Your monthly news & updates
A note from Debbie....
The year started so strong and focused for us at DIG. We had a plan and we were working our way towards our goals for 2020. Now, everything has changed. I am hopeful that ultimately this will be a good change. The entire world is now learning the importance of accessible information that is easy to find and easy to understand. I hope this will continue after the pandemic crisis and that we will work as a community to design our programs and materials so that they are accessible for everyone.

Matt, Stephanie and our entire team are working to ensure that people with disabilities are not left out of the decisions that are being made right now. We are working on issues related to education and virtual school for students with disabilities, housing and making sure that people are not discriminated against because they are perceived to have COVID-19, trying to make sure that people in nursing homes and ALF’s get tested and treated, and working to make sure that people are not institutionalized as a result of a lack of services such as transportation and access to food. We are also working to make sure that voting will be accessible and available for all in the coming elections.

Stay safe, stay healthy, and know that we are here for you if you have questions or concerns. We will still send out our newsletter, post on social media, and be available to answer phone calls and emails.
lucy with her paws on the wall looking over the building
Valuing and Devaluing the Disabled Human Life in Florida
clipart of a coronavirus
As of April 19, 2020, over 300 assisted living facilities and nursing homes have had COVID-19 cases, no numbers are known for all congregate care facilities such group homes for persons with developmental disabilities, or detention facilities and jails. There are also hundreds of thousands of Floridians who receive daily home health care that may be slowly suffering in their homes, however the toll of this pandemic is not going to be fully revealed until we compare the typical mortality rate with the mortality rate during the pandemic. 

The response to this outbreak is far from the empathetic “American Way,” but instead, we have lapsed into the Hobbesian ethic, where we deny essential testing to the most vulnerable, deny scarce life-saving equipment, rationalize the denial by claiming that the old and disabled would have died in any event. Then to place insult onto the injury, Florida may immunize those who deny care from total immunity. Even in the event we are overreacting to this pandemic, it still should be a clear signal that disability discrimination may be the only tenet that will be alive and well in our society.

Failure to test for COVID-19
In partnership with municipalities, the Florida Division of Emergency Management and the National Guard, developed drive-thru or walk-thru COVID-19 testing facilities for those with symptoms, and have evolved to any person who would like a test. However, there was no provision at all made for those persons who could not drive to these testing facilities and wait hours for their turn. The failure to ensure that the testing program is available to persons with disabilities who cannot drive to a drive though facility who are susceptible to contracting COVID-19, constitutes discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. While some long-term care facilities can contract for private labs to conduct testing, very few (if any) have done so, and residents have no options. Most of the persons without access to transportation have no alternative. Since the pandemic, paratransit services are limited to essential medical services , such as dialysis and chemotherapy; accordingly, there are no transportation options. Miami-Dade County has expanded its food delivery program, but for those areas without a robust food delivery program , or for persons without knowledge of community services, this lack of transportation further leads to food insecurity.
Recognizing that this blanket denial of a program to those persons with disabilities, Disability Independence Group joined with Disability Rights Florida to demand that the State of Florida, Dade and Broward Counties immediately provide mobile testing facilities to go to those who need to be tested. Miami-Dade County immediately implemented a program to test those persons over 65 and persons with disabilities who cannot travel to testing sites. Miami-Dade also recognized that such persons are more susceptible to COVID-19 and urged such persons to stay home.  Broward has not, citing that it’s not their responsibility to do so. Many counties in Florida have acted like Broward, such as Palm Beach County. 

Deciding that Persons with Disabilities should not receive lifesaving care
To the extent that a person with a disability is able to be tested and goes to the hospital for treatment, the question is whether he or she will receive the care that is needed. However, in the midst of this crisis, on April 9, the Florida Hospital Association urged the approval of the guidelines of the Florida Bioethics Network to implement standards of which persons should receive life-saving ventilators. The overarching premise of the guidance is that “Patients most likely to survive to discharge and live longest in the community after discharge are given priority.”

