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
July 27, 2015
Volume 12, Issue 7
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: ADA, Section 504, CRPD Ratification
B. WORKFORCE: Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, Vocational Rehabilitation
C. EDUCATION: Special Education, Youth Transition, Postsecondary Education, & Outcomes
D. HEALTHCARE: Access, Services, Benefits, and the Affordable Care Act
E. TECHNOLOGY: Assistive, Information, and Communication Technologies
F. EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS: Disaster Preparation, Mitigation, and Response
G. INDEPENDENCE: Community Integration
H. INTERNATIONAL: Topics Outside the United States
I. POP CULTURE: News and Topics Vary
J. EVENTS AND FUNDING: Conferences, Calls for Proposals, Papers, and Presentations
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
A. CIVIL RIGHTS
1. Supreme Court Upholds Disparate Impact Claims in Housing Discrimination Suits
In the case Texas Department of Housing and Community Services v. The Inclusive Communities Project, the U.S. Supreme Court was asked to decide whether the Fair Housing Act allows "disparate impact" lawsuits. A disparate impact claim is one where the plaintiff does not allege any purposeful discrimination, but just that a law or policy has a discriminatory effect against a certain group of people. The court ruled that under the Fair Housing Act, a plaintiff may proceed with a claim that alleges only discriminatory effect, regardless of the intent of the law. These "disparate impact" claims are important in discrimination claims for many groups because most laws and policies can be carefully worded to show no sign of discriminatory intent on its face.
In this case, The Inclusive Community Project successfully argued that the Texas Department of Housing had been disproportionately granting housing credits in minority areas while disproportionately denying them in predominantly white areas. The Court ruled that if a policy has a discriminatory effect, it must have a legitimate reason behind it, and no other policy could achieve the same goal with a less discriminatory effect. While the case itself was about racial discrimination, it is important to any group where members frequently find themselves to be victims of housing discrimination.
Full Opinion: Texas Dep't. of Housing and Comm. Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, slip. op. (U.S. June 25, 2015). Available at
See Also: Stephen Peters, SCOTUS Decision in FHA Case Reinforces Critical Tool to Address Housing Discrimination, Human Rights Campaign, Jun. 25. 2015, available at
2. EEOC Brings Suit Against Walmart for Failure to Make Disability Accommodations
The EEOC has brought a suit against the mega retailer Walmart for failing to provide a reasonable accommodation to an employee with a disability. The employee, whose disability is a result of bone cancer, needed accommodations because her treatment has limited her ability to walk and stand. She requested that she be provided with a chair while at work in the fitting room and limit her scheduled hours. The store initially complied but stopped the accommodations abruptly. She was then transferred from her fitting room position to a greeter position, which did not comply with her standing limitations.
The EEOC filed suit against Walmart in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois after failing to reach a settlement. John Hendrickson, the regional attorney for the EEOC's Chicago office says it is hard to believe that such a large retailer could not consistently provide simple accommodations. He cannot see the undue hardship that these accommodations would cause for the retailer to refuse to adhere to them.
Full Story: Press Release, EEOC Sues Walmart for Disability Discrimination and Harassment, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Jul. 1, 2015, available at
1. Medicaid Beneficiaries Are Forced to Keep Income Low
Disability advocates are pushing back against wage limits to gaining and maintaining Medicaid benefits. Wage caps are a disincentive to work, and in some cases people with disabilities have rejected promotions or wage increases to maintain their Medicaid benefits. Benefits offered by Medicaid, such as a personal caregiver, are rarely offered in private insurance plans. This is particularly troubling because a personal caregiver can be crucial to the everyday life and health, for example, of people with significant mobility impairments. When faced with the choice of keeping income low to have these benefits under Medicaid or work for more money and have a private insurance plan, often people with disabilities are forced to stay on Medicaid for their health.
For example, Josie Badger has a doctorate in health care ethics and works three jobs but is careful to manage her income to ensure she doesn't lose her Medicaid benefits. She lives on less the $1,040 a month, below the poverty line, just to be able to have sufficient health care.
Full Story: Ann Belser, Disability Advocates Push Back Against Wage Limits, Disabilityscoop, Jun. 26, 2015, available at
2. Bill Submitted to End Subminimum Wage Exceptions
The Transitioning to Integrated and Meaningful Employment (TIME) Act is a bipartisan bill, which was introduced to phase out exceptions in the Fair Labor Standards Act allowing subminimum wages for people with disabilities. The bill seeks to address several issues in current practice. First, subminimum wages are set on productivity benchmarks, many of which are impossible to meet for people with and without disabilities alike. Secondly, many companies are ignoring basic matching of skill sets and limitations with the task. For example, a Goodwill clothing store assigned a woman who is blind the task of sorting and hanging clothes based on gender, size, and facing a certain direction in a very short period of time. Lastly, often worker training is limited or completely absent, putting people with disabilities at a disadvantage when trying to meet minimum productivity standards.
