Ohioans with disabilities find independent housing


COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Disability Rights Ohio has set out to help people living in segregated, institutional facilities find a way into community housing.

After a five-year federal court fight, Disability Rights Ohio is claiming a win in its effort to get intellectually and developmentally disabled Ohioans independent housing.

The group filed a class action lawsuit against then-Gov. John Kasich and the state and county agencies that deal with disabled people. They came away with a settlement agreement that’s now been approved by the federal court.

Kevin Truitt, legal advocacy director of Disability Rights Ohio, said his organization is proud that 1,300 disabled Ohioans are living more independently as a result of the lawsuit — and he expects that number to rise if the pandemic wanes and more people enter the home-health field.

“Since March of 2016 we know that approximately 1,300 people that were in residential facilities are out living in the community,” Truitt said.

He pointed to success stories, like one of the plaintiffs who is now in an apartment and has a job after years of living in a facility.

“(He has) become economically self-sufficient and decides what his day looked like and makes his own decisions, his own choices, so that’s a story that sticks out to me,” he said. “Really proud of our work and his participating and fighting for his own rights and the rights of other people.”

NBC4’s Colleen Marshall said she remembers talking with some family members while this litigation was still pending who said they didn’t want Disability Rights Ohio to interfere. As guardians for their loves ones, they said they didn’t want the organization coming in and making decisions without their input.

“Not every family who has a loved one in a facility wanted them to move out,” Truitt said.

“And so the settlement agreement is a compromise, right?” he said. “It increases the capacity of the system to serve people in community-based housing instead of facilities, but also respects the choice of families who want to keep their loved ones in facilities.”

Now, Marshall said, the state is charged with increasing capacity for community care — during a pandemic when there is a work force crisis for caregivers.

Although the settlement of the lawsuit can’t address the shortage of home health aides, the low wages and high turnover, Truitt said it is creating options and giving Ohioans living with disabilities a better way to live.

“We feel the system is moving in the right direction, giving people more options for how they live their life,” he said.


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