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
October 29, 2015
Volume 12, Issue 9
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. Suit Claims Minnesota Has Underspent Funds Meant for People with Disabilities
Medicaid waivers are the largest single source of social services for people with disabilities in Minnesota. According to a lawsuit filed in August, more than 5,000 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities have been placed on waiting lists for these waivers and over $1 billion in public funds have gone unspent. The suit alleges people with disabilities are put on these waiting lists for extended periods of time (months and sometimes even years) without being told there were adequate funds to pay for the services.
Pamela Hoopes, legal director of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid's Disability Law Center, says by letting millions of dollars remain unspent every year, the state is unnecessarily placing eligible individuals with disabilities on waiting lists. These individuals are unable to access services and supports that they need.
Full Story: Chris Serres, Lawsuit Claims State of Minnesota Has Underspent Funds Meant to Serve the Disabled, Star Tribune, Aug. 29, 2015, available at
2. Target Pays More than $2 Million Settlement over Discriminatory Hiring Test
The EEOC says the retailer will pay $2.8 million for discriminatory practices that have been going on since at least 2006. They found that hiring assessments used by Target were disproportionately screening out applicants based on race, sex, and disability. The EEOC claims that one of the pre-hiring assessments contained questions that were asked and interpreted by psychologists. Under the ADA, employers cannot conduct a medical examination until after they have made a job offer. The $2.8 million will be paid among the thousands of individuals who were affected.
Full Story: Claire Zillman, Target to Pay $2.8 Million for Discriminatory Hiring Tests, Fortune, Aug. 24, 2015, available at
3. California Bill Passed Through Committee that Would Legalize Assisted Suicide
A legislative committee approved a bill that some say would legalize assisted suicide with almost no limits. The bill, passed through the public health and developmental services committee, says that certain information collected about assisted suicides could not be used to prosecute the doctors who participate in the practice. Disability rights groups oppose the bill, saying doctors feel their job is to preserve life rather than to help end it. Many advocates feel that physician assisted suicide will lead to individuals with disabilities being pushed to end their lives by insurance companies or relatives.
Full Story: Steven Ertelt, California Committee Passes Dangerous Bill Legalizing Virtually Unlimited Assisted Suicide, LifeNews.com, Sept. 1, 2015, available at
See Also: Disability Rights Activists Protest Outside British Parliament During Euthanasia Debate (Section H. International, below).
1. Court Settlement in Oregon Shuts Down Workshops in Favor of Integrated Employment
In Oregon a significant number of people with intellectual disabilities are working in state sponsored sheltered workshops. In these sheltered workshops people with disabilities were doing minimal work such as putting stickers on record labels or sorting nuts and bolts for much less than minimum wage. Oregon has not being meeting federal requirements under the ADA with respect to its job offerings for clients with intellectual disabilities. The state of Oregon has recently struck a deal with disability rights advocates to transfer 1,115 working-age adults with intellectual or developmental disability out of workshops by 2022. Additionally, students coming out of special education programs will be given vocational training.
Disability Rights Oregon initiated the lawsuit against the Oregon Department of Human Services in 2012. Their argument was that the agency violated the ADA by corralling clients with disabilities into closed workshops instead of working to find them employment in the community. The US Department of Justice joined the plaintiffs in April 2013.
Full Story: Chris Gray, Legal Settlement for People with Intellectual Disabilities Opens Door for Real Jobs, Lund Report, Sept. 10, 2015, available at
See Also: Bryan Denson, Oregon's Sheltered Workshops for the Disabled to Be Phased Out Under Terms of Settlement, The Oregonian, Sept. 08, 2015, available at
2. Former Employee Brings Discrimination Suit Against Steak 'N Shake
A former Steak 'n Shake employee has filed a lawsuit over alleged racial and disability discrimination. The plaintiff, Brandon Waters, claims he was subjected to insulting nicknames, racial slurs, and physical harassment while working for the company. Mr. Waters is biracial and was born with limited motor and speech skills. The alleged harassment came from both his manager and a co-worker.
Mr. Waters was nicknamed "Radio," a reference to the film where Cuba Gooding played a student with intellectual disability. The manager went as far as creating a "Radio" nametag and asking Waters to wear it. In one instance, the co-worker dumped a milkshake on Waters' head; both he and the manager posted on twitter about the incident. Both the employees were fired or allowed to resign, but Waters said he still felt too afraid to attend work because other employees either tolerated or participated in the harassment.
Full Story: Khushbu Shah, Steak 'n Shake Sued by Former Employee Over Racial and Disability Discrimination, Eater, Aug. 31, 2015, available at
1. Federal Officials Are Pushing for Preschool Inclusion
Officials under the Obama Administration say that children with disabilities should be able to attend preschool with children without disabilities. In a joint policy statement by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education, officials are encouraging states to find placements in early childhood programs for children with special needs. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, says we must do everything we can to make sure children with disabilities are a part of our efforts to provide access to quality early learning programs.
As of 2013, over half of all preschoolers with special needs received special education services in a separate setting. The joint statement sets a foundation for a lifetime of inclusion.
