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
March 2, 2016
Volume 13, 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: 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. DOJ Delaying Passage of Web Accessibility Regulations
The Internet is a gray area when it comes to application of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In 2010, the Department of Justice stated that it had plans to define web accessibility rules. As of today, these rules have not been developed, and it looks as if they are still at least a few years away. The DOJ recently released a document outlining its priorities for the coming years. Regarding web accessibility, their first priority is making sure state and local government websites are accessible to individuals with disabilities. These regulations may come in the upcoming year. However, regulations that would apply to nongovernment websites were listed as "long-term" priorities and may not come out until 2018.
See DOJ's document here:
Full Story: Shaun Heasley, Obama Administration Delaying Web Accessibility Rules, Disability Scoop, Jan. 27, 2016, available at
2. Inmates with Disabilities Bringing Lawsuits Against Florida Prisons
Disability Rights Florida has filed a federal lawsuit against Florida prison officials for discriminating against prisoners with disabilities. The lawsuit alleges many services including interpreters, prosthetic devices, and wheelchairs have not been provided to inmates who require them. Prisons are required to abide by the ADA. The lawsuit is a culmination of two years of lawyers investigating complaints by inmates throughout the state. The lawsuit involves 32 inmates with different disabilities including people who are deaf, people who are blind, and people with physical disabilities. The lawsuit details the inmates' complaints that they were repeatedly denied services or assistance and were threatened with retaliation for complaining. Attorneys for Disability Rights Florida are currently seeking an injunction that would force the Department of Corrections to comply with the ADA while the case is being litigated.
Full Story: Dara Kam, Florida Prisons Sued over Treatment of Disabled Inmates, News Channel 4 Jacksonville, Jan. 26, 2016, available at
3. St. Paul, Minnesota, Replacing 200 Curb Ramps Throughout the City
The disability community in St. Paul, Minnesota, has been asking city officials to bring curb ramps up to ADA standards. It appears that they have been heard as the city is planning to spend $1 million to replace 200 curb ramps throughout the city. Individuals in wheelchairs or with mobility impairments rely on these ramps to move safely from the street to the sidewalk. The State Council on Disability believes these renovations are long overdue. Margot Imdieke Cross, of the State Council on Disability, says she is happy that something is being done but is also disappointed that the issue was neglected for several years.
Full Story: Joe Mazan, St. Paul to Spend $1 Million to Update Curb Ramps, ABC 5 Eye Witness News, Feb. 1, 2016, available at
1. In 2015 Disability-Based Job Discrimination Reports Increased Significantly
Federal Officials in the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported that complaints of disability-based job discrimination are increasing. In 2015, discrimination complaints hit a record high. Charges of job bias related to disability rose 6% to total 26,968 reports for the 2015 fiscal year. In both 2014 and 2013 reports of disability-based job discrimination were decreasing.
Of all the disability-related claims received last year, 22.5% were resolved in favor of the person who brought the complaint, the EEOC said. The agency collected nearly $129 million in monetary compensation for those harmed. In total the EEOC received 89,385 charges of workplace discrimination last year. Disability played a role in nearly a third of them.
Full Story: Sean Heasley, Workplace Disability Discrimination Claims at Record High, Disability Scoop, Feb. 17, 2016, available at
2. Minnesota Officials Move Away from Sheltered Workshops
In recent weeks, state and county workforce officials in Minnesota have introduced an ambitious new project modeled after a highly successful program in Ohio. This project aims to give people with disabilities an alternative to working in sheltered workshops. Sheltered workshops are cloistered workplaces that pay as little as $2 an hour for mundane jobs such as packing boxes, shredding paper, and collecting trash. The voluntary initiative, known as "Way to Work," is driven by a simple concept: that people with disabilities are more likely to find jobs in the general workforce if trained counselors talk to them openly and regularly about their ambitions.
In just six weeks, one in three people who labor at an Eagan workshop operated by ProAct, Inc., one of the state's largest workshop operators, have indicated they want jobs in the regular workforce for competitive pay. They are now working with state and county social workers to make that dream a reality. To do this the government has hired two fulltime vocational counselors tasked with looking for creative ways to help people with disabilities apply individual talents in the job force.
Full Story: Chris Serres, States Developing Alternatives to Sheltered Workshops, Disability Scoop, Feb. 9, 2016, available at
1. SCOTUS Asks Obama Administration If it Should Hear Special Education Case
Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools has been a major topic of discussion in special education law during recent months. The case involves a service dog named Wonder and whether the dog could accompany its owner to school. The legal question in the case is whether the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires families to exhaust all IDEA procedures before pursuing a claim for damages under the ADA. Damages are not an available remedy under the IDEA. The case has now reached the United States Supreme Court. The justices are asking the Solicitor General to file a brief expressing the federal government's view on the issue. This is not an uncommon occurrence in special education cases.
