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
September 4, 2015
Volume 12, Issue 8
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
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A. CIVIL RIGHTS
1. Justice Department Releases Statement on Rules Regarding Service Animals
The U.S. Department of Justice released an eight page guide designed to help individuals understand their rights and responsibilities relating to their service animals. Under the ADA, government agencies and businesses alike must make reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures to accommodate people with disabilities. In most circumstances, this includes modifying a "no pet" policy for an individual with a service animal.
The document defines a service animal as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform a task for an individual with a disability. A specific license or documentation is not required. The document makes clear that "emotional support" animals are not service animals under the law. Federal law says that businesses may only ask an individual if the animal's presence is required because of a disability by its owner or what the animal is trained to assist their owner with.
Full Document: United States Department of Justice, Frequently Asked Questions About Service Animals and the ADA, Civil Rights Division, Jul. 20, 2015, available at
Full Story: Michelle Diament, Justice Department Clarifies Service Animal Rules, DisabilityScoop, Jul. 31, 2015, available at
2. American Bar Association Passes Resolution Limiting Mental Health Questions
The American Bar Association (ABA) has a strict and rigorous process that individuals must complete in order to be admitted to practice law in a given state. One of these requirements is to pass a character and fitness inquiry. The ABA recently passed a resolution to limit the mental health related questions that may be asked at this phase of the admission process.
The resolution, which was proposed by the ABA Commission on Disability Rights, urges states to remove any questions about the individual's mental health history, diagnosis, or treatment. The resolution does not specifically refer to questions about substance abuse. States may still ask if there is anything that could impair the individual's ability to practice law.
The resolution was passed by a wide margin. Support came from not only the Commission on Disability Rights, but also ABA groups such as the Section of Science and Technology Law, and the General Practice Division.
Full Story: ABA House of Delegates Approves Resolution to Limit Use of Mental Health Related Questions in BAR Character and Fitness Inquires, American Bar Association, Aug. 3, 2015, available at
3. EEOC and University of Michigan Reach Settlement in Discrimination Case
The EEOC brought suit against the University of Michigan, claiming that the school failed to provide proper job reassignment to employees with disabilities. The EEOC alleged that the university violated the ADA when it made a current employee (who requested to be reassigned because of his disability) compete for an open position. The suit also claimed that the school applied a policy that denied the reassignment as a reasonable accommodation. The consent decree issued by the Department of Justice says the university must pay the affected employees a total sum of about $215,000 and make changes to the school's policy regarding reassignments.
Full Story: Associated Press, University of Michigan Settles Disability Bias Lawsuit, The Detroit News, Jul. 23, 2015, available at
1. Businesses Realizing Employees with Disabilities Are an Untapped Pool of Talent
According to interviews in Forbes magazine, business leaders are starting to realize the value in incorporating people with disabilities into the workforce. They have found that people with disabilities build a more authentic, loyal, and creative culture in the workplace. Additionally, people with disabilities are an untapped talent pool bringing a wide range of education, experience, expertise and perspective to the workforce.
Marty Bean, the Vice President of Pepsi, says, "We recognized early the talent that is represented among people with disabilities and have focused our efforts on tapping into that talent for our workforce needs across the country. In fact, at our Las Vegas Certified Center half of our employees have disabilities. It is a high-performing environment and a model for efficiency and productivity. We hired the right people to get the job done well."
Full Story: Robert Reiss, Business's Next Frontier: People with Disabilities, Forbes, July 30, 2015, available at
1. Texas Law Will Require Cameras in Special Education Classrooms
The new Texas law Senate Bill 507 will require cameras to be installed in special education classrooms and is expected to take effect in the fall of 2017. It will require cameras in all self-contained classrooms that provide special education services. The advocacy group Disability Rights Texas says it is unfortunate, but the law is necessary. The reasoning behind the law is that many families feel that their children with disabilities are being harmed in school. According to Disability Rights Texas, there are over 400,000 students with disabilities in the state, and of those, over 50,000 receive help in an isolated environment. They believe the law will benefit students with disabilities as well as teachers and the families of the students.
Full Story: Amanda Weber, Law Will Require Cameras in School Classrooms, Fox: San Antonio, Aug. 7, 2015. Available at
2. University of Toledo Launches First On-Campus Disability Studies Major
This fall, students at the University of Toledo will be able to work toward a bachelor's degree in disability studies on campus. The program will be the first of its kind in the United States. Currently, there are a number of colleges and universities that offer a disability studies minor or certification. However, the only other school where you can receive a bachelor's degree in disability studies is the City University of New York, but that is an online only degree.
