Job outlook positive for injured, unemployed workers

by MADISON RICE

Finding a job in this economy can be tough for anyone. Fresh college graduates are considered lucky to get their foot in the right door, and there’s little telling what’s available for a person with a high school diploma. Even more unsure are those unemployed with a disability.

Fortunately, John Holt, 40, an injured construction worker from West Valley City, recently found a job working for a contractor. After applying for disability because of the lack of interest from employers, Holt landed a four-day-a-week job doing what he loves most.

But after a few days, things weren’t looking good for Holt.

“I was doing tile, and one day walking up a hill I heard a pop and a tearing noise in my calf,” Holt said. “It all swelled up and I can’t put weight on my toes and I can’t walk. I have to use a cane.”

And so this self-described action junkie is back on his quest. He wants help from the Disability Law Center.

“If they say no, I will appeal. But I haven’t gotten an answer back yet,” Holt said. “I should have went on disability a long time ago. The doctors knew what they were talking about.”

The doctors Holt sees are providers for Primary Care Network’s health care insurance program. “They accepted me right away for insurance. They will still help me with meds, which are about $400 a month. That’s basically my house payment, so it really helps,” Holt said. “Some prescriptions I only pay $25 for.”

Emma Chacon, a representative for PCN, said there is a significant population of adults like Holt who don’t have insurance and don’t qualify for Medicaid. These people are welcomed at PCN.

“The Primary Care Network is essentially a waiver program under the larger Medicaid program to provide preventative care to individuals who do not qualify for Medicaid,” Chacon said. “We pay up to four prescriptions a month and life-and-limb emergencies. We don’t pay for in-patient hospital or specialty care.”

While Holt can get by paying for his pain medications with help from PCN, the PCN’s program cannot help him get the back surgery he needs.

“We don’t cover that, but we do have specialists that will go out and try to get donated services for recipients with significant issues,” Chacon said.

After receiving an MRI a few months ago, granted to him by Vocational Rehabilitation’s Client Assistance program, Holt knows he needs to see a doctor — not only to fix his back, but also to allow him to heal.

“The person I seen was a pharmacist at the pain clinic and he told me to see a physician next time about procedures,” he said. “But the visit will cost me extra and what I should do about the results will cost, too. If I do get disability insurance then I will definitely go to a physician and get a procedure done so I can go back to construction, where my knowledge is.”

Holt realizes that if his back surgery is unobtainable, he must change his occupation.

“I am still in the same position fighting injury after injury,” he said. “I need to do work that’s not so physical, and that’s the hardest part. My whole life, I’ve been outdoors doing a lot of things. But then again, I’ve been outdoors in car wrecks, getting hurt, playing games and getting hurt.”

So Holt has found himself back at the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation applying for Vocational Rehabilitation’s services. He will take the aptitude test again, as he has before, in the hope of finding the right job placement for him.

“It’s really fun,” Holt said. “They have you do a bunch of tests to figure out career choices you should make.”

According to the Web site, USOR’s mission is to help individuals with disabilities to obtain employment and increase their independence. Its most recent council report states that 21,997 individuals were provided with vocational rehabilitation services and 3,310 individuals with disabilities were successfully employed.

“I am a fairly decent artist,” Holt said. “But I’m 40 years old and there’s kids out there really confident on the computer and the programs they use. So I’m glad Vocational Rehab will pay for training.”

In fact, 64 percent of Vocational Rehabilitation’s expenditures go toward training individuals for jobs. Occupations include service occupations, sales and clerical work and industrial work. Holt will likely be placed in a clerical occupation based on his current abilities.

“I am not worried about the work. I am skilled with my hands and my mind. But to sit around every day with people that have nothing in common with me? It’s a change of lifestyle,” he said. “I don’t even know what regular people get paid and what a regular day is. What is the deal? Nine to five? What do you do for lunches? I mean, I don’t even know.”

More people are finding themselves in a situation similar to Holt’s. Whether unemployment comes as a result of injury or economic downsizing, finding a job can be difficult. However, the results can be fruitful for everyone. According to USOR, an estimated $16 million in annual taxes were paid by vocationally rehabilitated individuals last year.

