The Disability Law & Policy e-Newsletter
An electronic publication of
The Law, Health Policy & Disability Center at the University of Iowa College of Law
The Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University
February 28, 2014
Volume 11, Issue 2
The Disability Law & Policy Newsletter is a monthly publication that aims to inform disability advocates, scholars, and service providers of the most current issues in disability law, policy, research, best practices, and breaking news.
Below is a topical overview of the items presented in this issue.
A. CIVIL RIGHTS: Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Sections
504 & 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, and state civil rights law
B. EDUCATION: Special education & youth transition to successful postsecondary outcomes
C. TECHNOLOGY / TELECOMMUNICATIONS: Assistive, information, and communication technologies
D. HEALTHCARE / BENEFITS: Social Security Income / Social Security Disability Income / Medicaid & Medicare
E. WORKFORCE: Workforce Investment Act (WIA), Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act (TWWIIA), & Vocational Rehabilitation
F. INDEPENDENCE: News for and about the Independent Living Movement
G. EMERGENCY RESPONSE / PREPAREDNESS: Disaster mitigation and preparedness news
H. INTERNATIONAL: News for and about disability topics outside the U.S.
I. MISCELLANEOUS: News and topics may vary
J. ANNOUNCEMENTS: Books, financial aid, and events
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A. CIVIL RIGHTS
1. Presidential Panel Calls for Improved Voting Accessibility
In late January, the Presidential Commission on Election Administration released a report which outlined a series of recommendations to streamline the voter experience in future elections. Along with several other recommendations, the panel urged election officials nationwide to pay greater attention to people with disabilities. The Commission found that people with disabilities are disproportionately impacted by problems at polls.
One recommendation of the Commission includes training poll workers on how to interact with voters with disabilities and how to configure and operate accessible voting equipment. It also recommended that states survey and audit their polling places to determine their accessibility. Theses audits can ensure that state authorities are "kept up to date about any problems in polling place design affecting voters with disabilities." Further, the Commission suggested that a checklist be distributed to each polling place during an election cycle to ensure compliance and full accessibility.
Full Story: Shaun Heasley, Presidential Panel Calls for Improved Voting Accessibility, Disability Scoop, Jan. 24, 2014, available at
2. NFB Initiates Lawsuit Against PARCC over Accessibility Issue
On January 24, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) filed a lawsuit against the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. PARCC received $186 million to develop academic assessments to measure progress and achievement of K-12 students.
The NFB initiated the lawsuit because PARCC's assessment field tests, which will be administered this spring, are not accessible to students who are blind, as they are not available in Braille or through text-to-speech screen reading technology. PARCC has promised that its assessment tests will eventually be accessible to blind students. However, as Dr. Marc Mauer, President of the NFB, stated, "the lack of accessibility during field testing will put blind students at a significant disadvantage."
The NFB of New Jersey, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, and the parents of a blind high school student from New Jersey all have joined the National Federation of the Blind in their suit against PARCC.
Full Story: Chris Danielsen, National Federation of the Blind and Parents of Blind Child File Suit to Make K-12 Assessments Accessible, National Federation of the Blind, Jan. 24, 2014, available at
3. DOJ Finds Louisiana Violates ADA by Asking Bar Applicants about Mental Health
On February 5, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Civil Rights Division warned the Louisiana Supreme Court that certain questions it used from the National Conference of Bar Examiners questionnaire violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. The DOJ also found that Louisiana violated the ADA when it conditionally admitted bar applicants with a history of mental health issues.
The DOJ found that the attorney licensure system discriminated against those with disabilities through inquiries regarding applicants' mental health diagnoses and treatments and supplemental investigations initiated because of their mental health status. Further, the state made "discriminatory admission recommendations" by relying on stereotypes of those with disabilities, imposed additional financial burdens to those with disabilities, and failed to provide adequate confidential protection during the admissions process. The DOJ also found the state's practice of imposing conditions on admissions that are based on an individual's mental health diagnoses to be in violation of the ADA.