Full Story: Mark Walsh, Justices Ask Obama Administration to Weigh in on Special Education Case, Education Week, Jan. 19, 2016, available at
2. Federal Government Increasing Funding for Special Education
Congress approved a $1.1 trillion plan to boost spending for many government programs including special education and other disability programs. The increases are not drastic, but many in the industry have become accustomed to cutbacks, so any gain is well received. Funding for states under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act have increased by $415 million. That amount is spread across all fifty states. Lindsay Jones, Vice President at the National Center for Learning Disabilities, said that increase is small compared to the total spending for special education and may only have a limited effect. However, she notes that if there had been any cut, it would have been felt strongly.
Full Story: Michelle Diament, Feds Boost Spending on Special Ed, Disability Programs, Disability Scoop, Jan. 19, 2016, available at
1. Ability Expo in Los Angeles California
On February 5-7, 2016, thousands of people with disabilities came together for the Abilities Expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center. The Expo provided the community of people with disabilities access to life-enhancing products, education, resources, and fun.
Attendees experienced cutting-edge products and services for people with a wide range of disabilities. They found mobility products, devices for people with developmental disabilities, medical equipment, home accessories, essential services, low-cost daily living aids, and products for people with sensory impairments. The Assistive Technology Showcase featured the latest accessibility and special education apps for people to experience.
Full Story: Ability Expo, People with Disabilities, Caregivers, Veterans and Healthcare Professionals to Attend 2016 Abilities Expo, News Medical, Feb. 1, 2016, available at
2. Federal Government Rejects Universal Screening for Autism Spectrum Disorders
Autism Speaks made a major push for the federal government to recommend universal screening for all children early. On Tuesday, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force affirmed its position that too little is known about the benefits and harms of universal autism screening to endorse the practice at this time. Composed of 16 physicians, the panel is authorized by Congress and overseen by a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The task force's recommendations can have significant impact within the medical community.
This decision is not without its critics. Susan Levy is a professor of pediatrics at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania and chairs the pediatrics group's autism subcommittee. Levy says that without regular screenings some children, especially those with more subtle developmental issues, might be overlooked. Beyond worries about when children with autism are flagged, the task force recommendations could also affect whether insurance providers cover the cost of autism screening.
Full Story: Michelle Diament, Federal Panel Rejects Universal Autism Screening, Disabilityscoop.com, Feb.16, 2016, available at
1. University of Michigan Scientists Are Creating a Braille e-Reader
The project has been a couple of years in the making and now scientists at the University of Michigan are closer to creating a more affordable Braille e-Reader. Their goal is to create a device that is like a Kindle, but uses Braille. There are Braille e-Reader devices on the market now, but they are very expensive. One model can only display one line of Braille text at a time and costs between $3,000 and $5,000, and makes it hard for users to read. Models that display a full page of Braille text are astronomically expensive.
The reason for the cost is that the current technology uses all electronic components. The researchers at the University of Michigan are working on creating a device that is powered pneumatically, which would create the Braille text with little bubbles under the screen surface. It would make the device much more affordable and would allow for a refreshable display of a full page of text in Braille. The current challenge is scaling the device down so that it is effective yet still portable.
The projected end date of this project is September 2016.
Full Story: James Rogers, Holy Braille: Scientists Developing Kindle-Style Tablet for the Blind, Fox News, January 13, 2016, available at
2. American Sign Language Dictionary App
There is a new app for Apple and Android devices which helps new users of American Sign Language (ASL) learn to use sign language. The app features a video of professional ASL interpreters signing over 5,200 words. It was created by Software Solutions, LLC, and is called American Sign Language Dictionary.
There are different categories of signs, including the Alphabet, Numbers, Multiple Meaning Words, and Idioms and Phrases, among others. For those wanting to learn ASL, this could be a good starting point. The app costs $4.99 for iOS and Android devices.
Full Story: Andrew Leibs, ASL Video Dictionary App for iOS Devices and Android Tablets, About Tech, available at
F. EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS
1. Winter Weather Posing Problems for People with Disabilities
Winter weather can often cause problems for individuals with disabilities, specifically those with mobility impairments. As snow piles up on the streets and sidewalks it becomes difficult for many of these individuals to get around their city or town. Ian Watlington is a disability rights advocate for the National Disability Rights Network. He has used a wheelchair for his entire life and is particularly troubled by his Washington D.C.'s handling of snow. He says that most of the curb cuts that he relies on to cross the street are covered with piles of snow. Watlington feels these dangerous conditions are unacceptable, and he is tired of people with disabilities being an afterthought in storm preparation and cleanup. A Department of Transportation spokesperson responded saying the city is recovering from record snowfalls and working on clearing the roads and sidewalks for safe traveling conditions.