Several organizations, like the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation, the Department of Workforce Services for jobs and careers, and the Workers Compensation Fund are available to assist individuals seeking employment help.

Changing the way we think about mental illness

by MICHELLE SCHMITT

A young man was walking down a Salt Lake City street. Police spotted him and branded him a suspicious-looking character, so they pursued him. The young man ran. Officers caught up with him and took him in for resisting arrest. It turns out the young man was a diagnosed schizophrenic.

This is just the type of issue that Sherri Wittwer, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in Utah, is fighting against.

“It’s scary that this happens in this country. When you talk about this group [that] tends to lag behind as far as rights in the disabled community … I had no idea that this stuff happened until I started this work,” said Wittwer, who joined NAMI four years ago.

Wittwer became involved when her son was diagnosed with depression at 13 years old. She noticed something was different about her firstborn in his early years, but thought it was just a matter of personality. Now with treatment and mental health understanding, she and her family are able to cope.

“The mentally ill are the most overlooked in the disabled community,” said Janis Tetro with the Disability Law Center.

Wittwer said the mentally ill are neglected because of stigmas. Unlike a physical ailment, mental illness is not visible. She wants people to know that disorders such as obsessive-compulsive, panic, post-traumatic stress, schizophrenia and bipolar, and illnesses including depression are biological brain disorders.

“I always used to say that these are not unlike diabetes and asthma, and yet, unlike diabetes and asthma you can be incarcerated for having an untreated mental illness and not necessarily because you’re dangerous, but because you’re ill, and that is a major difference,” Wittwer said.

Connie Hines, a spokeswoman for Valley Mental Health, said the Utah Legislature does not pay enough attention to issues of mental illness, which is one reason that VMH and similar organizations are drastically underfunded.

“The legislature considers us a black hole” when it comes to funding, Hines said. Because mental health advocates lack outcome data, which is information that demonstrates the effects of treatment, lawmakers are unable to see empirical evidence that treatment works.

But Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Salt Lake City, said it is not that Utah representatives are not sympathetic toward the needs of the mentally disabled, there just is not enough money.

“More and more representatives are becoming more and more informed about the mentally ill,” Moss said.

Moss sponsored H.B. 101 in the 2009 general session. The bill would have created a “pilot program” for individuals who transition out of a hospital or jail and back into society. The program would provide funding for health service professionals to visit mentally ill people in their homes for regular check-ups.

The bill eventually failed on the house floor due to funding issues, but Moss said she is still working on it for future passage.

We need to do “what we can to help the funding to make the program viable,” Moss said. Although the cost would be about $10,000 to $15,000 per patient, it is not high when compared to alternative fees, such as hospital bills, court fines and incarceration, she said.

Wittwer said a common crime committed by a mentally ill individual is disturbing the peace. She said police do not know how to handle the person, so they will just arrest the individual.

“Our jails and prisons are the largest mental health institutions in our country, far ahead of state hospitals,” Wittwer said. The real issue, she said, is criminalizing mental illness for those who simply do not have access to treatment.

NAMI focuses on trying to “break the cycle” of the mentally ill going to prison, not receiving treatment, being released and then going right back to jail. Wittwer said some people are booked in the Salt Lake County Jail up to 50 times a year.

“We can’t build enough jails to keep housing people. We have to look at this problem differently,” Wittwer said.

NAMI has begun to try to alleviate some of these dilemmas. Wittwer talked about NAMI’s Bridges Program in which people who are treating their own disorder participate in peer-to-peer counseling and go to the prisons to help the incarcerated.

Salt Lake, Utah and Cache counties have instigated mental health courts that are designed to facilitate treatment for the mentally ill, while still holding the individual accountable for the crime that was committed.

But the biggest challenge, Wittwer said, is to address the stigmas that go along with mental illness.

Janis Tetro, with the Disability Law Center, believes “people are scared.” “I think they see the headlines and assume the mentally ill are dangerous, and this is just not the case.”

