Saturday, December 13, 2008

Texas advocates protest at state Disability Services meeting

From the Dallas Morning News:

AUSTIN – Advocates for closing Texas' state schools for the disabled disrupted a state board meeting Wednesday morning to protest mistreatment at the facilities, which a recent federal report blamed in part for the deaths of more than 50 people in the last year.

Candie Reyes (pictured) and other protesters disrupted a meeting of the Department of Aging and Disability Services council Wednesday. Some chanted 'people are dying, shame on you' and '53 deaths on your watch,' and threw red spray-painted wristwatches at the dais. "

"Who's standing up for these people?" asked Jeff Garrison-Tate, who heads Community Now, an organization that supports moving people with disabilities into community-based care. "If 53 dogs died, people would be marching in the streets."

After 10 minutes and efforts by agency Commissioner Addie Horn to calm the group, the protesters were escorted out by security. The routine meeting resumed.

"It's unfortunate that this small group of narrow-minded people came to disrupt this public meeting," said agency spokeswoman Cecilia Fedorov. "We asked them to behave in an orderly manner and told them we wanted to hear from them during the public comment period."

In a letter to Gov. Rick Perry last week that threatened legal action, the Justice Department said all the residents at Texas' 12 state schools – which care for the mentally and physically disabled – are in imminent danger of neglect and mistreatment, a violation of their constitutional rights and of federal law.

Andrea Williams said she's been trying for too long to be heard. In the year her 26-year-old son has lived at the Austin State School, she's found him in unclean conditions and with red choke marks on his neck. She's been trying to get him out for more than six months, she said. That's one reason she came to Wednesday's protest.

"I'll walk in and see gnats flying everywhere, a strong urine smell," she said. "But they keep telling me they can't reach his level of need in the community."