Announcing CREEC’s 2020 Award Winner – Elisabeth Epps

The Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center is honored to announce Elisabeth Epps as the winner of this year’s Challenging Discrimination Award for her longtime commitment to racial justice, ending mass incarceration, and addressing racism in the criminal legal system. As a leader in the prison abolitionist movement, a bail activist, organizer, and former public defender, Elisabeth uses her skills and voice to effect change for individuals and across systems and communities. Elisabeth is committed to working with and for vulnerable people, particularly those with justice-involved backgrounds. In 2015, Elisabeth became a Co-Director of the Denver Justice Project which seeks to address systemic racism by transforming law enforcement and the structure of the criminal justice system through intersectional movement building, direct action, advocacy, and collaborative education. Elisabeth founded the Colorado Freedom Fund (CFF) in 2018–a revolving community bond fund that buys freedom for people who are caged only because they cannot afford to pay their bail. CFF works to end wealth-based detention through legislation, litigation, and direct action organizing. Through CFF, Elisabeth partnered with community organizations and legal activists in 2019 to pass into law a bill that prohibits cash bail in Colorado for many low-level offenses, and another bill to increase prompt pretrial liberty and fairness across the state; both laws are already having an impact in decarcerating Colorado cages. In 2018, Elisabeth joined the ACLU of Colorado as its Smart Justice Organizer and in 2019, Colorado Freedom Fund and ACLU in conjunction with community partners launched Bring our Neighbors Home. Early in this summer’s protests in support of the Movement for Black Lives, Elisabeth was part of the team that crafted Colorado’s SB20-217 bill, passed it through the legislature, and saw it signed...

Tennessee Launches New Accessible Absentee Voting Process

July 21, 2020 NASHVILLE, TN — The State of Tennessee has begun offering accessible absentee ballots for people with print disabilities in response to a demand by Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT) in collaboration with the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center and National Federation of the Blind of Tennessee. The recent expansion of absentee voting during the COVID-19 pandemic is offering many a pathway to exercise their right to vote without risking exposure to the virus. However, until now absentee voting in Tennessee has not been accessible to voters with print disabilities due to the use of paper ballots. A print disability interferes with the ability to effectively read, write, or use print materials and includes blindness, low vision, and some physical disabilities such as paralysis. The new accessible absentee ballot process allows voters with print disabilities to use supporting technology like screen readers and others to complete absentee voting forms. “This month we celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The State’s decision is a timely reminder that it is possible to ensure that public services are available for all,” says Brian Keller, DRT Public Policy and Voting Attorney. This new offering by Tennessee ensures that people with print disabilities will be able to exercise their right to vote independently and privately while voting absentee, not only during the current crisis, but in future elections as well. “We are pleased that the state moved swiftly to secure the rights of blind voters without the need for litigation,” said Terry Smith, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Tennessee. “Equal access to voting...

Happy Anniversary ADA!

July 26, 2020 is the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). During these 30 years, people with disabilities and their allies have used the ADA to reshape our society. Many people with disabilities have a place at the table and a clear path to get there both figuratively and literally. And yet much work remains to be done. This significant anniversary is a time to celebrate the many successes and renew our commitment to continued advocacy until all the barriers are gone and disability discrimination exists only as a part of history. The foundational concepts of the ADA are accessibility and equality. These concepts overlap. So, for example, holding an event in a room that’s not accessible for wheelchair users is equivalent to posting a “no wheelchair users allowed” sign even if the organizers have no objection to people with mobility disabilities attending. Similarly, when a doctor’s office refuses to provide a sign language interpreter to a deaf patient, that office may as well say they don’t serve deaf people since they’re not offering equal services. There can be no accessibility without equality and vice versa. I’ve had the good fortune to practice disability rights law for over 20 years. One of the things I love about this area of law is the variety of issues. People with all types of disabilities are protected by the ADA. And, with a little creativity and persistence, the ADA can be applied in some way to almost every situation and barrier. Early on the focus of ADA advocacy was physical accessibility for people with mobility disabilities. And that’s still...