In fact, Wittwer said the mentally disabled are more often the victim rather than the offender because their illness makes them more vulnerable and less able to defend themselves.

At VMH, Hines puts importance on responding to questions from the media and from schools. She thinks it is necessary to be available to clarify and respond to questions about mental health.

Another misconception is that mental illness is the result of “lack of will power, lack of character,” Wittwer said. She wants people to know it is treatable.

But Utah is not winning its battle to provide appropriate help to the mentally ill.  According to NAMI’s “U.S. report card,” Utah got a “D,” which is also the national average.

Wittwer said there are many reasons for our state’s poor grade. She emphasized the importance of educating hospital staff, law enforcement officers and court employees so they are better equipped to handle a person who has not received treatment for their illness.

Wittwer insists we must change the way we do things. “There are better, more effective, more cost-effective, more individual and family friendly ways that we should be dealing with these issues.”

Hines lauded the efforts NAMI has made to advocate for individuals and their families. She said while VMH focuses on treatment, NAMI has made significant efforts to spread awareness and provide training for families who may need to care for a mentally disabled loved one.

Tetro said a common problem arises when a mentally disabled individual tries to rent an apartment and the property owner discovers the individual has an illness, so the landlord does not rent the space. This is a scenario that Tetro chalks up to discrimination and lack of education.

“I think people would be amazed to find how many people who have a mental illness are productive members of our society,” Tetro said.

Wittwer said one out of four adults will suffer from a mental illness each year, and although those who suffer are often overlooked as members of the extensive disabled community, they are not part of a “fringe” group in our society.

“So that’s what we want people to know; that there is hope out there, treatment works, recovery is possible, and no one has to feel alone because there are others who have walked this walk,” Wittwer said.

Disabilities can create courtroom confusion

by JED LAYTON

For many people, the courtroom is unfamiliar territory.

The judicial process can be difficult to understand and the legal language seems foreign. Life-changing decisions are made by strangers and a significant amount of trust is put in the hands of attorneys, judges and jurors.

Add in a communication barrier, and the courtroom becomes more intimidating. For many people with communication disabilities, such as a speech impediment or deafness, it can be a nightmare.

Barbara Toomer, secretary of the Disabled Rights Action Committee, a privately funded and nonprofit organization, said people with disabilities are often at a disadvantage in public places, including the courtroom.

Toomer said such disadvantages can be in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, the Disabled Rights Action Committee and other organizations are working to change that.

“It is discrimination to deny someone public services regardless of any disability,” Toomer said. “We are trying to make sure people have a voice and access in their communities.”

The Americans with Disabilities Act was created by Congress in 1990 and signed into place by George H.W. Bush. It changed the way public places were required to accommodate people with disabilities, especially in regard to communication.

The ADA requires public agencies to provide ways in which people with disabilities can effectively communicate with others, just like an average person can, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Toomer said one of the biggest problems people with disabilities face is that ADA regulations are often unknown or confusing.

“Many public agencies don’t know of the ADA or don’t know it well enough,” she said, “and some people with disabilities don’t know their own rights.”

People who have ADA complaints can contact the Disabled Rights Action Committee or similar organizations. The Disability Law Center provides free legal advice and representation for Utahns with disabilities. The Access Utah Network is a government agency that is attempting to make Utah more accessible to people with disabilities.

“[The Disabled Rights Action Committee] will get them in contact with a disability rights attorney that can advise them,” Toomer said.

Lisa Fine, an attorney with the Disability Law Center, said most Utah courts want to help people with disabilities have better access.

Fine provided legal counsel and helped mediate a disability access complaint between Lana McKinsey of Layton, Utah, and the Layton City Courthouse. She said it served as an example of how courtrooms and people with disabilities can work together to find solutions.

McKinsey was born mostly blind and has been partially deaf for the last five years. She can only hear with the help of hearing aids.

McKinsey was in court because of a domestic violence case where she was the victim. When it was McKinsey’s turn to speak she was unable to use any of the accommodations the Layton courthouse had in place to help people with disabilities.

