Chapter 5: Self-Advocacy
Lisa: Judy, during the 1980s self-advocacy as the movement was blossoming really all over but particularly in Pennsylvania and particularly in Philadelphia, can you tell us a little bit about PILCOP's relationship with self-advocates and the growing self-advocacy movement in the city?
Judy: Well I'm very grateful, again, to Tom Gilhool and Frank Laski for their vision. They understood that self-advocacy was really the wave of the future that people with disabilities had to be making decisions and planning a central role in the service system. So they both really encouraged me to, to develop ties with self-advocacy organizations and I did, primarily with Speaking for Ourselves but then eventually later with other organizations around the country. And throughout the '80s and into the '90s, actually, the Law Center represented self-advocacy organizations as friends of the court, amicus curiae, in the leading Supreme Court cases on behalf of people with disabilities. And as self-advocates always do they, they let their views be known to the Supreme Court and the briefs embodied the statements of self-advocates themselves and that was a really wonderful process working with people all over the country to bring their views before the Supreme Court.
Lisa: I think that's, sort of, a great way to set us up for some of your work in Tennessee. And I'm thinking of the case of the United States versus Tennessee where you represented People First of Tennessee, a self-advocacy group. I think for the first time they were the plaintiffs?
Lisa: I wonder if you could tell us a bit about that?
Well Mark Friedman who, of course, was the Staff Advisor to Speaking for Ourselves, his counterpart in Tennessee, whom he knew very well, was Staff Advisor to People First of Tennessee and in 1991 the United States Department of Justice had done and investigation of an institution near Memphis, Arlington Developmental Center, and found really horrible conditions there and for whatever reason the established organizations in Tennessee were very reticent, very reluctant to become involved and take a strong advocacy position about the conditions there. And People First of Tennessee had a chapter at the institution and they were very, very concerned. They were concerned for their members, they were concerned for the other residents and they had discussed the problems at Arlington throughout their organization, in their local chapters, at their state wide board and they really wanted to, to do something about this so Mark recommended that they meet with me. And so I got together with their Staff Advisor and agreed that I would come to Tennessee and visit Arlington and meet with the People First board and I called another lawyer that I knew who had done similar work in North Carolina, a lawyer in Nashville who had done some work over the years with People First and a couple of us went to the institution and toured and then came back and met with the People First board. And they were very, very clear about what they wanted for people. They had a very clear vision of people living in their own homes in the community, with support, with helpers, not having their lives managed by agencies but being able to make decisions about their own lives for themselves with support. And I had never met with a group with such a clear, unmuted vision of the future as it could be. So we filed the lawsuit and it was very difficult. The State of Tennessee was vehemently opposed to it, the parent, the Parent/Guardian Association was also very opposed to it but it was ultimately very successful. The Judge certified the class with People First as the class representatives and that was a huge proceeding. That was really almost the core of the case, getting the court to recognize People First as the representatives of the people at Arlington. The Parent/Guardian Association submitted something like 500 declarations opposing class certification, the State was very opposed to it but we were successful and then the court, there had been a parallel case brought by the United States which focused on improving conditions at the institution. It did not call for community placement and ultimately an order was enter in that case that, a consent decree was entered in that case that required downsizing of the institution to about half its then current size and the Judge ordered, since we had, we had essentially proven that the orders, the findings in that case should apply to our case as well the Judge entered that order as an order in our case and made us interveners so that we could enforce the order. We then went on to get new orders requiring that everyone who was recommended for community placement by his or her team would move to the community and then we got another order requiring a community implementation plan. And so those new orders were entered in the case and the result was that everyone was recommended for community placement and everyone moved and the institution is now closed.
About Judith Gran
Born: Virginia, 1943.
Community Collaborative, Institutions, Pennhurst, PILCOP, Raphael Oberti, Right to Education, Self-advocacy