AAPD Statement on the Passing of Lois Curtis, Lead Plaintiff of Landmark Olmstead Decision

For Immediate Release: 11/6/2022

Contact: Communications@aapd.com

WASHINGTON, DC – The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) mourns the loss of Lois Curtis, a civil rights icon and a champion for justice. Lois was the lead plaintiff in the 1999 U.S. Supreme Court landmark decision, Olmstead v. L.C., a decision that changed the lives of millions of Americans and spurred major shifts in our health care, behavioral health, employment, and education systems. Lois Curtis was a powerful advocate with intellectual disabilities, and due in part to her advocacy, people with disabilities have enforceable legal rights to the supports they need to live, work, and learn in their communities. 

Lois Curtis, a black woman with short hair, smiles enthusiastically, and proudly holds up two portraits that she has drawn. One is a self portrait another is a portrait of a white woman with red hair

Lois Curtis proudly displays portraits that she drew. Photo Credit: Robin Rayne

Lois was institutionalized at the Georgia Regional Hospital beginning at age 11. By age 19, she knew she no longer wanted to live in an institution or take unwanted medications that drained her energy and kept her sedated. She began calling the Atlanta Legal Aid Society to seek their assistance to be released. It took years of legal fights by Lois Curtis, Elaine Wilson, and their supporters, but eventually they prevailed when the Supreme Court held in Olmstead that unjustified segregation of people with disabilities is a form of unlawful discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In a decision penned by Justice Ginsburgh, the Supreme Court ruled that:

 

       “First, institutional placement of persons who can handle and benefit from community settings      perpetuates unwarranted assumptions that persons so isolated are incapable or unworthy of participating         in community life…Second, confinement in an institution severely diminishes the everyday life activities of individuals, including family relations, social contacts, work options, economic independence, educational advancement, and cultural enrichment.”

Olmstead v. L. C., 527 U.S. 581 (1999)

It took more time to find the right combination of supports for Lois to thrive in the Atlanta community she called home, in part because she was such a trailblazer. The systems of support Lois needed had to be newly created due to the transformational nature of the Olmstead decision. 

“ Lois wanted to be free. She wanted to live on her own terms with dignity. In working to achieve that for herself, she made it possible for other disabled people to do the same. Lois Curtis’ impact cannot be overstated, and her advocacy will continue to shape the landscape of disability and civil rights for decades to come, said Maria Town, President and CEO of AAPD.

In addition to being revered as an advocate, Lois was beloved as an artist and a friend. Those closest to her remember that Lois loved music, singing, eating out, meeting people, shoe shopping, going to fairs, and drawing “pretty pictures.” Her friends remarked that she created artwork as she lived–her lines drawn without hesitation, her colors bold and saturated, her images spirited.

Lois wrote in 2010,

“To all the people living in institutions: 

Lois Curtis, a black woman with short hair, smiles at a meeting and wears a black and yellow outfit

Lois Curtis smiles during a “micro-board” meeting. A group of her friends and supporters get together once a month to help Lois plan her life.

          

 I remember you. Give me a prayer.

Sometimes I feel good about my life.  

When I feel bad about my life I name my country, sing the gospel, and bring my mind back home.

I will sing with you again.

Have a beautiful day.

Love, Lois”

 

Lois Curtis died in her home in Atlanta, Georgia, on November 3, 2022. She was 55 years old. Lois will be laid to rest at the South-View Cemetery in Atlanta, Georgia, alongside many other significant American civil rights figures.

AAPD sends peace and comfort to Lois’ family, loved ones, and to our community who benefit from her efforts to ensure that disabled people have the right to live integrated within our communities, not segregated inside institutions. This fight is as urgent today as it was 23 years ago. Lois’ legacy and impact will live on in the disability rights movement as we continue to fight for community integration, de-institutionalization, and self-determination for all disabled people. Rest in Power, Lois.

