August 30, 2013
U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Disability Rights – NYAV
Washington, D.C. 20530
Re: Civil Rights Complaint for Catherine F. L____
To whom this may concern:
Our daughter, Catherine L____ (Katie), has been discriminated against by her Minnesota State Services for the Blind counselor, Maureen Toonkel, and by State Services for the Blind. Ms. Toonkel has failed to give Katie the requested materials in Braille and print. State Services for the Blind (SSB) fails to give materials in Braille and large print at its St. Paul office.
In addition to not providing materials in Katie’s needed format of Braille, Ms. Toonkel and Minnesota State Services have failed to provide assistive technology equipment for her to attend college. And lastly and most importantly, Katie has been forced into a Rehabilitation Program for the Blind in order for her chance to attend college.
Katie completed her Application for Rehabilitation Services signed and dated October 22, 2012. On the signature page she asked for all materials to be sent to her in print (for her parents to read) and in Braille (for her). As of July 26, 2013 she has not received ONE thing in Braille. All correspondence with Ms. Toonkel has been in print or via email that Katie cannot Braille. See Application for Rehabilitation Services.
Katie met with Ms. Toonkel in March of 2013 to develop an “Individual Plan for Employment”. This plan is very important and is the contract between the Minnesota State Services for the Blind and Katie. This document delineates the responsibilities of SSB/Ms. Maureen Tookel and Katie. At this meeting Ms. Toonkel gave Katie a blue folder with 21 brochures and handouts all of which were in PRINT and NO Braille! Ms. Toonkel had more than four months to have these materials Brailled!
April 22, 2013 Katie started her rehabilitation program at Vision Loss Resources of Minneapolis. She moved into an apartment, living independently, about a mile from the rehab facility. This was a difficult transition from living in a household of nine in a small town to living alone in a big city.
Within ten days Katie asked for a staffing with Ms. Toonkel being present. She refused to grant the staffing so I met with Mr. Jon Benson, Director of Workforce Development Unit, SSB; and with Ms. Mary Kolles, Rehabilitation Counselor Supervisor, SSB. Ms. Kolles is Ms. Maureen Tookel’s supervisor. After the meeting with Mr. Benson and Ms. Kolles, Ms. Tookel set up the staffing. Ms. Tookel did not seem happy to have been forced into this staffing. She did state that she would set up a technology assessment at SSB for Katie in the following weeks and after that assessment would be purchasing some technological equipment for Katie.
At this point in time Katie still had not received one piece of Braille from Ms Toonkel.
The technology assessment was conducted on July 1, 2013 at the State Services for the Blind office in St. Paul. Katie scheduled paratransit services to get her there early. She was told the assessment would be two to two and a half hours long. Unannounced Maureen brought in a lady who was job-shadowing her that day. She did introduce her to Katie but failed to ask Katie’s permission for the lady to be present. Maureen failed to have Katie sign a release form to have the lady present, which is SSB policy.
The assessment was a disaster. The majority of the equipment presented was boxed up. Mr. Jesse Anderson, the technology assessor, would take out a piece of equipment and verbally discuss it with Katie. She barely was able to touch it much less use it. The Braille Note was working though and Katie tried to demonstrate for them the internet features it contains, but Jesse Anderson said it was not hooked up to the internet and would not work. Both Jesse and Ms. Tookel seemed upset that Katie tried to demonstrate the Braille Note.
While Mr. Anderson was talking with Katie, Katie could hear Ms. Tookel say to the visiting lady that “She (Katie) was TROUBLE for the State!”
Ms. Tookel told Mr. Anderson not to give any fixed recommendations for computer equipment and that he should make his report vague and non-committal. The whole sum of time used for the assessment was less than one hour! Katie had to wait about two hours for her bus to show up. See Report of Technology Services.
A second staffing was held July 17, 2013 at Vision Loss Resources in Minneapolis. Ms. Maureen Toonkel was present. Katie taped the meeting. I gave Ms. Toonkel the original of our Amendment #1. She quickly buried it in her pile of papers. See Individual Plan of Employment, Amendment #1.
Each staff member was brought in and gave their reports on Katie’s progress. Overall the reports were glowing with the accomplishments Katie was making. Ms. Toonkel presented Katie with a copy of the Report of Technology Services in PRINT! Ms. Toonkel had two weeks to get this report in Braille but failed AGAIN!
So there we were, no computer equipment and NO BRAILLE! The most important document is Katie’s Individual Plan for Employment and Katie still did not have a copy of it in Braille almost FOUR months after she signed it!
I went to State Services in St. Paul to check their pamphlet rack and to see what they had in Braille there. I found two handouts in Braille and one small card with the Braille alphabet AND EIGHT handouts in PRINT (not Brailled). I asked the receptionist how I could get these eight handouts in Braille and she had NO answer! This pamphlet rack is for all blind and low vision Minnesota residents and all their rights are being violated, also.
Thus far I have filed a complaint with Katie’s state representative and state senator’s offices. They are conducting investigations. Also, I have filed a complaint with the ACLU of Minnesota.
The State of Minnesota with monies from the Federal Government are spending thousands of dollars for my daughter’s rehabilitation program to make her as independent as possible and to get her into the work force. The very first step in her independence is to allow her to READ, read in Braille.
The second aspect of this complaint is no technology equipment. Katie is planning on leaving VLR (Vision Loss Resources) November 30, 2013 and retuning to college in January 2014. She needs the equipment ordered NOW so that she will be ready for college in January.
And finally, the most important component of this complaint is the discrimination of SSB and Maureen Toonkel forcing her and others into Rehabilitation Programs in the first place. Katie has to clean toilets, scrub floors, vacuum and cook to PROVE she is ready for college. Without attending a Vocational Rehabilitation Program, SSB will not provide the funding and needed technological equipment for Katie and others, blind or legally blind. Other persons within Minnesota that have other disabilities do not have to clean toilets, scrub floors, vacuum and cook to be able to go to college with funding and adaptive equipment through the Department of Employment and Economic Development, the parent agency of State Services for the Blind. ALSO, no non-handicapped person has to clean toilets, scrub floors, vacuum , and cook to be able to attend college or other post-secondary programs. In Minnesota only blind and legally blind persons have to attend Vocational Programs BEFORE they are funded for college. All the other persons have to have is acceptable high school grades and pass the ACT to be enrolled in a college or post-secondary training program. SSB is discriminatory and has been for many years. This has to stop.
By the way, Katie weighed one pound nine ounces at birth, went blind at four months of age, had her eyes removed because of juvenile glaucoma, skipped seventh and eighth grade in a public school and has a year and a half of college with a 4.0. She is a remarkable young lady.
I have dozens and dozens of blind and legally blind persons wanting to file a class action law suit against SSB for the discrimination they have endured with SSB. I am asking your agency to investigate Katie’s case. Your assistance will benefit Katie, but many, many more blind and low vision persons here in Minnesota. Looking forward to speaking with you soon.
Gerald (Jerry) F. L____
<Phone number removed by Modteam>
Edited by ModTeam (08/31/13 12:55 PM)
Edit Reason: Edited personal contact information.