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 24, 2015
Volume 12, 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. POP CULTURE: News and topics may vary
J. ANNOUNCEMENTS: Books, financial aid, and events
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A. CIVIL RIGHTS
1. Transgender Discrimination Suit Challenges ADA's Exclusions
Kate Lynn Blatt, a transgender woman, filed a discrimination suit under the ADA and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act against her former employer (Cabela's). Ms. Blatt is the first to challenge the constitutionality of the ADA's exclusion of transgender people. In her suit, Blatt alleges that she was forced to use the men's restroom during work and was called "ladyboy, freak and sinner" by her co-workers. Cabela's main argument in seeking dismissal of the ADA claim is that Ms. Blatt's case is not covered by the ADA.
The senate debates in 1989 of the legislation that became the ADA excluded "transvestism, transsexualism, pedophilia, and gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments" from being protected by the ADA. This exclusion has remained unchallenged until Ms. Blatt's claim.
Ms. Blatt's lawyers have focused on the Supreme Court's decision in U.S. v. Windsor that found the federal Defense of Marriage Act's (DOMA) definition of marriage unconstitutional as it excluded same-sex couples. As in the Windsor case Ms. Blatt's lawyers are hoping the U.S. Department of Justice will decline to defend the ADA exclusion of transgender people just as they declined to defend the DOMA.
Full Story: Saranac Hale Spencer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, First Transgender Case to Challenge ADA's Constitutionality, Jan. 27, 2015, available at
2. Kmart's $102,048 Settlement for Disability Discrimination Suit
Kmart Corporation had a mandatory pre-employment drug screening, which required the job offeree to provide a urine sample. After Kmart offered Lorenzo Cook a job at its Hyattsville, Maryland, store, he informed the hiring manager that he was not able to provide a urine sample because of his kidney disease and dialysis. EEOC alleged that Cook then requested a reasonable accommodation from Kmart, such as a blood or hair test or any other drug test that would not require a urine sample. According to the lawsuit, Kmart refused to accommodate Cook with any alternative test and refused to hire him because of his disability.
On January 27, 2015, Kmart Corporation settled a federal disability discrimination suit with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and will provide equitable relief on top of $102,048 in monetary relief. The equitable relief is meant to ensure all applicants and employees with disabilities receive equal employment opportunities. It includes prohibiting Kmart from taking adverse employment actions because of a person's disability and failing to reasonably accommodate person with disabilities. Kmart will specify that reasonable accommodations are available to applicants and employees regarding their drug testing process via revised drug testing policies as a result of the settlement. Additionally, Kmart must provide training on the laws enforced by the EEOC and on the ADA's reasonable accommodation provision to all of their store managers, assistant managers, and human resource personnel in the district where the lawsuit arose.
Full Story: Press Release, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Kmart Will Pay $102,048 to Settle EEOC Disability Discrimination Lawsuit, Jan. 27, 2015, available at
3. Suit Against Harvard and M.I.T. for Lack of Online Closed Captions
The National Association of the Deaf recently filed a federal lawsuit against Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) for allegedly discriminating against individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. The lawsuit arises out of the universities' failure to provide closed captioning in their online educational materials. The complaint seeks to have Harvard and M.I.T. provide closed captioning via permanent injunction. The lawyer for the National Association of the Deaf commented that their hope is to impact other universities' policies.
Full Story: Tamar Lewin, Harvard and M.I.T. Are Sued over Lack of Closed Captions, New York Times, Feb. 12, 2015, available at
4. Florida Bill Proposed to Hire More People with Disabilities
A Florida Senate committee unanimously passed bill proposal SPB 7022 earlier this month, which aims to have the state take action in hiring more people with disabilities. The state's current employment policy encourages the hiring of women and minorities, but does not mention people with disabilities. In part the bill would require Florida's Department of Management Services (DMS) to develop programs including on-the-job training and internships for people with disabilities, and require training for state hiring officials to support the goal of hiring more people with disabilities. The bill also would require DMS to compile data on the hiring practices of executive agencies regarding people with disabilities, to post the data online, and to post an annual progress report starting on the first of next year.
