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Evolution to Empowerment

Thursday, May 7, 2009   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Joe Libertelli
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Prof. Burdorf, Mary Schoenfuhs, Mollie Byron and Wallace Canter

Evolution to Empowerment


Three students in the School of Law’s Legislation Clinic Mollie Byron, Wallace Canter, and Mary Schoenfuhs have written and submitted a report titled Evolution to Empowerment: A Survey of the Rights of People with Developmental Disabilities for the Drafting of the Developmental Disabilities Reform Act. The District of Columbia Government, acting through its Department of Disability Services, Management Advisory Committee (DDS MAC), has undertaken a comprehensive revision of DC’s over-30-year-old developmental disabilities laws. The Legislative Committee of DDS MAC put together a draft Developmental Disabilities Reform Act (DDRA) bill that aims to "implement a model system of effective, quality supports and services for residents with developmental disabilities and for their families." DDS MAC established an Expert Review Panel to provide input and feedback to it on the draft legislation. Professor Robert Burgdorf, Director of the Legislation Clinic and a member of the Review Panel, commissioned the three students (dubbed "the disability group") to assist him in developing input on the draft legislation. He asked the group to (1) review federal developmental disabilities laws; (2) sample a selection of state laws; and (3) analyze legal principles enunciated by the court in the ongoing series of legal proceedings, originally titled Evans v. Washington, a lawsuit on behalf of residents of Forest Haven residential facility challenging their confinement, and practices and conditions at the facility.

The findings resulting from these three pieces of research served as a touchstone for comparison with the DDRA bill to see if any significant areas of rights and requirements were overlooked or omitted. The students organized their research into fifteen categories: Purposes of Developmental Disability Law; Recognition of Constitutional and Other Legal Rights; Right to Habilitation and Treatment Services; Eligibility and Waiting Lists; Healthcare Decisions and Informed Consent; Family Support Services; Accessibility; Freedom to Make Choices; Civil Liberties; Freedom from Harm; Property, Ownership, and Finances; Nutrition and Diet; Community and Social Integration; Criteria and Standards for Use of Restraint and Isolation; and Enforcement and Grievance Procedures.

The report’s findings were generally positive toward the draft DDRA. Of the fifteen categories examined, the students concluded that the proposed bill adequately or fully addresses 12 of them. As to the others, the report offered suggestions for strengthening the legislation. In the area of Property, Ownership, and Finances, the students suggested additional language to include certain kinds of property transactions not mentioned in the draft bill. In regard to accessibility, they suggested the addition of language regarding accessibility modifications in the homes of people having developmental disabilities. The students also suggested some supplementation of the proposed DDRA language regarding training, which was not identified as a separate category in their research. The most critical of their comments focused on Waiting Lists, which the report argued should not be permitted.

Professor Burgdorf presented the report, along with his own comments on the legislation, to the committee at its meeting with the Expert Review Panel on April 16. He described the students’ product as having been "very well-received" by the DDS MAC members, who indicated that they wanted to make the Evolution to Empowerment report a part of the legislative history of the DDRA bill that they hope to see introduced in the District of Columbia Council as early as July.


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