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
August 28, 2014
Volume 11, Issue 6
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. Rare Second Opportunity to Ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Treaties require a two-thirds majority (67 votes) of the Senate for ratification. In 2012, the CRPD was six senators short with 61 favorable votes. However, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations voted last month to recommend the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
The European Union along with 146 nations have ratified the CRPD. Ratification in the U.S. Senate is likely to be challenging. Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum and home-schooling advocates lead the opposition to the CRPD; they fear that it would undermine U.S. sovereignty and the U.S. federalist system. However, there was support from two Republican Senators on the Foreign Relations Committee, John McCain and John Barrasso, who joined the 12-6 vote in favor of CRPD ratification. Also, former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole visited Capitol Hill to express his support of ratification.
Currently, the CRPD stands in the batter's box of the Senate floor with a new vote not likely until after the Senate's August break.
Full Story: Scott Simpson, CRPD | Civil and Human Rights Coalition Applauds Senate Advancement of Disability Rights Treaty, July 22, 2014, available at
See also: Rick Santorum, Problematic Disabilities Treaty Up for Consideration Again: Commentary, Roll Call, Aug. 4, 2014, available at
See also: Alex Newman, Senate Democrats Quietly Revive Radical UN Disabilities Treaty, New American, July 21, 2014, available at
2. Across America, Ride-Sharing Companies Face ADA Lawsuits
Ride-sharing apps, such as Uber and Lyft, have exploded onto the transportation scene of cities across the country.
The smartphone ride-sharing apps connect the smartphone user with a ride-share company driver that uses a personal vehicle to drive unknown users to their destination. Ride-share companies have been rapidly gaining customers across the country and lawsuits at the same time. In early June in Texas, Uber and Lyft were hit with a federal complaint filed by three claimants with disabilities alleging that the companies are in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The complaint alleges that Uber and Lyft fail to provide wheelchair friendly vehicles for customers with mobility impairments.
In July the companies saw no relief in Texas, as they had additional lawsuits filed against them by ADAPT of Texas and Texas Civil Rights Project, disability advocate groups. One of the suits against Uber alleges that the app does not have a feature to allow the smartphone holder to request a wheelchair accessible vehicle.
Full Story: Brian M. Rosenthal, Texas Disability Advocates Sue Uber, Lyft, 30 Other Entities, Houston Chronicle, July 24, 2014, available at
See also: Dan Ramos, Laura Posadas, Tina Williams v. Lyft, Uber, Scribd, June 4, 2014, available at
3. Justice Department Reaches Agreement with Orange County, Florida Clerk of Courts
The Department of Justice (DOJ) reached a settlement agreement to remedy ADA violations with the Orange County, Florida, Clerk of Courts. A blind attorney alleged that the court failed to provide him with electronic court documents in an accessible format. The settlement agreement requires the Orange County Clerk of Courts to provide official court documents in an accessible format to individuals with disabilities upon request.
See: Press Release, U.S. Department of Justice: Office of Public Affairs, Justice Department Reaches Agreement with Orange County Clerk of Courts in Florida to Ensure Equal Access to Court Records for Blind Individuals, July 17, 2014, available at
4. Symbol that Signifies Accessibility to be Changed
New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo recently signed a law that will change the icon and signage used to identify accessibility. The current blue and white icon will be modified to an active, in motion image of an individual in a wheelchair. Additionally, signs that currently say "handicapped" will be changed to "accessible." The new symbol is known as the "Accessible Icon" and is currently on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The Governor believes these changes are an "an important step toward correcting society's understanding of accessibility and eliminating a stigma."
Full Story: Shaun Heasley, In First, State Adopts Updated 'Handicapped' Symbol, Disability Scoop, July 28, 2014,
1. IDEA's "Stay Put" Provisions Challenged
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) the "stay put" provision requires schools to pay for a student's current educational placement while disputes related to the child's special education services are adjudicated. However, the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, the National School Boards Association, and the Pennsylvania School Boards Association are asking the Supreme Court to hear the case, M.R. v. Ridley School District, from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, and to overturn this rule. The education groups argue that the rule incentivizes parents to prolong appeals in order to benefit from private school tuition. The parents' argument is grounded in the idea that the "stay put" provision protects students from having their educational programs disrupted.
