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
February 23, 2017
Volume 14, 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. Department of Justice Issues Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for the Rehabilitation Act
The Department of Justice recently announced it will be forming updated regulations for Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The Act prohibits discrimination based on disability in any federally funded programs or activities. The notice is currently available on FederalRegister.gov, and the comment period is open until March 20, 2017. Interested parties can submit suggestions either online or via mail.
The proposed changes to the regulations are to update the act in accordance with the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), including an updated definition of disability required by the ADAAA. The regulations also will incorporate the holdings of recent disability law cases, update accessibility standards for buildings, and remove the term "handicapped" from the Act.
Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, U.S. Department of Justice Amendment of Regulations Implementing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Jan. 21, 2017, available at
2. Draft of Executive Order Raises Concerns for People with Disabilities
The Washington Post recently published two leaked drafts of a proposed Executive Order that would subject immigrants and lawful residents of the United States with disabilities to stricter oversight in entitlement programs. The order is titled, "The Executive Order on Protecting Taxpayer Resources by Ensuring Our Immigration Laws Promote Accountability and Responsibility," and purports to promote "immigrant self-sufficiency" to avoid "individuals who are likely to become or have become a burden on taxpayers."
The proposed Executive Order calls for sponsors of immigrants to reimburse the government for welfare benefits the immigrants may later receive. It also calls for the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department to establish new standards to determine which immigrants are likely to need public assistance in the future. Furthermore, the Order calls for the deportation of "any alien who has become a public charge." Examples of programs that could make someone a "public charge" include Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Food Stamps, and Medicaid, on which persons with disabilities rely. The Arc recently issued a statement calling the executive order indicative of a "civil rights crisis" impacting people with disabilities.
Full Story: Draft Executive Orders on Immigration, The Washington Post, Feb. 2, 2017, available at
See also: The Arc on Leaked Draft Executive Order that Would Impact People with Disabilities Legally Residing in the US and Seeking to Legally Immigrate, The Arc, Feb. 2, 2017, available at
1. Employment Increases for People with Disabilities
A study by National Trends in Disability Employment (nTIDE) shows that employment for people with disabilities has increased over the past year. In January 2016, 26.6% of people with a disability were employed, and this increased to 27.1% by January 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
The nTIDE attributes this to employment professions receiving intensive training. This training consists of a series of intensive workshops to teach employment professions techniques to help job seekers through the Discovery process, listing their interests and talents, and to collaborate with employers to meet their specific needs. The employment professionals also work with employers who want to hire people with disabilities but do not know how to accommodate them.
Full Story: Anna Brennan-Curry, nTIDE January 2017 Jobs Report: Solid Start to New Year for Americans with Disabilities, Research on Disability, Feb. 3, 2017, available at
See Also: Lauren Scrivo, Kessler Foundation Grants $282K to Implement Customized Employment Strategies for People with Developmental Disabilities in Maryland, Kessler Foundation, Jan. 7, 2016, available at
2. Low Wages Dramatically Affect Lives of People with Disabilities
Agencies that provide services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in South Dakota are having a staffing crisis because of the low wages that direct support professionals (DSPs) receive. DSPs help people with disabilities in every aspect of life and are paid only $10.83 per hour. As a result, the turnover rate is at 44.69% in this field.
South Dakota's plight is part of a national crisis. Agencies rely on state and federal funding to pay DSPs and the government arguably does not provide enough funds to allow agencies to pay higher wages. Advocates are working with government officials to raise DSPs' wages.
Full Story: Dan Cross, A Perfect Storm: The Workforce Crisis in Intellectual and Developmental Disability Services, Capitol Journal, Feb. 5, 2017, available at
See Also: Joe Mahoney, Care Agencies Struggle with Staff Turnover, Daily Star, Feb. 12, 2017, available at
3. Baltimore County Employee Wins Three-Year Discrimination Lawsuit
In 2009, the Maryland's Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management (DEPRM) moved its offices to the newly renovated fourth floor of the Jefferson building. Fumes from new materials, such as paint and furniture, caused a severe allergic reaction for Dianne Van Rossum, who worked for the department for about 30 years. At first, the DEPRM accommodated her disability by moving her office to another floor, but it retracted this accommodation in 2010, forcing Van Rossum to retire.
After the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled the DEPRM violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, Van Rossum filed suit against it in 2014. The jury awarded Van Rossum $780,000 in damages on January 30, 2017.
