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
April 28, 2015
Volume 12, Issue 4
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 Innovation and Opportunity Act & 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. edX Inc. Settlement for Online Course Accessibility
edX Inc. was created by Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University in 2012 to offer massive open online courses. The settlement agreement reached on April 2, 2015, is to remedy alleged violations of the Title III of the ADA that the company's website and platforms were not fully accessible to individuals with disabilities. The four-year agreement, in part, requires edX to conform to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines by substantially modifying its website, platform, and mobile application.
Full Story: Press Release, U.S. Department of Justice, Justice Department Reaches Settlement with edX Inc., Provider of Massive Open Online Courses, to Make its Website, Online Platform and Mobile Applications Accessible Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Apr. 2, 2015, available at
See Also: Settlement Agreement, United States and edX Inc., Apr. 1, 2015, available at
2. Baldwin Supply Co. $50,000 Settlement for Disability Discrimination Suit
A Minneapolis-based distributor, Baldwin Supply Company, will pay $50,000 to resolve a disability discrimination suit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC alleged that Baldwin refused to allow Timothy Collins to work except for two days after he was released by his doctor to return to work without restrictions. Specifically the lawsuit alleged that Baldwin violated Title I of the ADA when it refused to allow Collins to return to work after he had a heart attack and instead fired him. The ADA protects employees from discrimination based on their actual or perceived disabilities. As part of the settlement, Baldwin is required to train its management personnel on the ADA prohibitions against disability discrimination. Nonmanagement personnel will receive training that includes Baldwin's equal employment opportunity policies and their right to file charges of discrimination with the EEOC.
Full Story: Press Release, U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission, Baldwin Supply Company to Pay $50,000 to Settle EEOC Disability Discrimination Lawsuit, Apr. 6, 2015, available at
See Also: Consent Decree, U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Baldwin Supply Co., Apr. 3, 2015, available at
1. Supreme Court Declines to Hear Over-Identification Case
The Supreme Court decided that it will not hear a case involving allegations of over-identification based on race in a Pennsylvania school district. The families alleged that their children were discriminated against based on their race when they were put into special education programs for years without being reevaluated. They brought suit against the school district under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act claiming the school district routinely misuses modified classes to remove African Americans from the general education curriculum. Their argument relies on statistics that show disproportionality based on race. While black students make up 8% of the schools total population, they represented 16% of the special education population over a 5-year period.
The Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled in favor of the school district and the Third Circuit of Appeals affirmed that ruling. The Court ruled that disproportionality is not per se evidence of discrimination and statistics alone are not enough to establish a prima facie case under the law. The families filed a writ of certiorari asking the Supreme Court to hear the case because they felt the lower courts were wrong to reject their evidence of discrimination. The Supreme Court denied the writ and will not hear the case.
Full Story: Richard Ilgenfritz, LMSD Families' Education Discrimination Lawsuit Won't Be Heard, Delaware County Times, Apr. 8, 2015, available at
See Also: Christina Samuels, U.S. Supreme Court Will Not Hear Case on Race and Special Education, Education Week, Apr. 6, 2015, available at
District Court Opinion: Blunt v. Lower Merion School District, 826 F.Supp.2d 749 (E.D. Pa. 2011), available at
2. Graduation Rates Increasing for Students with Disabilities
The U.S. Department of Education has released graduation statistics of students with disabilities across each state. The overall graduation rate for students with disabilities is 61.9 percent. This number is up approximately 3 percent from prior years. While the overall number is just a shade under 62 percent, the state by state percentages vary greatly. For example, the lowest graduation rate comes from the state of Mississippi at just 22.5 percent, whereas one of its bordering states, Arkansas, has the highest graduation rate for students with disabilities at 80.4 percent.
These statistics can be taken with a grain of salt. These numbers represent only the four year graduation rates of students with disabilities. Under IDEA, states are required to allow students with disabilities to remain in school until the age of 21, and some states extend upon this age. Also state definitions of what is a "regular high school diploma" vary as well, making it difficult to get a true state to state comparison.
Full Story: Christina Samuels, Graduation Rates for Students with Disabilities on the Rise, Education Week, Mar. 23, 2015, available at
See Also: Michelle Diament, Graduation Rates Inch Up For Students with Disabilities, Disability Scoop, Mar. 17, 2015, available at
C. TECHNOLOGY / TELECOMMUNICATIONS
1. Disability.gov Gives Tips on Workplace and Social Media Accessibility
Disability.gov is the federal government website for information on disability-related programs, services, laws, and regulations. Among its many resources is a "Disability Connection Newsletter" issued on a monthly basis. In this month's newsletter there were several best practices for improving accessibility on social media platforms and workplace technologies.