The DOJ recommended looking at an individual's prior behavior instead of mental health diagnoses to predict future success in the practice of law. While the DOJ is willing to work amicably with Louisiana, it stated that the state will need to take additional measures to fix the ADA violations.
Full Story: Martha Neil, DOJ Says Bar Officials Violate ADA by Asking Applicants Too Much about their Mental Health, ABA Journal, Feb. 12, 2014, available at
4. The Fourth Circuit Rules that Temporary Impairments May Be ADA Covered Disabilities
In late January, the United States Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Summers v. Altarum Institute that a temporary impairment may be a covered disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act as amended by the 2008 ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA). The case arose after Mr. Summers suffered several serious leg injuries while exiting a commuter train. During his recovery Mr. Summers asked Altarum for an accommodation allowing him to work remotely. Altarum never responded and subsequently terminated Mr. Summers.
The Fourth Circuit ruled that, under the ADAAA, a temporary disability, like the injuries suffered by Mr. Summers, could constitute a disability if it is sufficiently serious. Prior to the 2008 ADAAA, courts relied on the Supreme Court's 2002 opinion, Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, Inc. v. Williams, which stated that a temporary impairment did not qualify as a disability under the ADA. The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's decision to dismiss Mr. Summers' case and remanded the case back for further proceedings.
Full Story: Kevin M. Ceglowski & David L. Woodard, Fourth Circuit Rules that Temporary Impairments May Be Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Covered Disabilities, The National Law Review, Feb. 4, 2014, available at
Read the Decision: Summers v. Alatrum Institute, Corp., 740 F.3d 325 (4th Cir. 2014), available at
1. Spending Bill Passed in Congress
This January, Congress passed a bipartisan spending bill that was signed into law by President Obama on January 17. This bill provides additional federal funding for programs that benefit students with disabilities in the amount of $500 million. This increase for programs complying with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is a "step in the right direction," even if funding is still less than it was last year. The increase offers possibly enough money to add some 6,000 more special education staff across the country.
Full story: Michelle Diament, Congress Gives Special Education $500 Million Boost, Disability Scoop, Jan. 17, 2014, available at
2. Settlement to Bring Students with Disabilities Back into Mainstream Classrooms
On February 12, after seven years of court battles a settlement was finally reached over whether children with disabilities were unfairly segregated in New Jersey schools. The suit, filed in federal court by an array of advocacy groups, alleged that the state violated the rights of students with disabilities to attend school with children who do not have disabilities in their neighborhood schools.
The settlement was approved by New Jersey's Board of Education and requires that the state must scrutinize the placement of children with disabilities in more than 55 districts that put a disproportionate share of students in restrictive settings.
Full story: Leslie Brody, Deal Puts Focus on Placing New Jersey's Disabled Kids in Local Classrooms, North Jersey.com, Feb. 13, 2014, available at
3. New Report Released on the Mistreatment of Students with Disabilities
On February 12, 2014, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP), chaired by Senator Tom Harkin, issued a new report on the mistreatment of students with disabilities. The report details the prevalence of physical restraints and unsupervised seclusion in nonemergency situations within K-12 schools. HELP investigated 10 cases and declared that the use of these "techniques" is not supported and should be condemned, even if there is no federal law governing the use or misuse of these practices.
The Committee also reported that in many instances, the parents of these children were helpless in trying to challenge the schools or get effective redress through school procedures, because they were not aware of the mistreatment. HELP suggests legislation to limit the use of restraints only to emergency situations and to eliminate the use of seclusion. Also, parents should be notified within 24 hours when restraints or seclusion are used. They also recommended mandatory collection of data on uses of restraint and seclusion, as opposed to allowing schools to opt out of disclosure.
