Tag Archives: connecticut

If you really care about mental health…

I’ve been thinking a lot about disability in the wake of the recent school shooting in Connecticut. I am sad that so many people’s reaction is to blame mental illness or autism. It especially bothers me when people call for “more services for mental health.” The implicit assumption that mental health problems make people violent, and that mental health services are mainly  there to help protect non-disabled people from those of us with mental illness, actually hurts people with mental illness. These calls for services sound so benevolent that it’s hard to call people out on it. But one of the main barriers to accessing services is stigma. Another barrier to services is the fact that many programs were created in the wake of violent tragedies like this one, which means that they’re (1) coercive, and (2) only available to people who are seen as likely to become violent.

After I posted these thoughts on Facebook, someone asked me which organizations I’d recommend to people who are interested in donating to a mental health/autism advocacy organization that focuses on actually helping people with disabilities AND helps oppose stigma and discrimination. Here’s a short list of organizations I’ve actually worked with and would wholeheartedly endorse:

  1. Autistic Self Advocacy Network. Run by and for Autistic people, this organization has proven amazingly effective at advocating for policies that improve services AND decrease segregation and discrimination against adults and children on the autism spectrum, including people with a wide range of support needs.
  2. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. This organization focuses on the rights people with psychiatric disabilities and has been doing great work advocating for children with serious behavioral needs. They help fight discrimination and advocate for supports and services to help people remain in the community.
  3. Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative. This project of Massachusetts Advocates for Children focuses on helping children who have experienced trauma (such as the children who were affected by the school shooting). They focus on improving teachers’ understanding of the emotional effects of trauma and helping schools become “trauma-sensitive environments.” This helps traumatized children stay in mainstream school environments where they have a better chance of academic success and long-term recovery. Although they’re a project of Massachusetts Advocates for Children, they do nationwide public education and advocacy to help children across the country succeed in school. This is a really small project and it gets limited publicity, but it does a lot of good.
 I intend to post something more personal about this issue today or tomorrow. But it’s hard to write, and I figured in the meantime it would be good to offer people some options for advocacy/donations if they were interested.


Filed under Children's Rights, Disabilities, Health Care, Practicing Law While Weird, The Law as Applied to Weird People & Situations, Uncategorized

Legal immunity for conservators

DisAbility Rights Galaxy has a great post on a rather scary case pending before the Connecticut Supreme Court addressing whether court-appointed conservators for people with disabilities should be immune from lawsuits. Conservators wield incredible power over their wards and it’s not terribly rare to hear of conservators who financially exploit, abuse, or neglect their wards. In this case, for example, the conservator failed to object to a ward’s institutionalization; I won’t speculate on his motives, but this has in the past happened when conservators felt that institutionalization of their wards would make their job easier.

I haven’t had time to read the pleadings, but I’m a little confused why court-appointed conservators should be entitled to such immunity. It seems that the defendant in this case is comparing himself to a judge, as judges are immune from lawsuits concerning the validity of their decisions (for example, if you are incarcerated based on a judge’s ruling that turns out to have been contrary to the law, you can’t sue the judge for false imprisonment). Judicial immunity makes some sense in that there’s already an avenue – appeal  – for contesting bad decisions. Plus, judges are obligated to do justice to both parties before them and are constantly forced to make decisions that are bad for at least one of the parties before them; permitting lawsuits against judges might scare judges out of ruling against wealthy and litigious parties who might later sue them.

Conservators, on the other hand, don’t face any of these challenges. They’re obligated only to their ward, and are under absolutely no requirement to be “impartial.” Their decisions are not directly subject to appeal. They have no obligation to hold a hearing or observe any sort of process prior to issuing a decision. Their role is probably closer to that of an attorney, or to someone holding a durable power-of-attorney. Both attorneys and power-of-attorneys can be held liable for malpractice.

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Filed under Disabilities, Elder Law, The Law as Applied to Weird People & Situations