 

 

AAPD’s REV UP Voting Campaign Builds the Power of the Disability Vote in 2022

For Immediate Release : 11/4/2022

Contact: Lilian Aluri, laluri@aapd.com 

WASHINGTON, DC – There are more than 38 million people with disabilities eligible to vote in the 2022 midterm elections. Disabled voters play a key role each election, making up about 1 out of every 6 eligible voters. The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) REV UP Campaign has been working in collaboration with national and local partners throughout the year to get out the disability vote.

To prepare for the midterms, REV UP developed 51 Voting Guides for each state and the District of Columbia, the REV UP Voting Issues Guide, Accessibility Tips, and a Voting Outreach Toolkit. Since January of 2022, REV UP provided $200,000 to  grassroots disability vote coalitions and organizations across 28 states. These groups used this funding to build the power of the disability vote through:  

  • Registering disabled voters in their local communities.
  • Training disabled voters on their voting rights.
  • Conducting accessibility audits to ensure voting is accessible.
  • Hosting candidate forums on disability issues.
  • Educating voters on how to make a voting plan.
  • Mobilizing voters to participate in the 2022 midterm elections.

AAPD President and CEO Maria Town stated, “Every election and every vote matters. This election, many issues of vital importance to people with disabilities are on the ballot, from healthcare to community living, from abortion to voting rights themselves. In this, and in every election, disabled voters have the right to take part in democracy free from ableism, access barriers, intimidation, and discrimination. That’s why AAPD and the REV UP Campaign work year round to make sure the disability community has access to the ballot.”

To learn more about voting with a disability, visit aapd.com/wevote.

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AAPD is a convener, connector, and catalyst for change, increasing the political and economic power of people with disabilities. As one of the leading national cross-disability civil rights organizations, AAPD advocates for the full recognition of rights for the over 61 million Americans with disabilities. To learn more about AAPD, visit www.aapd.com

AAPD’s REV UP Campaign is a national nonpartisan campaign building the power of the disability vote. REV UP is made up of coalitions and partner organizations working to make sure disabled voters are registered and ready to vote and have access to the ballot. Learn more about REV UP at www.aapd.com/revup.  

AAPD and NBCUniversal Announce 2022 Recipients of the Tony Coelho Media Scholarship 

For Immediate Release : 9/13/2022

Contact: Jess Davidson, jdavidson@aapd.com 

WASHINGTON, DC – The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) is proud to announce the eight recipients of the 2022 NBCUniversal Tony Coelho Media Scholarship. With generous support from NBCUniversal, the Tony Coelho Media Scholarship was named for a former United States Representative and the primary author and sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The scholarship is provided to undergraduate and graduate students with disabilities who are interested in increasing disability representation in their future careers in the communications, media, or entertainment industries.

“Accurate representation is brought to our screens through the authentic lived experiences of those in front of and behind the camera,” said Craig Robinson, Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer, NBCUniversal. “We’re grateful for our continued partnership with AAPD supporting the Tony Coelho Media Scholarship, and working across our businesses to advocate for disability representation.”

“The personal and professional backgrounds of this year’s scholarship recipients demonstrate the true diversity of both the disability community and the communications, media, and entertainment industry. Whether they’re writing books, putting out impactful stories as journalists, or writing and producing their own films, they understand the vital role that their work and voices play in shaping society’s understanding of disability. I am grateful for the work these recipients have done and will do, and for the commitment they show to advancing nuanced and equity-centered disability media. AAPD is continually grateful to NBCUniversal for their ongoing partnership and support of these talented students who will enhance disability representation in their fields,” said Maria Town, President and CEO of AAPD.

Award recipients received $5,625 each to help cover the cost of education at their current college or university. Each recipient of the 2022 NBCUniversal Tony Coelho Media Scholarship was awarded for their demonstrated knowledge and passion in their field of media industries. The recipients also were selected based on not only their commitment and contribution to disability representation in the media but their future aspirations to meaningfully include and engage the disability community in their career.During the 2022-2023 school year, NBCUniversal and AAPD will collaborate to provide several opportunities to support the recipient’s growth in their academic pursuits and their career development. 