Full story: Rick Cohen, Senate: Mistreatment of Disabled Children in Schools Must End, Nonprofit Quarterly, Feb. 13, 2014, available at
See also: The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Dangerous Use of Seclusion and Restraints in Schools Remains Widespread and Difficult to Remedy: A Review of Ten Cases, Majority Committee Staff Report, Feb. 12, 2014, available at
C. TECHNOLOGY / TELECOMMUNICATIONS
1. Google Develops a Contact Lens that Can Measure Glucose Levels
In early January, Google announced that it is in the process of developing and testing a prototype "smart contact lens" that uses tears to measure glucose levels. The contact works by embedding a very small wireless chip and glucose sensor between two layers of the lens material. The chip is visibly undetectable but Google is experimenting with using very small LED lights in the lens to turn on when glucose levels are not within the normal range.
Though the prototype is not commercially ready, Google is currently working with the Food and Drug Administration to prepare the lenses for consumer use. Additionally, Google is searching for business partners with a background in wearable technology to aid in developing apps that measure glucose levels for use by the wearer and his or her doctor.
Google is hoping that these contact lenses will provide persons with diabetes a new, more convenient way to monitor their glucose levels. The International Diabetes Federation estimates that as many as one in ten people in the world will have diabetes by 2035.
Full Story: Google Unveils "Smart Contact Lens" to Measure Glucose Levels, BBC News, Jan. 16, 2014, available at
2. Actuate Corp. Secures Patent for PDF Accessible Content for Visually Impaired
On January 21, Actuate Corporation patented "Automated Assistive Technology for the Visually Impaired," which allows PDFs viewed in any document system to be accessible to persons with visual impairments. This is the only software that utilizes an organization's existing document system and allows documents to be tagged within that system, making them accessible to people with visual impairment. Unlike technology in programs like Adobe Acrobat Pro, this software is compatible with any existing document system and does not require the use of an additional program to read those documents. This software works with high volume print streams, such as those of banks, insurance companies, and human resource departments.
Full Story: Actuate Patents PDF Accessibility Solution(TM) for Automated Tagging and Delivery of High Volume Content to the Visually Impaired, Wall Street Journal, Jan. 21, 2014, available at
3. Prosthetic Arm Prototype Simulates Feeling
In early February, the Translational Neural Engineering Laboratory at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland began testing an experimental prosthetic arm that would allow feeling in the prosthetic. The developers equipped the arm with sensors on each finger of the hand. The user then undergoes surgery to implant very small electrodes into his or her arm to connect the nerves in the arm to the sensors in the prosthetic arm.
The prosthetic arm allows the user to feel objects and distinguish between them. While the person with a disability would have to undergo hours of surgery to have this prosthetic inserted, it has received great reviews thus far. The developers note that the prototype needs further work before it can be made available on a mainstream level. Also, the prosthetic is currently too bulky for everyday use but the developers hope to test a portable version of the prosthetic in next few years.
Full Story: Rob Stein, An Artificial Arm Gives One Man the Chance to Feel Again, NPR, Feb. 5, 2014, available at
4. Brain Patterns Being Used to Run a Music Player
In late January, engineers from the Department of Systems and Control Engineering and the Centre for Biomedical Cybernetics at the University of Malta, led by Kenneth Camilleri, developed a music player that can be controlled by the brain activity of its user. The device works by showing flickering boxes on a screen that controls the music player. The user wears electrodes placed at specific points on his or her scalp, and then the signals sent from the brain are recorded and used to convert the brain activity into computer commands. Therefore, no physical movement is needed to control the music player because the program deducts where the user is looking through his or her brain patterns and controls the player in that way.
The researchers developed this system out of a desire to improve the life of individuals with limited motor abilities, especially persons with cerebral palsy or a motor neuron disease. The technology at use here could be utilized for many other programs in the future, such as smartphone apps.
