-Harris Transition Team, a document was written to reflect the concerns presented. This same disability report was provided to the White House entities for their reference.
In addition, the Disability Law Center and NNACD, along with other American Indian disability organizations were invited to participate in the White House’s Domestic Policy and the Office Public Engagement Listening Sessions on September 13 and 20, 2021. The listening sessions were conducted under the title “Disabled Native American Experience”. The purpose of these listening sessions was for the Biden-Harris Administration to better understand the Issues and needs of American Indians with a disability. The group provided information on education, employment & housing, in addition to the general lack of access to buildings & services. All of these issues must be addressed at a regional and national level to improve independent living and employment opportunities for Native Americans with disabilities.
In summary, the work of the Law Center in forwarding the agenda to include Native Americans with disabilities at the level of the Navajo Government not only serves to change policy it serves to change Navajo law. We are further developing a practice of engaging law makers through a seat on the Navajo Nation Advisory Council on Disabilities. By participating in sessions with the Biden-Harris transition team, the Law Center adds a new practice of participation at a new level with new collaborative partners