Students in the major will be required to take classes about the definition of disability, the history of disability in America, as well as research and methods in disability studies. The program also offers electives such as disability law and gender and disability. Jim Ferris, a professor at the University believes more universities will launch similar undergraduate major programs in the future.
Full Story: Tanaz Ahmed, University of Toledo Launches Nation's First On-Campus Disability Studies Major, USA Today: College, Jul. 30, 2015, available at
3. Queens College Receives Grant for Disability Service Project
Queens College in New York will receive a 5 year, $1.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Student Services Program for an initiative to help low-income students with disabilities. Some of the services provided by the program are assistive technology training, equipment lending, and assessments of career counseling.
The school at one point had a 20 year grant, but lost the grant in 2005. In 2010, the school reapplied and received a perfect score on its application. The Director of the Queens College Office of Special Services says that there is always a need for money in disability services. Disability accommodations can be costly, and she wants to make sure all students have everything they need.
Full Story: Madina Toure, Queens College Gets Federal Grant For Disability Services Project, Times Ledger, Aug. 4, 2015, available at
1. Bronx Health Center Turns away Patients with Disabilities
A Heath Center in the Bronx, New York, is being sued by the Bronx Independent Living Services for turning away patients with disabilities. The Union Community Health Center at 2021 Grand Concourse failed to make accommodations required by federal, state, and city disability laws.
The lawsuit contends that the center is "riddled with physical access barriers," including doorways and hallways that are too narrow for wheelchairs; an on-site pharmacy reachable only by climbing stairs; and a lack of accessible medical equipment such as height-adjustable examination tables. The complaint also states the center failed to provide sign-language interpreters for deaf patients and did not make written materials accessible for those who are visually impaired.
Full Story: Winnie Hu, Lawsuit Say Bronx Health Center Turns away Patients with Physical Disabilities, New York Times, July 30, 2015, available at
2. One in Five Americans Has a Form of Mental Illness
Recent data released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration indicates that 42.5 million American adults have some form of a mental illness. That's 18.2 percent of the population. The organization also reports that 9.3 million adults, roughly 4 percent of the population, experiences a "serious mental illness."
While these numbers may seem high, some psychiatric statisticians feel that the report grossly underestimates the prevalence of mental illnesses. Ronald Kessler, a professor at Harvard, explains that not all disorders, including attention deficit disorder, were reflected in the results.
Full Story: Victoria Bekiempis, Nearly 1 in 5 Americans Suffers from Mental Illness each Year, Newsweek, February 28, 2014, available at
Full Report: National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Mental Health Findings available at
1. Big Tech Businesses Commit to Accessibility
Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft, and many other companies have banded together to develop an initiative called "Teaching Accessibility." The companies have committed to make their future products fully accessible. In addition, they are incorporating knowledge of accessibility in their job listings. By doing so, companies are not only looking for employees with a specific skill set but hope the job descriptions will raise awareness of the need for accessible technology.
Computer science students normally do not graduate with the knowledge of how to make technology accessible. Colleges are getting involved with the program as well. Carnegie Mellon, Stanford, and others are changing their programs to include curriculum about designing accessible technology and software.
Full Story: About Teaching Accessibility, Teaching Accessibility, Aug. 11, 2015, available at
See Also: Michelle Diament, Tech Giants Team up to Boost Accessibility, Disability Scoop, Jul. 23, 2015, available at
2. Computer Uses Brain Activity to Allow People with Disabilities to Communicate
Dr. Mara Dierssen of the Center for Genome Regulation (CRG) is heading the Brain Polyphony Project, a collaboration of scientists from the University of Barcelona, the CRG, Starlab, and the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute of Barcelona. Its goal is to develop a computer that reads an individual's brain activity and translates it into words. The project's main focus is to help people with cerebral palsy.
While other alternative communication systems require the user to have motor control, Brain Polyphony is purely based on a person's thoughts. The system has been tested by people with and without disabilities, and so far scientists have developed a method to interpret brain activity caused by emotions and translate it into sounds.
Full Story: Brain Polyphony: Neuroscience, Technology, Computer Science and Creativity Come Together to Support People with Disabilities, Universitat de Barcelona, Jul. 9, 2015, available at
F. EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS
1. FEMA's First Accessible Public Service Announcement
In honor of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) collaborated with the Ad Council to launch its first fully accessible public service announcement (PSA) entitled "We Prepare Every Day." Some accessibility features in this video are open captions, audio descriptions, and a sign language interpreter.
