Able News January  2003 issue  


Civil Rights Director Meets ADAPT, Avoids Sit-in

see caption below - Whitehouse Photo by Paul Moriss

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 risking arrest."
- 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 lobby.
- 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."