CREECblog

Welcome Yashna!

Image of Indian-American woman smiling. Greenery in background..Yashna Eswaran is a paralegal in our Colorado office. Yashna graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, with a B.A. in International Relations and Global Studies with Special Honors as well as Health and Society. Her degrees focused on the socio-demographic, cultural, political, and ethical contexts that underlie societal inequities. Yashna has previously worked at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment working on youth and health equity initiatives. Additionally, while in Texas, Yashna has worked at the Texas Institute for Excellence in Mental Health, focusing on empowering young people who have been impacted by systems such as foster care, juvenile justice, and mental health. Most recently, Yashna was a Legal Assistant for an Attorney Ad-Litem, working extensively with Child Protective Services cases. Yashna’s academic and professional careers have motivated her to combat the systems that perpetuate injustices and inequities. In her free time, Yashna can be found traveling, eating, and watching Law and Order SVU.

Welcome Julie!

CREEC is pleased to announce the appointment of our first Development Director, Julie Yates. Julie will be building a comprehensive fundraising program for CREEC and will be working to deepen relationships and enhance communication between CREEC and you, our supporters!

An experienced fundraising professional and educator with a passion for making the world a better place, Julie has more than two decades of demonstrated success in the areas of philantphoto of a smiling woman in a black shirthropy, relationship building, strategic thinking, and problem solving. Julie comes to CREEC from The White Mountain School where she served as Development Director, growing their fundraising program, building a strategic communications plan, and leading the School’s largest-ever comprehensive fundraising campaign. A long-time educator, Julie has deep personal interest in human rights and social justice and is looking forward to using her professional skills in service of CREEC’s mission and vision.

Julie graduated magna cum laude from Smith College with a BA in Biology and later earned her MS in Science Education from The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Julie has taught biology and chemistry at Blair Academy, NJ, St. Paul’s School, NH, and The White Mountain School, NH where she was also appointed to multiple administrative positions during her 18 years of service. Julie says about her new position at CREEC, “I am so excited to share with others information about the incredible work CREEC does to challenge discrimination and to help raise necessary funds so my colleagues at CREEC can continue their vital work. Our world needs more organizations like CREEC with the will, heart, and intellectual power to lead much needed social change. I’m truly honored to play a role in support of CREEC’s life-changing work.”

Outside of work, Julie enjoys time with her husband and their two adult children. She loves the outdoors, spending as much time as possible hiking, biking, camping or wandering aimlessly in the woods, fields and streams. Julie also enjoys curling up with a good book, a cup of tea, and her two cats.

We are thrilled that Julie is bringing her longtime fundraising and non-profit leadership experience to advance CREEC’s mission and we assume she will soon be adding a dog to her family.

Interested in supporting the amazing work CREEC does? You can donate online or contact Julie.  jyates@creeclaw.org | 303.757.7901

Deaf Inmate Access to Phone Calls

Connecting with family and friends outside prison can be difficult and expensive for all inmates.  However, once they’ve navigated the prison’s red tape and are able to make a call, hearing inmates can directly communicate with their contacts outside the prison. That is not the case for deaf inmates.  Many jails and prisons across the country offer only outdated and ineffective technology to people who are deaf.  Along with partners including the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), CREEC is working to make sure deaf inmates have effective communication in prisons across the country.  This includes access to effective phone calls, including videophones and CapTel (captioned phones).

For deaf people whose primary language is American Sign Language (ASL) or another sign language, videophones are necessary for effective phone communication.  Videophones (VPs) allow deaf inmates to communicate in sign language with those outside prison, including friends, family, and attorneys.  When a deaf inmate uses VP to call a deaf person outside prison, there is direct communication in sign language.  When a deaf inmate uses VP to call a hearing person outside prison, the deaf inmate can communicate in sign language through a relay operator who is a sign language interpreter.

Although deaf inmates need VP for effective communication, most prisons only provide teletypewriters (TTY), an outdated technology that requires the parties to type back and forth in English (generally the second language for most deaf people). As one expert explained, “consider the prisoner outrage that would result from a . . . policy . . . require[ing] all prisoners to communicate. . . only by using fax machines.  Communication via fax machines is quite parallel to TTY communication – the communication is asynchronous, you send your communication, wait for a response, hope it is not garbled and hope you have not been misunderstood.”

In addition, because most people outside prison do not have TTYs, two relay operators are usually needed to facilitate the TTY communication.  Typing in written English and utilizing multiple relay interpreters often results in confusion and miscommunication.  Transcripts of TTY calls frequently contain portions which are unreadable.