Please join us in congratulating the recipients of the 2022 NBCUniversal Tony Coelho Media Scholarship!

Izabelle Azevedo (she/her), Towson University

Victoria Erdel Garcia (she/her), Purdue University

Rachel Handlin (she/her), Pratt Institute

N’Jhari Jackson (he/him), University of Florida

Julia Métraux (she/her), University of California, Berkeley

Melanie Ojwang (she/they), Loyola Marymount University

Nancy Pickett (she/her), University of Florida

Tea Slater (they/them),  The George Washington University

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The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) is a convener, connector, and catalyst for change, increasing the political and economic power of people with disabilities. As a national cross-disability rights organization, AAPD advocates for full civil rights for the over 61 million Americans with disabilities by promoting equal opportunity, economic power, independent living, and political participation. To learn more, visit the AAPD Web site: www.aapd.com.

Ford Foundation Grants $1M to AAPD to Support Disabled Higher Ed Students and Employees in COVID-19 Landscape

For Immediate Release – September 7, 2022

Contact: Jess Davidson, jdavidson@aapd.com

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) is proud to announce that AAPD has received a new $1,000,000 grant from the Ford Foundation U.S. Disability Rights Program. The grant has been established to support the advocacy of disabled students, faculty, and staff to center disabled university community members as postsecondary education navigates the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This announcement marks the largest grant ever issued by the Ford Foundation’s U.S. Disability Rights portfolio, which launched in 2021, and builds on the powerful legacy of student and youth organizing in the disability rights and justice movement. 

Higher education is inaccessible to disabled students and employees in a multitude of ways, posing barriers even before the COVID-19 pandemic. As the pandemic continues, and preventative measures such as masking and routine testing are now implemented inconsistently if at all, students, faculty, and staff with disabilities yet face additional threats to their health and safety.  Institutions of higher education are not just places of learning, but they are workplaces. Disabled workers have also faced immense barriers, discrimination, and impossible choices during the pandemic. 

Equal access to education and to workplaces without the presence of disability discrimination are protected civil rights. When campus COVID-19 protocols do not center the needs of disabled and high-risk community members, individuals are forced to choose between accessing their education or employment and their own health. This impossible choice has significant impacts on educational attainment and on student, faculty, and staff mental health. 

While all college students reported high levels of stress and mental health challenges during the pandemic, disabled college students were twice as likely as their nondisabled peers to experience anxiety, and three times as likely to face depression. And, according to the National Center for College Students with Disabilities, while over 22% of Americans have a disability, only 4% of higher education faculty are disabled. This indicates higher education’s inaccessibility to disabled employees, and that community and solidarity among higher education professionals may not be easy to find. 

“AAPD is thrilled to receive this generous grant from the Ford Foundation to directly support  disabled student, staff, and faculty advocacy efforts to ensure that institutions of higher education adopt more inclusive and accessible policies and support systems,” said Christine Liao, Programs Director at the American Association of People with Disabilities

Liao continued, “This grant marks not only an investment in educational access for disabled students, but also an investment in the future of our movement. Through AAPD’s programs focused on career and leadership development, we have witnessed the power that comes from disabled people in higher education building communities that sustain  their future advocacy. We will use this funding to strengthen and support those vital advocacy and community networks.”

“The disability rights and justice movement has a rich history of youth and student organizers leading the disability community into a new chapter. From the bold young people who held sit-ins until Section 504 was signed into law to the Deaf students at Gallaudet University who demanded rightful representation with the Deaf President Now protests – in our movement, as has been true in the civil rights movement and so many others, young people have demanded change and lead the way towards it’s progress. The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating for the disability community in countless ways. It is only fitting that the U.S. Disability Rights’ largest grant to date is focused on supporting disabled students, faculty and staff through the next phase of the pandemic, and that AAPD, an organization whose programs meaningfully support this current generation of disabled leaders will carry out this vital work.” said Rebecca Cokley, Program Officer for the Ford Foundation’s U.S. Disability Rights portfolio. 