Full Story: Jury Awards Baltimore County Former Employee with a Disability more than $780,000 in Lawsuit Brought by Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Kirkland & Ellis, Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, Feb. 2, 2017, available at
See Also: Van Rossum v. Baltimore County, JKB-14-115 (2017), available at
1. DeVos Confirmation Signals Trouble for Federal Disability Education Law
Following the controversial confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, there are significant questions and concerns about her commitment to (and understanding of) the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). During questioning from Senator Tim Kaine at her confirmation hearing, DeVos stated that she felt the issues covered by IDEA were "best left to the states." Although IDEA implementation is controlled by the states, it is a Federal law that sets a minimum standard of public education for students with disabilities, which all states must meet. After being informed that the minimum standards of IDEA must be met by every state, DeVos wrote a letter attempting to clarify how "eager" she was to enforce it.
DeVos highly praised a "voucher system" used in Ohio and Florida. This system gives federal money to students with disabilities, so they can attend private schools with Individualized Education Programs. However, these programs require participating families to give up special education due process rights that are granted to them by IDEA. DeVos's position in favor of these voucher programs is in line with movements to privatize the public education system, which many believe DeVos supports. IDEA is implemented by states; however, DeVos's preference for voucher programs and silence on any other ways to strengthen public education suggest that states will be more likely to implement voucher programs. The flaws of these programs are worrying, as is DeVos's apparent confusion about the role of her office in enforcing IDEA. The Secretary of Education plays the key role in enforcing state compliance, through withholding funds or possibly referring states to the department of justice. DeVos's preference for privatization and strong state roles in implementation suggest that she may not be as vigilant as she should be in enforcing IDEA, or investigating the actual merits of voucher programs.
Full Story: Valerie Strauss, "The Telling Letter Betsy DeVos Wrote to Clarify Her Position on U.S. Disabilities Law," Washington Post, Jan. 28, 2017, available at
See also: Susan Margolin, "Betsy DeVos Wants "Choice" for Special Needs Kids. In Asia, We Saw What that Can Mean," Washington Post, Feb. 6, 2017, available at
2. OSERS Publishes Transition Guide to Postsecondary Education
The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) has published a guide designed to help students and youth with disabilities, as well as their parents, transition from school to post-school activities. Called "A Transition Guide to Postsecondary Education and Employment for Students and Youth with Disabilities," the guide includes information on postsecondary education, vocational training, and other career goals. It contains not only transition planning and programs, but also addresses education and employment options for students with disabilities and includes advice on how to support the decisions made by students and youth with disabilities. The goal is to ensure a seamless transition between life stages.
The guide is also designed to educate students with disabilities and their parents regarding how state and local education agencies, as well as vocational agencies, can work together to aid these students. The purpose of the guide is to highlight what challenges students with disabilities may face upon completing high school and to prepare them to confront or avoid these challenges and transition successfully into a post-school life.
Full Guide: Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, "A Transition Guide to Postsecondary Education and Employment for Students and Youth with Disabilities," Jan. 2017, available at
3. Supreme Court Appears Likely to Raise Mandated Public Education Standard
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 guarantees students with disabilities a "free appropriate public education," but the exact standard of education this mandates has been unclear for some time. On January 11, 2017, during oral argument of the case Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, a majority of justices appeared to favor setting that standard as "one that should lead the child to make measured progress on academics or behavior."
Parents who are dissatisfied with their local school's special education programs can enroll their children in private schools that are better suited to meet the child's individual needs, and then seek to have the increased tuition costs paid by the school district. This process is a big risk for parents, because they are not likely to succeed in these lawsuits. However, a higher minimum standard of public education would make these suits easier for parents to win. If there is a higher standard for public education, it is easier to show that the public school fell short. The case on appeal involves Endrew F., a child with autism who had an individualized education program (IEP) at his public school. His parents enrolled him in private school, where he was reportedly thriving after he did not make any meaningful progress under his IEP in public school. The court below denied Endrew's parents reimbursement, stating that the public school's program had been "adequate."
Full Story: David Savage, "Supreme Court May Boost FAPE Mandate," Disability Scoop, Jan. 12, 2017, available at
1. DOJ Issues Guidance to Criminal Justice Entities
In January 2017, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a guidance statement to various criminal justice entities regarding compliance with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the their health, safety, and welfare of persons with disabilities. The guidance was issued to clarify that Title II of the ADA ensures that those with disabilities are treated equally and are afforded equal opportunities by state and local governments.
The guidance letter includes various examples on how criminal justice entities can be more inclusive and offers various resources to achieve this goal. It also advocates that prison staff provide treatment when it is apparent that a prisoner's negative behavior is a result of their disability. The document further provides opportunities to increase ADA compliance and ways to promote positive community outcomes. Several examples include effective training, providing auxiliary aids and services necessary for those with disabilities. The DOJ hopes the guidance will promote safety and welfare of both individuals with disabilities and criminal justice personnel.