Full Story: Local Researchers Build Music Player that Reads Brain Activity of User, Times of Malta, Jan. 26, 2014, available at
D. HEALTHCARE / BENEFITS
1. Study Finds Autism More Challenging for Caregivers
A recent study indicates that families with a member who has autism have greater trouble accessing services than those living with other developmental disabilities or mental health conditions. Researchers collected data from the federal government's 2009-2010 National Survey of Children with Special Health Care Needs and analyzed data from over 18,000 caregivers of children between the ages of 3 and 17 who have developmental disabilities, autism, and other mental health conditions. Caregivers of children with autism reported with more frequency the need to leave their employment because of caregiving responsibilities. These individuals also reported a corresponding, resulting financial burden and loss of insurance coverage. Rini Vohra of West Virginia University, along with his colleagues, believe that the "findings also suggest that caregivers of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders may require services and care that extend beyond that provided by the current health-care system."
Full Story: Michelle Diament, Study Finds Autism More Challenging for Caregivers, Disability Scoop, Dec. 20, 2013,available at
2. Autism Numbers May Decline under New DSM
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reviewed surveillance data of 8-year-olds with autism that was collected in 2006 and 2008 and found that 1 in 5 of the children would not have qualified for a diagnosis on the autism spectrum under the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The fifth edition of the DSM published last year altered the diagnostic criteria for autism and reclassified Asperger's syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder from distinct diagnoses on the spectrum to an umbrella classification of autism spectrum disorder. Now instead of diagnosing one of these specific forms of autism, clinicians will only indicate a level of severity.
Many advocates and individuals who were diagnosed under the DSM IV feared that this change would result in the loss of services for those who were diagnosed with autism under the previous definition. However, the autism entry in the DSM V was updated to indicate that those with an existing diagnosis could retain the diagnosis.
Full Story: Michelle Diament, Autism Numbers May Decline under New DSM, Disability Scoop, Jan. 23, 2014, available at
1. Obama to Include Workers with Disabilities in Minimum Wage Order
Since 1938, employers have been able to pay certain groups of workers with disabilities subminimum wages. President Obama plans to sign an executive order that will make this no longer the case. At his State of the Union Address, the President announced his plan to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 for those working under federal contracts. Advocates for individuals with intellectual and physical disabilities pressed the Obama Administration to include these groups among federal contract workers getting raises.
The executive order is expected to help 250,000 people who perform janitorial and kitchen work and other low-wage services for federal contractors. It is unknown at this point how many of the workers are currently receiving a subminimum wage under section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, but advocates like Ari Ne'eman, President of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, are welcoming the news. Mr. Ne'eman said, "We applaud the administration for hearing the voices of the disability community and including disabled workers in the new minimum wage protections for contractors. . . . We hope to work with them going forward to convince Congress to repeal Section 14(c) for all disabled workers. Equal rights should apply to everyone -- we took a significant step forward on that road today."
Full Story: Aamer Madhani, Obama to Include Disabled Workers in Minimum Wage Order, USA TODAY, Feb. 12, 2014, available at
2. Feds Report Boost in Disability Hiring
The U.S. Office of Personnel Management recently released a report finding that the number of federal workers with disabilities is at its highest level in the last thirty years. This increase is fueled in part by Executive Order 13548 issued in 2010 by President Obama, requiring that the federal workforce add 100,000 new workers with disabilities by 2015. More progress is needed, however, and by the end of the year an additional 46,000 employees should be hired.
Full Story: Shaun Heasley, Feds Report Boost in Disability Hiring, Disability Scoop, Dec. 20, 2013,
See Also: American Association of People with Disabilities Press Team, Federal Government Making Great Progress Hiring People with Disabilities, December 20, 2013,
1. Mental Health Facilities Suffer Cutbacks, Jails Become a Substitute?
Although there have been continuous issues with persons with mental disabilities ending up in jails instead of receiving appropriate help from mental health centers, recent budget cuts to, and full closures of, mental health centers nationwide are creating further problems. A Cook County jail in Illinois is said to be the leader in handling people that are incarcerated for issues related to their mental health. The sheriff is quoted, "I feel as if we're doing the bare minimum, and we're the leaders? No, this is not good." Commonly, individuals purposely and repeatedly get arrested to obtain their required medications, instead of seeking appropriate health interventions because the health centers are no longer available to them.