On March 28, 2020, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued guidance that persons cannot be discriminated against in the provision of health care. According to this guidance, that no person will be disqualified from receiving critical care solely on the basis of their disability, and that all decisions must be based on an individualized analysis of the patient, and not based on stereotypes, assessments of quality of life or judgments about a person’s ‘worth’ based on the presence or absence of disabilities or other factors.

The use of life expectancy, long term prognosis, or “life years” as a basis for exclusion from treatment during COVID-19 is just this type of discrimination against people with disabilities who have or who are thought to have a shortened life expectancy due to their disabilities.

Such individuals include people with cystic fibrosis, spinal muscular atrophy, ALS, kidney disease, and metastatic cancer. People with these and other disabilities regularly outlive the prognoses that doctors ascribe to them, often by decades. Moreover, having disability diversity is valuable and essential to our society, even if some people with disabilities do not live as long. People with disabilities make unique contributions – including to developing the systems of care we need during a public health crisis. The guidance names co-morbidities with no connection to COVID to determine longevity, such as mild dementia, heart conditions, cancer diagnosis, and immunocompromised states. By naming certain conditions, that have no relationship to the short term survivability to COVID-19 or even those that do, the message that it sends out is that their lives are not worth saving, and those persons will not even seek treatment – whether or not there is a shortage of equipment. In a pandemic situation, where rumors circulate with as much frequency as the truth, this message is harmful. This message of lives not worth saving.

Last week, Disability Independence Group, along with a consortium of Florida disability organizations, voiced our opposition to these standards, and had discussions with the Florida Bioethics Network about our concerns and provided our input.

Qualified Immunity for COVID-19 decisions by Hospital and Long-Term Care Facilities
The Florida Health Care Association sent a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis this month requesting immunity from any liability to nursing homes, hospitals and other facilities, civil or criminal, for any harm or damages alleged to have been sustained “as a result of an act or omission in the course of arranging for or providing health-care services,” during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
So, the trifecta is that (1) we will not test you; (2) we may not treat you; (3) there’s nothing you can do about it because we are immune to liability, either criminal or civil.

While I have the highest respect for medical professionals, I have been suing hospitals and providers of medical care for twenty years for intentional discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act for violations of theses acts in their practices against persons with disabilities. As a general issue, without targeted disabilities training, doctors and medical staff do not recognize implicit bias with regards to disability discrimination. The most frequent issue is the failure to provide a sign language interpreter for a Deaf patient – despite clear rules and policies requiring effective communication. In this situation, the failure to provide such accommodations when providing care will lead to the failure to adequately disclose medical histories, comorbidities, and will result in miscalculations of the short-term survivability scale.

However, the most common effect of a disability in this instance is the view that such disability is a chronic medical condition that may affect care or long-term survivability.  In most circumstances, the disability should not have an effect on the ability to survive the COVID-19 illness. The use of speculation as to long-term survivability violates the ADA because survivability is inherently speculative. For example, under ADA/504, a risk must be real, and not speculative or hypothetical. 

Primarily, the treating professional for COVID-19 will not have detailed knowledge about the specifics of the conditions of a person with a disability and will make assumptions about the condition. In addition to the assumptions that are made about disability, when assessing survivability past the duration of the specific condition, even with accurate information, the risk is inherently hypothetical and speculative. It also allows the professional’s own bias to seep in to determine the applicable risk on that individual person. Accordingly, assessment for such hypothetical risk is tantamount to discrimination. 

By immunizing such decisions, the government may be encouraging such decisions to be made, and if they are made, such decisions will be based upon speculation and stereotypes of disability and not actual risks.