Full Story: Ellison Barber, One Week after Blizzard, Conditions Still Pose Danger for Disabled, CBS WUSA 9, Jan. 29 2016, available at
1. Minnesota Man Sues after Sheltered Workshop Refuses to Give Him a Promotion
Bradford Teslow, a Minnesota man who has cognitive disabilities, has been working at disability services organization, Opportunity Partners, since 2013. However, when he applied for a position as site supervisor to manage an assembly line, he was flatly denied for the promotion opportunity. The company explained that because Teslow received services through the organization, he was considered a client, even though he worked full time for the organization on an assembly line.
Since then, Teslow has filed a formal complaint with the state's Department of Human Rights, accusing the company of discrimination. Teslow's fight for promotion opportunities has spurred his coworkers to self-advocate for better working conditions for people with disabilities. One co-worker, Lashay Green, said of Teslow, "He's standing up for what we all believe ... that everyone deserves a fair shot regardless of their disability." Teslow plans to follow up with the Department of Human Rights until they resolve the dispute.
Full Story: Chris Serres, Minnesota Man's Fight for a Promotion Spurs Disability Rights Debate, Galvanized Coworkers, StarTribune, Feb. 4, 2016, available at
2. Group Helps Young People with Autism Gain Skills to Help Enter the Workplace
In Sacramento, California, a group of young adults with Autism is helping build social skills so they can one day join the integrated workforce. Run by behavioral therapist Kim Wagaman and Joshua MacAran, a 31-year-old with Asperger's syndrome, the group meets once per week to practice social interaction in a comfortable setting.
MacAran says that the goal is to "create venues where people can connect," and allow people with Autism to join the working world and live independently. The group consists of high school graduates who are hoping to work on their social skills through interacting with their peers. The group's goal is to enable young people to gain the skill set necessary to be able one day to socialize successfully with coworkers and customers in their future employment.
Full Story: Sammy Caiola, Group Helps Young Adults with Autism Fit In, Disability Scoop, Jan. 22, 2016, available at
1. American Wheelchair Rugby Athletes to Compete in Russian Tournament
Two disability advocacy organizations, Lakeshore Foundation and Project Harmony, Inc., have partnered with the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to send eight American athletes to compete in wheelchair rugby in Russia in May. The exchange program is part of a United States government effort to facilitate contact and connections internationally and to promote inclusion and tolerance through sports.
The athletes will go on a ten-day trip during which they will attend sports clinics with Russian coaches, participate in competitions, and engage in community outreach. The eight athletes are all passionate about spreading an appreciation of diversity and adapting sports for people with disabilities.
Full Story: Jonathan Grass, Lakeshore Foundation Sending 8 to Wheelchair Rugby Exchange Program in Russia, AL.com, Feb. 4, 2016, available at
2. Australia Council Supports Artists with Disabilities
The Australia Council is a government-funded organization that promotes artists in all media throughout Australia. Recently they have given grants to 25 Australian artists with disabilities as part of a three-year program to promote diversity in art.
Last year, the grants included $300,000 to support fifteen projects in the visual arts, writing, performance, and dance, all organized by artists with disabilities. One project included an ode to Frida Kahlo, whose work was influenced by her own disability. The Council is currently looking for artists to apply for the grants for the year of 2016.
Full Story: AusCo Coffers Stay Open for Artists with Disabilities, Performing Arts Hub, Jan. 19, 2016, available at
I. POP CULTURE
1. Documentary about a Child on the Spectrum Wins Sundance Award
A film about a boy on the autism spectrum will be released into theaters after winning an award at the Sundance Film Festival.
The documentary "Life, Animated" won the Directing Award in the U.S. documentary category in January when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. The film details the life of a young man on the Autism Spectrum, Owen Suskind, and his connection to the world through Disney animation. The film sequences original animation from Disney classics based on Owen's drawings to tell his story. Owen learned to reconnect with language and relate to the world again through Disney Animation.
Full Article: Shaun Heasley, Following Sundance Win, Autism Documentary to Hit Theaters, Disability Scoop, February 08, 2016, available at:
2. Stevie Wonder Makes an Important Accessibility Statement at the Grammys
Stevie Wonder presented the Grammy Award for "Song of the Year" this year to Ed Sheeran for his song "Thinking Out Loud." While on stage, Wonder made a joke that no one else could present the award since it was written in Braille.
Wonder, who has been blind for the majority of his life, turned the joke into a serious statement about accessibility. He said, "[W]e need to make every single thing accessible to every single person with a disability." His statement was met with applause from the crowd.
Full Story: Brian Vinh Tien Trinh, Stevie Wonder's Joke at 2016 Grammys Turns into Statement on Accessibility, Huffington Post, February 16, 2016, available at
J. EVENTS AND FUNDING
Call for Papers and Proposals
Webinars and Conferences
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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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