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have got to be moved. People have to be called from far out of State to come and help me get into the courtroom. The judge could not even wait for me. On arrival, he or she could have seen me. And when he finally saw me in the courtroom, he could not look at me because of my wheelchair. My wheelchair took the attention of the court to listen to me. “How are we going to be able to get a wheelchair into the courtroom? How are we going to be able to position you? What do you want?” This and that.
I said, “I am the fellow you called in to be heard, not my wheelchair. Why do you have a problem with me being here?"
So, by the time I left that courtroom, I was already in tears. The employees of the courtroom came back to me and told me, “You are not the norm. You are not the normal person we see every day. So, do not worry about this.” I do not want sympathy. I want empathy. I want an opportunity to participate. I do not want you to sympathize with me. I do not want you to treat me special. When we talk about discrimination, it is far beyond just locking me out of doors or telling me to go around to the back door or the back seat in a car or a bus. It is the elimination of dignity associated with being a human being that I am talking about. The Americans With Disabilities Act will help to make the dream for most of us be relative. Thank you for listening to me.
Mr. OWENS. Mr. Levine.
STATEMENT OF DONALD LEVINE, PRESIDENT OF BARRY
INDEPENDENT LIVING ASSOCIATION, RHODE ISLAND Mr. LEVINE. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I am Donald Levine and I am the president of Barry Independent Living Association in Rhode Island. In 1952, when I was 15 years old, I was hurt in a diving accident, breaking my neck at a high level leaving me paralyzed from the neck down. That has been about 37 years ago.
The following things have happened that I consider discriminatory. In 1975, I was denied a powered wheelchair because I was told that I would not get enough use out of it. I was also denied a ramp to use the powered wheelchair, so, my parents had to build one. After the State sent someone out to verify that the ramp had been built, I received the wheelchair.
I requested further education by the Rhode Island Vocational Rehabilitation in 1979. The reason for denial was given that they did not see any reason for getting off the rolls of the Social Security Administration.
As an alternative, they said they would give me a hydraulic lift for a van that I had at the time and no education. The result was I had to take the ramp and to sign a paper stating that I would not bother the Rehabilitation Program in the State of Rhode Island, again. I do make the statement that this happened in 1979.
I have asked repeatedly for an accessible bathroom through vocational rehabilitation, denied one because I was not able to prove that I would be able to go back to work within a year. The Independent Living Division of Vocational Rehabilitation also denied me an accessible bathroom because they added my parents' Social Security in with mine and said that I was financially ineligible. Hence, I had nothing but bed baths for the past 36 years.
I was ordered to appear at the Social Security Administration 1982, 1983, 1984, to verify that I am still disabled. I will be disabled. On February 24, 1988, SSI launched a full investigation into my financial status. I was told that I was not entitled to the money I had saved in excess of the $1,900 and the $1,500 burial insurance that I could have.
Personally, I really do not know if you can be buried for $1,500, today. I made a comment as to that and somebody had mentioned in jest: a plastic bag.
I was told that I could not save for things like taxes, the insurance on my van, a vehicle to replace the one I now have when it wore out. I was told that I could not have a ramp-save for a ramp or anything else. They ordered my father to remove my name from savings accounts, that I had no information as to-he had put my names on the accounts. I was forced to get written statements from banks, from bank officials saying that this had been done. After completing the SSI, an employee named-I do not know if it is right to name her name or not-Mrs. Matsic, called my father, who is 77 years old and is in ill health, and was made to swear that my name was taken off these moneys that I had no information before that they were there and insinuated that they were placed in other accounts.
On April 13, 1988, I was sent a list of alleged overpayments be ginning September 9, 1985 and was notified that SSI payments and benefits would end in May 1988. On April 19 and April 20, I visited three banks and obtained statements-
Mr. OWENS. Mr. Levine.
Mr. Owens. We have to stop at this point. We have run over a little. We would be happy to assist you in getting the rest of your statement in writing, in a form to submit to the committee so that we have the full benefit of your total testimony.
Mr. LEVINE. Thank you very much. (The prepared statement of Donald Levine follows:) My name is Donald Levine. I live in Providence, RI, and serve as Pres. of the PARI Ind. Living Center. I am considered developmentally disabled because I became disabled at the age of 15 due to a diving accident in 1952 in which I broke my neck leaving me a C-3/C-4 level quadriplegic for the past 37 years. The following things have happened to me that I consider to be discriminatory:
1975.-Denied a powered wheel chair-was told I would not get enough use from one and I did not have a ramp. So, my family built a ramp and I got a powered chair after the state sent someone out to verify that a ramp had been built.