Future Steps
The biggest failure of our community is the failure to incorporate pandemic planning into our disaster plan. The creation of programs on the fly without provisions for persons with disabilities demonstrates the scope of this failure. When this is all over, it is essential to convene all stakeholders to investigate this failure and how to ensure that it does not occur again in the future.
Out and About with DIG
CANCELLED - Supper Social Club
May 4, 2020
California Pizza Kitchen

CANCELLED - Supper Social Club
June 1, 2020
California Pizza Kitchen

DIG in the News
lucy sitting on the floor with several types of dog treats
Lucy sitting with her dog treats from Mr. Hobbs. THANK YOU!
New Animal Law Section of the Florida Bar Newsletter - The Paw Review
Matt is also the chair for the Animal Law Section of the Florida Bar. The new edition of the Paw Review has many interesting articles on animal law issues in Florida.  Please read it.  
Human Rights Ordinances in Florida
On June 16, 2020, Disability Independence Group attorney, Matthew Dietz is arguing an appeal before the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal in Orlando over whether the Orange County Human Rights ordinance is preempted by the Florida Civil Rights Act. There are 31 jurisdictions in Florida that have human rights ordinances that protect residents from discrimination of all types, including protections for employment, housing, public accommodations, credit and financing, family leave, domestic violence leave based on race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sex, pregnancy, age, disability, marital status, familial status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, status as a victim of domestic violence or stalking, and source of income. In light of the scope of authority of municipalities during this COVID-19 pandemic, we believe that the court will uphold the right of municipalities to have their own human rights ordinances to protect their residents.

If you would like to see if your municipality has an ordinance and what it includes – please go to If there are any corrections, or if I did not include a municipality, please tell me and I will fix it.
Miami Inclusion Alliance (MIA)
We are all under a safe at home mandate but for victims of domestic violence that home may not be safe. While numbers of request for orders of protection are down, that does not mean that incidents of violence are not taking place. This is a really important time to address cell phone safety.

As cell phones have become smarter, they’re more like mini computers that contain lots of personal information about us and can be useful sources of information for an abuser.

Here are 12 easy steps to take to manage your privacy and safety when using your cell phone from the National Network to End Domestic Violence-Safety Net Project.

1. Put a pass code on your phone.
The easiest thing for you to do is to put a pass code on your phone. Having a pass code will make it harder for someone to pick up your phone to scroll through, access your accounts, or install something

2. Turn off location sharing.
Most phones have a GPS that can pinpoint your general or exact location. With this capability, many applications may collect and share your location information. However, many smartphones give you the
option of managing your location sharing under the “settings.” You can pick and choose which applications may access your location, or you can opt to turn off the location setting altogether.

3. Turn off Bluetooth when not using.
Bluetooth allows your phone to communicate with other devices, such as the hands-free option in your car or your printer. If accessed by someone else though, they could misuse it to access your information or intercept your calls. Turn off the Bluetooth on your phone and turn it on only when you need to
connect with another device.

4. Check your privacy & security settings.
Most smartphones have settings that will help you manage your privacy and safety. You can find these controls through the settings on your phone or through the settings of a specific app.

5. What online accounts are you automatically logged into? One of the convenient features of having a smartphone is to quickly access email or social media accounts with just a tap of a finger. However, this also means that you are always connected to accounts that may contain sensitive information. Consider logging out of certain accounts if you can so that others can’t access those accounts if they are using your phone.

6. Review the apps you download.
Know the apps that are on your phone, and if you have an unfamiliar app, delete it.

7. Put a password on your wireless carrier account to keep others from accessing your account.

8. Lock down your online phone account.
Keep in mind that even if someone does not have access to your phone, it might be possible for them to access your online account.

9. Use virtual phone numbers (such as Google Voice) to keep your number private.

10. Try not to store sensitive information on your phone. Finally, although it may be tempting to store information such as passwords, account numbers, or
personal information on your phone, the less sensitive information you have, the less likely someone else can access it.

11. Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software on your phone.

12. Take care when using safety apps.
There are many “personal safety apps” available for download that offer to increase the users’ personal safety – immediately connecting them with 911 or select trusted individuals. Several of these apps are designed and marketed specifically to survivors of violence. Before relying on any safety app in an
emergency be sure to test it out with friends and family to be sure that it works correctly for you. Your trusted friend may not receive your location with your emergency call or may not receive your call for help at all.