The ADA recommends public entities have qualified interpreters, note takers, computer-aided transcription services, assistive listening devices and systems, audio recordings, Braille and large print materials, hearing aids and other methods to make communication accessible to all.

McKinsey could not use translation, telecommunications devices for deaf persons, captioning or video text displays because of her limited sight.

She was also unable to use the assistive listening devices because the amplifiers conflicted with her hearing aids. None of the other ADA methods worked or were available.

McKinsey left the courthouse in tears because she was unable to hear the questions and provide answers in a case that directly involved her.

She contacted Fine a few days after the communication dilemma. Fine said the situation was difficult but was appropriately dealt with by the Layton Courthouse.

“I was impressed. It was a government entity that responded quickly and sincerely,” Fine said.

Al Hansen, the building coordinator for the Second District Court for Utah, which includes the Layton City Courthouse, helped resolve McKinsey’s problem and recommended a similar procedure for other public entities in comparable situations.

“We determined the problem, did our own research and then involved Lana [McKinsey] in the decision making process,” Hansen said. The courthouse obtained other types of assistive listening devices from neighboring courthouses and let McKinsey determine which one best suited her.

“It was a win-win situation for everyone,” he said. “We felt good about it, she felt good and now we have both kinds of assistive listening devices for the future.”

Fine said the situation was handled perfectly and was an example of how ADA complaints should be resolved.

Hansen said the courts he oversees do their best to follow the guidelines set out by the ADA and attempt to fix problems as soon as possible.

“We want everyone to feel comfortable if they need to come to court,” Hansen said. “It is almost impossible, but we do the best we can to meet everyone’s needs.”

Still, Toomer and other disability organizations would like to see the courts make more improvements.

Mark Smith, information specialist for the Access Utah Network, said enforcement of ADA regulations is mostly driven forward by people with disabilities. He said limited regulation and enforcement has made the ADA a weak document.

“People with disabilities just about have to beg for changes to be made to make areas more accessible for them,” Smith said.

Toomer said some Utah courts are still not up to ADA code. Toomer, who uses a power wheelchair to move around, said she wishes public-service providers would take it upon themselves to better understand and abide by the ADA.

“Unfortunately it is up to people with disabilities to make sure the laws are enforced,” Toomer said.

Smith and Toomer said ADA problems occur more often outside of the Wasatch Front.

One problem rural courthouses face is distance. Few small towns have trained interpreters on hand for those requiring American Sign Language or foreign language translation. The Grand County Courthouse in Moab, Utah, requests interpreters from either Salt Lake City or Arizona, both of which are at least a four-hour-drive away.

Rural areas also have smaller populations; special-needs requests are less frequent, which can catch some public venues off guard.

“Smaller courthouses likely do not have the technology larger ones do,” Fine said. “Often there isn’t a need so communication methods aren’t as likely to be made available.”

Claudia Page, clerk of court for Grand and San Juan counties, said her courthouse in Moab tries as much as possible to make the courtroom open and available to anyone who needs to use it. She said hearings can be postponed to allow interpreters to make arrangements to travel to Moab.

Page said her courthouse is fully accessible for people in wheelchairs and has technology to help those who are hard of hearing, either with assistive listening devices — headphones and microphones — or technology turning the spoken word into readable type.

However, Page said accommodating everyone can be difficult.

“We share the devices with neighboring courthouses in the district,” Page said. “And if we don’t have a warning a few days ahead it is almost impossible to get an interpreter on the spot.”

Toomer said the change process is slow and will only improve as communication and understanding of the ADA gets better. A goal both Toomer and Page agree with.

Unsung heroes help disabled access their rights

Story and photo by MICHELLE SCHMITT

Sitting in her window office at the Community Legal Center located in the minority-rich northwest quadrant of Salt Lake City, Janis Tetro sees herself as a woman on the front lines in the fight for fairness of the disabled at the Disability Law Center (DLC). A World War II propaganda poster of a woman wearing a red bandana hangs on the wall behind Tetro, proclaiming “We Can Do It!”