"We Prepare Every Day" is the first in a line of emergency preparedness videos to feature people with disabilities preparing for disasters. It is FEMA's hope that people with disabilities will become leaders and role models to demonstrate the importance of the need for individuals to prepare for emergency situations. The video includes FEMA's four keystones: Be Informed, Make a Plan, Build a Kit, and Get Involved.
Full Story: Press Release, Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, Ad Council Launch New PSA Focused on People with Disabilities Preparing for Emergencies, Jul. 23, 2015, available at
2. Philippine Senator Wants People with Disabilities Involved in Emergency Preparedness
On July 20 Senator Loren Legarda of the Philippines stated that people with disabilities should be involved the government's plans for disaster readiness. According to a 2013 survey, most people with disabilities said they would have a difficult time evacuating and some said they would not be able to evacuate without assistance.
Legarda acknowledges the ability of people with disabilities to be a great asset when planning for an emergency. She stated that the government must learn the needs of individuals with disabilities and work with them to prepare emergency plans that account for those needs.
Full Story: Press Release, Senate of the Philippines, Legarda: Engage PWDs in Disaster Risk Reduction Planning, Jul. 20, 2015, available at
1. Abusive Conditions in Mexican Facility: Casa Esperanza
On July 22, 2015, Disability Rights International related a report on Torture, Human Trafficking, and Segregation in Mexico. The report focuses on incidents with Casa Esperanza, where residents are tortured physically and sexually. People were kept in cages, long-term restraints, and lived in degrading unhygienic conditions without adequate medical care. Women and girls have been victims of trafficking and are routinely sterilized. The report highlights several "blacklist" institutions where children and adults with disabilities live in Mexico City. These institutions have been reported to city authorities; however, conditions have remained the same.
Full Story: Disability Rights International, No Justice: Torture, Trafficking and Segregation in Mexico, Disability Rights International, Jul. 22, 2015, available at
2. Following Public Outrage Pakistani Government Stays Execution of a Prisoner with Severe Disability
Police arrested Khizar Hayat, a former policeman for allegedly killing a fellow officer in 2001. Later in 2008 Hayat was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Since his diagnosis, the prison has been providing Hayat with antipsychotic medications. By 2012 Hayat became so delusional that prison authorities isolated him from the general population and placed him in the prison hospital. He has been in the prison hospital for the last three years.
Hayat is represented by Justice Project Pakistan. In addition to the support of his council Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have been pushing for Hayat's death sentence to be stayed indefinitely. The Lahore district court ordered an additional stay of the execution on July 23 following the national stay on executions during Ramadan. As of right now, the execution has still been halted.
Full Story: HumanRightsWatch, Pakistan: Don't Execute Man with Mental Disability, Human Rights Watch, Jul. 23, 2015, available at
I. POP CULTURE
1. Special Olympics World Games Held in Los Angeles
From July 25 through August 2, much of the talk in the sports world was about the Special Olympic World Games that were being held in Los Angeles. These games were the single largest event the city has hosted since the Summer Olympics in 1984. Approximately 500,000 people were present to watch the Special Olympic World Games in person and the games were widely broadcasted on ESPN which marked the first time the event has been broadcast live.
Competitions ranged from soccer to swimming and included weightlifting as well. The opening ceremonies were up to par with what you would expect of any Olympic event. Organizers of the event have said this year's Special Olympics was the largest sports and humanitarian event of the year.
Full Story: Patricia La Bella, Special Olympics World Games Rises to the Occasion, Examiner, Aug. 9, 2015, available at
2. Olympic Hopeful Disqualified at German Championships Because of Prosthetic
Markus Rehm lost his right leg, and now uses a prosthetic. Rehm is a world class track and field athlete with aspirations to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. However, at the German Championships, his first place long jump was not counted because the German Athletics Federation claims he has an unfair advantage. They believe his prosthetic leg produces a "catapult effect" which other competitors do not have.
Similar questions about competitive advantages of individuals with prosthetics were brought up when Oscar Pistorius participated in the London Olympics. Ultimately, because Pistorius was not a real threat to medal, he was allowed to compete. In 2016, Rehm would be a serious contender to medal. His jump at the German Championships would have warranted a silver medal in the 2012 games. In the coming weeks, the International Track governing body will take up the issue of Paralympians competing in the 2016 Olympics. Rehm has said that even if he is not allowed to compete for a medal, he will still participate in the games off the rankings.
Full Story: Eric Adelson, The Disabled Athlete Who's 'Too' Able, Yahoo Sports, Aug. 5, 2015, available at
J. EVENTS AND FUNDING
Call for Papers and Proposals
Conferences and Webinars
The Disability Law & Policy e-Newsletter is supported by the following sources:
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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 Philip Ross, Tesla Goodrich, and Kate Battoe.
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