A portion of the funding will provide subgrants to organizations led by and/or dedicated to disabled student and staff organizing and advocacy, as well as more informal campus efforts. AAPD will work with individuals and communities within many different types of postsecondary education institutions and programs. 

For more information, or to register to be connected to programs and opportunities pertaining to this grant as they are announced, please visit: https://www.aapd.com/covid-higher-education-program/

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The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) is a convener, connector, and catalyst for change, increasing the political and economic power of people with disabilities. As a national cross-disability rights organization, AAPD advocates for full civil rights for the over 61 million Americans with disabilities by promoting equal opportunity, economic power, independent living, and political participation. To learn more, visit the AAPD Web site: www.aapd.com.

The Ford Foundation is an independent organization working to address inequality and build a future grounded in justice. For more than 85 years, it has supported visionaries on the frontlines of social change worldwide, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. Today, with an endowment of $16 billion, the foundation has headquarters in New York and 10 regional offices across Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. Learn more at www.fordfoundation.org.

AAPD Publishes 2022 Progress Report on Automobile Accessibility Scorecard Results

For Immediate Release: July 26, 2022

Contact: Sam Drzymala, samuel@cleveredge.co, 314-608-9319

 

AAPD Publishes 2022 Progress Report on Automobile Accessibility Scorecard Results 

Report shows significant internal accessibility progress at auto manufacturers over the past year

Washington, D.C. – Today, as it honors of the 32nd anniversary of passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) issued its third progress report on its Automobile Accessibility Scorecard. The scorecard tracks progress by auto manufacturing companies toward the design and production of an accessible vehicle that can accommodate people with a wide range of disabilities, including power wheelchair users, along 31 criteria. Currently, no manufacturer offers a fully accessible vehicle that does not require expensive aftermarket modifications for wheelchair users. Although autonomous vehicles’ (AVs) potential to remove barriers is frequently touted, as automakers  pave the way with new concepts for these vehicles, it is crucial that people with disabilities are not left out and left behind.  

You can read the report here.

“Despite unprecedented supply chain challenges and an ongoing global pandemic, auto manufacturers have made progress toward the development of an accessible, autonomous light duty vehicle ” said Maria Town, President and CEO at AAPD. “In an era of heightened infection risk for people with disabilities and compromised immune systems, development of new accessible mobility options is more urgent than ever.”

This year’s progress report found that, over the last year, significant internal progress has been made on vehicle accessibility. Through supply chain dislocation and a continued pandemic, auto companies are making measurable progress. And in an era of prolonged Covid exposure and heightened risk of new global disease threats, development of new mobility options for immune-compromised people – including many people with disabilities – is more urgent than ever before.

Highlights from the report include:

  • Significant progress on new vehicle design and development
  • Automakers disclose that next-generation vehicles will include a wide range of accessibility features, including wheelchair securement.
  • New partnerships to provide ADA-compliant accessible vehicle options in AV company fleet.

 

BACKGROUND

Accessible transportation is a cornerstone of participation in today’s society, and present options leave disabled people behind. No major auto manufacturer is producing a vehicle for sale to the consumer that is built with accessibility as a cornerstone of the user experience. Further, although we have seen advancements in accessible user interfaces, no major automaker produces a purpose-built light duty vehicle that can accommodate a wheelchair user. The average wheelchair user must spend between $20,000 – $40,000 above the manufacturer’s suggested retail price for substantial modifications to purchase a vehicle that is accessible. This price tag is often too high for most people, and particularly disabled people who experience higher rates of poverty. 