Community Legal Center, located at 205 N. 400 West.

The Short Term Assessment Team, or STAT, is a division of DLC that responds to incoming calls from disabled persons in need of guidance and direction.

“We’re one of the few [organizations] left who still try to have live people answering the phones, so we try to get to them as quickly as we can,” Tetro said.

When Tetro, a self-advocacy expert and self-proclaimed “STAT lady,” started working for DLC 23 years ago, she had no idea her influence would change the way disabled individuals access their rights.

Tetro and her team developed a computer system that allows them to quickly access all available avenues that a disabled person can pursue in search for assistance in a world that may not cater to their unique needs. The STAT team is able to get answers rapidly for those who call; questions range from legal advice to building access, to weatherization and heating help. At the inception of STAT staff were simply jotting information on 3-by-5 cards, a method that has since advanced to the intricate computer system.

Now every protection advocacy agency across the country has adopted this system, something that Tetro said “was pretty cool.”

STAT is “the most critical link that we have to the disabled community,” said Eric Mitchell, a spokesman with DLC. Mitchell praised STAT for the division’s ability to quickly and accurately field calls and assist distressed individuals.

Tetro is proud of the accomplishments STAT has made. The division has been around for 23 years and has had to adjust to match the progressing times.

“In the beginning we only did little issues,” she said. “We had to inform people that they do have rights, and over the years the people have become more sophisticated on what their rights are. Now we get calls from people who know they have rights,” but just need to know how to address a situation.

Tetro told the story of a man with back problems who gets around on a Segway, per doctor’s orders. While doing so at a Utah college, a campus police officer told the young man that Segways were not permitted on campus. He called Tetro’s team, whose immediate action quickly got him back on campus with no further interruptions.

Tetro said DLC trains disabled individuals about what they are entitled to. The center visits mental health houses, talks to architects about making buildings handicap accessible and provides school training to teachers and officials.

The biggest challenge for Tetro and the STAT is the sheer number of calls. “We get around 5,000 calls a year and we really want to get every one of them individual attention,” Tetro said.

The busiest times of year are during the holidays, when many feel sad and lonely, and at the start of the school year, Tetro said.

Education issues are largely left in the hands of DLC special education team leader Adina Zahradnitova, who works closely with schools to monitor that they are obeying the laws that protect disabled students.

Zahradnitova told the story of a young boy who got shuffled in the system so much that he ended up in the hospital. She and her team stepped in.

It was the school’s responsibility to provide an assessment for a 7-year-old student, a boy believed to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and they failed to do so, Zahradnitova said. When the child’s behavior escalated, the school rushed him to the emergency room; later he was moved to the psychiatric ward at Primary Children’s Hospital. The family received a $17,000 hospital bill and the school accepted no responsibility. The issue is ongoing and DLC is working on behalf of the family. The DLC’s argument is that the boy has the right, under the law, to a free education and it was the school’s job to provide a timely assessment. Instead, the school waited and did not know how to handle the child. Zahradnitova says the family should not have to pay the substantial medical bill. Instead, she says the school should have to since it failed to perform a timely assessment on the boy.

The issue may be handled through the courts, but Zahradnitova hopes to resolve the matter privately. Mitchell said that DLC prefers to handle matters quickly and informally. Litigation takes a lot of time and therefore it is the “tool of last resort.” That is why STAT is so important.

“People walk in literally off the streets,” Mitchell said. “[STAT] is the front line, they provide short term assistance to people and prepare things that need to be forwarded.”

Zahradnitova lauded STAT as a “critical part of the agency,” one that “functions as a well-oiled machine.” Employees provide one-on-one advocacy, offer necessary referrals and work closely with landlords and school districts. She said Tetro has empowered both her team and disabled individuals by training and educating them.

People call who are “totally in crisis,” Tetro said. “They’re kind of mad at the whole world because they haven’t found any help. If we can’t help we have a whole program set up on the computer of agencies that may be able to help [and] we can transfer their calls right over.”