CREEC currently represents several inmates in a lawsuit against the Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC) on this issue. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and related laws require CDOC to provide effective communication to deaf inmates.  Each plaintiff asked CDOC for access to a VP but CDOC refused.  CDOC claims TTY is as effective as VP.  These plaintiffs and their expert witnesses have provided evidence that VP is needed by each plaintiff for effective communication.  Both CDOC and our clients recently filed motions.  Each side asked the court to decide without holding a trial whether CDOC must provide access to VPs. Martie Lafferty, CREEC’s Director of Accessibility Projects comments, “Our clients deserve equal access to phone calls.  We hope this court ruling will help make that happen.”

Please contact CREEC if you or someone you know needs help getting a prison to provide access to a VP.  You can also contact us about other communication problems in jail or prison.  We will review the information to see if we can help.  We cannot help with every issue.  Here is our contact information: 303-797-7901 or intakes@creeclaw.org.

 

RESOURCES

https://www.fcc.gov/consumers/guides/telecommunications-relay-service-trs

https://www.fcc.gov/consumers/guides/video-relay-services

https://www.captel.com/captel/

https://www.wired.com/story/why-many-deaf-prisoners-cant-phone-home/

 

SIMPLIFIED SUMMARY

Prisons should have videophones (VPs) for deaf inmates.  Contact CREEC if you are in prison and need a VP.  Contact CREEC if you know a deaf inmate who needs a VP.  We cannot help everyone who contacts us.  We will review your issue to see if we can help.   Here is our contact information: 303-797-7901 or intakes@creeclaw.org.

Paying Forward: CREECs Extern Program

I have a strong interest in immigration law and policy and heard about the vital work CREEC’s Immigration Detention Accountability Project is doing.  Knowing that the attorneys at CREEC have a reputation for doing smart, high-stakes work that improves people’s lives, I applied for a CREEC externship as a way to challenge myself to grow in new areas while doing work I believe in.”  – Allison Crennen-Dunlap, J.D. Candidate, Class of 2019, University of Denver – Sturm College of Law. CREEC Extern Spring 2019

Image: Two people standing underneath a tree the woman on the right has light skin and dark hair and glasses the man on the left has dark skin dark hair and glasses.Since 2015, CREEC has offered first-hand experience in civil rights litigation, research and advocacy to area law students through its extern program. Co-Executive Director, Amy Robertson says, “it is always exciting to work with the next generation of civil rights lawyers and leaders, especially in collaboration with Denver Law given its robust commitment to experiential learning.” To date, CREEC has offered experience in civil rights law to 8 externs.

This summer is no different, as CREEC welcomes externs Jordan Staley and Kiley Oblisk.  Jordan is a rising third year law student, who will be working with CREEC’s Accessibility Projects including communications access for Deaf and hard of hearing prisoners and hospital patients. During his 2L year, Jordan worked in Denver Law’s Civil Rights Clinic, where he represented a federal prisoner in a religious discrimination case. He’s excited to continue working in civil rights this summer and looks forward to the opportunity to learn more about disability law.  Kiley is a rising second year law student joining CREEC’s Immigration Detention Accountability Project. Prior to law school, she worked for the Colorado Public Defender in Durango, working especially closely with non-citizen clients and their attorneys, and at Denver Law she’s a part of the Immigration Law and Policy Clinic and an immigration-related student group. She also likes being outside with her dog, so she’ll fit right in at CREEC.

Touting one of the largest externship programs in the country, Denver Law’s Legal Externship Program collaborates with law firms and legal non-profits to provide an experiential experience to effectively bridge the transition from law student to lawyer. Denver Law’s Director of Externships and Public Interest Initiatives, Alexi Freeman, says, “We look for organizations interested and invested in teaching and mentoring students; organizations that will provide our students with meaningful assignments that go beyond what is often the norm for legal interns. CREEC is a multi-faceted and well-respected civil rights organization. It’s broader than just litigation, including education, policy work, and coalition building.”  Freeman goes on to say, “Not many organizations have such a rich history of supporting people with disabilities, incarcerated individuals and immigrants in detention and the intersection among them. I know our students will be involved in cutting-edge legal initiatives and because of CREEC’s small size and collaborative ethos, I know our students’ voices will be heard and their talents well-used. CREEC is a tremendous learning environment for students who are interested in social change.”

Elizabeth Jordan, CREEC’s Director of the Immigration Detention Accountability Project, enjoys working with externs at CREEC and also appreciates what they bring to the organization. “It’s not an exaggeration to say that without externs our immigration work would not be possible. Their hard work, extensive knowledge and skills, and desire to fight for justice for detained immigrants have greatly expanded our capacity”, states Jordan.

