Disability Rights Washington
Abra Conitz is spending the summer interning with Disability Rights Washington. DRW is a non-profit organization that serves as the protection and advocacy agency for the state of Washington. Part of the mission of DRW is to provide resources and tools to people with disabilities with the hope that they are able to become successful self-advocates.
While at DRW, Abra will be spending part of her time answering calls from individuals seeking assistance from DRW. In working with each individual, Abra will identify issues and provide relevant information and referral services to each individual.
Additionally, Abra will assist students aged 16 and older with the transition portion of the Individualized Education Plans (IEP). Abra likely will also help with the enforcement of a class action settlement through legal research, client interviews, and discovery.
Before coming to law school, Abra taught elementary school for five years at schools in Tacoma, Washington, and Tempe, Arizona. Abra decided to become an attorney in hopes of finding meaningful ways to advocate for children.
July 1, 2012
These past six weeks have flown by! I have learned so much about different aspects of disability law through resource advocacy. In resource advocacy I work with individuals on specific issues that they call about. Part of my job while working with these callers is identifying legal issues they may be having and finding resources that will hopefully help them resolve their problem. It has been interesting to have the same people call back while I am working on the phones because I am able to see the resources that helped them and those that didn't and why.
I am also working on a project researching adult protective services. Washington State recently passed a “victims bill of rights” specifically for vulnerable adults, but does not currently have a very strong Adult Protective Services system. I was asked to look at different states: how each state defines a vulnerable adult and the models and protections currently in place for victims of abuse and neglect. As part of my research, I attended a meeting of a state work group led by the head Long Term Care Ombudsman for Washington State. This work group was mandated by the State Legislature to make recommendations on what is working with Adult Protective Services and specific recommendations to improve the response system as a whole. DRW is part of the work group to ensure that the rights of people with disabilities are represented. Other members of the work group included people who conducted investigations of vulnerable adult abuse and neglect, people who train others to work at facilities where these investigations take place, long term care ombudsmen from around the state, and owners of adult care facilities. There was also a man whose wife has been in an adult care facility for over five years and a woman who oversees guardians around the state.
I was very excited to be able to attend this particular meeting because part of the work group had been looking at specific redacted case files about investigations of abuse and neglect in adult care facilities. The findings were presented to the group as a whole, and there was a lot of heated discussion as to how the work group should proceed. Some members of the group thought that the findings showed the system was working well, while others felt that these findings showed that the system needed to go through a lot of changes.
After the findings were presented, the work group split in half to list recommendations that each member wanted to be part of the official report to the Legislature. The group I was a part of mostly consisted of long term care ombudsmen from around the state and people who train others to work in adult facilities. There was a wide variety of recommendations and a lot of heated discussion around each recommendation.
Being able to attend this work group meeting has helped me focus my research of different states’ Adult Protective Services. Now, instead of just looking at the system as a whole, I have focused my research on state work groups, the recommendations they have made to the Legislature, and the outcome of these recommendations.
July 30, 2012
I am rapidly approaching the end of my time at DRW and wish it wasn’t ending so quickly. This summer has been interesting and challenging, and as I look back on everything I have done, I cannot believe how much I have learned.
A number of years ago, DRW filed suit against the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) in regard to how DSHS ran community-based services for people with developmental disabilities. DRW and DSHS settled the Boyle case in 2006, and the settlement agreement lasted through July 1, 2012. However, DRW feels that DSHS has not followed through with improving community-based services for people with developmental disabilities, and decided to ask for enforcement of the settlement agreement. Much of my time this summer has been spent working on different aspects of the Boyle settlement.
Part of my involvement with the Boyle settlement included going to a deposition of the field manager for abuse and neglect allegations in Supported Living homes at the Attorney General’s Office in Olympia. It was very interesting to hear a first-hand account of how that division of DSHS worked – I learned a lot about the process of investigating an allegation after it was reported. One thing that struck me during the deposition was how straight-forward the investigation process appeared, but how different it played out in practice. It was also fascinating to watch the back and forth between the DRW attorney and the field manager being deposed.
A few days after the deposition, I was asked to take part in an investigation surrounding a supported living home and a few of its residents. I went to a supported living home for the first time and met the residents and their care-takers. It was so interesting to have the opportunity to see how a home looked and seemed to function, especially after attending the deposition. At the deposition, there had been a lot of discussion about supported living homes, how they worked, and how allegations were investigated at different homes.
After going to the home, I was able to work with the attorney to make records requests, and actually go with him to collect different records. Once the records were received, I conducted a records review on one of the residents. It was nice to be able to meet the resident before conducting the review because I felt I was able to connect the dots through all of the records we received.
In addition to my work with the supported living portion of the Boyle settlement, I have also been involved in some work on a specific waiver focusing on intensive services for children. Early this summer, I conducted phone interviews with family members of children on the waiver, and currently am working on records reviews for those children. Again, it is so interesting to see how a waiver could function, how people perceive it is functioning, and how as an outsider I feel it may be functioning. I am interested to see where this portion of the settlement goes beyond my time at DRW.
When I look back at what I have done this summer during my time at DRW, my work was completely different than what I thought it would be when I first began. I have found that my interests have changed as well – and I am interested to see where this next year of school will take me. While I am sad to be leaving DRW, it will be a short break because I will be working there this fall!