First, the newsletter suggests that Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube ensure accessibility by using ALT text, descriptive captions, videos with transcriptions, and hashtags with the first letter of each word capitalized. Additionally, business owners should use TechCheck, a free interactive tool funded by the Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy, to ensure their workplace technology is accessible. Finally, for those who understand the need for accessibility but may not have the means, the newsletter suggests that they reach out to the International Association of Accessibility Professionals, whose goal it is to create a global community of trained accessibility professionals who share best practices.
Full Story: Disability.gov, 10 Ways Technology Is Changing the Way We Live, Disability Connection Newsletter, Mar. 2015, available at
See Also: Disability.gov, About Us -- What Is Disability.gov? available at
2. Are Advances in Technology Causing us to Rethink Disability?
Last month there were several conferences and symposiums regarding technology and people with disabilities. The 30th Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference was held in San Diego, California; The Assistive Technology Industry Association held an Abilities Expo in Los Angeles, California; and Future Tense, a partnership between Arizona State University and Slate Magazine, held a discussion in Washington, D.C., based on the film "Fixed: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement," about whether technology will put an end to disability. Given the advances in robotics and neurotechnology, some in the disability community are concerned whether this is another attempt to eradicate disability, while others are concerned with the cost of accessing these technologies.
Full Story: Jacob Brogan, Will Technology Put an End to Disability? A Future Tense Event Recap, Slate, Mar. 9, 2015, available at
See Also: California State University Northridge, 30th Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference, Mar. 7, 2015, available at
D. HEALTHCARE / BENEFITS
1. Proposed Regulations Expected to Increase Quality of Mental Health Care
A proposed rule, addressing the application of the Public Health Service Act, is expected to increase access to mental health care for individuals with disabilities and other beneficiaries. The new regulations are being proposed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The regulation will require Medicaid to cover mental health services at the same level as other medical and surgical services. These are similar regulations to those issued in 2013 applying to most private health insurance plans. The proposed rule opened for comment on April 10 and will remain open for 60 days.
Officials with the National Association of Medicaid Directors welcomed the new proposed rule but warned that it likely will take years to see the full impact. "Improving quality and access to care impacts the health of our nation," said Vikki Wachino, acting director of the Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services. "All Americans deserve access to quality mental health services." In addition to requiring equal coverage for mental health services, the proposed rule would mandate that Medicaid programs provide a reason in the event that a beneficiary is denied such treatment.
Full Story: Michelle Diament, Feds Call for Expanded Mental Health Coverage, DisablityScoop.com, Apr. 7, 2015, available at
See Also: Department of Health and Human Services, Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Programs, Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, available at
2. Doctors Need to Take More Care with Protocols When Prescribing Antipsychotics
A study found that an increasing number of children are being prescribed antipsychotic medications. The study suggests that physicians are generally prescribing these medications for the right reasons and to the right patients; however, physicians are generally not following testing protocols for these medications. In nearly half of the cases studied physicians failed to conduct lab tests to measure cholesterol and blood-glucose levels in patients before patients began taking antipsychotic medications. These lab tests are recommended to mitigate conditions like high cholesterol and diabetes, which are associated with taking antipsychotics.
For the study, researchers sent surveys to every physician in Vermont who prescribed antipsychotics to children covered by Medicaid between July and October 2012. Ultimately, 147 of the doctors -- who accounted for prescriptions for 647 patients -- responded to questions about their prescribing habits. The findings suggest that more needs to be done to ensure that doctors follow established protocols when they prescribe antipsychotics. Specifically, better training, greater sharing of records, and use of electronic medical records to remind providers about blood work could help.
Full Story: Shaun Heasley, Doctors Often Skip Protocols for Antipsychotics, Study Finds, Disablityscoop.com, Mar. 03 2015, available at
See Also: David Rettow, et al., Antipsychotic Medication Prescribing in Children Enrolled in Medicaid, Pediatrics (Published online Mar. 2, 2015, doi: 10.1542/peds.2014-2260), available at
1. Regulations to the WIOA Are Available for Comment
The Department of Labor published new regulations to the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) for public comment on April 16, 2015. President Obama signed WIOA into law last July, and it will take effect this July. The law takes the place of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) and provides for training and employment of individuals seeking employment to make them more marketable. Many programs that help individuals with disabilities find jobs exist because of this Act. The Departments of Education and Labor are working together to implement title I of the WIOA and the proposed changes are meant to bring the WIA regulations in line with the changes found in the WIOA by implementing job training system reforms. The comment period will end June 15, 2015.