Interested in supporting the next generation of lawyers fighting for social justice? Help support CREEC’s work with Externs here.

Interested in being an Extern at CREEC? Contact resumes@creeclaw.org.

CREEC Moves for Sanctions Against ICE in our FOIA Lawsuit

CREEC is tired of ICE lying to us. Today, we asked a judge to make them stop.

Today, because ICE has obscured documents from the public and misled us and a federal judge, CREEC asked that ICE be sanctioned. Fifteen months ago, CREEC took ICE to court for failing to respond to information requests regarding conditions at ICE’s immigration prisons – including whether there was adequate medical care, mental health care, and appropriate accommodations for people with disabilities in ICE custody.

For months, CREEC has repeatedly requested that ICE hand over two Detainee Death Reviews – documentation required by law to be created whenever someone dies in ICE custody. CREEC thought the Detainee Death Reviews wImage: GEO Detention Center in Auroraould shed light on what happened to Vicente Caceres Maradiaga, who died at Adelanto Detention Center in California in May 2017, and Kamyar Samimi, who died at Aurora Detention Center in Colorado in December 2017, about whose deaths little was publicly known. CREEC has also requested certain ICE policies governing health care.

Until very recently, ICE pretended like these documents did not exist. This week, CREEC learned that, not only does Mr. Samimi’s death review document exist, it is damning. Mr. Samimi died after experiencing callously neglectful medical practices. We can see why ICE was attempting to hide it. We suspect ICE is doing the same thing with Mr. Caceres Maradiaga’s death review.

That’s illegal. Because ICE has obscured these documents from the public and misled us and the judge hearing our case, not to mention wasted our time for months, we asked the judge today to sanction their conduct, award us fees, and order these documents be immediately produced.

Click here to view the full FOIA case page.

Education Report:  Sign Language Interpreters in Medical Settings

Imagine getting sick in, say, rural China. You’ve studied a bit of Chinese and decided to travel there. Then your stomach starts to hurt. A lot. No one at the hospital — from doctors to receptionists — speaks English, so when you try to communicate your symptoms in English, no one understands. They talk to you in Chinese and you understand the basics:  lie down here; where does it hurt? But you need to tell them your medical history; they need to tell you their diagnosis and proposed treatment. Now imagine you’ve come to the hospital in extreme pain, or severely injured in a car accident, or in labor.

This is the experience Deaf people encounter every day in their own country in hospitals and doctors’ offices:  they need to explain their symptoms and history and to understand their diagnosis and treatment options in their native language — American Sign Language (ASL) — while medical personnel attempt to communicate with them using written notes or lip reading.  Since ASL is a completely different language from English — and the latter generally a second language for most Deaf people — this puts the Deaf patient in the same situation as the traveler above.  And written notes? Even if you’re fluent in English, imagine conducting your next doctor’s appointment — or emergency room visit or childbirth — by writing notes back and forth with doctors, nurses, and technicians; now imagine (if you’re native English speaker) writing back and forth in French or Russian. Imagine being a doctor and trying to obtain informed consent under these circumstances. Medical personnel should be insisting on — not resisting — qualified sign language interpreters. Image: caduceus symbol, signing hands symbol, question mark symbol graphic

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires doctors and hospitals to provide Deaf people with “effective communication.” In many cases, this means a sign language interpreter. Because this need often arises urgently — when no one can wait for the results of a lawsuit — and because many doctors are unaware of their obligations, CREEC has developed a Quick Guide to Sign Language Interpreters in Medical Settings. This Quick Guide, developed in 2017 — after years of providing the same information in emails, phone calls, and presentations — provides medical personnel and Deaf patients with the essential ADA requirements as well as resources for finding interpreters both in Colorado and around the country. CREEC also works with Deaf people directly who need medical interpreters by helping them reach out to doctors and hospitals, explaining the law, and connecting them with resources. Through this project, we have assisted over 25 clients to get the communications they need without having to resort to litigation.  In addition, CREEC has represented a number of individuals in court when medical facilities have refused to provide effective communication.

CREEC will continue to educate medical personnel about their obligations under the ADA and to provide support for Deaf people seeking to communicate effectively with their doctors. If you are interested in learning more about this issue, check out the resources in the Quick Guide and feel free to send it along to friends and colleagues in the medical world. Deaf people who have questions or would like assistance working with medical or other providers to get effective communication can contact us at intakes@creeclaw.org.

What’s IDAP Been Up To Lately?