Full Story: Margie Menzel, Gardiner Seeks to Expand State Jobs for Disabled, Orlando Sentinel, Feb. 3, 2015, available at
See Also: Matthew Seeger, Disability Employment the Focus of First Week in February, WFSU, Feb. 6, 2015, available at
1. Congress Attempting to Make Good on Promise to Fully Fund IDEA
In 1975 when the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was passed, Congress committed itself to pay 40 percent (the level considered "full funding") of the total costs of implementing special education programs. However, Congress has never lived up to this initial commitment. Currently, the federal government covers about 16 percent of costs while states and towns cover the rest. The proposed action would increase funding over the next decade until the 40 percent mark is reached.
The bill has bipartisan sponsorship and support. In a joint statement by the cosponsors (U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., Rep. Chris Gibson, R-N.Y., and Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash.), the legislators stated that the government made a commitment to help students and teachers and that the legislation would guarantee an increase in funding to ensure schools continue to provide a first class education to all students. However, this is not the first time these efforts have been made. The past few times these talks have arisen, nothing has come of them.
Full Story: Shaun Heasley, Efforts Underway to Fully Fund IDEA, Disability Scoop, Jan 28, 2015, available at
2. Mississippi Lawmakers Discuss Possible Voucher Program for Students with Disabilities
Lawmakers in Mississippi will soon be debating a bill that gives vouchers to students in special education to attend private schools. If the bill is approved by the state senate and house it would create a pilot program to provide $7,000 in state funds for up to 500 students with disabilities next school year. Currently, 13 other states and Washington D.C. have similar voucher programs intended to increase educational options for students with disabilities.
Vouchers have been a controversial topic with proponents strongly on one side or the other. Those who are in favor of the vouchers typically cite to the increased options for students to receive special education services. With the current state of special education in Mississippi, Governor Phil Bryant supports the bill and the options it will provide to families. On the other hand, there are many who do not support voucher programs. The vouchers are for private schools that do not have to comply with special education laws to the same extent as public schools. These groups and individuals argue that students are just being sent to unregulated schools that are not equipped to meet the needs of students with disabilities, and as a way to free the state from responsibility.
Full Story: Jackie Mader, Vouchers May Be Ticket Out of Public Schools for Kids with Disabilities -- But Is That a Good Thing?, Hechinger Report, Jan. 30, 2015, available at
C. TECHNOLOGY / TELECOMMUNICATIONS
1. Rules for the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act Effective
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently implemented rules and regulations for the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2012 (CVAA). President Obama signed the CVAA into law in 2010 to increase the access of people with disabilities to modern communications. The rules require that all built-in components of digital devices such as reception and playback be made accessible to persons who are blind or visually impaired. Additionally, navigational devices with on-screen text and guides must be made audibly accessible.
Notwithstanding these advances, the FCC approved a waiver extension for e-readers that exempts the devices from the requirements of the advanced communications services accessibility rules. Advocates consider this to be a stall in accessibility regulations.
Full Story: Wireless RERC (Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center), Technology and Disability Policy Highlights, Jan. 2015, available at
2. Auditory Brainstem Implant Restores Hearing
Researchers from the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California have led a team that successfully implanted an auditory brainstem implant in four children that enabled them to hear. Hearing loss manifests in various ways, some of which can be restored through hearing aids and cochlear implants. However, these devices do not aid those individuals who do not have a cochlear, or hearing, nerve. This surgery has been completed outside of the United States for over a decade, but until now it has never been completed with formal safety and regulatory oversight. Scientists believe that this surgery will be most successful in young children given the adaptability of their brains.
Full Story: University of Southern California, Brainstem Implant: Hearing Experts Break Sound Barrier for Children Born without Hearing Nerve, Science Daily, Feb. 13, 2015, available at
D. HEALTHCARE / BENEFITS
1. Autism Speaks Says Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism
Autism Speaks has released a statement sending a clear message that it is now their position that vaccinations do not cause autism. The group urges parents to have all children vaccinated. The previous position of Autism Speaks was to encourage vaccinations, but that in rare cases an immunization could trigger an underlying condition. The updated statement was made in light of the recent measles outbreaks.
