Mitch Hagopian came to the Wisconsin Coalition for Advocacy (now Disability Rights Wisconsin) 21 years ago to provide legal assistance and advocacy to persons with disabilities. His experience providing legal assistance to the elderly and to people in rural western Wisconsin, as well as his desire to improve the lives of people with disabilities and break down systemic challenges, brought him to DRW. Mitch retires today and is known by all as a tireless fighter of justice for persons with disabilities.
It was never difficult for Hagopian to maintain the drive or passion for his work at DRW. As a matter of fact, he credits the people he served, the people he represented, and even, unfortunately, the discriminatory systems that hold people back as the reasons that drove his passion. “How can you not have passion when your clients are kids who need speech therapy, wheelchairs, or ways to access the wider world? Or adults who are stuck in facilities and want desperately to get out? Or you see a system that has developed policies that discriminate against people? If that doesn’t jack you up, nothing will,” he asks.
A defining DRW moment of pride for Hagopian was the effort he led that averted the loss of eligibility for some people with intellectual/developmental disabilities (IDD) who received assistive services. His analysis revealed a change that had been made to the state’s eligibility tool. He requested information from DRW’s Ombudsman program (FCIOP) and found that there were Family Care and IRIS members experiencing the same thing. He led a joint effort of DRW’s Protection and Advocacy (P&A) team and the FCIOP team to challenge the Department of Health Services (DHS), requesting that officials repair that change. During this effort, the P&A brought CIP (a former county-based assistive program) cases and FCIOP brought Family Care and IRIS cases to fair hearings. Benefiting from Mitch’s analysis, all 60 of these cases were won. The P&A and FCIOP continued to challenge the state and finally, after persistent advocacy and the threat of a lawsuit by the P&A, the eligibility tool was fixed. It was a collaborative effort that continues to protect people with IDD from being excluded from programs that are crucial to their wellbeing.
This was only one of numerous systemic challenges that were won by Mitch Hagopian over the years. His drive to challenge systems to improve the lives of persons with disabilities throughout Wisconsin is a passion he has passed to others.
Thank you, Mitch! Irascible, but with a great sense of humor, you will be missed. DRW wishes you the best as you explore the country with your family, continue to play fiddle in the Harwood String Quartet, and work out your aggressions through fencing when you think of systems that don’t serve those they should!