Press Release, U.S. Department of Justice, Examples and Resources to Support Criminal Justice Entities in Compliance with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Jan. 2017, available at
2. Potential Consequences of a Medicaid Block Grant
Under the Trump administration, it is becoming more likely that there will be capping of federal payments for Medicaid. Currently, 40% of Medicaid spending goes to individuals with disabilities who are beneficiaries. The law currently states that when Medicaid cost increases, the amount of federal contribution will automatically increase. Various proposals by lawmakers wish to cap the federal amount to a fixed amount, with the state to be responsible for any increases.
Another proposal is to increase premiums or higher copayments. Critics of this idea state that Medicaid beneficiaries will not be able to afford the higher amount while proponents argue that it would control costs and increase participation. Yet another proposal would allow states more flexibility than currently allowed under federal rules. The proposal for more state flexibility combines Medicaid funds with other programs. While flexibility may allow better funding to Medicaid programs, more flexibility may also allow states to cut spending, which would lead to further deficiencies in healthcare for people with disabilities.
Full Story: Howard Gleckman, What Medicaid Block Grants Would Mean for Seniors, Forbes, Jan. 25, 2017, available at
See also: Policy Basics: Introduction to Medicaid, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, updated Aug. 16, 2016, available at
1. 3D Printing Creates Potential for Personalized Wheelchairs
Layer, a London based company, has developed the ability to make wheelchairs using 3D printing. Called GO, these customized wheelchairs use maps of each individual's biometric information to create a wheelchair that accurately fits an individual's body shape and disability. Each GO wheelchair is built from shock-absorbing plastics and is designed to maximize comfort, support, and flexibility, while ensuring that the user has the ideal center of gravity for their specific disability.
Layer reached out to the community for help designing this project, interviewing persons who use a wheelchair about their frustrations with "one size fits all" wheelchairs, as well as taking input on design elements like patterns and colors. GO is not yet commercially available as it is still in the development phase.
Full Story: Bianca Britton, The 3D-Printed Wheelchair: A Revolution in Comfort? CNN Tech, Jan. 24, 2017, available at
2. Access Board Updates Information and Communication Technology Requirements
The U.S. Access Board, a federal agency that promotes accessibility of, among other things, technology and infrastructure for people with disabilities, has issued a final rule updating the accessibility requirements for Information and Communication Technology (ICT). The rule is to go into effect on March 20, 2017, although compliance is not required until January 18, 2018. The rule updates both Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, which covers ICT made or used by federal agencies, and Section 255 of the Communications Act, which covers cell phones, pagers, computers with modems, and other telecommunications equipment made and/or used by telecommunications equipment manufacturers and service providers. One of the goals of the update was to create a uniform standard for ICT accessibility, not only within the United States, but with the global community at large.
The new rule approaches technology based on its function, rather than on a product-by-product basis, which helps deal with the multi-functionality of modern devices. It sets technical requirements for both hardware and software, and addresses accessibility for a variety of disabilities.
Press Release: United States Access Board, "Access Board Updates Requirements for Information and Communication Technology," Jan. 9, 2017, available at
Full Rule: Architectural and Transportation Compliance Board (Access Board), "Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Standards and Guidelines," Jan. 18, 2017, available at
F. EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS
1. Smart911 Could Save Lives of People with Disabilities
The police department of Elk Grove, California, reminded its community about Smart911, which the department partnered with in 2014. Smart911 provides quicker emergency response time for its citizens, including those with disabilities. It is a nationwide service that allows people to create a profile with data such as their contact information, emergency contacts, medical history and much more.
When people call 911 from cell phones, response centers receive the callers' numbers and general locations and must depend on the callers for further information. However, if someone has a Smart911 profile, it automatically appears on the dispatcher's screen, allowing the dispatcher to get help to the person much more quickly. In addition, first responders can access the profiles and may treat their patients more effectively.
Full Story: Cameron Macdonald, EGPD Invites Residents to Join Smart911, Elk Grove Citizen, Feb. 6, 2017, available at
2. Niagara University Improves First Responders Training
The New York State Developmental Disabilities Planning Council awarded a $320,000 grant to Niagara University's First Responders Disability Awareness Training (FRDAT) program. FRDAT has been providing education to 911 operators, police, fire fighters and emergency medical responders for ten years.
The grant will allow FRDAT to work with state offices and the disability community to improve how first responders interact with people with disabilities.
