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Posted by Andrew Forsman
Utah's Disability Law Center helps people with disabilities live a life of dignity
Adina Zahradnikova, executive director of Utah’s Disability Law Center, says her big, “pie in the sky goal is to close the doors of the Disability Law Center.” To her, that would mean, “that the world is free of discrimination and all people have access to necessary services.” She has seen a lot of progress toward that goal, but says, “There are still a lot of battles to fight.”
In 1978 the federal government designated that each state was required to have a protection and advocacy agency to esnure the rights of people with disabilities. Utah’s agency is the Disability Law Center, on 205 North 400 West in Salt Lake City. The directors work to make sure that everyone, regardless of abilities, is treated with dignity and respect. They do this through a variety of methods and focus on problems with abuse, transportation, education, employment and access.
The Disability Law Center is a private, nonprofit organization headed by a board of directors and a consumer-driven advisory board made up of attorneys and mental health professionals. All of the people there are working under a mission statement that says, “The mission of the Disability Law Center is to enforce and strengthen laws that protect the opportunities, choices and legal rights of people with disabilities in Utah.” Their vision states, “We envision a just society where all people are treated with equity, dignity and respect.” That is a big mission to take on, but the people who work there are dedicated, as indicated by their progress.
There are many laws already in place to protect the rights of the disabled under the American with Disabilities Act, but new situations can arise that are not covered. In those cases, it is the job of the Public Policy Team to lobby for new protections with the legislature. It is also necessary, at times, to involve the courts in discrimination matters, but Zahradnikova says, “Less 2 percent of what we do involves formal litigation.” When they do involve themselves in litigation, it is to change systems that impact a lot of people and generally not for individual issues.
Finding alternative solutions to existing problems, educating people about the law, training in life skills and overseeing outreach programs form the bulk of their services. Anyone with a disability is free to contact the Disability Law Center and receive the help they need at no cost. Once they contact the office, they may be referred to an agency that can help them. They may be directed to training programs to teach them a life skill and ultimately how to be a self-advocate. In some cases, they will be sent to one of the attorneys if it appears rights have been violated. Cases like this usually involve being passed over for promotion or terminated in the work place, or a lack of accommodations. (see the rest of the story HERE!)