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RSA-227 for FY-2021: Submission #1220

Connecticut
09/30/2021
General Information
Designated Agency Identification
Disability Rights Connecticut, Inc.
846 Wethersfield Ave.
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Hartford
Connecticut
06114
(800) 842-7303
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Operating Agency (if different from Designated Agency)
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Additional Information
Deborah A. Dorfman, Executive Director
Deborah A. Dorfman, Executive Director
860-469-4463
Deborah.Dorfman@disrightsct.org
Part I. Non-case Services
A. Information and Referral Services (I&R)
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B. Training Activities
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04.16.2021 CAP Presentation

(a) This presentation covered topics including: Disability Rights Connecticut, what it is as the P&A and the CAP, its mission, the services it provides, its priorities and objectives, and its community engagement efforts; the CAP, what it is, who it is able to assist, the types of assistance available through the CAP, and case examples of how the CAP has provided assistance to past CAP clients; the vocational rehabilitation agencies in Connecticut, who they are, and the services they provide; the Independent Living Centers, what they are, and the services they provide.
(b) The purpose of this training was to inform potential consumers and their family members about the rights of people with disabilities to vocational rehabilitation services, the legal advocacy services available to consumers of vocational rehabilitation services through the CAP, about how to access the CAP at Disability Rights Connecticut, and what the Independent Living Centers are and the types of services they can provide.
(c) The attendees included twenty-five (25) individuals with disabilities or the family members of individuals with disabilities enrolled in the Partners in Policymaking training.

05.12.21 Bristol Commission for Persons with Disabilities Presentation

(a) This presentation covered topics including: Disability Rights Connecticut, what it is as the P&A and the CAP, its mission, the services it provides, its community engagement efforts, its social media platforms, and the new services it could provide under the COVID-19 Vaccine grant, including the job description for the COVID-19 Vaccine grant position.
(b) The purpose of the training was to reach more individuals with disabilities across the state, specifically by meeting with the Commission for Persons with Disabilities in the town of Bristol, which is a large suburb of Hartford with a diverse population estimated to include 6,600 individuals with disabilities.
(c) The attendees included thirteen (13) individuals with disabilities living in Bristol.

6.02.21 Hartford Commission on Disability Issues Presentation

(a) This presentation covered topics including: Disability Rights Connecticut, what it is as the P&A and the CAP, its mission, the services it provides, its community engagement efforts; vocational rehabilitation services available in Connecticut; the rights of parents of students in special education, particularly transition services; school discipline and students with disabilities; people’s rights to access mental health services.
(b) The purpose of this training was to reach more individuals with disabilities across the state, specifically by meeting with the Hartford Commission on Disability Issues.
(c) The attendees included ten (10) members of the Hartford Commission on Disability Issues.

9.17.21 Options in Employment & Educational Services - Workshop #2

(a) This presentation intended to cover topics including: the rights of individuals with disabilities in employment, in receiving public services, and in places of public accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act; Disability Rights Connecticut what it is as the P&A and the CAP, its mission, the services it provides, its community engagement efforts; the Protection & Advocacy for Beneficiaries of Social Security (PABSS) program and the services provided under that program.
(b) The purpose of this training was to reach students with disabilities regarding their rights in post-secondary and employment settings, as well as information on how to advocate for themselves.
(c) Unfortunately, there were no attendees for this training, as the special education teacher cancelled the training and requested to reschedule during the next school year.

NDRN Mock VR Hearing Training 2021

(a) This presentation covered topics pertinent to vocational rehabilitation fair hearings, including a mock hearing.
(b) The purpose of this training was to provide fellow CAP advocates and attorneys with training and professional development on how to advocate on behalf of their clients and how to protect clients’ rights through fair hearings. One of Disability Rights Connecticut’s own CAP advocates participated as a trainer with NDRN staff and fellow presenters.
(c) The attendees included one hundred and twenty (120) advocates, attorneys, and other staff from CAP and P&A programs around the United States and its territories.
C. Agency Outreach
5.14.21 DEI Committee

Disability Rights Connecticut established a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Commission. The goal of the commission is to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion internal within Disability Rights Connecticut and externally with how it provides legal advocacy to people with disabilities throughout the state. As part of the focus on our external work, Disability Rights Connecticut is looking to build into our case acceptance process specific considerations regarding unserved and underserved communities of color.

