Advocates File Federal Lawsuit Against State Over Services Available For Disabled Ohioans

Mar 31, 2016

A disability rights group has filed suit in federal court against the state, claiming Ohio forces people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to receive services in institutional settings due to a lack of community options. 

Disability Rights Ohio filed suit on behalf of six people who the group says are, or are at risk of being, "needlessly institutionalized" because of state-imposed barriers to community-based services. And the suit seeks class-action status for about 27,800 other disabled Ohioans.  Tim Harrington, the executive director of the Ability Center of Greater Toledo, said:  “We do not walk lightly into lawsuits, but when we do, we’ve won every one.”

Jeanine Narowitz of North Ridgeville is the mother of 24-year-old Nate, who is non-verbal and functions at the level of an eight-year-old. He’s been on a wait list for a waiver for a community-based facility for four years, and Narowitz said she’s worried about his future. “My husband and I have provided for Nate during these last four years what a waiver should provide for him," Narowitz said. In May, I will be 63 and my husband will be 67. My husband would like to retire, but he keeps putting it off so that he can provide for Nate.”

Cathy Mason-Jordan’s sister Caryl is 46 years old, is non-verbal and in a wheelchair and lives in a group home with seven other residents. But Mason-Jordan said she’s often left alone or put into group activities that she doesn’t enjoy. “My dream for Caryl is that she have a choice. That she gets to choose what she gets to do every day, like we all do. And this dream is a dream for all of our loved ones with special needs.”

The group says it’s been negotiating with the state for two years.  A trio of Republican state lawmakers have responded to the suit, noting that the budget put forward an additional $300 million for additional waiver services, and that they’ll continue to address concerns raised by disability advocates.