Full story: Laura Sullivan, Mentally Ill Are Often Locked up in Jails that Can't Help, NPR, Jan. 20, 2014, available at
2. Harris v. Quinn Threatens Consumer-Controlled Personal Assistance Services
On January 21, the Supreme Court heard arguments regarding the many people with disabilities who are fully capable of making choices about how to live their lives, but lack the physical ability to perform the necessary tasks themselves. Questions such as whether a state can make in-home caregivers participate exclusively in a specific union and whether those bringing the case should have a legal say in the matter were raised.
Ultimately, programs that provide in-home health aides allow persons with disabilities to use Medicaid funding to receive at-home care rather than be institutionalized. There are also constitutional rights to be considered, such as the right of free speech: those opposing the mandated union may lose their ability to be heard publicly.
Full Story: Samuel R. Bagenstos, A Supreme Court Case Threatens the Independence of Americans with Disabilities, Huffington Post, Jan. 25, 2014, available at
See also: Jordan Kobb & Craig Steen, Harris v. Quinn, Legal Information Institute, Jan. 21, 2014, available at
3. Discrimination Against Deaf Persons while Apartment Hunting
A recent investigation issued by the National Fair Housing Alliance found that almost 25% of the 117 large rental firms investigated in Texas discriminated against deaf persons searching for an apartment. The investigation identified systemic discriminatory practices including hang-ups and higher quoted application fees. Howard Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf, stated that "[t]he extent of discrimination found in this investigation is disturbing."
The 25% of companies identified own over 2,000 apartment complexes in 57 different cities nationwide. Accordingly, this investigation has national implications. The National Fair Housing Alliance has filed 9 federal complaints, and local partners have filed dozens more complaints with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Full Story: Jayme Fraser, Deaf Renters Face Discrimination in Apartment Searches, Houston Chronicle, Jan. 27, 2014, available at
1. Air Canada Apologizes to Soldier with PTSD for Refusing to Recognize Her Service Dog
In early January, Shirley Jew, a soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from Alberta, Canada, stated that Air Canada refused to allow her service dog to board her flight as a service animal. The airline told Jew that PTSD was not a disability that required a service animal, and therefore she would have to travel with her dog as a pet, which would require a $50 fee. Despite Jew's insistence that her dog, Snoopy, was in fact a service animal, the airline refused to allow Snoopy to board with Jew without the pet fee.
Air Canada issued an apology to Jew and refunded her ticket. Air Canada stated that the airline allows service animals for any disability, physical or not, provided they are accompanied by a doctor's note. Jew insisted that after she booked her flight with Air Canada, she emailed the airline copies of doctor notes and the agency that trained her dog to document her need for her service animal. Air Canada stated that the incident was just a "misunderstanding."
Full Story: The Canadian Press, Air Canada Apologizes after Shirley Jew, Soldier with PTSD, Asked to Pay for Service Dog, Huffington Post, Jan. 13, 2014, available at
2. Tenants with Disabilities Appealing for Exemption from Housing Benefit Cuts
In late January, the High Court of Justice of England and Wales, known simply as the High Court, ruled that housing benefit cuts were not unlawfully discriminatory against persons with disabilities. The regulation applies to persons receiving social assistance and allows for a reduction in housing benefits by 14% for those who have one spare bedroom and up to 25% for those who have two or more spare bedrooms. Five tenants with disabilities are appealing the ruling in the Court of Appeal. The tenants argue the law imposes an unfair burden on tenants with disabilities, who require these extra rooms to store mobility or medical equipment or allow caregivers a place to sleep.
Full Story: Disabled Tenants in Housing Benefit Cuts Appeal, BBC News, Jan. 20, 2014, available at
I. POP CULTURE
1. Online Petition to Name Doll with Disability as American Girl's "Girl of the Year"
Melissa Shang, a 10-year-old with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a hereditary disorder that damages the nerves in arms and legs, is petitioning the American Girl company to name its 2015 "Girl of the Year" doll as a doll with a disability. "Girl of the Year" dolls are special edition characters that highlight "an overarching theme for the year with a back story focusing on a modern-day issue." Previously, these dolls have highlighted issues like community service and anti-bullying efforts.