The statement did not answer whether or not Autism Speaks will continue to fund research on potential links between autism and vaccinations. As recently as 2010 the group affirmed a commitment to funding this research. Spokespeople for Autism Speaks did not respond to questions on whether there would be future funding for this research.
Full Story: Michelle Diament, Autism Speaks Alters Position on Vaccines, Disablityscoop.com, Feb. 9, 2015, available at
2. Multiple Families Complain About the Quality of Warren Retrievers Service Dogs
Warren Retrievers, a company that sells service dogs for persons with diabetes, is facing complaints from some dissatisfied customers. There is emerging science in the field of diabetic alert dog training but limited research. Currently, no government agencies regulate the industry to assure that alert dogs sold to the public are properly trained and effective as a service animal. And companies employ a variety of methods for training. Warren Retrievers advertises that they supply a dog and then work with families to train the dog.
Jovana Flores, the mother of a 13-year-old with diabetes, feels as if she paid for a service dog and what she received was an overpriced pet. She says her dog was more concerned with playing with his toys than her son's high blood sugar. She is just one of 30 families who have filed complaints with the office of the attorney general in Virginia.
Full Story: Joce Sterman, Service Dogs for Diabetics or Just Pricey Pets?, WJLA, Feb. 12 2015, available at
1. White House Summit on Disability and Employment
In July 2010 President Obama issued Executive Order 13548, which committed to increasing the number of people with disabilities in the workforce. Earlier this month, the White House hosted the Summit on Disability and Employment to discuss the progress that has been made in the past four and a half years, best practices, and ways employers can continue to recruit, hire, promote, and retain individuals with disabilities.
Although 56.7 million Americans live with disabilities, 70 percent of those individuals are unemployed. This Summit was another step toward remedying this situation. With the 25-year anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act approaching, it is clear we still have more work to do.
Full Story: Cecilia Muñoz, Advancing Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities, White House Blog, Feb. 3, 2015, available at
See Also: Curb Cuts to the Middle Class Initiative, Recruiting, Hiring, Retaining, and Promoting People with Disabilities: A Resource Guide for Employers, Feb. 3, 2015, available at
2. Year-in-Review of Employment of Americans with Disabilities
The National Trends in Disability Employment (nTIDE) in collaboration with the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Kessler Foundation, and the New Hampshire Institute on Disability created a report that compared the employment of Americans with disabilities to their peers without disabilities. They found, in part, that the labor force participation rate for people with disabilities decreased. However, these numbers began to improve at the end of the year.
Full Story: Penny Gould, National Trends in Disability Employment (nTIDE): 2014 Year-in-Review, Research on Disability, Feb. 5, 2015, available at
1. Boston Mother Fights to Retain Daughter
Over two years ago Boston's Department of Children and Families (DCF) removed a child from her mother's custody, claiming that the mother was unable to care for the child. The mother, known only by the pseudonym Sara Gordon, is able to care for her daughter with the proper assistance despite having an intellectual disability.
Gordon lives with her parents, is completing high school and visits her daughter frequently. Gordon's parents support her, making their home an environment in which Gordon could raise her daughter. The federal government states that the DCF took the child based solely on Gordon's disability, not on Gordon's ability to care for her. It must compensate the family for this discrimination and give Gordon a chance to prove she can take care of her daughter or the department will face a federal lawsuit.
Full Story: Associated Press, Feds: State Wrongly Took Mom's Child 2 Days after Birth, N.Y. Times, Feb. 7, 2015, available at
2. People with Disabilities Struggle to Find Housing
If you have a physical disability, it is extremely difficult to find accessible housing that is affordable. In Syracuse, NY about 30 living places in 1,000 are accessible, but that doesn't necessarily mean landlords will accept tenants who use wheelchairs. To make matters worse, many people with disabilities have income below the poverty line and so cannot afford the rent for accessible apartments they may find.