See: Amici Curiae Brief on Petition for Writ of Certiorari, M.R. v. Ridley School District, 744 F.3d 112 (3d Cir. 2014), June 20, 2014,
See also: Shaun Heasley, Supreme Court Asked to Clarify Schools' IDEA Obligations, Disability Scoop, July 30, 2014,
2. $356 Million in Special Education Funding Lost
A report issued by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer on August 22, 2014, shows that NYC public schools lost $356 million during the past three years in federal Medicaid payments for special education services. These funds were lost, according to the report, as a result of city and state officials failing to apply properly for reimbursement. Stringer predicts that if these officials do not reform their methods quickly, losses could total $666 million by 2018.
Stringer's report analyzes these losses, including a specific example from this past fiscal year: The city's Department of Education expected to receive $117 million for services to 170,000 special education students. Instead, it received $2.2 million, and was billed for only another $180,000.
Full Story: Juan Gonzalez, EXCLUSIVE: School Officials Lose $356M in Special Education Funds over Sloppy Accounting, New York Daily News, Aug. 22, 2014,
C. TECHNOLOGY / TELECOMMUNICATIONS
1. Adaptive Design Uses Cardboard to Make Accessible Furniture for Students with Disabilities
Adaptive Design is a nonprofit that provides tailor-made furniture for children with disabilities. Design students and volunteers use cardboard to build pieces that will accommodate a child's specific needs. For example, a young girl with low muscle tone could not sit upright without being propped in between an adult's legs. To help her sit upright and read a book independently, the company made her a legless chair that looked like a sled with a back and attached a mesh strap. With this she was able to join her classmates in the reading circle without anyone's aid.
The program is funded by grants and donations, and its Executive Director Alex Truesdell is looking to expand the work and its benefits to other students with disabilities. The solutions provided by the company are inexpensive and adaptable to a multitude of disabilities.
Full Story: Jim Dwyer, Using Cardboard to Bring Disabled Children Out of Exile of Wrong Furniture, New York Times, July 29, 2014,
2. Smart Cane Technology Available Worldwide
The Indian Institute of Technology (ITT) Delhi endeavored to develop a navigational electronic travel aid for those with visual impairments with the Smart Cane. This technology uses ultrasonic sensors to detect obstacles both above the knee and several feet away and alerts its user of the impediment by vibration. The device can be attached to the already popular white cane and greatly enhances the abilities of the user to avoid obstructions that are difficult to identify with the standard white cane.
After over 18 months of extensive field trials, Smart Cane technology has gone global and is now available for a low cost. The Smart Cane is available throughout India for 3,000 Rupees, and also in limited parts of Europe for approximately 40 Euro. It is not yet available in the US.
Full Story: Smart Cane: Rohan Paul Demonstrates a Smart Cane for People with Visual Impairment, BBC World Service, Aug. 19, 2014,
See also: Press Release, The Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, "Smart Cane" Gets Wellcome Support to Aid the Visually Challenged, June 29, 2011,
D. HEALTHCARE / BENEFITS
1. Cost of Schizophrenia Medications Causing Dangerous Side Effects
Individuals with schizophrenia are often treated with antipsychotic drugs such as Haldol or Abilify. Haldol is considered an older class of drug, and although it is extremely effective in treating symptoms of schizophrenia such as hallucinations and delusions, it has a side effect known as tardive dyskinesia. Tardive dyskinesia is a neurological disorder that manifests as involuntary movements of the face and jaw. It occurs in more than twenty percent of patients who take Haldol and is often irreversible. Abilify, on the other hand, which is a newer, more expensive drug, reduces the likelihood of tardive dyskinesia by over a third. Most psychiatrists prefer Abilify, but at a cost of $600 per month compared to $20 per month for Haldol, many patients, even with insurance, are unable to afford Abilify.
For instance, people with milder forms of schizophrenia may not qualify for Medicaid disability benefits. Further, their symptoms may negatively affect their access to employer-based insurance. As a result, persons with mild forms of schizophrenia often are forced to take Haldol and be exposed unnecessarily to the risk of tardive dyskinesia.
Full Story: Edward Larkin & Irene Hurford, Perpetuating Schizophrenia's Stigma, New York Times, Op. Ed., Aug. 12, 2014,
See also: James Robert Brasic, Tardive Dyskinesia, Medscape, July 17, 2014,
2. Managing the Leading Cause of Disability in the United States - Arthritis
Arthritis has become the leading cause of disability in the United States, ahead of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. This ailment accounts for 44 million outpatient visits and over 900,000 hospitalizations. Arthritis is a musculoskeletal disorder comprised of more than 100 different diseases and is most prevalent in women. Specialist pharmacist Phyllis Crockett suggests that patients do endurance and resistance training as well as maintain a healthy weight to reduce pressure on the knees. Additionally, she suggests that individuals do not self-medicate by combining prescription and over-the-counter medications and that prescribed medications are taken strictly.
