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 31, 2017
Volume 14, Issue 3
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. Supreme Court Nominee Has Spotty Record on Disability Rights
President Trump has picked Neil Gorsuch to go before the Senate Judiciary Committee at the end of March. Gorsuch is expected to be a conservative voice on the court, replacing Antonin Scalia. He is currently a Tenth Circuit judge and has made several rulings on ADA and IDEA cases.
A letter by the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law in Washington, D.C., detailed problems with the judge's past rulings on disability rights issues. Bazelon cited specifically how Judge Gorsuch has consistently ruled in favor of school districts over children with disabilities. He also found that a school district was not violating the IDEA when a student was making only minimal progress, instead of significant progress, an important differentiation in IDEA case law. The American Civil Liberties Union and the National Education Association have also expressed concerns with Judge Gorsuch's record, mentioning that he seems to thwart civil rights for children with disabilities.
Full Story: Michelle Diament, Supreme Court Nominee Rulings on ADA, IDEA, Have Advocates Worried, DisabilityScoop, Mar. 20, 2017, available at
2. Office of Civil Rights Investigating California School Website Accessibility
The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) is investigating whether a Palo Alto, California, school's website is accessible after receiving complaints from a special education advocate. The website currently cannot be used by people with vision, hearing, or fine motor impairments. A specific example is that the website lacks captions and alternate text, which enables someone using a screen reader to read what is in a picture.
OCR will investigate whether the website denies students with disabilities participation in or the benefits of the school's programs, activities, or services, as required under the Americans with Disabilities Act. OCR will also look into whether the website, which lists schedules and times for school events, qualifies as an effective communication under the ADA. This case is just one of many website accessibility cases that OCR is investigating, as the Department of Justice is more frequently considering websites "places of public accommodation" under the ADA.
Full Story: Jacqueline Lee, Palo Alto School Website Violates Disabilities Act, Advocate Says, Mercury News, Feb. 21, 2017, available at
3. Iowa Bill Would Allow Landlords to Turn Down Tenants Who Get Disability Benefits
Currently in Iowa, local statutes prevent landlords from discriminating against clients based on their source of income, including disability benefits, Social Security, child support, or people who qualify for Section 8 housing. However, HB 295, authored by Republican Jake Highfill, would remove these protections and allow landlords to turn down tenants who receive any of these benefits.
The bill was purportedly authored to avoid forcing private landlords to do business with the government. However, critics of the bill are concerned it will allow landlords to discriminate on the basis of disability. The bill is currently being debated in the Iowa House of Representatives.
Full Story: Courtney Crowder & Kevin Hardy, Iowa Bill May Give Landlord Rights Edge over Disabled Veterans, The Des Moines Register, Feb. 26, 2017, available at
1. Parents of Children with Autism Use Benefits to Continue to Work
Penn State, University of Pennsylvania, and the RAND Corporation teamed up to research employment trends of parents with children with autism. The data came from the 2005-2006 and 2009-2010 National Survey of Children with Special Health Care Needs and was compared with information about state Medicaid home and community-based services waivers. These waivers assist people with disabilities to receive services, such as home health aides, that allow them to live at home and be part of their local communities, rather than living in institutions.
The study showed that parents were more likely to work if there were Medicaid waivers available to help care for their children. Medicaid waiver services are income based, meaning families' income levels determine what services they can receive. Some states have Medicaid waiver programs for families who have low incomes that offer more money for children to receive services. Others offer services to families with varied income levels but limit the amount of money each family receives.
Full Story: Shaun Heasley, Study Finds Medicaid Waivers Help Parents Stay Employed, Disability Scoop, Feb. 21, 2017, available at
See Also: Medicaid Waivers Help Parents of Children with Autism Stay in the Workforce, Medical Xpress, Feb. 6, 2017, available at
2. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Sues National Trucking Company
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit against CRST Expedited, Inc., on March 2, 2017, for not hiring a veteran with a disability. While completing CRST's training program in Fort Myers, Florida, Leon Laferriere disclosed that he has post-traumatic stress disorder and uses a service dog to help control its symptoms. Consequently, the company refused to hire him on the basis of their no pet policy.
