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
January 18, 2017
Volume 14, Issue 1
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. New NGO Formed to Promote Disability Rights
Several disability rights scholars have joined together to form The Tangata Group, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) dedicated to promoting disability rights. The group's name stems from the Maori language; "tangata" translated means "the essence of being human." The founders hope to consult on domestic and international human and disability rights issues, including matters involving the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the Americans with Disabilities Act, and accessibility issues.
The NGO was founded by Professor Janet Lord, one of the original drafters of the CRPD, Professor Michael Schwartz, a professor at Syracuse University College of Law, and Professor Brent Elder, a professor at Rowan University. The founders hope to promote better understanding of disability rights and accountability for countries who signed the CRPD.
Full Story: Api Podder, Tangata Group Is Founded to Address the Rights of People with Disabilities Worldwide, My Social Good News, Dec. 14, 2016, available at
2. Video of Violence Against Teen with Disability
A video that was streamed live on Facebook was shocking as it depicted acts of violence being committed against an eighteen-year-old male with schizophrenia and attention deficit disorder. Spokespeople from the disability community say, as horrible as the video was, they were more surprised that the acts were recorded. Violence against people with disabilities is much more common than the public thinks. The U.S. Department of Justice reports that "people with disabilities are more than twice as likely to be the victims of violent crimes as those without disabilities," with people who have mental disabilities being the most at risk.
Rebecca Cokely, the executive director of the National Council on Disability thinks that the extent of violence against people with disabilities is even greater, especially when the abuser is a family member. Those cases are unlikely to ever be brought to law enforcement.
Full Story: Mitch Smith and Richard Pérez-Peña, Beating of Disabled Teenager Highlights a Crime That Often Goes Unpunished, The New York Times, Jan. 6, 2017, available at
1. EEOC Publication on Legal Rights of Employees and Applicants Under the ADA
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released a document that explains applicant and employee rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for people who have mental health conditions such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. The EEOC's goal is to raise awareness of the protections that people may not realize they have under the ADA in a manner that is easy to understand. EEOC says that employment discrimination based on mental health conditions is increasing, and it wants employees and employers to understand what employment discrimination is, when reasonable accommodations are necessary, and what role EEOC plays in protecting workers' rights.
Press Release: EEOC Issues Publication on the Rights of Job Applicants and Employees with Mental Health Conditions, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Dec. 12, 2016, available at
2. EEOC Publishes Final Rule on Affirmative Action for Federal Employees with Disabilities
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commissions (EEOC) is clarifying the affirmative action requirements of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 501, for federal agencies in hiring employees with disabilities. The effective date of the rule will be March 6, 2017, and will require federal agencies to have 12% of their workforce made up of people with disabilities by 2018. Agencies will also have to provide personal assistance services to employees with disabilities, have training programs, and mentoring programs for advancement.
Federal Register Announcement:
Full Story: Eric Katz, Under New Affirmative Action Rule, Agencies Must Hire More Disabled Workers, Government Executive, Jan. 4, 2017, available at
1. Supreme Court to Review Definition of FAPE
The Supreme Court is preparing to review the case of Endrew F., a child with autism whose parents brought a case against his school district in Colorado over the meaning of free, appropriate, public education (FAPE) under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act. The Supreme Court will review this case because there is currently a circuit court split over whether FAPE means children with disabilities are entitled to "some educational benefit" or "meaningful benefit."
There are policy arguments on both sides. Many parents argue for the "meaningful" standard as they believe it would create better access to education and related services for their children, while school districts argue that higher standards would mean increased cost and cuts in other programs.
Full Story: Rebecca Beitsch, Stakes High in Special Ed Case Before Supreme Court, DisabilityScoop, Dec. 15, 2016, available at
2. DOE Published Guidance on the Civil Rights of Students with Disabilities
The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) has released new guidance regarding the use of restraint and seclusion in public schools, in the form of a resource guide, a Dear Colleague Letter, and a question and answer document. The DOE also released a Dear Colleague Letter and a question and answer document regarding students' with disabilities rights in charter schools.