Full Story: BPT, Ask the Pharmacist: Managing the Aches and Pains of Arthritis, Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, Inc., June 3, 2014,
See also: Arthritis Foundation, Prevent & Manage Arthritis,
3. September Is National Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month
As reported by the National Spinal Cord Injury Association, approximately 200,000 people live with spinal cord injuries in the United States alone. Every 48 seconds in our country, a person becomes paralyzed. A majority of injuries occur from motor vehicle accidents, falls, work-related accidents, and sports injuries. Organizations are looking to raise awareness throughout the nation this September by promoting National Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month.
See: National Spinal Cord Injury Association, September Is National Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month,
1. New EEOC Guidelines Classify Impairments Related to Pregnancy as a Disability
On July 14, 2014, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission voted to adopt new enforcement guidelines that define impairments related to pregnancy as a disability. According to the new guidelines, "Although pregnancy itself is not a disability, impairments related to pregnancy can be disabilities if they substantially limit one or more major life activities."
Although these guidelines are not binding in the courts, businesses should evaluate their policies and practices accordingly, as some courts may follow it and any EEOC investigations of charges alleging pregnancy-related discrimination will involve the new guidelines.
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in Young v. United Parcel Service on July 1, 2014, and once they deliver their opinion, there should be more clarification on this issue. This case compares disabilities from pregnancy with disabilities attributed to other ailments, such as on-the-job injuries. It asks the question whether an employer that provides accommodations to nonpregnant employees with work limitations must also provide similar work accommodations to pregnant employees.
Full Story: Matthew Webster, The EEOC Delivers Its Expected New Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination, JD Supra Business Advisor, Aug. 1, 2014,
See also: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Enforcement Guidance: Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues (No. 915.003), July 14, 2014,
2. Minnesota to Increase Hiring of Individuals with Disabilities at State Level
The governor of Minnesota, Mark Dayton, signed an executive order on August 4, 2014, that directs state agencies to double their employment of people with disabilities. In 2013, 3.2% of the state agencies' workforce consisted of persons that self-identified as having a disability; Governor Mark Dayton's order sets out to increase that percentage to 7% by 2018. Dayton's order also requires the creation and implementation of training programs for hiring managers and human resources personnel for the recruitment and hiring of people with disabilities.
This order follows an ambitious multiyear Olmstead roadmap released late in 2013 that seeks to expand Minnesota's range of community and home-based options for people living with disabilities and mental illnesses. The plan called for transitioning thousands of people out of institutions and into less restrictive environments.
Full Story: Chris Serres, Gov. Dayton Orders State Agencies to Dramatically Increase Hiring of Disabled Workers, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Aug. 7, 2014,
3. New Protections for Bar Candidates with Disabilities
A settlement agreement was reached on August 15, 2014, with the Louisiana Supreme Court and the U.S. Department of Justice. The agreement is the result of the DOJ's investigation of the court's policies, practices, and procedures for evaluating bar applicants with mental health disabilities. Accordingly, the settlement requires compliance with the ADA by prohibiting the court from 1) asking unnecessary and intrusive questions, 2) imposing unnecessary and burdensome conditions for candidate's with mental health disabilities, and 3) asking questions that are counterproductive to their interest in attorney fitness, that is, questions about mental health diagnosis and treatment since candidates are likely to be deterred from seeking help when needed if those actions will be scrutinized by licensing officials. The settlement also requires the court to revise its character and fitness screening questions, re-evaluate prior and pending applications that may have been dismissed due to discrimination, and pay $200,000 to compensate affected bar applicants and attorneys.
The DOJ recently has raised these issues with Vermont, Connecticut, and the National Council of Bar Examiners as well.
See: Press Release, Department of Justice: Office of Public Affairs, Department of Justice Reaches Agreement with the Louisiana Supreme Court to Protect Bar Candidates with Disabilities, Aug. 15, 2014,
1. Accessible Online Voting Lawsuit Against Maryland Moves Forward
The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) sued Maryland election officials in May of this year for violating the ADA by not approving an online ballot-marking system that would protect the privacy of voters with visual impairments. Election officials argue that the system would open the door to voter fraud, while the NFB argues that voters with visual impairments are having their right to privacy infringed upon with the current system. U.S. District Judge Richard Bennett stated that there was sufficient evidence that Maryland residents with disabilities were not able to take full advantage of the absentee voting process. The case will move forward to determine if the state is required to implement an online ballot-marking system to protect the privacy of blind voters.