Since its formation in September 2018, CREEC’s Immigration Detention Accountability Project (IDAP) has fought to assert the rights of and improve conditions for hundreds of immigrants in ICE custody in Colorado and across the nation and is laying the groundwork for future litigation efforts. Under Director Liz Jordan’s leadership, IDAP has focused on three key areas thus far: legal challenge of conditions of confinement in immigration detention centers, legal challenge of discrimination against detained immigrants with disabilities, and education and outreach on detention conditions and treatment of immigrants with disabilities.

Recent projects include procurement of previously unreleased documents relating to life-threatening treatment of detainees in Colorado and California; cessation of improper use of federal prisons for immigrant detention in California; multiple advocacy efforts; and educational initiatives to raise public awareness of the conditions facing immigrant detainees and their civil rights. In an  ongoing transparency litigation case in Colorado, IDAP procured previously unreleased ICE documents relating to deaths of immigrants in detention and treatment of people with disabilities. These documents had never before been made public and are part of a larger effort to hold ICE accountable to the public through the release of information. Last summer, IDAP also filed a federal class action lawsuit in Victorville, California on behalf of asylum seekers who were being illegally held in a federal prison despite not having criminal convictions. As a result of CREEC’s lawsuit, the U.S. government’s practice of holding detainees who have not committed a crime was discontinued at this prison. Additionally, IDAP offers civil rights consultation to lawyers for immigrants with disabilities, represents people in ICE custody, advocates for adequate care and accommodations for people in ICE custody, and investigates ongoing conditions of confinement issues.

As IDAP’s Director, Liz makes regular appearances in the press on abuses within immigration detention centers, most recently on the lack of sufficient medical care and the outbreak of mumps at the detention center in Aurora, Colorado. Liz has also presented at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, the ACLU national staff conference, and the Colorado Bar Association on the rights of people in immigration detention. CREEC is pleased to host two Denver University law student externs this semester, Ali Sheets and Allison Crennan-Dunlap, for work with the Immigration Detention Accountability Project.

What’s next for CREEC’s Immigration Detention Accountability Project? “Our country’s current immigration policies have dramatically increased immigrant detention, resulting in dangerous overcrowding, lack of sufficient resources, and violations of basic rights for detained individuals.   Through litigation and advocacy, we are committed to continue fighting for the rights of people detained in ICE custody,” notes Liz, “and Thank You to all of the CREEC supporters who help make our work possible.”

Colorado Springs Agrees to Install over 15,000 Accessible Curb Ramps in Next 14 Years.

Release Date: March 20, 2019

Colorado Springs The City of Colorado Springs has settled a class action lawsuit by committing to installing over 15,000 accessible curb ramps throughout the city in the next 14 years. Curb ramps provide people with mobility disabilities a safe way to get on and off sidewalks as they travel through the pedestrian right of way.

People with disabilities are the largest minority group in the country. Census figures estimate that 56.7 million, or 1 in 5 Americans, has a disability.  In Colorado Springs alone, there are approximately 24,000 people with mobility disabilities who use wheelchairs, walkers, scooters or other mobility devices to get around. Missing, broken or poorly maintained curb ramps prevent people with mobility disabilities from safely using sidewalks, crosswalks and other walkways to participate in daily activities like getting to work or going to school.

“I appreciate not only that this agreement will allow me to get to and from work more efficiently, but also that, when I find a problem, Colorado Springs has a system set up to resolve it. I look forward to my increased independence,” said Paul Spotts, one of the plaintiffs. Sharon King, another plaintiff, explains, “It’s frustrating when I am just trying to do my errands and I cannot get across a street because there is no curb ramp. I’m so excited that we have been able to reach this agreement with Colorado Springs so that I can get where I need to go without these barriers, just like everyone else.”

“Federal and state disability access laws were enacted decades ago to provide persons with disabilities an equal opportunity to fully participate in civic life,” said Tim Fox, plaintiffs’ counsel and co-founder of the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center.  “Today, we stand together with the City of Colorado Springs to fulfill the promise of those laws by ensuring that people with disabilities can travel independently throughout their communities.” Julia Campins, plaintiff’s counsel with Campins Benham-Baker said, “The ability to move freely around town is such a fundamental part of independence. We are excited to be working with Colorado Springs so that all of its residents and visitors can enjoy such freedom.”

“We look forward to continuing the City of Colorado Springs’ existing commitment to improving access for people of all abilities across our great City, and the commitment to installing and retrofitting thousands of curb ramps only furthers this effort,” said Travis Easton, Public Works Director for the City of Colorado Springs. “Between this commitment, the updated ADA Transition Plan, and the many well-attended community conversations on accessibility, the City continues to work hard to study the opportunities and work to increase accessibility.”

“City Council approved this settlement in the best interests of our residents and to further our ongoing efforts to make our City welcoming and accessible to all people, regardless of ability,” said City Council President Richard Skorman. “I was pleased to vote in favor of this settlement in open session per the terms of the new process, along with many fellow City Councilors.”

