The Robert Giamo Federal Building in New Haven, U.S. GSA

A month ago I laid in my bed, ticking — a manifestation of Tourette’s. My arms jerked, and my legs kicked out. I punched myself and slapped myself, sweating and exhausted. Weeks of stress had worn me down. I had reached my limits — physically, emotionally, and mentally. I needed to go to the hospital.

For a Black man like me, hospital visits are double-edged swords. I’ll get treatment —but at what cost? Will I make it out alive? Some will call me hyperbolic, but talk to me when you’ve had five policemen holding you down as your body tics erratically and you’ve lost the ability to communicate.

Justin Farmer

To ensure that I’d be treated with a modicum of dignity, I reached out to white allies and asked if anyone could accompany me to the hospital and humanize me. Doctors and nurses would thus be less likely to call security or the police when my erratic movements intensified.

At the hospital, we waited for hours, with me jerking and twisting and writhing in pain, hitting myself in the face, cursing and screaming. I finally received medication after hours of agony. Finally, I could go home.

Every time I have one of these episodes, there’s a point where I break down and cry. Because no matter how far I go or how far I’ve come, it’s in these moments that I realize how powerless I am.

This particular story began when I lost my health insurance in September 2022 due to mistakes by the state. I spent the fall going through multiple agencies and layers of bureaucracy to have my coverage reinstated, which led me, on December 2, to the Giaimo Federal Building in New Haven.

At the entrance, the federal police officer on duty refused me entrance because of my noise-canceling headphones. He cited them as a security hazard, even though they serve as a medical device, reducing my risk of seizures and erratic behavior. Without them, I have anywhere from 30–80 manifestations of Tourette’s per minute. They’re as essential to me as a wheelchair, oxygen tank, or prosthetic limb is to others.

I tried to show the officer my ID and doctor’s note, which explained that I require headphones for general function, and I said that I had been inside Giaimo many times over the years. He accused me of lying, as he had never seen me before, and refused to look at the doctor’s note or my ID, sarcastically remarking that he didn’t want to violate my HIPAA rights.

The officer insisted that I would have to take off my headphones and put them through a metal detector to enter the building. I’ve lived with Tourette’s for the last 11 years; until that day, I’d never had an issue or been denied access anywhere, whether I’ve been visiting the State Capitol, flying overseas, or going to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

In the name of security, the officer had many alternative options: He could have patted me down and wanded me, called my doctor, or just looked at my doctor’s note. But by insisting that I take off my headphones, he was effectively denying me fair access to my government.

On December 2, I was unable to enter Giaimo and resolve my insurance issues. As a result, I was left uninsured for another two weeks. My anxiety worsened, my physical condition deteriorated, my stress increased, and my ticks escalated. Once again, a policing agent had caused harm in the name of public safety.

After that visit, I reached out to my state and local officials. I tagged Gov. Ned Lamont and heard nothing, despite his stated love for Bob Marley and the song “Get Up, Stand Up.”

The week after, on December 6, I visited Hartford to testify on behalf of my Hamden constituents. At the state capitol, I went through the metal detectors without comment, as I normally do. This time, no one wanded or patted me down, due to conversations about access accommodations for me in the aftermath of my Giaimo experience.

As I testified and attended to my constituent’s needs, I was simultaneously trying to coordinate my visit back to Giaimo. Staff in U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro’s office had offered to arrange my second visit, ensuring that my access needs would be met. Because I was still in Hartford, I had to postpone my visit until the next day. On Wednesday, the staff member who could help had to reschedule for Thursday, at which point I received no follow-up communication from anyone. Finally, I went back on my own to Giaimo on Friday, only to be denied access again — and robbed of my dignity, again.

Today, I finally have health insurance again, thanks to the efforts of New Haven Legal Assistance and Kathy Flaherty of Connecticut Legal Rights Program. But the months of fighting both the bureaucracy — and my basic right to meet with my government —took a toll on me, leading to my emergency room visit in mid-December.

As a neurodivergent policymaker and activist, I want to canonize reasonable accommodations and ensure we all receive better education on sensory concerns and considerations.

The Americans with Disabilities Act was created in 1990, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was passed 17 years prior, which protects my rights to access my government, no matter my disabilities or need for accommodations. Even then, it took weeks to get clarity for entrance to Giaimo, only to have it thrown in my face that people were doing me a favor to allow me to access my government.

I ask you all to sign this petition asking for:

1.) The Federal Protective Service to follow federal laws regarding people with disabilities visiting their facilities.

2.) For there to be an audit of their facilities and policies and see where shortfalls exist and to create a public report that people can view.

3.) All laws that pertain to persons with divisibility such as but not limited to the rehabilitation act and all applicable anti-discrimination protections for people seeking federal services and visiting federal buildings should be posted and printed for guests to review.

Justin Farmer is the District 5 Representative to the Hamden Town Council.