In her petition, Shang states, "Disabled girls might be different from normal kids on the outside. They might sit in a wheelchair like I do. . . . However, we are the same as other girls on the inside, with the same thoughts and feelings. American Girls are supposed to represent all the girls that make up American history, past and present. That includes disabled girls." Mattel, the parent company of American Girl, has been setting goals to bring diversity to its products through a variety of racial, ethnic, and religious back stories, as well as offering "Special Sparkle" accessories, like a hearing aid and a guide dog. To date, Shang's petition has more than 100,000 signatures.
Full Story: Cavan Sieczkowski, Melissa Shang, 10, Petitions American Girl to Name Doll with Disability "Girl of the Year," Huffington Post, Dec. 29, 2013, available at
See also: Melissa & YingYing Shang, Petitioning Jean McKenzie: American Girl: Release and American Girl with a Disability, Change.org, available at
2. Super Bowl Champion, Derrick Coleman, Is First Legally Deaf Offensive Player in NFL
Derrick Coleman has been deaf since he was three years old because of a genetic condition. Coleman was repeatedly told he would never make it in football. As a child, he was "called a 'lost cause' . . . who was picked on and frequently picked last." As he was growing up, his coaches encouraged him to quit. But today, Coleman is the fullback for the Super Bowl champion team the Seattle Seahawks.
Coleman's mother, Mary Hamlin, helped him pursue his dreams of becoming a professional football player. For instance, Hamlin would help Coleman tape his hearing aids to the inside of his helmet using pantyhose to help cut down on feedback. Coleman also learned to read lips so that he could understand play calls. While Coleman is vigilant about not moving until he sees the football moving, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson helps by turning to face Coleman and mouthing any last-minute play changes. In a dramatic 60-second ad available on YouTube, Coleman narrates his life story in a Duracell commercial.
Full Story: Kathy Ehrich Dowd, Seattle Seahawk's Derrick Coleman Inspires as First Legally Deaf Offensive Player in NFL, People.com, Jan. 21, 2014, available at
See also: Duracell: Trust Your Power - NFL's Derrick Coleman, Seattle Seahawks, YouTube, available at
3. Fashion Blogger Jillian Mercado Stars in Edgy Diesel Ads, Wheelchair and All
Jillian Mercado, a 23-year-old with spastic muscular dystrophy, was cast to be featured in Diesel's Spring 2014 campaign ads. Mercado, style blogger and a Fashion Week regular who uses a wheelchair, grew up in New York's Upper West Side, where she became very interested in fashion. Later, she studied fashion merchandising at the Fashion Institute of Technology and interned at Allure magazine. After graduating, Mercado began working for PMc Magazine, where she covered Fashion Week and started her own personal style blog, "Manufactured 1987." Mercado's Diesel ads are set to be included in both the March issues of Vogue and Interview.
Full Story: Rebecca Adams, Fashion Blogger Jillian Mercado Stars in Edgy Diesel Ads, Wheelchair and All, Huffington Post, Jan. 22, 2014, available at
See also: Abraham, Woman with Muscular Dystrophy Applies to be a Fashion Model as a Joke, Gets the Job, TwentyTwoWords.com, Jan. 23, 2014, available at
The staff of the Disability Law & Policy e-Newsletter welcomes suggestions for announcements incorporating a focus on disability law or policy in forthcoming issues. If you would like to bring calls for papers or proposals, conferences or events, book announcements, new resources, or scholarship, fellowship or internship competitions to our attention, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.
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The Disability Law & Policy e-Newsletter is the collaborative product of Editor-in-Chief David W. Klein, Ph.D., Executive Editor William N. Myhill, M.Ed., J.D.; Senior Editor Alessandra Baldini; and Associate Editors Douglas Curwin, Jenna Furman, Danielle Morrison, and Susan Schneider .
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