Full Story: Office of Disability Employment Policy, WIOA NPRMs Now Available on Federal Register Public Inspection Website, ODEP News Brief, Apr. 17, 2015, available at
See Also: Department of Labor, Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, Employment and Training Administration, Last Updated: April. 2, 2015, available at
See Also: Federal Register, Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act: Miscellaneous Program Changes, Filed On: Apr. 2, 2015, available at
2. Microsoft Actively Recruiting Employees with Disabilities
Microsoft has now joined the ranks of other large corporations seeking to diversify their workplaces with people with disabilities. The company has recently launched a pilot program at its headquarters in Redmond, Washington, in partnership with Specialisterne, a nonprofit that helps individuals with autism find work. The founder of Specialisterne, Thorkil Sonne, established the commercial IT service business to offer those with autism an opportunity to enter the job force. His son has autism and he understands firsthand the difficulty many people with autism have finding employment.
Full Story: Shaun Heasley, Microsoft Recruiting Employees with Autism, Disability Scoop, Apr. 7, 2015, available at
See Also: Cliff Saran, Specialisterne Finds a Place in Workforce for People with Autism, ComputerWeekly.com, Feb. 8, 2008, available at
1. New York City's Court System Violates the ADA
After researching New York City's courthouses, the New York Lawyers for Public Interest (NYLPI) found that they are inaccessible to people with mobility disabilities. The NYC Department of Correction (DOC) does not provide accessible courtrooms, holding pens, or booking areas. One of NYLPI's clients, Banetta Grant, had to urinate on herself while being held in custody for about ten to twelve hours because correctional officers denied her right to an accessible restroom. Then Grant had to wear diapers to court for the same reason. The report further describes inaccessible courthouse entrances, courtroom spectator seating, jury boxes, and signage.
In response to the NYLPI's report, the DOC opened a new holding pen in the Manhattan Criminal Court's booking area, which provides one accessible bathroom to accommodate people with disabilities, but there are no accessible private rooms where clients can confidentially speak with their lawyers. The Chair of the Courts and Legal Services Committee, Rory Lancman, is scheduling a hearing to introduce new laws that mandate NYC's Department of Citywide Administrative Services to conduct an accessibility audit of courthouses annually. The time, date, and location of this hearing have not been announced yet.
Full Story: NYLPI, Report Details Discrimination Against People with Physical Disabilities at NYC Courthouses, City Limits, Mar. 24, 2015, available at
See: NYLPI, Accessible Justice (2015), available at
See Also: Jake Pearson, Report: NYC Courthouses Inaccessible for Disabled People, Associated Press: The Big Story, Mar. 24, 2015, available at
2. Budget Cuts to West Virginia's Waiver Program
West Virginia is proposing to cut the budget for its Intellectual Developmental Disabilities Waiver (IDDW), which provides supports for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to live in the community. For the past several years IDDW West Virginia has spent well over its allotted budget of $89 million per year for providing for IDDW services to people who need them.
West Virginia's IDDW budget is much higher than similar programs in nearby states, according to a study done by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, Bureau of Medical Services (BMS). The cut will make West Virginia's IDDW budget comparable to those in its surrounding states. One of the programs affected pays parents to take care of their children; however, the waiver service was never intended to pay for natural supports provided by family or friends, according to the BMS.
The BMS hopes that the budget cuts will help the IDDW to limit their spending and change the allocation of where their money is going. Cynthia Beane, Acting Commissioner to the BMS, encourages everyone to read the proposal and send feedback about it.
Full Story: Proposed Changes to Intellectual Developmental Disabilities Waiver, West Virginia's Department of Health and Human Resources, Apr. 9, 2015, available at
G. EMERGENCY RESPONSE / PREPAREDNESS
1. Vanuatu Society for People with a Disability Calls for Donations after Cyclone
In the wake of the Pam cyclone in Vanuatu, the Vanuatu Society for People with a Disability (VSDP)is asking for donations to help with the recovery campaign. On Friday March 13 Cyclone Pam devastated Vanuatu. Many people with disabilities evacuated and chose to shelter in the VSDP center. Part of the building collapsed in the storm and all evacuees were forced to seek shelter in just one section of the building. Later in the night the roof caved in and the building filled with water. The VSDP reports that all staff and temporary residents made it through the night safely.
Unfortunately, many of the VSDP documents were lost and the society's ability to help people with disabilities in this time of need has been diminished. Funds collected are going toward replacing lost rehabilitation and office equipment and meeting the immediate needs of the VSDP clients. The society is also using the funds to rent a temporary space until they are able to rebuild the old building.
