National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy

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January 18, 2001

White House Meets with Mental Health Consumers;
Upcoming Nominations and Administration Inaction Top the Agenda

WASHINGTON--On January 18, leaders of the mental health civil rights movement met with staff members of the Domestic Policy Council to discuss concerns about the meaningful inclusion of people with psychiatric disabilities in White House decision making on mental health issues and better enforcement of civil rights laws. White House staffers Jennifer Sheehy and Philo Hall expressed an interest in continuing a dialogue, and agreed to facilitate meetings with other senior government officials responsible for policy making and rights enforcement.

While acknowledging the Bush Administration's rhetorical support on disability issues, the group asked for specific commitments to name people who had been labeled with psychiatric disabilities on federal advisory panels, such as the National Council on Disability (NCD) and the new National Commission on Mental Health. On December 18, the White House announced its intention to nominate ten individuals as members of NCD. Participants in today's White House meeting complained that they had not been consulted about these nominations, and that none openly identified himself or herself as someone who had experienced a psychiatric disability. Sheehy and Hall stopped short of committing the Administration on such nominations. The White House is scheduled to announce members of the National Commission on January 28, and will formally submit NCD nominations to the Senate in the near future.

Meeting participants complained that while the administration has articulated support for key issues such as community integration, housing and employment, agencies such as the Departments of Justice, Housing and Urban Development and Health and Human Services have not been carrying out the Administration=s articulated agenda. They sought, and were given, assurances that the White House would convey the importance of this agenda to these and other agencies.

The blueprint for federal policy supported by the coalition is NCD's 2000 report, From Privileges to Rights: People Labeled with Psychiatric Disabilities Speak for Themselves.   "This is the single most important federal report on issues relating to people with psychiatric disabilities," said Dan Fisher, a psychiatrist who was once diagnosed with schizophrenia. "We ask that the White House publicize it and implement its recommendations, especially regarding increased representation on advisory boards and councils, consultation prior to mental health policy making, increased research on recovery from psychiatric disabilities, and more funding for peer-run support services."  Hall said that he would disseminate this report among his colleagues and members of the mental health commission, and invited the coalition members to assess whether "the Administration's actions over the next couple of months address the concerns expressed in the report."

The coalition members who met with White House staff are:

--Pat Risser and Ron Bassman, current and past presidents of the National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy (NARPA);

--Dan Fisher and Laurie Ahern, Co-Directors of the National Empowerment Center;

--Andrew Imparato, President and CEO, American Association of People with Disabilities;

--Michael Allen, Senior Staff Attorney at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law;

--Tom Behrendt, Legal Director of the Connecticut Legal Rights Project;

--Yoshiko Dart, disability rights activist;

--Celia Brown, Board President of Support Coalition International;

--Susan Stefan, NARPA Board and the Center for Public Representation.

Also attending the meeting were Marca Bristo, Chairperson of the National Council on Disability (NCD), NCD General Counsel Jeff Rosen and Research Specialist Martin Gould.


Media contacts: Laurie Ahern, National Empowerment Center, 1-800-769-3728; Andy Imparato, American Association of People with Disabilities, (202) 457-0046; Michael Allen, Bazelon Center, (202) 467-5730

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