1979.-I requested further education by Ř.I. Vocational Rehab. Program. The reason for denial was given as they didn't see any need for it because they couldn't foresee me getting off the rolls of Social Security. As an alternative they said I could have a hydraulic lift for my van provided that I sign papers agreeing never to bother them for anything else.
I have asked repeatedly for an accessible bathroom. Vocational Rehab. denied one because I could not prove that I would be fully employed within one year. The Inde pendent Living Division of Vocational Rehab. also denied me an accessible bath. room because they added my parent's Social Security in with mine and said that I was financially ineligible. Hence, I have had nothing but bed baths for the past 36 years.
I was ordered to appear at the Social Security office in 1982, 1983, and 1984 to verify that I am still disabled.
On 2/24/88, SSI launched a full investigation into my financial status. I was told that I was not entitled to save any money above the $1900 savings and a $1500 burial policy and that I could not save for things such as vehicle insurance, city taxes, repairs to vehicle, replacement of vehicle, replacement of wheelchair ramp or anything else.
They ordered my father to remove my name from savings accounts belonging to him that I didn't know he had. I was forced to get written statements from bank officials saying that this had been done. After complying, an SSI employee named Mrs. Matzick called my father who is 77 years old and in ill health and made innuendos that he may have concealed the money in other places.
On April 13, 1988, I was sent a list of alleged overpayments beginning 9/1/85 and was notified of SSI payments and benefits ending in May 1988. On April 19th and 20th I visited 3 banks and obtained signed statements from bank officials as to balances in my accounts.
I also had to compile a list of my expenses from 2/1/88 to 4/18/88 including everything from my telephone bills to toothpaste. I also had to fill out an overpayment questionnaire.
On May 5, 1988 I received a notice of reinstatements to SSI with a lower amount of check from $51.50 to $42.75.
On May 31, 1988 I received a notice dated 5/18/88 cancelling my Medicare Bene. fits and reducing my SSDI check from $381.00 to $331.00.
On May 24th I received a notice dated May 22nd giving me orders to pay back $959.36 in SSI overpayments.
I had already applied for a waiver. Another notice, also dated May 22nd and re ceived May 25th denied waiver of overpayment. I requested a hearing which was held on June 22nd.
I received notice that the state would pick up payment of Medicare Part B again as of 5/88.
On June 29th I received a notice that the hearing on June 22nd had found me without fault in incurring over-payment and that over-payment had been waived.
I received notice dated 8/1/88 that SSI check would be reinstated as of 9/1/88 except for a reduction of $3.59 per month because of interest received on a statement savings account.
All of the new laws and rules are all well and good, but they are useless to the disabled community in everyday living until they are filtered down to us, who live each day of our lives as disabled American citizens.
Mr. OWENS. Thank you very much for testifying, all three of you. I would like to ask just one question. Ms. Pelletier-did I pronounce that correctly?
Ms. PELLETIER. Pelletier.
Mr. OWENS. Pelletier. You have repeatedly won in the cases that you fought. I am sure you are tired of fighting and should not have to fight each step of the way in terms of the basic kinds of rights that you are pursuing. Do you see-in the draft legislation of the Americans With Disabilities Act-do you see relief? Is there in that bill the mechanism which will permit you the opportunity of not having to fight so hard as an individual, but have some mechanism for helping you to secure your rights in an easier way? Or does that bill also fall short of having the kind of assistance-provide the kind of assistance you need to get your rights enforced and enforce the law?
Ms. PELLETIER. Yes. I think it is a very good bill and it covers a lot of areas. But I think it will help with people's attitude in that whole attitude problem. It will take time, even with the law.
Mr. OWENS. You think the bill is very important in changing people's broad attitudes.
Ms. PELLETIER. Yes, but it will take time to change the attitudes.
Mr. OWENS. Do you see the mechanisms, some means of getting relief from some of the problems that you are facing? Both of you indicate problems with our own Government-that people in the Social Security Administration are the enemy and their attitudes. And I think we certainly can move on that right away. We should not have to wait for the passage of this legislation. But other than that, do you see relief in the bill from some of these problems?
Mr. LEVINE. I think so, as long as it filters down fast enough to the individuals because statements are made that things are written in stone, that they cannot be changed. And, in fact, they are being changed everyday.