Full Story: Vanuatu Society for Disabled People, Donate Now to the Vanuatu Society of Disabled People's Cyclone Pam Recovery Campaign, Mar. 23 2015, available at
2. Legislation Introduced in Guam to Create a Registry
Legislation has been introduced in Guam to create a registry for people with disabilities. Bill 70 would appropriate $150,000 to be used solely for the creation and implementation of the registry. Officials hope to use this information to collect data for first responders and law enforcement officers and to ensure effective services for and communication with people on the registry. "I think this is something that is badly needed," said the Department of Integrated Services for Individuals with Disabilities director Benny Servino, referring to the bill introduced by Senators Nerissa Underwood and Rory Respicio.
Full Story: Ken Quintanilla, Registry for Island's Disabled Proposed, Guam News Network, Apr. 10, 2015, available at
1. Brazil Struggles to Implement Strong Legislation Regarding Accessibility
On April 8, 2015, NPR reported that the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is inaccessible to people with disabilities based on interviews with local disability advocates and citizens. This is despite that Brazil has strong legislation regarding accessibility for persons with disabilities. Advocates, like Teresa Costa d'Amaral from the Brazilian Institute for the Rights of the Disabled Person, cited issues like the inaccessibility to public buildings, a failure to mitigate large holes in the streets, and a lack of functioning road crossing signals for persons with visual impairments Advocates hope that the upcoming Paralympics, which Rio is hosting, will help bring more attention to the condition of the city for people with disabilities.
Source: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, On a Scale of One to Ten, Brazil Gets a Zero for Disability Access, NPR, Apr. 8, 2015, available at
2. Labor Party Calls for Australian Government to Reinstate Disability Commissioner
On April 4, the Labor Party in Australia expressed concern that the role of Disability Commissioner has not been filled. The position has remained vacant since former commissioner Graeme Innes' term expired in July of 2014. The party is particularly concerned in light of education authorities finding a small cage, built to place a student with special needs, in an Australian Capital Territory public school. The former commissioner stated that this was not an isolated incident and urged the Australian government to inquire and investigate the treatment of children with disabilities in the education system. The opposition party opposes reinstating the Disability Commissioner position. Instead the opposition party believes that the Human Rights Commission is the best government body to examine the education system in regards to persons with disabilities.
Full Story: Shalailah Medhora, Labor Calls for Disability Commissioner after Cage Built for Special Needs Student, The Guardian, Apr. 4, 2015, available at
I. POP CULTURE
1. Ninth Circuit Rules that Netflix Is Not Covered Under Title III
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled recently that Title III of the ADA does not apply to the popular video streaming service Netflix. The Ninth Circuit's ruling is different from a recent ruling in a federal district court in Massachusetts that concluded Netflix was covered under Title III. The case led to a settlement where Netflix agreed to provide closed captioning for its content. In the short, unpublished opinion (meaning it is not to be used as precedent in future cases) the Ninth Circuit states that they typically interpret a "place of public accommodation" to require a connection between a good/service and a physical place. The court says that Netflix is not connected with a physical place and is therefore not covered under Title III. This case represents the struggle with applying the ADA not just to Netflix but to the Internet in general.
Full Story: Joe Mullin, 9th Circuit Rules Netflix Isn't Subject to Disability Law, Ars Technica, Apr. 2, 2015, available at
Full Case Opinion: Cullen v. Netflix, Inc., slip opinion (9th Cir. 2015), available at
2. Country's Largest Disability Arts Festival Begins this Month
The DisArt Festival is a 15-day event, which began earlier this month, taking place in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Their mission is to change minds about disability. The festival contains art exhibitions, independent films, fashion, and performance art. The festival has been one of the biggest of its kind in the country and one of the biggest disability art festivals in the world.
This year's biggest attraction is the "Art of the Lived Experiment," which debuted in England last year and will have a 16-week exhibition at three different locations. It includes works by 19 artists including sculptors and performance artists. It is designed to depict how living as a person with a disability, and the constant adaptation that is needed to live in an environment designed for people without disabilities, is an art form for each individual. The DisArt festival is part of a larger undertaking by the Grand Rapids area to celebrate artistic creativity in the area.
Full Story: Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk, DisArt Festival, Biggest U.S. Disability Arts Event, Opens this Week, MLive.com, Apr. 6, 2015, available at
See Also: Elizabeth Rogers Drouillard, Art of the Lived Experiment Opens April 10, The Rapidian, Apr. 7, 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.
Michael Gill, Already Doing It: Intellectual Disability and Sexual Agency, University of Minnesota Press, April 2015
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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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