Florida increases accessibility for inmates with disabilities

By Vivian El-Salawy on July 8, 2017

Inmates with physical disabilities are often forgotten and neglected in America. Many prisons either do not know how to handle inmates with disabilities or simply use their disabilities as punishments. There have been reports of blind inmates who have had their canes confiscated from them, or if their canes had broken – replacements have not been provided. There have also been instances where deaf inmates were not provided translators or any kinds of hearing aids to help them understand orders or announcements made within their facilities. Prosthetic limbs are also often confiscated, wheel chairs are not provided, and the list goes on and on.

Image via ACLU

The Miami Herald reports that the state has agreed to make a settlement with a statewade disability advocacy group to address these complaints. The settlement was reached on Friday, July 7th, following a lawsuit filed by Disability Rights Florida about a year ago.

The lawsuit gives the agency approximately four years to provide more resources for inmates with disabilities and make the facilities more accessible as well. This includes things such as adding interpreters and making it easier for inmates to schedule doctor’s appointments. They will also provide resources such as canes, wheelchairs, hearing and visual aids, and so on.

What is Disability Rights Florida?

Image via Florida Center for Inclusive Communities

Disability Rights Florida was founded in 1977 as a statewide designated protection and advocacy system for individuals with disabilities in the State of Florida. It is a non-profit corporation.

According to the Disability Rights Florida website, their mission is the following:

“To advance the quality of life, dignity, equality, self-determination, and freedom of choice of persons with disabilities through collaboration, education, advocacy, as well as legal and legislative strategies.”

Their statewide initiatives include educating policy makers about the needs of people with disabilities, systematic and legal advocacy, collaborative work on disability rights issues, monitoring of public programs and facilities, and workshops & trainings.

Is this a recent issue?

No, not really. This has been an issue for quite a long time. Passed by Congress in 1990, Vice News reports that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that prisons provide “reasonable accommodations” for disabled people. This includes but is not limited to wheelchair ramps and education or treatment-related programs.

Approximately 31% of inmates in state prisons nationwide have reported having a physical or cognitive disability, according to a report by Disability Rights Washington. Approximately 39% of jail inmates are reported to have physical or cognitive disabilities as well. Disability types include hearing, vision, cognitive, ambulatory, self-care, and independent living.

What can you do to help an inmate with physical or mental disabilities?

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) encourages people to know their rights, so that you can they can learn what to do to help their friends or family members who may be inmates with disabilities. On their website, they provide documents with prisoners’ rights materials: https://www.aclu.org/know-your-rights/what-do-if-youre-prisoner-disabilities.

All in all, it is important to provide inmates the appropriate accommodations for their disabilities. With these next few steps that will be taken over the next four years to help Florida prisons make their facilities more accessible to those with disabilities, there may be a larger movement to make these facilities safer environments for those with cognitive disabilities as well.

Vivian El-Salawy is a graduate of Florida State University with a B.A. in Editing, Writing, and Media with minors in Slavic (Russian) Studies and Communications. Alongside writing for Uloop News, WVFS Tallahassee 89.7 FM, and editing for the Good Life Community magazine, she is heavily involved with a Tau Beta Sigma, a national honorary sorority that promotes women in the band profession.

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