One other statement, if I may take just 10 seconds to finish that statement I made before: The end result of the SSI meetings that I had over this past year, they are still withholding, as being small, $3.59.
Mr. OWENS. Thank you very much.
Mr. OWENS. Our next panel, I think Mr. Kennedy is here, now, Ted Kennedy, Jr.; Bonnie O'Day, executive director, Independent Center of Hampton Roads, Norfolk, VA. It is a little bit outside of the New England area, but is Ms. O'Day here? John Nelson from Washington, DC.
As I have said before to previous panels, please understand that your written testimony can be submitted today or within 10 days of this hearing, so, you do not have to cover everything that you have in writing or you can also add some ideas later on in writing if you wish. We will begin with Mr. Kennedy.
STATEMENT OF TED KENNEDY, JR. Mr. KENNEDY. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, it is my pleasure that you brought this hearing here to Boston this morning. I want to welcome you to our city. You are among friends here. I think it is particularly appropriate that we are here in Boston which many people refer to our city as the Cradle of Liberty. I think it is particularly appropriate here because I think that is why we are here today.
The fact is that there are millions of people who want their liberty. Our Constitution, we just celebrated not too long ago our 200th anniversary of our Constitution. And, yet, there are literally 30 or 40 million people, depending on what statistics you look at, who still do not have their independence.
The American Revolution was about independence. It was about self-determination. It was about making decisions for ourselves. And that is the reason that we are all here today is because for too long, people have made decisions for us. We have policies in our country that make decisions for us, that do not allow people with disabilities their self-determination.
Congress has recognized that there is discrimination that exists in our country. Congress recognizes that. They recognize that discrimination exists against people who are not white. They recognize that discrimination exists against women. So, too, it is not un. usual that people with disabilities are calling to be recognized and protected by those same ideas that have applied to other minority groups.
I think that the one thing that makes our country great is our diversity. Our country has been called a melting pot. I think that we should be proud of our diversity. That is what makes us great. That is what makes us strong. And I have always contended-and I didn't come here, as you can tell, with any set of prepared remarks, but it is not our physical or mental condition that constitutes our, quote, handicap. But society. And just as society has created these barriers, both attitudinal and architectural, so it is that society can dismantle these barriers. That is why we are here. And that is why I am proud to be here testifying here today. Thank you. Mr. OWENS. Thank you. Ms. O'Day.
STATEMENT OF BONNIE O’DAY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, INDEPENDENT CENTER OF HAMPTON ROADS, NORFOLK, VA Ms. O'Day. Thank you. My name is Bonnie O'Day. And in addition to being the executive director of the Independent Center in Norfolk, VA, I am the chairperson of the NCIL Civil Rights Task Force. The primary mission of this task force is the passage of the ADA.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a major piece of legislation which began to address the civil rights of blacks and other minorities in this country. This piece of legislation was a milestone in insuring that blacks and other minorities had the opportunity for equality and self-determination. Although this process is not complete, the legislation did bring to light the second-class status of minority persons in this country in the areas of transportation, housing, et cetera. With the passage of this legislation, the tide began to turn and the status of minority persons in this society began to change.
What is the status of persons with disabilities in our society? Seventy-nine percent of persons with disabilities are unemployed, although 73 percent of us want to work. Approximately 45 percent of us have incomes of less than $5,000. The dropout rate of disabled persons from our high schools is approximately 50 percent greater than our non-disabled counterparts. For the most part, disabled persons in our society are the poorest of the poor, uneducated and unemployed. There is currently no comprehensive piece of civil rights legislation that protects us from discrimination in terms of transportation, employment, communication, housing and physical access.
On a more personal basis, sometimes the discrimination that I have experienced as a blind person has been unintentional and, thus, can be easily overlooked and forgiven. But sometimes this discrimination has been extremely blatant.
One of the most blatant discriminators I believe in our society is the airline industry. Approximately 3 years ago, I was going to an independent living conference in Kansas City when I was seated in an exit row. Airline policy states that blind persons should not be seated in exit rows because of safety reasons, although there is no actuarial evidence to suggest that blind persons are less safe in evacuating airlines in case of emergency. I was forcibly removed from the plane along with the other passengers and the flight was subsequently cancelled. When the airlines were contacted by the media, they did not admit that they made a mistake, that their regulations and policies needed to be looked at. However, they stated that I had requested this seat because I wanted to stage a