Always know the quickest way to access 911 on your phone in case of an emergency. Many phones have a quick emergency call button that you can even dial without entering the phone’s
pass code.
Animal Partners
My Experience with DIG.

Though our journey together is coming to an end, my experience with DIG was something I never imagined I would be apart of. I met wonderful people who had an idea and that I could help bring to fruition. Debbie And Mathew Dietz saw a skill in me that I was able to show through working with them and Lucy. They brought me into their family to meet Sharon And Stephanie Langer. Over time the roster of people who came to help grew. Each of us having a skill to help reach the end goal; bring a facility dog into the judicial system.

During the year grant I had to do things I never would have done or got to do thing I forgot I enjoy. To many, something simple as getting your fingerprints taken for security purposes would be normal. I am a dog trainer so this was not normal. The last time I remember having my fingerprints was in D.A.R.E. Back in elementary school. I got to write for this monthly article , being able to give a voice to the dogs. Being able to reach out and leave tips for anyone who has a dog or wants one. I may not be the best writer but it was an experience I would have never thought myself getting back into. I cannot say I miss college but I enjoyed the ability to have freedom of speech and be able to reach a crowd of any form. To a scale I was able to experience what its like to work with attorneys, police officers, child advocacy groups, and how difficult the traffic downtown can be if you are unlucky. Everyone I met are amazing and have so much pride in what they do. Everyone was highly professional and courteous most of all had nerves of steel. Seeing the things they see and being able to go back to work to do it again. That takes tons of courage and fortitude. I salute all who work in the justice system and those specifically working with in the system to help those whom cannot help themselves.

There are always good things and bad things in any job. The most I could complain about was waking up earlier than I normally would and that was rare. As for the good; I got to work with people who care for others, helped train a dog that will help relieve stress, go to different parts of Miami I never have been too, meet others who have similar thoughts in ways we can help our society, see how the judicial system works around here, and most of all I got to work with an amazing boss and coworkers. Thank you Debbie, Sharon, Stephanie, Matt and of course Lucy for bring me into your team, your DIG family!

K. de Boehmler
Lucy with a sign in her mouth that says all guests must be approved by the dog.
We are still accepting wallet card applications however, we will not send the wallet cards out until our office is open again.
The Wallet Card Project
The wallet card is a tool to be used by a teenager or an adult with a disability. Currently, we have developed cards for persons with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Intellectual Disabilities.
Access The Vote Florida
Meetings will be every Friday at 11am.

Toll Free Call: (888) 585-9008
Conference Room No.: 133-116-452(#)
Educational Information
Now that the State of Florida, and most other states, have decided to continue distance learning for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year, what do we know? We know that there is little, if any, guidance coming from the Federal Department of Education. We know that there is little guidance from the state department of education. This means that each school district is working this out on their own. In Florida, that means there are 67 different ways that distance learning is being rolled out, implemented and maintained.

The term “distance learning” is new. There is no consistent definition of what this term means or what must be included to qualify as distance learning. In general, the term means that students are in their homes, assignments are sent to the student and the student is expected to complete the assignment independently. Some assignments are completed on a computer or other electronic device. Other assignments are done on paper and submitted electronically. Some teachers are holding virtual classes; while others are assigning instructional videos for students to watch. Some students are having remote contact with their teachers daily or weekly; while others have not seen or spoken to their teacher since the brick and mortar buildings were closed. This method of learning places a large burden on most parents. This method of learning will work for many students. This method of learning will not work for all students. The burden on parents is heavier for children who are struggling with distance learning. 

Now, imagine you are a student with a disability. Students with IEP's and 504 plans, along with their parents, are facing unprecedented challenges. They are facing the same uncertainty and anxiety that everyone else is facing, but they have the added stress of ensuring that their child is benefiting from their distance learning experience.

