Minnesota Disability Law Center Produces Voting Rights Video

The Minnesota Disability Law Center (MDLC) of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid has produced a 15-minute video about voting rights for people with disabilities in Minnesota. The video features members of the disability community, MMLA volunteers and staff, disability rights advocates, and Minnesota Secretary of State Steven Simon.  Viewers will learn about barriers to voting for people with disabilities, what changed with 2002’s Help America Vote Act, and the responsibilities of state and federal officials to provide accessibility. MDLC Attorney Justin Page explains what to do if something goes wrong during the voting process, and the video concludes with comments on the importance of voting if you are a disabled Minnesotan. 

Watch and share "Disability Rights: Voting in Minnesota." 

Disability Law Center Wins Class Certification Motion in Federal Court

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This fall, the Minnesota Disability Law Center of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid (MMLA) was successful in obtaining class certification on behalf of individuals with disabilities who are unnecessarily segregated in corporate foster care facilities. A decision was issued by the United States District Court in Murphy et. al. v. Piper et. al, which certified a class action for individuals with disabilities who want to live near family and friends. With this ruling, the federal court is allowing a challenge to the statewide practice of overreliance on corporate foster care settings as housing for those with disabilities and its failure to provide persons with disabilities information and access to reasonable and individualized alternatives. Moreover, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to consider the Department of Human Services’ request to reverse the certification order, so the case will now proceed through discovery and trial, if necessary. In failing to provide citizens with disabilities the opportunity to live in individualized settings, Minnesota has not been consistent with federal law. One of the lawyers for the Plaintiffs, Sean Burke, stated "We simply want a system in place that allows individuals with disabilities to live where they want, like everyone else, and in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs."

Legal Aid staff who were instrumental in the achievement of this action include staff attorneys Sean Burke and Christen Champman, litigation director Justin Perl, Steven Pincus, Peter McGelliot, and Joe Anthony of the Anthony Ostlund law firm (co-counsel), and supervising attorney Bud Rosenfield. The decision can be found here.

SMRLS Housing Attorneys Help Secure Accommodation for Assistance Animal

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Lisa Hollingsworth and Laura Jelinek, attorneys with the Housing Equality Law Project at Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS), recently helped a client win a legal settlement with her landlord that will help other disabled tenants in the future. Litigation began because the apartment complex would not accommodate their client’s doctor-mandated need for an assistance animal. The client’s lawsuit alleged that her apartment complex violated the federal Fair Housing Act by refusing to let her keep an emotional assistance dog for her disability, and that she faced repeated bullying from property managers, including attempts to evict her.

"People's treating doctors recognize how much a companion animal can provide to people who are relatively shut in because of a disability," said Hollingsworth, who sometimes sees nearly 100 cases per year where requests for assistance animals are denied or ignored by a landlord.

Under the settlement agreement, the apartment complex must expand its policies on accommodating assistance animals, notify residents of policy changes, and state in advertisements that it is an "Equal Housing Opportunity Provider." Read more in the Star Tribune.

Equal Access to Communication

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Legal Aid's Minnesota Disability Law Center (MDLC) is a vital resource for those whose rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Minnesota Human Rights Act are in peril. Upholding equal access to communication is one of the hallmarks of MDLC's work. In a recent case, an MDLC client was denied access to routine bank transactions because his credit union changed its policies about accepting IP relay calls for deaf customers, making his access far more difficult than that of hearing customers.

"It's a pleasure to represent a client who is willing to speak out for their rights," said staff attorney Rick MacPherson, counsel on the case. "One person's willingness to enforce the law can bring about equal access for others who are deaf to the services and benefits everyone else enjoys." Read the full article in Attorney at Law magazine.