5.22.21 - Heal the Community

Disability Rights Connecticut attended the Heal the Community Event, which was hosted by the Northside Church of Christ in Hartford. The event featured individuals with disabilities, their family members, and professionals from organizations that serve people with disabilities. Disability Rights Connecticut was able to specifically connect with youth with disabilities living in unsafe homes and neighborhoods, living in single parent households, those who are not provided with financial literacy education, and those living in poverty.

7.12-13.21 CT Clemency Quilt Tour

Disability Rights Connecticut participated in an outreach event for individuals with disabilities who had prior involvement in the criminal justice system and were going through the reentry process. The event allowed Disability Rights Connecticut to connect with this population, to make them aware of the vocational rehabilitation services available and the advocacy services available from Disability Rights Connecticut.

7.16.21 LIST JJ Parent & Youth Advisory Board - Focus Group

Disability Rights Connecticut conducted outreach with the Local Interagency Services Team (LIST) Juvenile Justice Parent & Youth Advisory Board, engaging with a group that can serve approximately 27,100 individuals with disabilities living in underserved and marginalized Black and Brown communities covering six towns within Hartford County.
D. Information Disseminated To The Public By Your Agency
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E. Information Disseminated About Your Agency By External Media Coverage
DRCT regularly disseminates information about the agency through external media coverage. To do this, DRCT contracts with a media/public relations professional. During fiscal year 2021, DRCT disseminated information through newspaper, radio and television interviews. For example, the Quinnipiac University disability media program interviewed the DRCT Executive Director during which DRCT services were explained and discussed. DRCT also appeared in numerous news articles regarding various advocacy initiatives. These articles included stories in the Connecticut Mirror, Connecticut New Junkie, the Hartford Courant, the New Haven Register, the Connecticut Post, among others. DRCT also made numerous public appearances on the radio and on television including on news outlets including National Public Radio and NBC News-CT, among others.

DRCT also held a virtual Town Hall in July of 2021 to gather significant input from the public as part of its priority-setting process for fiscal year 2022. There were 382 participants who attended the Town Hall. Because of COVID-19, the Town Hall was held virtually via Zoom and was also broadcast live and rerun several times over several days on TV on Connecticut government’s network, CTN, throughout Connecticut. DRCT took steps to ensure that the Town Hall was accessible to people with disabilities and also to people for whom English is not their primary language by using American Sign Language interpreters, CART services, and Spanish and Chinese interpreters. Comments may be submitted to DRCT in writing through the website, through the US Post Office, by calling DRCT or by any method that will reasonably accommodate an individual with a disability
Part II. Individual Case Services
A. Individuals served
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B. Problem areas
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C. Intervention Strategies for closed cases
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10
D. Reasons for closing individuals' case files
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6
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E. Results achieved for individuals
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Part III. Program Data
A. Age
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11
B. Gender
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11
C. Race/ethnicity of Individuals Served
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D. Primary disabling condition of individuals served
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1
1
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1
1
1
0
0
0
0
0
1
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0
0
0
0
1
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0
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0
0
0
0
0
11
E. Types of Individuals Served
5
0
6
0
0
0
Part IV. Systemic Activities and Litigation
A. Non-Litigation Systemic Activities
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Bureau of Education and Services for the Blind (BESB) State Rehab Council (SRC)

Disability Rights Connecticut, as the CAP, sits on the State Rehab Council for the vocational rehabilitation for the blind agency. Disability Rights Connecticut participates in the SRC meetings as a voting member and provides guidance on the state’s vocational rehabilitation for the blind program and services. Through our participation, DRCT has been able to ask questions, elicit data, information, and accountability from the state's vocational rehabilitation for the blind agency. As a result of DRCT’s systemic advocacy, it has been able to push for increased representation of blind consumers of the vocational system on the council and pushed for development of a customer service survey for the agency's consumers. It has also reviewed the state annual report and may have the opportunity to join a workgroup focused on the vocational rehabilitation system's state plan.




