Archived: Disability Activists Arrested for Protesting Outside White House

By Frank Kineavy

AP Photo

During a demonstration on the lawn of the White House, 49 protesters from the disability rights group ADAPT were arrested for blocking the sidewalk. ADAPT, which was one of the earliest groups to champion equality for people with disabilities, was calling on the president to promote integrating people with disabilities into the community by halting programs that support institutionalizing citizens with disabilities. Protesters chanted, “Our homes, not nursing homes” and “disability rights are human rights.” The activist group also urged the Obama administration to support legislation increasing the integration mandate spelled out in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Last week the organization called on its supporters to join them in their fight to “Free Our People!” On their website they captured images of protesters being arrested and police using make-shift ramp to escort protesters off of White House property due to lack of accessibility, something that ADAPT fights for. Latoya Maddox, a member of the civil rights group, expressed her frustration: “I am getting arrested protesting for the Disability Integration Act because everybody deserves to live in the community. I was in a nursing home until I moved out. I have friends that still live in the nursing home.”

Activists met in the nation’s capital on April 9 to prepare for a four-day protest. Sunday marked the 11th annual ADAPT Fun Run for Civil Rights, an event that has raised money for the organization to “change the system.” Non-violent civil disobedience training, fundraisers and further planning also took place.

According to U.S. Park Police Sgt. Anna Rose, on Monday the 11th at 12:30 p.m., Park Police Lt. Reed issued a final warning then proceeded to arrest 49 protesters and issue citations. Those detained were released after paying a $50 fine per citation. Later, members of ADAPT blocked entrances at the U.S. Department of Justice, while a smaller group crowded outside the home of Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. By 2:00 p.m. the next day, a total of 62 activists were charged with civil disobedience, pedestrian interference and other charges.

In late December 2015, New York Senator Chuck Schumer (D) introduced the Disability Integration Act (DIA), S. 2427, which “prohibit[s] discrimination against individuals with disabilities who need long-term services and supports, and for other purposes.” The bill will require annual public reports that include the number of institutionalized individuals with disabilities, as well as the number of citizens with disabilities living within the community. During the ADAPT protests, the DIA was an integral rallying cry. The bill has yet to be addressed by the Obama administration, but White House officials claim that the president “remains committed to expanding opportunities for people with disabilities” but declined to comment on any specific legislation.

“Everyday under the watch of this president, disabled Americans are denied their most fundamental and inalienable rights when they are locked away in nursing facilities and other institutions,” said Bruce Darling, an ADAPT organizer. “We are urging the president to defend our civil rights instead of looking the other way.”

The White House will likely continue to hear from ADAPT until they are assured that people with disabilities have a community-based alternative to institutionalization, allowing them to lead an independent life.

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