The bill was introduced earlier this year on January 7. Govtrack.us estimates that it has only a 3% chance of being enacted. Govtrack.us uses a complex logical regression algorithm to determine prognosis of success for bills. Based on their many factors this particular bill does not rate highly for success.
Full Story: Sarah Blahovec, It's about TIME: Ending Subminimum Wage for Workers with Disabilities, The Huffington Post, Apr. 10, 2015, available at
1. New Study Reports Minority Children Are Underrepresented in Special Education
It has been the belief of many that minority students are overrepresented in special education. A recent study done by UC Irvine and Penn State indicates the opposite. The study claims minority children are less likely to be diagnosed with and treated for disabilities than white children with similar academic achievements. behaviors, and economic resources. The study is important because in recent years, many special education programs have been attacked on legal grounds for discrimination based on race.
Most prior research has indicated just the opposite conclusion. These studies led to changes in federal law and policy in an attempt to alleviate the perceived problem. One of the authors of the study, George Farkas, believes that these policies may have made the problem worse by limiting the access of minority children to special education.
Full Story: Matt Coker, Minority Children Are Underrepresented in Special Education: UC Irvine-Penn State Study, OC Weekly, Jun. 25, 2015, available at
2. Federal Report Examines Ways to Break School to Prison Pipeline
The school to prison pipeline is a national trend showing that many students (often with disabilities) are funneled directly from public schools into the criminal justice system. A federal report was released that analyzed whether existing federal laws offer ways to disrupt the school to prison pipeline. The report, by the National Council on Disability, concluded that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act can be an important part of the solution to the "pipeline" problem. The report focuses on ways to improve existing special education delivery to meet the needs of students with disabilities, particularly minority students.
The report found that there are persistent racial disparities in identification, discipline, placement, and other categories that disproportionately affect minority students. It also claims that minority students are more likely to be identified as having a disability and placed in a different learning environment. Finally the report found that racial and ethnic disparities in suspensions and expulsions suggest the presence of bias, which when combined with discrimination contribute to the school to prison pipeline.
The report recommends that the Department of Education fund development systems for evaluating bias in schools where minorities are overrepresented in identification, discipline, or placement and implement training regarding bias. They also suggest that the federal and state governments should coordinate greater enforcement of disability laws, specifically on the issue of juvenile justice referrals.
Full Story: New Federal Report Explores Ways to Break the School to Prison Pipeline for Students with Disabilities, National Council on Disability, Jun. 18, 2015, available at
3. U.S. Department of Education Seeks to Help College Students with Disabilities
The U.S. Department of Education plans to fund a new National Center for Information and Technical Support for Postsecondary Students with Disabilities. The purpose of the center is to provide assistance and information about a number of practices for students with disabilities transitioning from high school to college. The obligations in special education for colleges under federal law are not as extensive as those required in elementary and secondary school by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The Center would help students and families understand their rights under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which applies to any institution receiving federal aid (which most colleges do). The Center would also be an available resource for the universities themselves by helping the schools meet their obligation to accommodate students with disabilities.
Full Story: Notice, Application for New Awards; National Center for Information and Technical Support for Postsecondary Students with Disabilities, Federal Register, Jun. 19, 2015, available at
See Also: Michelle Diament, Feds Aim to Help College Students with Disabilities, Disability Scoop, Jun. 30, 2015, available at
1. Possible Correlation Between Speech Disorder and Autism
A new study suggests there may be a correlation between the speech disorder apraxia and children with autism. Almost two thirds of children with autism may also have apraxia. Children with apraxia have difficulty using their tongue, lips, mouth, and jaw when producing speech, such that each time they say a word it comes out differently. Even parents will have trouble understanding what their children are trying to say. The findings are significant, researchers say, because symptoms of autism and apraxia can both be improved with early intervention. However, the techniques used to address the conditions are different, making accurate diagnosis critical.
Full Story: Michelle Diament, Speech Disorder More Common in Kids with Autism, Study Finds, Disabilityscoop.com, Jun. 30, 2015, available at
2. California Bill Deals with the Controversial Concept of Life-Ending Medication
California Senate Bill 128, known as the The End of Life Option Act, which would allow terminally ill patients to end their lives, is receiving criticism from some disability rights advocates. Senate Bill 128 would allow patients to get fatal prescriptions if they are mentally competent and have six months or less to live. It would require patients to make one written and two oral requests 15 days apart. Advocates worry there are insufficient safeguards.
Marilyn Golden, a senior policy analyst at the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, said it would lead to people giving up on treatment prematurely and losing good years of their lives. The grassroots organization Not Dead Yet has fought bills like this in Washington, Oregon, and Vermont. Many of those bills did not pass. Similarly, Deborah Doctor, a legislative advocate for Disability Rights in California, expressed her concern that people with disabilities are vulnerable to abuse and could be coerced by family members into life-ending medication.