The documents touch on schools' responsibilities under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Americans with Disabilities Act, and presents best practices for avoiding restraint and seclusion, and the legality of such actions.
The guidance pertaining to charter schools also addresses student rights under Section 504 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Catherine Lhamon, DOE Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, says that "vigilant attention to the rights of students with disabilities will help ensure fair treatment for every student and that every student has equal access to educational programs and has an opportunity to experience success."
Press Release: U.S. Department of Education Releases Guidance on Civil Rights of Students with Disabilities, U.S. Department of Education, Dec. 28, 2016, available at
1. Uncompensated Healthcare Costs to Families with Children Who Have Special Needs
Researchers from the University of Southern California have estimated the uncompensated cost to families who care for children with special healthcare needs at home to be $36 billion annually. This estimate comes from the medical care, not activities of daily living, that family members provide for children that would otherwise be taken care of by an in-home aid or other professional caregivers. In-home care can be extremely expensive, so many families provide the care themselves. Additionally, parents may be earning less income because of time away from work needed to provide for their children. Mark Schuster, senior investigator of the study, says, "We need to do a better job of training family caregivers in how to take care of their children at home, and we need better supports for them."
Full Story: Laura Joszt, The High Cost of Home Care for Children with Special Healthcare Needs, The American Journal of Managed Care, Jan. 1, 2017, available at
2. State Expansion of Medicaid Increases Employment of People with Disabilities
People with disabilities sometimes have to choose unemployment over losing Medicaid coverage to pay for medical care. Under the Affordable Care Act, states were able to extend Medicaid coverage to 138% of the poverty line, which allowed some people to find jobs while still affording their medical costs. Researchers found that there was a 38% employment rate for people with disabilities in states that expanded Medicaid coverage compared to a 32% employment rate in states that had not.
Full Story: Marlene Satter, Medicaid Boosts Employment Among Disabled, BenefitsPRO, Jan. 3, 2017, available at
1. New Method to Print Braille
Touchable Ink is the result of collaboration between Samsung, the Thailand Association of the Blind, and Thammasat University. Instead of buying an expensive Braille printer, people who are blind can use a regular laser printer with a Touchable Ink cartridge. A user prints out a page in Braille using Touchable Ink, and applies heat to the page after printing. This causes the ink, which is formulated with embossing powder, to form the bumps that users can then read. Touchable Ink is still being developed, but already has won the Design, Healthcare and Innovation Grand Prix awards at Spikes Asia 2016, a festival of creativity.
Full Story: Matthew Humphries, Samsung's Touchable Ink Prints Braille Using Any Laser Printer, Geek, Oct. 4, 2016, available at
2. Google Maps to Display Accessibility Information
Developers from Google have spent time gathering information regarding accessibility for public places like restaurants in order to add the information to Google Maps. When you search for a restaurant on Google Maps, general information like the hours of operation, reviews, and the restaurant's website are included in the entry. Now, the entries will also show information on accessibility, such as whether the restaurant is wheelchair accessible.
The developers were able to do this by relying on answers from local people, called Local Guides, who answer questions about the places they go. The developers began adding questions about accessibility and got enough responses that they feel they can begin adding the information to the entries on Google Maps.
Full Story: Rob Price, A Group of Google Employees Spent Their 20% Time Making Google Maps Wheelchair-Friendly, Business Insider, Dec. 15, 2016, available at
F. EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS
1. Wireless RERC Published Study on National EAS Test
The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center for Wireless Technologies (Wireless RERC) did a study of the National Emergency Alert System (EAS) test that was done in September 2016. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) established the EAS in 1997 for an easy way to alert the public of local and national emergencies. Wireless RERC's study finds that there is inconsistent implementation of the EAS nationwide, which results in inaccessibility to people with disabilities. The Wireless RERC made recommendations that would improve accessibility, like slower scrolling announcement text, uniformity of presentation, and muting of the regularly scheduled television program. Despite inconsistencies in many areas, the study did find that all broadcasters complied with the FCC's 2011 requirement to present both audio and visual components during the EAS test.