Full Story: NYS Developmental Disabilities Planning Council Awards Grant to NU for First Responder Training, Niagara Frontier Publications, Jan. 27, 2017, available at
1. Self-Driving Cars May Allow More Independence for People with Disabilities
In a study recently released by the Ruderman Family Foundation, researchers found that self-driving cars could have a dramatic impact on the independence of people with disabilities. This is especially true because they could allow people with disabilities to travel independently to and from their jobs.
The study cited that approximately two million individuals would have employment opportunities with the advent of this new transportation technology, which would make it easier and cheaper to travel to work. This is especially true because public transportation is not always accessible or convenient for people with disabilities. Currently, the Cambridge-based company Optimus Ride is working with the Perkins School for the Blind to identify ways in which self-driving cars can be customized to people who are blind. The cars could also help individuals with limited mobility and people with developmental disabilities who might have trouble with navigation.
Full Story: Jordan Graham, Study: Self-Driving Cars Will Benefit Disabled, Boston Herald, Jan. 22, 2017, available at
See also: Jordan Graham, Self-Driving Cars Could Lift Disability Employment, Disability Scoop, Jan. 31, 2017, available at
1. International Human Rights Case Seeks Reparations for Casa Esperanza
Disability Rights International and the O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law recently filed a case with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The two groups filed on behalf of 37 people with disabilities who once lived in Casa Esperanza, a Mexican institute that was shut down due to abusive treatment of its residents.
The case seeks reparations for time spent living in Casa Esperanza as well as community integration for the people with disabilities, many of whom were simply moved to other institutions after Casa Esperanza closed. The groups note that people with disabilities were subject to abuse, forced sterilization, and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment while living in Casa Esperanza. Through seeking reparations for time spent in the facility, the groups hope to fund better services and community integration for the people who have since moved out.
Full Story: International Case Against Mexico Seeks Recognition of the Right to Community Integration for People with Disabilities Locked in Institutions, Newswise, Jan. 19, 2017, available at
2. Refugees with Disabilities Often Overlooked in Greece
Human Rights Watch recently released a report that noted refugees with disabilities have poor access to basic services, such as toilets, showers, food, and medical care. The report detailed that refugees with disabilities were often under-identified, and were sometimes living in deplorable conditions.
Several refugee camps visited by Human Rights Watch had toilet and shower facilities that were not accessible to wheelchair users, making it impossible for some people to shower at all. Other persons have had issues repairing or replacing damaged devices, such as hearing aids. Human Rights Watch recommended that Greek authorities ensure that people with disabilities in refugee camps are no longer an afterthought.
Full Story: Disabled Refugees "Overlooked" in Greece: Human Rights Watch, Yeni Safak, January 18, 2017, available at
I. POP CULTURE
1. Dr. Temple Grandin Inducted into National Women's Hall of Fame
Colorado State University professor, Dr. Temple Grandin, was one of ten women inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame this year. To be chosen for the honor women must be United States citizens and have contributed something of "national or global importance and of enduring value."
Dr. Grandin was diagnosed with autism when she was two years old. Her experience has given her insight into reducing animal stress in livestock handling, and her designs have become the industry standard. She has taught animal science at Colorado State University for over 20 years, has published books, and numerous scholarly articles.
Full Story: Introducing the 2017 NWHF Inductees, National Women's Hall of Fame, Feb. 7, 2017, available at
2. Schneider Family Book Award Recipients for 2017
The Schneider Family Book Awards honor books that portray "artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences." The Awards recognize three age group categories: birth to 8 years old, 9 to 13 years old, and 14 to 18 years old. The first age group winner was "Six Dots" by Jen Bryant. The story is about Louis Braille and his invention of the Braille alphabet. The second category winner was "as brave as you" by Jason Reynolds. This story is about two brothers visiting their grandparents for the summer and the lessons they learn from their grandfather, who is blind. "When We Collided" by Emery Lord won the final category. This story is about a teen who lives with bipolar disorder.
Press Release: 2017 Schneider Family Book Awards Recipients Named, American Library Association, Jan. 24, 2017, available at
J. EVENTS AND FUNDING
Call for Papers
Webinars and Conferences
Embracing Inclusion: People with Disabilities Enriching the Workforce edited by Marc Goldman "is a collection of photographs and profiles of people with a disability as they see themselves in the workplace."
Giving Voice: Mobile Communication, Disability, and Inequality by Meryl Alper "explores, among other things, alternative understandings of voice, the surprising sociotechnical importance of the iPad case, and convergences and divergences in the lives of parents across class."
The Disability Law & Policy e-Newsletter is supported by the following sources:
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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 Shannon McGlew, Catherine Ostrowski Martin, Kathleen Battoe, John Cronin, and Eddie Montesdeoca.
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