Bureau of Rehabilitation Services (BRS) State Rehab Council (SRC)

Disability Rights Connecticut, as the CAP, sits on the State Rehab Council for the vocational rehabilitation service agency. Disability Rights Connecticut participates in the SRC meetings as a voting member and provides guidance on the state’s vocational rehabilitation program and services. Through our participation, DRCT has been able to ask questions, elicit data, information, and accountability from the state's vocational rehabilitation for the blind agency. As a result of DRCT’s systemic advocacy, it has been able to push to expand the scope of vocational rehabilitation services, particularly customized employment.

BRS Systems Change Project

Disability Rights Connecticut, as the CAP, coordinated an internal plan to expand its vocational rehabilitation systemic advocacy. Specifically, DRCT staff discussed, developed, and began initiatives that included a FOIA request for vocational rehabilitation data, a deeper look at the state of customized employment in the state, as well as a deeper look into the state of competitive integrated employment within the state. The FOIA requests specifically identified data concerning issues such as eligibility determination, compliance with WIOA, transition age services and provision of those services to transition age youth, as well as lack of informed choice, among others, as barriers to employment for people accessing VR services.


Children's Behavioral Health Advisory Council (CBHAC)

As a result of DRCT’s participation on the Children's Behavioral Health Advisory Council (CBHAC) this past year (FY 21), DRCT educated and informed behavioral health consumers and their families, advocates, medical and mental health practitioners, and state agencies about DRCT's services and provided consumers and families with self-advocacy resources. DRCT's Child Advocate and Executive Director were introduced to CBHAC members and consumers, and CBHAC members and consumers were introduced to DRCT's new work and Children's Behavioral Health Initiatives. DRCT was invited by consumers to participate in other children behavioral health initiates to improve and equip families and children with disabilities with information, education and self-advocacy resources. DRCT provided information and surveys to CBHAC attendees to participate in sharing and identifying issues people with disabilities are experiencing throughout Connecticut that would inform DRCT priorities and priorities and objective for the upcoming FY 22.

Collaboration with CPAC 2021

DRCT has a regular, ongoing collaboration with the Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center (CPAC). This collaboration includes regular meetings between CPAC and DRCT to share information, educate one another, and coordinate efforts around our advocacy for the needs of students and young adults with disabilities. Through this ongoing collaboration during FY 21, DRCT and CPAC focused on transition aged students and their needs for special education and vocational services, specifically Pre-ETS vocational services.

CSDE SPP/APR Stakeholder Group Phase 1

The Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) invited DRCT to provide input on its special education State Performance Plan/Annual Performance Report (SPP/APR). The SPP/APR is a compilation of 17 special education data indicators that are reported to the U.S. Department of Education on an annual basis. The stakeholder group DRCT participated in provided input on new data targets, reviewed improvement strategies, and commented on the CSDE’s data analysis and progress evaluation. DRCT advocated on behalf of transition age youth with disabilities during the “Life After High School,” phase. Specifically, DRCT raised various impacts and factors impacting measures like graduation rates, dropout rates, secondary transition, and post-school outcomes.

Customized Employment

DRCT and its collaborators continued to support a three-year initiative to address employment of people with the most significant disabilities. This systemic advocacy initiative addressed policies and practices of state agencies such as the Bureau of Rehabilitation Services (BRS), the State Department of Education (SDE) and the Department of Developmental Services (DDS), agencies that all share responsibility for some aspects of employment for people with disabilities. The project also addresses the training needs, policies and practices of individual Community Rehabilitation Providers (CRPs) because Customized Employment as a vocational rehabilitation service is still being developed in the state. Most employment approaches for people with intellectual disabilities or significant mental health disabilities takes a very prescriptive approach to finding competitive employment for people with disabilities. For example, the vocational rehabilitation agency requires that each employee have a number of skills to meet the demands of the job rather than using a customized approach to match skills with particular employer needs. Through this multi-agency initiative, DRCT, along with other disability advocacy groups and state agencies, is addressing the prescriptive approaches by pushing for implementing of a different model of employment, Customized Employment. The Work Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) requires various agencies to work together to develop employment opportunities for people with disabilities. The Customized Employment Project collaborators have been meeting with these agencies privately and as part of working groups such as the vocational rehabilitation agency’s state rehabilitation council to demand implementation of Customized Employment as a required service under WIOA and as an innovative way to assist people with significant disabilities in finding employment. As a result of DRCT’s systemic advocacy, CRPs had staff trained to provide Customized Employment.