Report: Wireless RERC, Observations of the 2016 National EAS Test, Georgia Tech Center for Advanced Communications Policy, Dec. 2016, available at
Full Story: Read the Wireless RERC Research Brief, Observations of the 2016 National EAS Test, Georgia Tech Center for Advanced Communications Policy, Dec. 2016, available at
2. Disability Rights New York Files Lawsuit on Implementation of Text-to-911
Elizabeth Grossman, a lawyer for Disability Rights New York (DRNY), has filed a federal lawsuit against New York City, Nassau County, and Suffolk County on behalf of two New Yorkers who have disabilities. The complaint alleges violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, and asks for an order to compel these entities to provide text-to-911 services for people with disabilities. The two plaintiffs have disabilities that make them unable to communicate verbally in phone calls to 911 services to report emergencies. DRNY reports that text-to-911 is currently available in 11 counties in New York State.
DRNY Press Release:
See also: Lawsuit Calls for 911 Texting Service in New York City, On Long Island, CBS New York, Jan. 10, 2017, available at
1. Kentucky Announces New Savings Program for People with Disabilities
Kentucky State Treasurer, Allison Ball, announced in early December that the state will begin offering STABLE accounts for people with disabilities. The accounts are available under the federal Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE) so people with disabilities can deposit money (in Kentucky, $14,000 per year) into an account without being taxed or losing their eligibility for programs like Social Security and Medicaid.
Losing eligibility for these programs has been an issue in the past for people with disabilities because if they have more than $2,000 worth of income or assets, they may no longer qualify for benefits. With the new state program, Kentucky citizens are able to save money to spend on qualified disability expenses without becoming disqualified from public benefits programs.
Full Story: Treasurer Alison Ball Announces STABLE Kentucky Initiative, Lex18, Dec. 13, 2016, available at
2. New Law Allows People with Disabilities to Form Their Own Trusts
President Obama recently signed a bill that included a provision to allow people with disabilities to create special needs trusts on their own in order to save for future medical costs. Before this bill, special needs trusts were required to be established by a parent, grandparent, legal guardian, or the court.
This provision was originally included in what was called the Special Needs Trust Fairness Act, which was never signed into law due to differences between the House and Senate versions. However, the provision returned to the Senate this year and was packaged into the 21st Century Cures Act, which President Obama signed in early December.
Full Story: Michelle Diament, New Law Expands Access to Special Needs Trusts, DisabilityScoop, Dec. 16, 2016, available at
3. Equal Rights Center Settlement for Accessible Housing
The Equal Rights Center (ERC) has been working for 12 years to reach agreements with companies to provide more accessible housing for people with disabilities. Its latest achievement is reaching an agreement with Equity Residential of Chicago, Illinois, to increase the availability of accessible housing. The executive director of ERC, Melvina Ford, says, "The real winners here are the [people] in this country with disabilities who will now have more opportunities as they choose where they want to live."
Full Story: Equal Rights Center and Equity Residential Settle Litigation and Agree to Expand Accessible Housing, Washington Lawyers' Committee, Jan. 4, 2017, available at
1. Canadian Museum for Human Rights Celebrates Disability Rights
On December 3, 2016, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights held an event celebrating disability rights. The museum, located in Winnipeg, Manitoba, is dedicated to celebrating the evolution of human rights, and inspiring research and the promotion of human rights. The venue was chosen because the disability rights event last year, held at the Manitoba Legislature, drew about 1,600 people, and organizers wanted a bigger venue this year.
The event included Jim Derkson, a wheelchair user, who spoke about the rights of people with disabilities to have personal relationships and children. Attendees were also able to participate in making a group mural celebrating disability rights and enjoyed musical entertainment.
