At OCR offices, left to right,
Bruce Darling, Nadina LaSpina and Mike Godino (Queens Independent
Living Center) speak with Michael Carter after the meeting.
On Thursday, Nov. 21, New York state ADAPT paid a surprise visit
to the Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights (OCR) at
26 Federal Plaza in New York City.
"ADAPT groups all over the country are hitting Health and Human
Services Offices today," said ADAPT organizer Nadina LaSpina. "We
want HHS to institute a national policy of the money follows the
individual so that people who are locked up in institutions against
their will are given the choice of receiving services at home."
"We're targeting the HHS Office of Civil Rights here in New York
because this office is not aggressively investigating complaints by
institutionalized individuals who want to live at home," said Bruce Darling,
ADAPT organizer and executive director of the Center for Disability
Rights in Rochester. T.K. Small, regional coordinator of the New
York state Independent Living Council, added, "Instead of helping
our Independent Living Centers transition people into the community,
OCR has constructed bureaucratic hoops, requesting more and more
paperwork, making the process lengthy and frustrating."
The activists assembled on Broadway across the street from the federal
building. They held a brief strategy/training session, at the end of
which LaSpina reminded everyone of the possible result of the day's action,
"What we're doing is against the law. We should all know that we're
At noon, Danny Robert of New York City ADAPT led group, made up mostly
of wheelchair users, across Broadway and around the corner to the
accessible entrance on Duane Street. There was a Book Fair in the lobby,
which gave the activists a pretext for being there. They filed past
the security guards and metal detectors and spread out throughout
The ADAPT organizers then moved towards the bank of 10 elevators
and the group started their ascent to the 33rd floor. Suddenly a
security officer stepped up to the organizers but instead of blocking
them, he simply escorted them to OCR's door.
There was no confrontation. "The plan was for as many of us as possible
to single file quickly through the door, occupy the office and start
chanting," said Chris Hildenbrandt of Rochester ADAPT. "We expected the
staff to try and stop us. Instead they cordially invited us in."
When Darling said the group wanted to speak with Regional Director
Michael Carter, a surprised but welcoming gentleman presented himself.
"Here I am," he said. Carter took a look at the single line of people
extending down the hall and instructed his staff to prepare a meeting
room that would accommodate all. The meeting room was ready in a
matter of minutes.
There were more than 50 activists. They formed a wide circle around
Carter. Darling, the group's spokesperson, clearly stated the reasons
for ADAPT's visit. Carter listened carefully. "If we have not been
aggressive enough [in the investigation of OCR complaints], we'll be more
aggressive as of today," Carter affirmed. He agreed to cut the red
tape, he agreed to reopen complaints that had been rejected, and
he agreed to hold quarterly meetings with New York State ADAPT. He
also readily agreed to fax National ADAPT's list of demands to HHS
Secretary Tommy Thompson in Washington, D.C.
Representatives from New York City Independent Living Centers were
especially gratified when Carter agreed to look into the problem of lack
of housing for people who come out of institutions. "Nursing homes
are being used as homeless shelters for people with disabilities
in downstate New York," said Sharon Lacks, deputy director of the
Center for Independence of the Disabled in N.Y. "OCR must work with
HUD [Housing and Urban Development] to try and solve the housing
problem." After the meeting the activists seemed pleased. "I believe
Michael Carter can be a great ally," said Robert. Darling agreed, "I
think we started a really useful dialog."
But some of the activists seemed disappointed. "This wasn't much
of an action. We didn't even get to chant," said Dina Niedleman of
New York City ADAPT. LaSpina smiled and said "Today's non-action
proves how powerful ADAPT is. When they see us coming, they know
they better be nice or else."