Pro Bono News

Legal Aid Initiative Enables Those With Disabilities (IN)

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Legal Aid Initiative Enables Those With Disabilities

"As a 20-something adult settling into a beautiful apartment in downtown Indianapolis and loving her job as a paralegal, Erin White was looking forward to starting the next chapter of her life when she learned the hard lesson about best-laid plans.

White, now 34, was diagnosed with severe narcolepsy, a neurological disorder that includes excessive sleepiness, sudden muscle weakness and even paralysis. The disability robbed the bubbly woman of her energy and excitement, leaving her struggling to complete simple chores such as returning a library book.

“It took me a while before I realized just how devastating that was,” White said, reflecting on her early battle with the affliction. “It took me years before I was able to fully realize I was a shell of myself.”

Today, White is enjoying her life again. She is back to having her own apartment and is a manager at a Goodwill boutique store, Vintage Vogue. Bad days still visit, but they no longer sap her desire to thrive.

White was helped by Tangram, a nonprofit in Indianapolis that provides support for individuals with disabilities, and the new PLAID program. Launched in 2016 by Indiana Legal Services, the Providing Legal Assistance to Individuals with Disabilities initiative is partnering with agencies in Fort Wayne and central Indiana focused on serving individuals with disabilities.

The disabled can be an especially vulnerable population, and people such as White who have disabilities that are not readily apparent can become entangled in situations that put their independence and well-being at risk, said Jay Chaudhary, ILS managing attorney. They do not always realize when they are being taken advantage of, Chaudhary said, which makes them easy targets.

PLAID was modeled after the medical-legal partnership program at Indiana Legal Services, a program that Chaudhary started. MLPs provide civil legal assistance to patients whose health is being harmed by issues that could have a legal remedy. In the PLAID program, the clients are offered legal assistance for expungements, Social Security and Medicaid appeals, and landlord-tenant disputes.

“At the end of the day, they’re human just like you and I, and they have the right to everything everybody else does,” Stephanie Buttler, Tangram director of behavioral health, said of people with disabilities. “A disability doesn’t disqualify that.”

‘Still in awe’

ILS staff attorney Nick Parker oversees the PLAID program, providing guidance and representation to the agencies and their clients. Inspired by his grandmother who worked with disabled individuals and his mom who has multiple sclerosis, Parker knows well the obstacles those with disabilities face, as well as the potential they have.

Parker realized immediately when he started working with PLAID what needed to be done. It is important to help clients understand what is happening, he said, and assure them they have a partner in the process..."

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