Full Story: Associated Press, Judge Rules Case on Blind Ballot Tool to Continue, Washington Post, Aug. 14, 2014,
See also: Michael Dresser, Advocates for Blind Sue Maryland Election Officials, Baltimore Sun, May 20, 2014,
2. Veterans with Disabilities Won't Have to Prove Disability to Use Accessible Parking
Illinois Governor Patrick Quinn recently signed legislation that will enable veterans with disabilities to bypass bureaucratic hurdles when seeking accessible parking. State Senator Tom Cullerton and State Representative Stephanie Kifowit sponsored Senate Bill 3255, which exempts veterans with a permanent disability from having to undergo an annual recertification to retain their accessible parking designation. The law will go into effect on January 1, 2015. Governor Quinn said that, "Our veterans with disabilities shouldn't have to deal with unnecessary barriers to keep their parking privileges each year." Illinois is the first state to pass this type of legislation.
Full Story: Al Stasch, Governor Quinn Signs Legislation to Support Veterans with Disabilities, Chicago Tribune, Aug. 12, 2014,
1. Report Assesses Progress of the Commitments Made at the Fourth World Conference on Women
On August 11, 2014, the United States International Council on Disabilities (USICD) released "Beijing Plus 20 Review: The Situation of Women and Girls With Disabilities and the Beijing Plus Twenty Process." The report is an assessment of the progress made by member states to the Beijing Platform of Action (Action Plan) at the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing, China. The Action Plan is a comprehensive global policy framework to achieve gender equality and set forth ways to empower women through legislative action.
Stephanie Ortoleva, President of Women Enabled, Inc., the author of the report, advocates for a greater focus on the rights of women and girls with disabilities. The report outlines and explains how the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the Action Plan each provide for women's disability rights. Ortoleva seeks to keep these issues in the forefront for the upcoming Beijing + 20 Review conference in March of 2015 at the 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women.
See: Stephanie Ortoleva, Beijing Plus 20 Review: The Situation of Women and Girls With Disabilities and the Beijing Plus Twenty Process, United States International Council on Disabilities, Aug. 11, 2014,
2. Scottish Government Claims 100,000 People Will Lose Disability Benefits
The United Kingdom's Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is a new program that replaces the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and is intended to help with the living costs for people aged 16 to 64 with disabilities or long-term health problems. However, at a committee meeting on August 13, 2014, Scottish ministers said the PIP would result in over 100,000 people in Scotland losing benefits.
Scottish Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that, although the Department for Work and Pensions began a rollout of the PIP in Scotland in January 2014, she would halt the reform if Scotland voted for independence: "We know that these cuts are hitting disabled people disproportionately and what we are publishing today is analysis showing that of the 190,000 disabled people who currently get [DLA], as the transition to [PIP] takes place, more than 100,000 of them will lose either all or some of their entitlement." Therefore, if Scotland votes to be independent from the UK, Sturgeon will work to stop implementation and reverse the program's current reach; if Scotland remains part of the UK, however, the PIP program's implementation will continue, regardless of negative effects.
Full Story: Thousands Could Lose Disability Benefits, Scottish Government Claims, BBC News, Aug. 13, 2014,
I. POP CULTURE
1. "Seinfeld" Diner Not Accessible
Tom's Restaurant, better known as "Seinfeld's" Monk's Café, is facing a disability lawsuit for not being wheelchair accessible. The lawsuit was filed on August 15, 2014, by Carolyn Coleman because, although she would like to patronize the restaurant, she is not able to get her wheelchair inside the establishment. Tom's Restaurant's manager, Manuel Papas stated, "We no have [sic] access for handicapped. But we have tables outside, though, that they can use. It's not a problem in the summertime."
Coleman alleges 42 ADA violations and is seeking over $30,000 in damages and a court order to force the restaurant to comply with the ADA.
Full Story: Rich Calder, "Seinfeld" Diner Sued for Not Being Handicap-Friendly, New York Post, Aug. 15, 2014,
2. New Documentary Series Focuses on Transition Issues
A new television documentary series "The Specials" examines the experiences of five young adults with intellectual disabilities. The series documents the lives of five housemates over four years from their late teenage years into their early 20s. The documentary follows these individuals through the challenges they face while transitioning from secondary school to adulthood, including dating, job hunting, and everyday life together in their home in Brighton, England. Thirteen episodes of the series will air back to back on OWN on Sept. 7 starting at 2:30 p.m. ET.
Full Story: Shaun Heasley, TV Series to Examine Life During Transition, Disability Scoop, Aug. 18, 2014,
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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