Full Story: Anna Gorman, Disabled Rights Advocates Fight Assisted Suicide Legislation, USA Today, Jun. 28, 2015, available at
1. Experience the Sense of Touch Virtually
At the end of June, Northwestern University hosted the 2015 World Haptic Conference, showcasing many haptic products. Haptics, the science of touch, is being used to create assistive technology for people with visual impairments. One of the products exhibited was the TPAD, a phone that provides sensory feedback to users, created by doctoral students Joe Mullenbach and Craig Shultz. While the screen is flat, users can feel the phone through ultrasonic waves that change how the surface feels depending on the images displayed.
Students from Italy developed an app for the TPAD that allows people with visual disabilities to take pictures. The app provides tactile and audio feedback while users take pictures. Another app allows people to text with letters that feel like Braille.
Other products showcased were a video game that lets the players experience gravity and a touch pad that plays music.
Full Story: Hosea Sanders, New Haptic Technology Helps People with Disabilities, ABC Eyewitness News, Jul. 5, 2015, available at
See Also: John Carpenter, Northwestern Students Bringing 'Feel' to What You See on Your Phone, Chicago Tribune, Jan. 8, 2015, available at
2. Joystick to Control Mobile Devices and Laptops Developed by MIT Students
A team of students developed a joystick, dubbed "Puffin," during MIT's 2015 Hackathon, which took place on earlier in the year. The team worked with Adriana Mallozzi, a woman with cerebral palsy, to develop a device that would enable her to use smart phones, tablets, and laptops. Undergraduate and graduate students met with Mallozzi in early February to discuss what her needs are and then spent two weeks drawing designs and gathering the materials to build Puffin.
Puffin is a joystick controlled by sip-and-puff technology. This technology allows users to control the device by inhaling (sip) from and exhaling (puff) into a mouthpiece. Puffin can be mounted on a wheelchair and is waterproof. The prototype cost $200, but the students are looking for grants so they can continue working on the project. They hope to create a customizable version that is smaller and costs less.
Full Story: Dian Schaffhauser, Student Hackathon Builds out Assistive Tech, Campus Technology, Jun. 2, 2015, available at
See Also: Ariana Tantillo, Beaver Works Hosts Assistive Technologies Hackathon, MIT News, Mar. 16, 2015, available at
F. EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS
1. Project Lifesaver: A Tracking System that Saves Lives
Bemidji County Sheriff's Department (Minnesota) now uses a new tool to help locate people with disabilities who tend to wander off. The people wear a bracelet with a transmitter in it that is linked to a receiver in the sheriff's office. Deputies Scott Hinners and Lee Anderson received training on the system in Long Prairie, Minnesota, and in one of the exercises, Hinners and Anderson found a wandering person in nine minutes. Without the tracking service, a search like this could take hours.
Each transmitter and a year's worth of batteries costs $350. The Sheriff's Department received its first three transmitters from Autism Speaks and is trying to raise funds to buy more. In the meantime, if people want to participate in Project Lifesaver, they can buy a transmitter and set up the system with the sheriff's office. Project Lifesaver is used by over 1,400 agencies in 48 states.
Full Story: Ryan Pietruszewski, In Search of Better Searching: County Takes Part in Project Lifesaver, which Helps to Find Those who Wander off, The Bemidji Pioneer, Jul. 3, 2015, available at
See Also: Project Lifesaver: Bring Loved Ones Home, Project Lifesaver, Jul. 4, 2015, available at
2. Text-to-911 Service Covered by June 30
Last August the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) stated that all text providers must be able to relay text messages to public safety answering points (PSAPs) by the end of the year. Furthermore, providers must start routing these messages by June 30, 2015 or within six months of a PSAP's request for the service. Text-to-911 will allow people with hearing and/or speech difficulties to text 911 instead of using a relay service or making a voice or video call.
On July 8 Snohomish County in Washington will begin using text-to-911. Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, and AT&T customers can use text-to-911, but people with other providers should check with them before attempting to use text-to-911 services. Text-to-911 will help people with speech and/or hearing disabilities and people in situations where it is unsafe to talk. However, it takes longer than calling, so people should call 911 if they can.
The FCC provides a list of PSAPs that have text-to-911 services on their website. The list looks at over 8,000 counties in the country and their current status regarding the program.