Since finding accessible housing is such a struggle, people who find an accessible apartment for instance normally stay for years, making it even tougher for other apartment seekers. One way to solve this problem is to build more accessible housing. Christopher Community, a nonprofit that specializes in affordable housing, is opening a new fully-accessible property this month with 37 apartments in Syracuse.
Full Story: Ryan Delaney, Inaccessible Housing: The Long Wait for Those with Physical Disabilities to Find a Home, WRVO Public Media, Feb 3, 2015, available at
G. EMERGENCY RESPONSE / PREPAREDNESS
1. Winston-Salem Community Focuses on Independence During Emergency Preparation
In Winston-Salem, North Carolina, disability advocates are working to prepare people with disabilities for emergencies without asking them to relinquish their independence. Emergency assistance groups like the Red Cross stress the importance of engaging people with disabilities in the conversation before emergencies strike. The Red Cross developed a booklet for people with disabilities to help them become a part of the planning and conversation. In addition to these forms of support independence advocates are pushing for people with disabilities to start the conversations on their behalf.
Daniel Moody, independent living specialist at the Adaptable Center for Independent Living, Inc., a Winston Salem based disability rights organization, shared his advice for people with disabilities who experience any type of emergency. "My biggest tip is to do as much for yourself as possible. Prepare a list of your medications. Have contacts, both local and non-local. Be firm in what you need, do not let other people tell you. Know where to go and have a safe meeting place." Other advocates suggest contacting the local fire station and introducing yourself to make sure the community is aware of your specific needs.
Full Story: Bryan Dooley, Emergency Preparedness for People with Disabilities, Camel City Dispatch, Jan. 13, 2015, available at
2. "Just in Time" Disaster Training Library Expands Access by Adding Languages
The Just in Time Disaster Training Library is an online resource with training videos for a wide array of emergency situations. Produced by a Florida group, Disaster Resistant Communities, the library touches on topics ranging from Ebola to wildfires, winter weather, and many others. The library just expanded its resources to include videos in 18 different spoken languages and American and Australian sign language. The videos are a resource for a variety of audiences including people with disabilities, first responders, and community planners. The videos found in this library detail disaster related mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery training in a variety of languages. A quick and unscientific review of the closed captions found that captions are imperfect.
Full Story: Disaster Resistance Community Group, Multilingual and Sign Language Disaster Training Library Offered Online, Jan. 23, 2015, available at
1. Canada's High Court Rules for Assisted Suicide
On February 6, 2015, the Canadian Supreme Court unanimously ruled that laws that prohibit the aiding in suicide have no "force or effect to the extent that they prohibit physician-assisted death for a competent adult person." The ruling prevents the Canadian provinces from prohibiting physician-assisted death in consenting adults with incurable diseases or disability that cause "enduring and intolerable suffering." The Court reasoned that the criminal law interfered with an individual's liberty and autonomy and therefore violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom.
Disability advocacy groups, such as the Council of Canadians with Disability (CCD) and Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL) believe that the Court's decision places people with disabilities at a serious risk. The CCD and CACL believe that the decision goes too far by allowing anyone with "enduring and intolerable suffering" to seek assisted suicide. These groups note that other countries that permit assisted suicide impose a requirement of terminal illness.
Physician assisted suicide is a criminal offense in most countries. In the United States three states, Vermont, Oregon, and Washington, allow for assisted suicide. There are also bills pending in the New York and California legislatures that would legalize physician assisted suicide.