Full Statement: Policy Statement on Inclusion of Children with Disabilities in Early Childhood Programs, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Education, Sept. 14, 2015, available at
Full Story: Michelle Diament, Obama Administration Makes Push for Preschool Inclusion, DisabilityScoop, Sept. 15, 2015, available at
2. Federal Government to Increase Spending on Special Education Training
The Federal Government will grant $14 million in 28 different states to support parent training and information centers. These centers offer parents assistance with understanding special education law and policy. The centers are called Parent Training and Information Centers, or Community Parent Resource Centers, and they are in every state. Additionally, the Department of Education is giving over $9 million to nine states in an effort to improve training of special education personnel. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says children with disabilities deserve the same quality of education as children without disabilities.
Find Your Parent Training Center Here:
Full Story: Shaun Heasley, Special Education Training Efforts to Get Millions, DisabilityScoop, Aug. 17, 2015, available at
3. "Modified" Tests for Students with Special Needs No Longer Allowed
Under No Child Left Behind, states could count up to two percent of students with disabilities as academically proficient despite taking "modified" tests that did not meet grade level standards. The Department of Education published a rule August 21, 2015, that says states can no longer administer tests based on modified academic standards. The Department says that this is an effort to hold students with disabilities to the same high standards as students without disabilities. Federal Officials say that any state that still uses modified standards for students with disabilities has one year to comply with the new rule.
Full Story: Michelle Diament, New Rule Ends 'Modified' Tests for Students with Disabilities, DisabilityScoop, Aug. 24, 2015, available at
1. Veterans Affairs Reports Lowest Backlogged Disability Claims Since 2007
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently reported the lowest number of backlogged disability claims since record keeping began in 2007. The VA defines a claim as backlogged after it has awaited a decision for more than 125 days. The backlog is currently at 98,000 veterans which is an 84% drop from the backlog peak in March 2013.
Since 2012 the VA administration has been working to reduce the backlogged claims. The administration has been hiring new employees, as well as enforcing mandatory overtime for current staff. The VA has also made a considerable push to digitize records instead of relying on paper files. This is great news for veterans with disabilities who have been going without highly needed benefits for extended periods. While the backlog has decreased, the number of veterans who have appealed the VA's decision on their claims has held steady, a problem that remains to be addressed.
Full Story: Ben Kesling, VA's Backlog of Disability Claims Falls to 8-Year Low, Wall Street Journal, Aug. 24, 2015, available at
2. Home Healthcare Workers in Minnesota Push for $15 Minimum Wage
The advocacy group, Service Employees International Union's Drive for 15 is leading the movement to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour in many different sectors in Minnesota. This includes home healthcare aides, who make rounds to the homes of people with disabilities and the elderly. Tasks for home healthcare workers includes grocery shopping, laundry, preparing food and medication, and checking vital signs.
In 2012 the median pay for home healthcare aides was $20,820 a year, or $10.01 hourly. At that time the U.S. had nearly 87,100 home healthcare jobs, a number which is expected to grow by 50 percent in a decade. It is expected this field will outpace other job sectors. In June Massachusetts home care workers won a $15 hourly starting wage. Oregon reached a similar decision in August. Raising the minimum wages for home care workers is anticipated to increase quality of care for people with disabilities, and is necessary to sustain full employment in this growing field.
Full Story: Elizabeth Whitman, Minimum Wage Fight for $15: Minnesota Home Healthcare Aides Join Call for Pay Raise, International Business Times, Sept. 1, 2015, available at
1. Federal Agencies Try to Increase Communication with People with Disabilities
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was the first federal agency to use interactive video for direct communication with Americans who communicate in American Sign Language (ASL). The FCC will implement applications for smartphones and desktops that will provide direct video calling in addition to text and high quality voice communications. To continue their efforts, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler recently introduced open source video access that will allow individuals with audio and/or speech disabilities the opportunity to communicate directly with agencies and businesses in ASL.
Full Story: Will Wiquist, FCC to Provide Open Source Accessibility Platform to Help Federal Agencies, Businesses Increase Direct Communication with People with Disabilities, The Federal Communications Commission, August 20, 2015, available at
2. Disability Grant Awarded for Allergy to Wi-Fi
A woman from France was recently awarded a disability check for a condition known as electromagnetic hypersensitivity, or EHS, a condition that results in extreme sensitivity to electronics. This can include allergic reactions such as nausea, headaches, nosebleeds and fatigue to electronics such as cell phones, computers or wi-fi. Although the causes of electromagnetic hypersensitivity are unclear, the disorder is recognized by the World Health Organization. However, many countries still fail to recognize EHS as a condition due to limited research and scientific evidence. In the United States parents of a 12-year-old boy are now filing a lawsuit against their son's boarding school stating that he is sensitive to the school's wi-fi.
Full Story: BBC News, Gadget 'Allergy': A French Woman Wins Disability Grant, BBC News, August 27, 2015, available at
F. EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS
1. Emergency Planning for Older Adults and People with Disabilities
September marks the ten-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. This experience provided the opportunity to discuss what action was necessary to prepare for emergency situations. Older adults and people with disabilities were left with some of the most devastating consequences as a result of Hurricane Katrina. The National Council of Disabilities (NCD) said, "People with disabilities, especially those living in poverty, were disproportionally left behind in Hurricane Katrina."