 

Click here for the official press release.

 

Welcome Martie!

CREEC is extremely excited to announce the opening of CREEC’s Nashville office and the appointment of Martie Lafferty as CREEC’s new Director of Accessibility Projects.

Martie will be focusing on representing people with disabilities in a variety oImage: Woman with short dark hair and glasses smiling at the camera dressed in a blue suit.f access cases around the country, including access to communications and the built environment.  Martie comes to CREEC with a wealth of experience, including litigating access cases against the State of Tennessee to eliminate barriers preventing access to the state’s court program — which resulted in the landmark case of Tennessee v. Lane, 541 U.S. 509 (2004) — and against a medical provider who refused to provide a diagnostic MRI to a wheelchair user. She has also represented numerous deaf and hard of hearing people who were refused effective communication in settings including housing, medical offices, hospitals, courts, jails, and legislatures.

Prior to joining CREEC, Martie was a Litigation Associate at Stein & Vargas, LLP and previously Legal Director at Disability Rights Tennessee. Her extracurricular activities include picking her banjo, playing with her dogs, and attending concerts. Martie is admitted to practice in Tennessee.

CREEC mourns the passing of pathbreaking disability rights lawyer and advocate Carrie Ann Lucas.

As we vow to do our best to kick as many asses as thoroughly as Carrie did.

Image: Carrie Ann Lucas, light skinned Latina woman of size with mid-length brown hair, wearing a beige blouse and dark skirt. She is speaking into a mic held for her by a white woman with red hair. To the left, a woman dressed entirely in black interprets into ASL. The world has lost a fierce advocate, brilliant lawyer, and talented photographer.  Carrie Ann Lucas, a disability rights attorney who pioneered representation for parents with disabilities, died from complications from septic shock.  She was 47 years old.

CREEC recognized Carrie in 2016 for her work in intersectional civil rights, celebrating her outstanding leadership in disability rights, parents’ rights, LGBTQI rights, human dignity, and faith.

CREEC’s Co-Executive Directors first worked with Carrie not long after they started their small civil rights law firm in 1996, when she asked us to challenge her graduate program at the Iliff School of Theology for their failure to provide access and effective communication. While she was working on her Masters of Divinity there, she worked with others to protest institutional racism on the faculty and in the library.  This was not her first protest:  early on, she protested her high school’s refusal to permit a disabled student to march with the band.

After getting her M. Div., she worked at the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, got her law degree at the University of Denver (on the full-ride Chancellor’s Scholarship), got a prestigious Equal Justice Works fellowship, and founded Disabled Parent Rights, a non-profit devoted to ensuring that people with disabilities have equal rights in parenting.  She also became a national expert and trainer on the rights of parents with disabilities and, through her legal advocacy, secured decisions upholding and promoting those rights here in Colorado. Most recently she was recruited by the Colorado Office of Respondent Parents Counsel to help set up a program to train other lawyers around the state to replicate the sort of impact she was making.

During all of this time, she also acted as the plaintiff in a number of ground-breaking disability rights lawsuits, including one of the largest public accommodations class actions and others bringing equal access to a variety of different facilities.

Throughout her life, Carrie taught, protested, litigated, wrote, and advocated for a broad understanding of civil rights and human dignity, and consistently brought an intersectional approach to her work:  bringing the parental perspective to disability rights, and vice versa; insisting on disability rights in civil rights spaces; and the importance of voices of color and LGBTQI people in disability rights spaces. Carrie may have been the only wheelchair-using Latina with a bumper sticker reading “just another disabled lesbian for Christ,” dressed in camo, driving her trak-chair into the wilderness in search of the perfect photo.

While the immediate cause of death was septic shock, Carrie was in fact the victim of our healthcare system and the brutal cost containment procedures of her insurance company, UnitedHealthcare.  Carrie had a severe neuromuscular disease, a rare form of muscular dystrophy. She relied on a power wheelchair, and had used a ventilator for years. In January of 2018, she got a cold which turned into a lung infection. UnitedHealthcare refused to pay for the specific inhaled antibiotic that she needed, instead forcing her to take a less effective drug, to which she experienced a severe reaction.  This created a cascade of problems and loss of function (including her speech). United Healthcare’s attempt to save $2,000 ultimately cost over $1 million in health care costs over the past year.

We are very grateful for all Carrie has taught us about disability rights and intersectionality, and for being a brilliant and hilarious colleague and friend.  We will miss her very much.

[CCDC has posted a more detailed obituary, from which I have plagiarized liberally.]

 

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