Full Story: Jessica Botelho-Urbanski, Disability Rights to Be Celebrated at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights on Saturday, Metro CA, Dec. 1, 2016, available at
2. UK's Secretary of State for International Development to Focus on Disability
In a statement released on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Priti Patel, the United Kingdom's Secretary of State for International Development, affirmed a commitment to focus on supporting people with disabilities in the upcoming year. Patel stated that disability should be entwined in "every single aspect of what we do in the development space as the United Kingdom."
Patel stated that the UK's current disability policy does not go far enough, noting that children with disabilities around the world are often excluded from school and are more likely to be victims of violence. This year marks the first time that people with disabilities were included in the UK's sustainable development goals for the coming year. Leaders of several UK nongovernmental organizations have lauded Patel's comments and hope to see this policy implemented.
Full Story: Anna Leach, Disabled People to Get More from UK Aid, The Guardian, Dec. 6, 2013, available at
I. POP CULTURE
1. Expanding the Availability of Toys that Represent Disability
More children's toys are available today that positively represent disability. Toys like the American Girl dolls have accessories such as hearing aids, diabetes kits, or wheelchairs that are available so children have a doll that looks like they do. Nemo, the clownfish from "Finding Nemo," is another example of how disability can be positively represented. Rebecca Cokely, the executive director of the National Council on Disability, said that "Finding Nemo" has been an excellent example of positively portraying a child with a disability. Cokely wishes that more toys were representative of the disability community. Studies have shown that when children play with toys that represent disability, they become more empathetic.
Full Story: Neda Ulaby, Dolls with Disabilities Escape the Toy Hospital, Go Mainstream, NPR, Dec. 18, 2016, available at
2. Lawsuit Brought Against World Triathlon Corporation Alleging Violations of the ADA
Kathleen Borrone, a triathlete who is deaf and blind, has brought a lawsuit against the World Triathlon Corporation and USA Triathlon for alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Borrone was planning to compete in the Ironman competition in Lake Placid, NY, as she has previously done twice, but was informed that she would no longer be allowed to have the help of her sighted guide, who is male. Borrone's complaint states that the reason given was that athletes have to change clothes between events and she could not have a male guide because of this. Her claim is that these policies "result in the exclusion of Borrone from the Ironman Lake Placid ... because there are no [female] sighted guides available who are both able to complete Ironman events with her and communicate effectively with her."
Borrone states that she does not need the help of her guide when changing clothes. The guide only helps her during the events using tactile sign language and other methods. They have trained together for many events, are able to communicate effectively, and the guide can meet the extreme physical demands of these athletic competitions. Borrone is being represented by Stein & Vargas, a firm from Washington, D.C. and the National Association of the Deaf.
Full Story: Doug Paviluk, Deaf-Blind Little Silver Athlete Sues the Ironman Organization, The Monmouth Journal, Dec. 23, 2016, available at
3. Award Winning Documentary "Life, Animated"
Roger Ross Williams directed the creation of "Life, Animated," a documentary about the life of Owen Suskind, who lives with autism. When Owen was three years old, he stopped speaking and was diagnosed with autism. He was able to connect with the world around him and with himself again through Disney movies.
The documentary is based on the book "Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes and Autism," by Owen's father, Ron. The documentary won an award when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and is being considered for nomination for an Academy Award.
Full Story: Autism Documentary to Premiere on A&E, Disability Scoop, Jan. 5, 2016, available at
J. EVENTS AND FUNDING
Call for Papers and Proposals
Webinars and Conferences
Scholarships and Internships
The Fantasy of Disability: Images of Loss in Popular Culture (Routledge) by Jeffrey Preston, "explores how popular culture texts ... fantasize about what life with a physical disability must be like, while at the same time exerting tremendous pressure on disabled individuals to conform [to society]."
Arab American Children with Disabilities: Considerations for Teachers and Service Providers (Routledge) by Jamal M. Al Khatib "provides much-needed context and direction for service providers and researchers working with the Arab American community." https://www.routledge.com/Arab-American-Children-with-Disabilities-Considerations-for-Teachers-and/Al-Khatib/p/book/9781138207066
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 Shannon McGlew, Catherine Ostrowski-Martin, Kathleen Battoe, and Angel Baker .
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