The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) is supporting the deployment of safe, accessible autonomous transportation services through robust engagement with companies bringing autonomous transportation options to market. By forming authentic and reciprocal partnerships with companies working on autonomous vehicles (AVs), we work to address the challenges of accessible design and achieve our goal: full production of light-duty passenger vehicles that are affordable and accessible to people with a wide range of disabilities. 

As part of its role as convener of the We Will Ride campaign, AAPD developed a scorecard that rates the automotive industry’s progress toward creating an accessible vehicle. The scorecard was first announced in 2019, on the 29th anniversary of the passage of the ADA. Over the last two years, we have released public progress reports on original equipment manufacturer (OEM) accessibility efforts. These progress reports provide a window into the plans of autonomous vehicle companies building vehicles or providing transportation services to the public.

Current research suggests that travel-limited people, older adults, and people with disabilities make up a significant market for transportation service. Specifically, we estimate that there are 18.5 million travel-limited individuals in the U.S., of which 5.7 million are wheelchair-using, and, of those, 1.4 million use a motorized wheelchair. In addition:

  • The range of the travel-limited population that has the means to use a ride sharing service is between 11.2 to 15.4 million.
  • The estimated range of the wheelchair-using population that has the means of purchasing private vehicles or using a ride sharing service is between 3.6 and 5.0 million.
  • The range of the motorized wheelchair-using population that has the means of purchasing private vehicles or using a rideshare service is between 0.9 and 1.3 million.
  • The wheelchair-using and the travel-limited populations are six times more likely to live in zero vehicle households and the motorized wheelchair-using population is eight times more likely; and,
  • The market is projected to grow: The disability population is growing much faster than the population as a whole: 10.75% as opposed to a 0.74% growth rate for the US population. The Census Bureau projects that by 2030 there will be 21.5 million more wheelchair users — and that’s just among people 55 and older.

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AAPD Statement on the Overturning of Roe v. Wade

For Immediate Release: 6/24/22

Contact: Jess Davidson, jdavidson@aapd.com

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the United States Supreme Court announced its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. This decision has overturned the court’s rulings in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, ending any federal right to abortion.

After the initial draft of this decision was leaked, The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) released a formal statement opposing efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade, and to any other legislative and judicial restrictions on abortion rights. Bodily autonomy is a core principle of the disability rights movement, and disabled people have fought hard to win respect for our capacities, the right to make our own choices, and the support and access necessary to participate fully in American life. We believe wholeheartedly in these values and principles.

“This decision threatens the true meaning of many values that are proclaimed to be core American values: freedom of choice, self-determination, and independence from government interference in one’s personal affairs,” said Maria Town, President and CEO of AAPD. 

“Today’s Supreme Court decision does not just threaten value systems and rights, but the health and safety of disabled people. This decision will cause grave, and in many cases, lethal, bodily harm to far too many disabled people, especially those who already face the most significant barriers to accessing reproductive health care – low-income disabled people, disabled people of color and disabled LGBTQIA+ people. We must do all we can to preserve bodily autonomy and prevent further harm. All people deserve access to abortion care when they need it, on the timeline they choose, and in the community they trust. Abortion care is vital health care that needs to be accessible, funded, and recognized. The Biden Administration must do everything within its executive authority to protect access to reproductive health care, including removing barriers in insurance coverage and increasing the availability of accessible diagnostic medical equipment. ” 

“This decision is deeply concerning because of its potential implications for future attacks to the right to privacy and other personal rights surrounding marriage, intimacy, sterilization, medical care, housing, speech, and more.”

The next right steps in our fight to ensure all people can get the care they need may not immediately be clear, and we know that this time feels terrifying and uncertain for many. As we find a way forward, we will be guided by our belief that each person deserves to live, work, and make decisions about our health and our future with dignity and respect. AAPD will continue to provide updates and information about how this landscape will impact people with disabilities and will continue to fight for a future where everyone can live with self-determination and dignity. 

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