Complaint Successfully Nudges Tennessee Forward

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Tenneseans with Disabilities Welcome State’s Improved Guidelines: Revisions Prohibit Discrimination in Healthcare Rationing June 26, 2020 NASHVILLE, TN  – Tennessee has issued revised guidance prohibiting healthcare providers from discriminating against people with disabilities even when public health emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic necessitate rationing of scarce resources. In response to a complaint filed by disability rights advocates (View complaint), the Tennessee Department of Health and COVID-19 Unified Command have revised the “Guidance for the Ethical Allocation of Scarce Resources During a Community-Wide Public Health Emergency as Declared by the Governor of Tennessee.” The revised document replaces the prior version released in July 2016 (View revised document). The revised guidance has effectively put Tennessee health providers on notice: Tennesseans with disabilities must be treated equally in healthcare decisions including those made during the COVID-19 pandemic or other public health emergencies. The protections of the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) and similar laws are not curtailed during emergencies. “We appreciate Tennessee’s prompt response to our complaint and willingness to meet the needs of people with disabilities by addressing issues beyond those we initially raised,” said Brian Keller, Public Policy Attorney at Disability Rights Tennessee. Key revisions to the guidelines include: Removal of categorical exclusions based on disability in favor of individual assessments. An individual can no longer be excluded from treatment based solely on a diagnosed disability. Narrowing the scope of survivability assessments from one year to imminent survival. Requiring reasonable modifications when necessary due to disability. This includes modifications to survivability assessment tools. For example, a person’s speech disability may negatively impact these assessments even though she...

New Partnership – We the Action

As the need became more dire, CREEC knew who to call on.  We the Action. The successful request for emergency preliminary injunction in the Fraihat v. ICE case filed by CREEC and co-counsel at the start of the pandemic opened the legal door for thousands of immigrants in detention who are medically vulnerable to be potentially released. Except that ICE detains thousands of people who have no legal representation, and we could not be sure ICE was appropriately considering those people. When the need for short-term legal help for people covered under the court’s order increased, CREEC reached out to We the Action – a nonprofit that pairs volunteer lawyers with mission compatible projects. Director of CREEC’s Immigration Accountability Project (IDAP), Elizabeth Jordan explains, “We frankly don’t trust ICE to get this process right, and we know that data has proven time and again that immigrants who have lawyers have better odds for better outcomes on all sorts of issues. We felt that we had a duty to Fraihat class members to match as many of them as possible with lawyers to help them seek release and stay safe from the pandemic.” CREEC applied to be a We the Action partner, proposing a project in which volunteer lawyers could provide limited representation for detained people seeking custody review pursuant to the Fraihat order. Just six days after posting the project on We the Action’s website, we heard from six interested attorneys. In five short weeks, the number of volunteers grew to 38. To date, volunteer attorneys have helped at least 16 detained people request release and many more are...

Welcome Allegra!

We are thrilled to announce that Allegra Upton has joined CREEC’s Summer Intern Program! A Colorado native, graduate of CU Boulder, and second-year student at the University of San Francisco School of Law, Allegra will be working closely with CREEC’s Immigration Detention Accountability Program (IDAP) during her internship. Allegra holds a lifelong passion for disability rights and her interest in immigration rights developed while at the University of Colorado, culminating in an English Honors Thesis titled, “The Othering of Muslim Women by Western & Eastern Societies.” It’s hardly surprising that Allegra found herself drawn to IDAP where she will be on the forefront of disability law, immigration law, and their intersection.  “I was inspired to pursue these areas of law by both my personal background and a consistent dedication to helping others. CREEC offers the extraordinary opportunity to work on large scale impact and systemic change, which is exactly the type of work I envision for my legal career,” states Allegra. “I am also incredibly grateful to USF Law School for underwriting my internship experience with a Public Interest Law Foundation grant, which makes it possible to pursue such a deeply meaningful experience.” Prior to her CREEC internship, Allegra contributed to several advocacy organizations related to her professional interests. Allegra’s previous work ranges from serving as a congressional intern for Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet where she was involved with immigration casework, to three years as writer and editor at The Borgen Project, a nonprofit advocating bipartisan legislation to combat global poverty. IDAP Director Liz Jordan remarks, “We’re so excited to welcome Allegra to the IDAP team for the...