Parents are being required to be the special education teacher, classroom aide, behavior therapist, language therapist and the like. Some students are entitled to direct instruction from a specialized teacher and related support staff. Without that necessary support, will kids get what they need? Will kids learn? How will we know? And if they are not getting all that they are entitled to, what happens when brick and mortar buildings reopen? These are the questions I have been struggling to answer.  

There are more questions than answers, so what can parents do now to protect their children when schools reopen. 

First, parents must be empowered to say what works for their family. Most parents are still working, even if remotely, and are attempting to balance a work schedule with a school schedule. Parents must figure out what works best for their individual family. 

Second, parents must communicate with their child’s teacher(s); all of them; and provide the teachers with a schedule that works for their family. Even if it is different from the school’s schedule, parents should not be afraid to ask for accommodations and changes to make the schedule work for their family and their child.

Third, parents must be kind to themselves. This is hard, but we all know that the calmer you are, the better it will be for your child. So do not be hard on yourself, do the best you can and keep moving forward. 

Fourth, ask for help. Please ask for help if you need help. There are many resources available to families, so ask for help if you are feeling overwhelmed or over stressed or inadequate or just lost. We are all feeling this way.

Fifth, do not spend money unnecessarily. There are many scams out there and many people claiming that they can teach your child or help you get organized or the like. Do your research, be cautious and do not spend money on snake oils or quick fixes.

Sixth, taken notes and document problems to the school district. If there is a problem, send an email to the district, so that there is record of the problem in real time. Keep a calendar or a journal and take notes about what your child can and cannot do, in real time.

Finally, and probably the most important thing, DO NOT WAIVE any of your rights under the IDEA, the ADA or section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Now that school districts are closed for the rest of the year, districts will be having annual IEP meetings remotely. Other school districts are creating COVID-19 distance learning plans. 

During this time, no IEP’s should be reducing services. Do not agree to less therapy or less time with a special education teacher. The IEP's do not expire. IEP’s never expire . An IEP can be rolled over until the schools reopen. There is no reason to reduce anything inside the brick and mortar buildings; when we are out of the buildings. Some districts will be creating temporary plans while the student is home.

When agreeing to a temporary plan, make sure you are not waiving your right to compensatory education when your child returns to the school building.

Compensatory education is relief that puts a student back where they should have been had the school district not violated the IDEA. In this pandemic, the district is not necessarily violating the IDEA, yet students are not receiving the services or the level of support that is needed to provide them with an appropriate education.

Will the district then have to provide compensatory education to those students when schools reopen? We do not know. Districts are doing everything they can to reduce their obligation to provide compensatory education when schools reopen. Betsy Devos, the Federal Secretary of Education, is likely to file for waivers of certain IDEA requirements. These temporary distance learning plans are a means to reduce the claims for compensatory education when schools reopen.

It is important for school districts to try, rather than allowing IDEA requirements to be waived. When agreeing to a distance learning plan, do not waive your right to compensatory education, if appropriate, when schools reopen. 

A simple statement next to your signature is all that is required.   For example , “I am agreeing to this temporary plan, but do not waive my child’s right to any compensatory education, if appropriate, when schools reopen.”

This simple statement will preserve your right to request compensatory education when schools reopen. This statement does not guarantee that you will get compensatory education, but it will ensure that you are not inadvertently waiving your entitlement to ask for it later. 

There are many things we do not know. We do not know if there will be summer school this year. We do not know if Betsy Devos will be able to waive certain IDEA requirements. We do not know when schools will be reopened.

So do the best you can. Laugh a little each day and focus on the positive.   
head of stephanie langer holding a business file and wearing a black and white polkadot shirt.
Supper Social Club - CANCELLED
black rectangle box outlined with a yellow line and the words Supper social club in the box in white
Your Upward Journey
The cover of the book Your Upward Journey by Patricia Bochi
In a nutshell, Your Upward Journey:

It is Easier Than You Think!, a three-part project (book, self-help seminars and merchandise sale).