Full Story: Joe Palazzolo, Canada's High Court Approves Physician-Assisted Suicide, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 6, 2015, available at
See Also: Press Release, Council of Canadians with Disability, Commentary on SCC Assisted Suicide Judgment in Carter v. Canada - Key Concerns, Feb. 6, 2015, available at
Full decision: Carter v. Canada, 2015 SCC 5, available at
2. U.K. Health Agency to Shut Institutions for People with Intellectual Disability
On February 10 the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) decided to shut multiple hospitals in England designed for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. The NHS is closing the hospitals in an attempt to integrate these individuals into their communities. Simon Stevens the chief executive of the NHS said that the change marks a radical shift in how the health care will be provided. He also noted that the transition would likely take 12 to 24 months. The change comes in wake of the 2012 Winterbourne View abuse scandal, where six hospital workers were imprisoned for "cruel, callous and degrading" abuse of patients with disabilities.
Full Story: David Brindle, NHS to Shut Many Residential Hospital for People with Learning Disabilities, Guardian, Feb. 10, 2015, available at
I. POP CULTURE
1. Director Famous for Bringing Individuals with Disabilities to the Stage Dies at 75
Ike Schambelan was an off Broadway theater director for over 30 years. His company, Theater Breaking Through Barriers, featured individuals who were blind or had other disabilities in prominent roles throughout his career. Schambelan died of cancer on February 3. Initially featuring individuals who were blind, Schambelan expanded his mission in 2008 to include people with different disabilities in his productions. Many of his productions centered on disability. He has put on plays ranging from Shakespeare to an original Sherlock Holmes production.
Schambelan's goal was always to make individuals with disabilities more visible in culture. The company's website mentions that only two percent of characters on TV show a disability and only a quarter of them are allowed to speak. The mission statement cites the TV show "Glee." Although the show is often seen as a step in the right direction for individuals with disabilities in media productions, they still see one problem. "The black actor is black, and the Asian, Asian, but the wheelchair user isn't." The company wishes to change the perception of actors with disabilities so that they are viewed as professionals.
Full Story: Bruce Weber, Ike Schambelan, Director Who Brought Disabled Artists to the Stage, Dies at 75, N.Y. Times, Feb. 5, 2015, available at
2. Sign Language Expert Johnathan Lamberton Becomes a Celebrity During Snowstorm
Amidst concerns in late January over a massive snowstorm affecting travel in New York City, Jonathan Lamberton, the Mayor's sign language interpreter, became an internet celebrity. Lamberton uses a unique technique in his interpretations. He has an aide who hears the message from the Mayor and converts those words to American Sign Language. Lamberton then signs to the deaf community from his aide's sign language, adjusting for nuances and meaning. To properly convey his message Lamberton uses many facial expressions and empathic gestures. It is these gestures that have garnered him public attention.
Lamberton says he has mixed feelings about his new found fame. "I want to emphasize, I'm really not there to put on a show. I'm not part of the entertainment. I'm there to facilitate communication." He explained that his interpretations are like the subtle accent of a native speaker instead of the signs from a foreigner who has picked up the language.
Full Story: Michael M. Grynbaum, Sign-Language Interpreter for Mayor de Blasio Is a Web Hit, N.Y. Times, Jan. 28, 2015, available at
3. UK Club Aims to Provide Concert Venue Geared Toward Individuals with Disabilities
"Why Not People" is a UK-based members club and online platform catering to individuals with disabilities. The only requirement to become a member is that the applicant submit medical documentation of a disability. Members are allowed to purchase up to three additional tickets to events for friends and family.
Jameela Jamil is a DJ and the founder of Why Not People. She was inspired to create Why Not People when she was touring as a DJ and would look into the crowd and see no individuals using wheelchairs. Jamil was in a car accident as a child and was bedridden for two years. She was unsure if she would ever be able to walk again. Through physical therapy Jamil was able to regain her mobility but still remembers the feeling of being segregated at public events. She founded Why Not People to help ensure that people with disabilities are not left out or separated at live events. Currently there are some notable names on board for performing with the club, including Ed Sheeran and Coldplay.
Full Story: Matt Petronzio, New Live Music and Events Platform Caters to People with Disabilities, Mashable, Feb. 5, 2015, 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.; and Associate Editors Danielle Morrison, Nathan Pearson, Tesla Goodman, Philip Ross, Douglas Curwin, and Kate Battoe.
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