COLUMBUS, Ohio — Dozens of Ohio families now have a voice in the court battle between the state and a legal advocacy group for people with disabilities.

Chief U.S. District Judge Edmund A. Sargus Jr. granted motions on behalf of more than 100 guardians who have asked in recent months to intervene in the case, seeking a seat at the table in what could be a years-long argument over where Ohioans with developmental disabilities live and work.

“This litigation is complex and important,” Sargus wrote. “Excluding individuals with disabilities who will be directly impacted is not the appropriate way to make this case less complex.”

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The legal advocacy group Disability Rights Ohio sued the state last year, saying it violates the federal Americans with Disabilities Act by leaving thousands of people stuck in institutions — or puts them at risk of moving to one — because they can’t get the support they need to live and work in their communities.

Disability Rights Ohio filed the lawsuit on behalf of six named plaintiffs, but wants it to proceed as a class action.

Guardians opposing the lawsuit fear that their family members could be harmed by sweeping decisions that ultimately reduce or cut funding to so-called intermediate care facilities, or residential centers with eight or more residents. Many people with severe disabilities, they say, cannot have their complex medical and behavioral needs met in community houses and apartments.

“There is a long fight ahead, but he’s given us a position in the fight so that we can protect our loved ones,” parent Caroline Lahrmann said of the judge’s decision. “We are grateful for that.”

Lahrmann’s 17-year-old twins, Henry and Elizabeth, were born with profound disabilities and function at less than a 1-year-old’s level. She said it’s unfair to endanger their home at the Heinzerling Foundation in Columbus, where they do well, living safely and comfortably.

Sargus also granted a motion by the Ohio Association of County Boards of Developmental Disabilities to intervene as a defendant. Although the lawsuit was filed against the state, Sargus agreed that any change will affect local boards.

The association is pleased to have “a seat at the negotiating table in this important lawsuit,” Bridget Gargan, the association’s executive director, said in an emailed statement. “As the primary funders and managers of services to people with developmental disabilities in Ohio, county boards will offer valuable perspectives to the court as it considers the issues raised by both plaintiffs and defendants.”

In an emailed statement, Disability Rights Ohio said plaintiffs filed the lawsuit “to uphold the rights of Ohioans with developmental disabilities to have the opportunity to live and work in their communities with the supports they need.”

At least 2,500 people who now live in institutions have asked for community services, many others don’t know their options, and thousands more are on waiting lists for services. “This problem is what the lawsuit seeks to correct,” Disability Rights Ohio said.

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