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Open letter calls for resignation of Center for Disability Rights CEO

More than 100 concerned community members, consumers and former employees of the Center for Disability Rights and the Regional Center for Independent Living are speaking out about alleged mismanagement, malfeasance and xenophobic remarks made by the organization’s founder, president and CEO, Bruce Darling.

They wrote and signed an open letter calling Darling’s leadership “calamitous.” It said there’s a “lack of accountability,” “nonexistent governance,” and alleges malfeasance and "unethical conduct.” 

The center provides services and advocates for people with all types of disabilities, and its former director of advocacy, Stephanie Woodward, said those goals are harmed by the current state of affairs. 

“While I loved serving the disability community and the advocacy work that I did there,” Woodward said, “I couldn’t continue to work under his (Darling’s) leadership.”

The letter also goes into detail about about an incident that happened a year ago. Darling resigned from the National Council on Independent Livingafter saying, during a lobbying trip, that Democrats care more about illegal immigrants than people with disabilities.

Woodward said that incident, along with many others, led to her resignation about a year ago. She also said that Darling refused to address other mounting issues with her for months. Woodward also claims that after he agreed to meet with her one-on-one, he left her waiting as he went to Washington, D.C. But, she said, it's the work that has been hurt most.

“The disability community deserves the very best that we have to offer. We’re not doing that and we’re not doing justice to the disability community by letting this just slide by.”

Ericka Jones also signed the letter. Like Woodward, she’s a former employee of the center, and said there’s been an exodus from the organization for what she calls “bullying” tactics.

“As a result, it became so toxic and impossible to work there anymore, that many of us had to leave,” said Jones. “I think that the only way that the organization can continue successfully is to have new leadership.”

Jones alleges that in order to work from home during the pandemic, she had to sign an agreement to give access to her home to center management at any time. It’s that and other allegations surrounding the center’s conduct during the pandemic that Darling responded to directly.

“We are proud of the work we do and disheartened by the letter and comments being made about our organization,” Darling said. “Particularly those that have suggested we have acted illegally or put individuals in danger during the pandemic. We have publicly posted steps we have taken to respond to the pandemic and are proud of that work.” 

He said he can’t address other specific allegations because many of them have to do with employment matters. 

“Every day we remain focused on the work that needs to be done for the Disabled people we serve and we will focus our energies not on disavowing false claims, but continuing in our steadfast responsibilities to those we represent,” Darling said.

This story is part of Move to Include, an initiative that uses the power of public media to inform and transform attitudes and behaviors about inclusion. Move to Include was founded by WXXI and the Golisano Foundation and expanded with a grant by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.

James Brown is a reporter with WXXI News. James previously spent a decade in marketing communications, while freelance writing for CITY Newspaper. While at CITY, his reporting focused primarily on arts and entertainment.