But probably one of the easiest and most effective things that STAT offers is a person to listen. Tetro said many people who call are relieved to have someone to talk to, willing and ready to help.

Employment difficult for injured construction worker

by MADISON RICE

Some of us talk about the time we broke our arm in the fifth grade, or maybe how we tore our ACL or MCL playing football or hiking. But would you be telling these glory stories if you knew John Holt?

Holt, 40, an action junkie, lives in West Valley City and has years of accidents and injuries under his construction belt. When he’s not doing a construction job, this single guy can be found snowboarding or wakeboarding — and doing anything else that gives him an adrenaline rush.

“I broke my first arm when I was 3,” Holt said. Since then, he’s been in more than a dozen car accidents and has even fallen off a roof during a job.

“I fell off a two-story roof with a ladder around my legs. I broke my wrist in two places, sheared the bone of my elbow off, broke a couple ribs, and sprained my ankles,” he said. “I’m starting to rethink if I am accident prone.”

However one might interpret these injuries, they have taken a toll on his body and are the very reason Holt can no longer find work in the job he loves. Contractors and construction businesses simply will not hire him because of his extensive injuries and dependence on medication.

“After being hurt so much, they want to know what your history is like and they find out about my medication and then they don’t want me. I’m highly skilled but my back is messed up,” he said. “I’m a fairly decent guy. I have talent. But I’m not young anymore and that makes it difficult.”

For the past eight years, Holt has gotten by doing construction work for friends and through referrals, but he realizes now more than ever that he cannot rely on an unsteady and unsure income. His medical bills alone are more than $400 a month. So Holt has begun the application process to go on disability, following advice from many of the doctors who have treated him.

“I have been avoiding it because it seems like giving up to me,” Holt said.
According to Matt Knotts, executive director of the Disability Law Center in Salt Lake City, the program will allow him to do everything but give up.

“The sense of giving up is common, but we approach this issue from the perspective that disability is a natural part of the human condition and in no way diminishes an individual’s ability to participate fully in their community,” Knotts said. “Utilizing the public benefits program is completely appropriate.”

Holt began his process with the Disability Law Center in early March 2009, after several months of debating what he would do. If Holt qualifies, he may receive financial help with medications and have back surgery, something he’s needed for a few years.

According to the most recent study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2007, of the 7.8 million U.S. construction workers, 5 percent reported a nonfatal occupational injury or illness. Of those reporting injury or illness, 62,100 had to transfer jobs. “If they were working in construction and they got hurt, that means they’re probably in a clerical occupation now,” said a BLS expert at the Injury Illness Office in Washington, D.C.

Aware that he may face occupational change in the future, Holt enrolled in a computer class. “I found myself in a computer class with no computer at home. That obviously didn’t work out,” he said.

So Holt met with the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation to use its Vocational Rehabilitation services. According to the Web site, the mission of Vocational Rehabilitation “is to assist and empower eligible individuals with disabilities to achieve and maintain meaningful employment.”

Once he is ready for work, Holt will meet with his counselor at the USOR to decide where he needs help. The USOR can give him job coaching, on-the-job training, or referral to an employment service.

“I took an aptitude test and they told me to be an engineer,” he said. “Vocational rehab can help me find a new career, but it’s difficult to jump from construction to what normal people do. There’s a difference in construction people and normal people.”

Holt still waits to hear from the Disability Law Center to see if the organization can help him receive the requested medical procedure for his back. Until then, the Primary Care Network helps him with medication costs.

“One of my prescriptions is $250 a month, and I only pay $5, so there’s a big difference,” he said. He works when jobs come his way and hopes to get his general contracting license and have his own business.

“The disability program will help me get back on my feet. I look at it as a platform to start from,” Holt said. “If I get on it I can jump off after I get my life back again.”

Communication difficulties at court disappoint woman

Story and photo by JED LAYTON

Lana McKinsey left the Layton City Courthouse bewildered.

She had arrived at the courthouse, not because of something she did, but because she was a victim. But when the time arose for her to tell what happened, she was not able to.