In the past there has been a lack of Emergency planning for people with disabilities. An NCD report stated that when older adults and people with disabilities were told to evacuate their home regions, the busses were not wheelchair accessible and involved hours of waiting. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, policymakers, emergency response professionals, and aging and disability advocates worked together to address these issues. The Rooted in Rights project of the Administration of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AIDD) realizes that there is still much work to be done. Recently they released a short documentary capturing the experiences of people with disabilities during the storm and the need for emergency planning. FEMA spread a message throughout September, the month of National Preparedness: "Prepare, plan and stay informed for emergencies."
Full Story: Kathleen Otte, No One Left Behind: Including Older Adults and People with Disabilities in Emergency Planning, Southeast ADA Center, September 8, 2015, Available at
1. New Calculator Allows Students with Visual Impairment to Do Complex Math
In conjunction with the American Printing House for the Blind and Orbit Research, Texas Instruments has unveiled a new Talking Scientific Calculator that allows blind and visually impaired students to perform complex math independently. A recorded voice announces each key and the answer on display. The calculator is designed for students to use in middle school through college.
The calculator will allow students who are blind or visually impaired to participate in the same curriculum and reach high levels in calculus, statistics, linear algebra, chemistry, and physics.
Full Story: Meghan Brown, Talking Scientific Calculator for Visually Impaired STEM Students, Engineering.com, Sept. 2, 2015, available at
1. Disability Rights Activists Protest Outside British Parliament During Euthanasia Debate
United Kingdom and Irish disability activists joined to protest a new pro-euthanasia bill being debated in Parliament. The "Assisted Suicide Bill" would legalize physician assisted suicide in cases where a person is terminally ill, has been given less than six months to live, and is mentally fit to make the decision.
However, protesters have voiced their concerns that the bill stigmatizes disability and could take away some people's right to choose if they want to live. The protesters fear that the bill could pressure people with disabilities into choosing to end their life instead of choosing to go into palliative care. A protester from Not Dead Yet UK said she believes now is not the time to legalize suicide; she is afraid of the potential impact on the legal system and the medical system. Another protester from Hope, Ireland, said he was also against the bill and what people with disabilities really need are the resources to live independent lives.
Full Story: Greg Daly, Irish Activists to Oppose British Euthanasia Law, Irish Catholic, Sept. 10 2015, available at
See also: Katie Spencer, Protests as MPs Debate Assisted Dying Bill, Sky News, Sept. 11, 2015, available at
2. England Wins International Physical Disability Cricket Tournament in Bangladesh
In the first ever international cricket tournament for people with physical disabilities, England beat Pakistan to win the first International Committee of the Red Cross International Cricket Tournament September 10, 2015. The tournament Team members from Afghanistan, England, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh faced off in the tournament.
The Red Cross worked with local committees in Bangladesh to organize the tournament, keeping in mind the larger goal of promoting the social inclusion of people with disabilities through participation in sports.
Full Story: John Pennington, England Claim ICRC Physical Disability Cricket Title, Cricketworld, Sept. 10, 2015, available at
I. POP CULTURE
1. Models with Disabilities to Be Featured in New York Fashion Week 2016
Global Disability Inclusion, LLC, and Italian fashion company FTL MODA are working together to increase the visibility of people with disabilities by featuring several models with disabilities in New York Fashion Week. In September 2015, Shaholly Ayers, the first-ever amputee to appear in New York Fashion week without a prosthetic, will be featured on a billboard in Times Square in anticipation of the event.
In 2012 only three percent of Fortune 500 Companies featured people with disabilities in their advertising. This number drastically underrepresents the 56 million Americans with disabilities. Global Disability Inclusion and FTl MODA are hoping to bridge that gap.
Full Story: Sandy Han, Global Disability Inclusion and FTL MODA Partner to Build Visibility of Disabled Models at New York's Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2016 Show, PRNewswire, Sept. 10, 2015, available at
2. ReelAbilities Spreads Disability Awareness Through Film
In 2007 Anita Altman founded the ReelAbilities Film Festival (RAFF) at the Jewish Community Center (JCC) in Manhattan. RAFF partners with several institutions, figures, and agencies to spread awareness to an overlooked issue. The feature films aim to celebrate and recognize the lives of those who live with some form of a disability. The festival is typically four days long and debuts approximately ten films. These films are followed by engaging panel discussions. Eight years removed from its creation, the RAFF has now spread to over fourteen cities across the United States and is continuing to grow. All events are free to the public.
Full Story: Jackie Shafer, ReelAbilities Film Festival Preview, WOSU Public Media, Sept. 16, 2015 available at
See Also: Roseanne Colletti, 7th Annual ReelAbilities: NY Disabilities Film Festival, NBC New York, Mar. 10, 2015, available at
J. EVENTS AND FUNDING
Internships and Fellowships
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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