Full Story: PSAP Text-to-911 Readiness and Certification Registry, Federal Communications Commission, Jun. 23, 2015, available at
See Also: 9-1-1 Master PSAP Registry, Federal Communications Commission, Jul. 3, 2015, available at
See Also: Emergency Text-to-911 Coming Soon to Snohomish County, Sky Valley Chronical, Jul. 3, 2015, available at
1. Social Media Use of Augmentative and Alternative Communication Users
In a focus group study of nine persons with cerebral palsy using augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices, researchers found that social media was a beneficial tool in spite of some barriers to use. Participants engaged in online discussions using Wikispaces in response to discussion topics over a six week period. They reported benefits in the forms of "connecting with other individuals, feeling typical, making communication easier, gaining independence, getting help, and supporting employment." Barriers included managing cyber security threats, lacking direct contact, personal connection, and immediate responses, and an over reliance on technology.
Full Story: Jessica Caron and Janice Light, "Social Media Has Opened a World of 'Open Communication'": Experiences of Adults with Cerebral Palsy who Use Augmentative and Alternative Communication and Social Media. Augmentative and Alternative Communication (2015), available at:
1. Indian Bill of Rights for People with Disabilities Is Incomplete
The Indian Parliament is set to pass a bill of rights for persons with disabilities in the near future. Some advocates are worried about the legal effects of a guardianship clause. In its present form the bill allows for some people with disabilities, mainly people with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and autism to be provided a "limited guardian," who makes "legally binding decisions" for the person with the disability. This limited guardianship is implemented without the consent of the person with the disability.
While this is the most cost effective system for the nation, serious civil liberties are lost in its implementation. Advocates argue that guardianship tends to be in a "blanket" form taking all decision-making abilities away from the individual. Some legal scholars think that this provision may be unconstitutional.
Full Story: Zuebeda Hamind, Disabilities Rights Bill: Activists Worried over Guardianship, The Hindu, Jun. 17, 2015, available at
2. Protesters Storm English House of Commons over Proposed Budget Cuts
In London, England, protesters stormed the House of Commons during the Prime Minister's Questions. The protesters were demonstrating against proposed cuts to disability payments. The protesters disagree with a planned removal of the Independent Living Fund, which provides assistance to 18,000 severely disabled people. The scheme is set to end on June 30, 2015. Those previously cared for under the fund will need to go to local governments for care. The protesters entered the House of Commons chanting and holding signs that read "save the Independent Living Fund."
Before rushing the lobby protesters were calmly talking to reporters. London Metropolitan Police forcefully removed protesters, even pushing some wheelchair users out of the House of Commons. No one was arrested, and police report that orderly protesters were permitted to remain in the lobby.
Full Story: Callum Paton, Disability Rights Protesters Attempt to Storm House of Commons During PMQs, IBTimes, Jun. 24, 2015, available at
I. POP CULTURE
1. Game of Thrones' Kit Harrington Leads Disability Campaign
Kit Harrington, who plays Jon Snow in the HBO series Game of Thrones, wants people to educate themselves about disabilities. Harrington stated that he knows sometimes people feel uncomfortable around individuals with a disability. When speaking about his cousin who has Down syndrome, Harrington says they share many things. Growing up in the same family they developed a similar sense of humor and passion for film, the only difference between the two according to Harrington is that his cousin has Down Syndrome. Harrington notes that there is a long way to go before people with disabilities are treated the same as individuals without disabilities in society. He feels that many of these obstacles stem from people feeling uncomfortable around disability. Harrington believes that because people are afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing, they often choose to ignore the issues.
Full Story: Helen Nianias, Game of Thrones Actor Kit Harrington Leads Disability Campaign with Help of Cousin, The Independent, Jun. 17, 2015, available at
2. Disability Pride Parade Takes Place on Broadway
In the wake of the Supreme Court decision striking down bans on gay marriage, pride parades and demonstrations have been occurring all across the country. The pride parade taking place in New York City on July 12 was a disability pride parade thrown by the organization "Disability Pride NYC." The organization is volunteer based and has worked with the Mayor's Office of People with Disabilities. The disability community is the largest minority group in the country, yet they are not recognized as often as other groups. The group is holding the parade not only to demonstrate their pride in their status, but to raise awareness and propel disability issues to the forefront of civil rights.
Full Story: Michael Schweinsburg, Making History with the Disability Pride Parade, The Villager, Jun. 25, 2015, available at
J. EVENTS AND FUNDING
The Disability Law & Policy e-Newsletter is supported by the following sources:
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Note to readers: News article links may require free registration for access, or may be active for a limited time before the respective news services archive them. Archived items may also be available for a fee. Products mentioned in this newsletter are for information only and do not constitute an endorsement.
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 Philip Ross, Tesla Goodrich, and Kate Battoe.
To subscribe to this free e-newsletter, go to http://disability.law.uiowa.edu/lhpdc/publications/news.html for directions for the "Disability Law & Policy e-Newsletter."
The e-Newsletter is archived at http://disability.law.uiowa.edu/lhpdc/publications/news.html
Re-distribution / forwarding of this e-Newsletter to your networks is encouraged.