McKinsey is visually impaired and has partial hearing loss. She can only hear with the help of hearing aids and describes her sight as looking through a pinhole.

Lana McKinsey wears a listening device that will be made available at the Layton City Courthouse.

Lana McKinsey wears a listening device that will be made available at the Layton City Courthouse.

The Helen Keller National Center estimates that more than 70,000 Americans deal with the dual disabilities, a combination McKinsey calls life changing.

It changed her life when she attempted to give her side of the story regarding a plea bargain her neighbor was making for assaulting McKinsey. But when she tried to use the devices for the hearing impaired, she couldn’t hear.

She couldn’t hear the questions and couldn’t give the answers. McKinsey felt she was again the victim.

“They treated me wrong,” McKinsey said. “They wouldn’t let me say my say and excused me from the room. I thought that was not right.”

The whole experience left a negative impression in McKinsey’s mind of the court system and left her unhappy with the way a settlement was reached.

Six months later, McKinsey is still perturbed by her negative experience but has since worked hard to make sure that no one will have to go through what she did.

McKinsey received help from Kirsten Gwilliams, with the Utah Division of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and Lisa Fine, an attorney with the Disability Law Center.

McKinsey arrived in court because on June 1, 2008, she was struck multiple by times by her neighbor, Stephanie Galbraith, in their trailer park in Layton, Utah, McKinsey said. McKinsey had gone over to Galbraith’s home to donate some dog food and other items she thought her neighbor needed.

McKinsey said Galbraith apparently also wanted the pearl necklace around her neck and attempted to take it from her. The struggle over the necklace then escalated to violence, she said.

Galbraith was charged with assault and intoxication a few days later.
The case went to court in September 2008 and Galbraith pleaded guilty to the assault charges as part of a plea bargain. During the proceedings, the court gave McKinsey an opportunity to make a statement.

“When it was my turn to talk, I could not use the device they gave me to use,” McKinsey said. “I couldn’t hear anything. It seemed like they had never had a deaf and blind person there before.”

Gwilliams said most public places have few problems with the assisted hearing devices similar to the one McKinsey attempted to use.

“However, problems arise in two ways,” Gwilliams said. “First, most people don’t know what they are or how to use them, or how to help if they are not working.”

In McKinsey’s case, no one understood why the devices weren’t working and there were no other options for her to try. Typically the Layton City Courthouse uses sign language for those who are completely deaf and can’t use the hearing devices. But McKinsey’s blindness prevented that option.

“The other problem is that there are two types of assistive listening devices typically used,” Gwilliams said. “One is a device that uses infrared and comes with ear phones. She had to take her hearing aids out to use them, but that did not accommodate her.”

McKinsey said taking her hearing aids out makes her lose nearly all of her hearing. She left the courthouse frustrated, upset and offended. Gwilliams said most courts use infrared devices because the signals do not pass through walls.

McKinsey contacted Fine and the Disability Law Center through Gwilliams. Fine listened to McKinsey’s story and quickly realized there was a problem.

“We arranged to meet with some of the Layton Courthouse administrators who were very receptive and concerned about the situation,” Fine said.

Fine said she was surprised by how quickly and professionally courthouse officials dealt with the situation. Fine also said the Layton Courthouse was not in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act — a piece of legislation that makes it illegal to discriminate against people who have disabilities.

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires public entities to ensure communication with individuals with disabilities. It recommends the use of auxiliary aids, assistive listening systems, interpreters and many other options, all of which the Layton Courthouse had on hand. However, McKinsey was in a unique position because she could use none of them.

“It was an example of exactly how these types of things should be handled. They realized something had gone wrong and fixed it,” Fine said, notin that officials included McKinsey in the decision making process.

McKinsey was able to pick between varieties of different assistive hearing devices borrowed from neighboring courthouses. The devices were of a different type using radio frequencies instead of infrared signals. These devices used headphones instead of earphones.

“I was able to put them on and listen and had Lisa try them on too,” McKinsey said. “It was obvious which one was better and they said they would purchase one and put it in the court.”