DOJ Educational Opportunities Working Group

DRCT is a member of the DOJ Educational Opportunities Working Group, a partnership between the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut, federal and state agencies, and local advocacy organizations. The Group’s mission is to address and prevent civil rights violations through educational outreach and, when appropriate, legal enforcement. The group meets to discuss systemic and individual issues impacting students with disabilities.

Update for FY 2021: As a result of DRCT’s participation in the Working Group, DRCT played an active role with its federal and state agency partners to discuss systemic and individual issues impacting students with disabilities. Some examples of the issues that the work group addressed during FY21 include: the issue of schools not permitting mask exemptions for students with disabilities. DRCT and its other partners in the work group developed a “Dear Colleague Letter” on the issue of mask exemptions by Connecticut’s Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. The work group also brough several systemic issues to the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut. Those issues resulted in an investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, prioritization on students with social and emotional disabilities and the impact of COVID 19 on these students. DRCT’s participation on the work group enabled it to advocate on behalf of students with disabilities in guiding and shaping the work of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut in the areas of education and disability law.

Roadmap to CIE - WISE Contract

After discussion with community partners concerned about the lack of competitive employment for people with significant disabilities, the CAP contracted with the Washington Initiative for Supported Employment (WISE). The goal of the project is for WISE to identify the current state of competitive integrated employment in Connecticut and provide methods that can engage stakeholders, such as state agencies, in building capacity for expanded competitive integrated employment opportunities. The desired outcome is to provide stakeholders with a roadmap to building a healthy system of supports in Connecticut that will improve outcomes for individuals often determined ineligible for VR services because they are found to be “not competitively employable.”

Transition Task Force 2021

Disability Rights Connecticut, as the CAP, participated as a member of the Connecticut State Department of Education’s Transition Task Force. This participation included attending regularly meetings as well as smaller workgroup meetings. Through its participation, DRCT advised the State Department of Education on issues related to transition age students, particularly the paucity of individualized transition services, unequal access to the vocational rehabilitation agency’s Pre-ETS services throughout the state, the lack of focus on employment goals for transition age students who exit special education due to reaching the maximum age of eligibility, and the lack of participation by the vocational rehabilitation agency in IEP meetings for students exiting special education and students graduating.
B. Litigation
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0
0
DRCT did not have CAP systemic litigation activities to report for this fiscal year.
Part V. Agency Information
A. Designated Agency
External-Protection and Advocacy agency
Disability Rights Connecticut (DRCT)
No
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B. Staff Employed
During FY21, CAP funds were used to pay the partial salaries of two CAP attorneys and two CAP advocates. The CAP attorneys assisted the CAP advocates with assessing CAP cases, developing strategies for clients, and providing legal advocacy and representation. The salaries of the two CAP attorneys together equals 0.24 FTE. Much of the CAP work was done by DRCT’s Lead Advocate, who supervised the other CAP advocate. Together their salaries equal .59 FTE. CAP funds were also used for partial salaries of additional advocates and attorneys who handled intake, information and referral, and projects. Their FTE totals .28. Total professional FTE for the CAP program equals 1.10.

