Friday, January 6, 2012

The need for legal services

How can you enforce your rights if you don't know what they are? How can you find the right person to advise you if you don't know where to go? James Klausner has been thinking about establishing a legal services division within his organization from the moment he realized how difficult placing children with disabilities in the school system can be. He  was looking for a local attorney with great expertise in a very limited field. He wanted to find somebody to help the parents negotiate with the school boards and take other steps if necessary,  but also to advise them and educate them on their rights. A lot of the parents were not very knowledgeable in the subject and needed guidance. Some would not even think to talk to an expert even if they could find one. Because to seek help you must know you've been wronged. Dr Klausner was looking for an attorney who focused his practice around education related provisions of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (504RA). To his surprise he had an incredibly hard time finding anyone in this part of the State who did that at all and I believe he found one person quite a drive away. He felt that although we have free legal services programs in Florida their practice is too broad and their time and knowledge too limited to handle such delicate matter. He also thought that there could be a lot that parents could do by themselves if they were told what to do.

  This is how I got involved with The Jordan Klausner Foundation. Using my law license and my own experiences with disability to launch this program. Don't get me wrong. I was more the willing to become a spoke person of sorts for Conductive Education as what the Foundation is doing now for the kids is what I went through as a child, and with my functionality I guess you can call me a success story. I don't mind talking about my experiences and I'm determined to make it work. But my motivation for going into this is a bit different, more personal. I've seen many ADA related problems, some affecting me with people often looking the other way. I've even threatened to sue the local transit system when after calling in a complaint I was told that the ADA non compliant driver did nothing wrong and that was the way there have been trained for years. I wanted to make sure  this would not happen again and didn't  really care to go into a legal battle. I heard what I wanted to hear, only after I disclosed I was an attorney. But this got me thinking. How many times, in how many situations are people with disabilities brushed off, told they don't have a complaint even though they do because they are poor or uneducated or will simply believe what they are told? They will never think about going to see an attorney. Even if they could afford it, they first need to know they should speak with a professional. How can you fight for your rights when you don't know what they are? This is the problem with institutions like Three Rivers Legal Services. You need to come to them. And to do that, you need to know something was wrong. I think we need a more proactive solution. I would like to establish an ADA rights traveling workshop that would drive around the State to teach people not only what their rights are, but how to protect them. I want to take James Klausner's idea and make it broader. Not only about children, not simply about education. Because the needs of the disability community are bigger. I have seen so many bizarre things in this city alone. From wheelchaired riders banned from the city bus [was there some some kind of a decision? Can they appeal it?] to new businesses openly disobeying the ramp to stage requirements. I can pick up on those things because I know to look for them. But how many things  go unnoticed? I invite attorneys, fundraisers, sponsors and community organizers to join me in this effort. Without a structure and yes, without money we will never get this project to take off. Please contact me rstrzalkowski@jordanklausner.org or Facebook me at http://www.facebook.com/rstrzal 

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