McKinsey said that while she was not pleased with the way her own case with the court was handled, she was pleased to know someone else like her will not have to go through the stress and emotion.

“I wondered if there is another person that could have the same problem I did,” McKinsey said. “I didn’t want them to go through that.”

Fine said dealing with the Layton Courthouse was simple and easy. “They deserve a lot of credit. They did most of the work,” she said.

Since meeting with Fine and Layton Courthouse officials, McKinsey said she has moved beyond the problem and has started to move on with her life. But she said it is a relief to her that she knows that there is a way for her to communicate if she needs to go back into court.

McKinsey said she still worries that her neighbor, who lives just a short walk down the road, might seek retribution and is concerned she won’t obey the stipulations of her sentencing.

“If she doesn’t do what she is told, I will go back to the Disability Law Center, and they will represent me,” McKinsey said.

Organization tackles legal issues for underprivileged

by DANIELLE MURPHY

More than 92,000 low-income households in Utah are affected by civil legal problems each year, including University of Utah students. One particular organization is working to help get voices heard.

“…And Justice For All” is an organization encompassing three groups of civil legal services: Disability Law Center, Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake, and Utah Legal Services.

Together, these organizations assist low-income and disabled individuals who often have nowhere else to turn.

One University of Utah student who uses a wheelchair ran into a dilemma last year when road construction on campus blocked the entry at his regular bus stop. This oversight forced the student to find a new route that took an additional 30 to 45 minuets every day. It also prohibited him from ever making it to class on time.

After calling the Disability Law Center, the problem was solved within a week and the student was able to return to his regular route.

“What may seem like a minor inconvenience to some became a major obstacle to my education,” said the student in an interview with “…And Justice For All.” “I am so glad there was someone at the DLC who could help me and that the University was eager to find a realistic, workable solution,” he said.

Most of the problems brought to the organization are very basic legal issues that impact everyday life. Certain individuals facing these problems are invited to utilize the organization’s services free of charge. The eligible individuals include those in poverty conditions, those with physical or mental disabilities, as well as those who are victims of domestic violence.

Kai Wilson, executive director of “…And Justice For All,” describes their typical caseload as issues “that impact what we all do every day, from the relationships we have … to how our houses are built and what landlords have to do to make sure we are in safe and stable housing.”

Since 1998, “…And Justice For All” has been striving to equalize the playing field for those in need. The services offered at “…And Justice For All” provide aid that Wilson estimates can improve the quality of nearly 20 percent of low-income households in Utah.

The United States legal system can seem complex and confusing. Wilson said only 13 percent of the households that are considered very poor are receiving help with their civil legal problems.

Wilson describes one of the goals of the program as self-advocacy. “…And Justice For All” emphasizes teaching people to fight for their own rights and showing them the necessary steps to take.

Often “…And Justice For All” partners serve by giving simple legal advice to those who need it. If necessary, however, the organization also has the capacity to represent clients in trials.

Of the individuals who contacted ULS last year, Wilson said only about 8,000 were represented at trial. In taking cases, needs are prioritized and those with the most pressing issues are assisted first. Domestic violence is one example of a pressing issue that is prioritized.

“…And Justice For All” acts as an umbrella organization to its affiliates. The combination of three of Utah’s existing legal aid services allowed all of the organizations to save money through shared logistics and staff support. This situation also benefits individual clients who need to utilize more than one of the three affiliate organization’s services.

“…And Justice For All” has an official mission to create and sustain resources to provide effective civil legal services while strengthening individual agencies in its distinct roles. Wilson estimates that together these organizations assisted around 36,000 people in 2008.

The government subsidizes 80 percent of funding for Utah Legal Services and Disability Law Center. Other sources of income include donations from members of the Utah State Bar in the form of monetary gifts and pro bono work. Fundraisers are held throughout the year to raise money for the program.

Assistance is also available to immigrants, refugees and American Indians in Utah through further affiliated organizations, such as Navajo Nation Legal Services (DNA), Catholic Community Services and the Multi-Cultural Legal Center.