In addition to direct salaries, a portion of administrative salaries for the Director of Finance & Administration, Office Manager, and Secretary were paid with CAP funding, total FTE .22.
Part VI. Case Examples
Case Examples
“Abu” is a 29-year-old who is now blind in both eyes. As a 16-year-old, Abu became legally blind due to Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), a degenerative disorder which slowly deteriorates peripheral and central vision. Abu had received funding from the vocational rehabilitation service agency for the blind to obtain his Master’s degree. Upon obtaining his Master’s degree, Abu entered the education field as a biology teacher at a private K-12 school in Connecticut. However, after entering the education field, Abu’s condition progressed considerably, resulting in major vision loss and complete blindness in both eyes. Abu struggled with making copies, grading papers, taking notes on the board, with classroom management, and with maintaining an atmosphere conducive to learning for students. Abu left the education field and took two years off to focus on his mental health and self-care. During that time, Abu redefined his passion for working with others and in psychological sciences and identified a new career goal of becoming a clinical psychologist. Abu applied for funding for a Ph.D. program and was denied. DRCT helped Abu redress that denial. DRCT first helped Abu get his IPE employment goal updated to reflect his new career choice. The vocational rehabilitation service agency for the blind at first denied Abu’s request to update his employment goal. DRCT assisted Abu in engaging in the agency’s informal review process and brought the review directly to the agency’s director. The agency director reversed the decision, the IPE goal was updated, and graduate funding for Abu’s Ph.D. program was approved. Abu’s case raised policy issues with the vocational rehabilitation service agency for the blind’s policy and procedure for approving funding for graduate school. DRCT directly pressed the agency director for specific responses to how the agency policy was intended and how it was operationalized. DRCT was able to get the agency director to reduce to writing the intention of the policy and how it was to be implemented. This will serve as a useful tool in advocating for other CAP clients seeking the same service.

“Dee” is a 62-year-old amputee and wheelchair user with diabetes. Dee contacted DRCT because she felt the vocational rehabilitation agency was not providing her with services due to her age and their belief that she was not employable. Dee wants to be self-employed as a small business owner selling candles and aromatherapy goods. The vocational rehabilitation agency had not developed an IPE to reflect Dee’s goal and half-heartedly pushed possible placement at a casino. DRCT began attend meetings with Dee and her VR counselor and was able to successfully advocate on Dee’s behalf to get her progressing towards her employment goal. Specifically, DRCT helped Dee get a new VR counselor, an updated IPE that reflects her employment goal, as well as technology like an iPad and loaner laptop so that Dee can participate in classes and training like business development and management. DRCT was also able to get Dee connected to a mentor who is a small business owner. Due to DRCT’s intervention, Dee was able to receive and benefit from VR services that will help her achieve her goal of being a self-employed business owner. DRCT is uncertain whether Dee’s case presents systemic issues, but as part of its systemic advocacy initiatives DRCT has filed a FOIA request that includes the age ranges of individuals with IPE throughout the state’s vocational rehabilitation system. DRCT will evaluate that data to determine whether this is a systemic issue and, if it is, determine how to address it.

“Mimi” is a 24-year-old with autism. Mimi had been repeatedly required to go through Trial Work Experiences. After her third Trial Work Experience, the vocational rehabilitation agency again determined Mimi ineligible for VR services. DRCT helped Mimi redress that denial. DRCT requested the agency conduct an informal review of its denial and specifically argued that Mimi, as an SSI recipient, should have been found presumptively eligible for VR services, and argued that the numerous Trial Work Experiences provided sufficient data to demonstrate Mimi would benefit from Customized Employment. The vocational rehabilitation agency found Mimi eligible, issued her a certificate of eligibility placing her in its category one as “most significantly disabled” and agreed to develop an IPE that provides Customized Employment as a VR service. This case raises several systemic issues, specifically the failure to find SSI recipients presumptively eligible and the failure to provide Customized Employment as a VR service. DRCT is seeking to address this systemic issue through its FOIA request, which requests data including the number of Trial Work Experiences offered to applicants determined ineligible, the disability of all applicants determined ineligible, the job site, job title, and job description of Trial Work Experiences offered to applicants determined ineligible, the total number of IPEs that listed Customized Employment as a VR service, and the number of applicants who were found ineligible more than 60 days after the submission of their application. DRCT will evaluate this data and determine what further action is needed to address these systemic issues. DRCT is also continuing to implement a number of initiatives regarding Customized Employment and exclusion of individuals with significant disabilities from the vocational rehabilitation system.
Certification
Approved
Deborah A. Dorfman
Executive Director
2021-12-27
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