This lawsuit is the result of a failed attempt to reconcile differences out of court. The EEOC wants the court to order CRST to hire Laferriere and grant him back pay and damages. It also asks for an order that CRST must have a policy for giving employees with disabilities reasonable accommodation and upholding the rights of people with disabilities.
Full Story: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, EEOC Sues CRST for Disability Discrimination and Retaliation, JD Supra Business Advisor, Mar. 6, 2017, available at
1. 8-0 Victory at Supreme Court for Ehlena Fry and Wonder, Her Service Dog
Ehlena Fry, a twelve-year-old girl with cerebral palsy, and her service dog, Wonder, won a unanimous victory at the Supreme Court on February 22, 2017. The case originated in 2009, when Fry was told she could not bring Wonder to her elementary school in Napoleon, Michigan. Although her family pulled her out of that school, homeschooled her for two years, and ultimately enrolled her in a school that welcomed Wonder, in 2012 they sued the Napoleon school under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act. Despite both the District Court and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissal of the case, the Supreme Court granted review and has overturned the lower courts decisions unanimously.
The Supreme Court ruled that when not seeking a "free appropriate public education" (FAPE) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a plaintiff does not need to exhaust the administrative procedures. In FAPE cases, courts require students and parents to seek relief either through medication, through an impartial due process hearing, or by filing a complaint with their local education agency. In this case, the plaintiffs sought damages for the social and emotional harm caused by not being allowed to bring Wonder to school. This is different from many claims arising under IDEA, which are based around arguments that a FAPE was not provided. Now, when students allege discrimination not based on FAPE but under the ADA, they will not be required to go through the potentially cumbersome process of exhausting their administrative remedies.
Full Story: Amy Howe, Opinion Analysis: Court Outlines Boundaries Between Disabilities, Education Cases, SCOTUS blog, Feb. 22, 2017, available at
See also: Fry v. Napoleon Community School, 197 L. Ed.2d 46 (2017), available at:
2. High Discipline Rates for Students with Disabilities in DC Charters
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released the results of a study on discipline in District of Columbia charter schools. The study found that students with disabilities along with students of color were disciplined at disproportionately high rates. Specifically, students with disabilities made up 12 percent of the enrolled population in DC charter schools, but made up 28 percent of the students expelled, and 20 percent of the students suspended. The rate of discipline for students with disabilities was almost double the rate of discipline for students without disabilities.
When asked, charter school officials noted that they had severe difficulties managing the behavioral issues of some students with disabilities. One of the main issues is the difficulty school officials have had obtaining mental health resources. They also suggested their staffs needed further training on working with students with disabilities.
Full Story: United States Government Accountability Office, District Of Columbia Charter Schools Multi-Agency Plan Needed to Continue Progress Addressing High and Disproportionate Discipline Rates, Feb. 2017, available at
1. Detecting Autism Biomarkers in Blood
Researchers conducted a study on a new way to tell if a young child is on the autism spectrum. The method uses biomarkers in the child's blood from certain substances created by the metabolic processes of children that are on the autism spectrum. The researchers were able to identify children already diagnosed with autism with 97 percent accuracy. Despite this high percentage of accuracy, researchers point out that false positives are still possible.
Research such as this could be critical for future techniques to diagnose individuals on the autism spectrum and potentially treating symptoms. Researchers also urge parents that think their child might be on the autism spectrum to test earlier, as an earlier diagnosis could help with treatments that may be necessary.
Full Story: David Mills, Biomarkers in Blood May Help Detect Autism Earlier, Healthline, Mar. 16, 2017, available at
2. 21st Century Cures May Lower Evidence Standard for New Drugs and Devices
In December 2016, former President Barack Obama signed the 21st Century Cures Act, a bill that will allow investment into new therapies and provide funding to health research. The bill allocates $4.8 billion to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and $1 billion over two years for prevention and treatment of opioid addiction. The 21st Century Cures Act also has the potential to weaken the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) oversight.
One of the more prominent changes to the 21st Century Cures Act is to the lowering of the standard, now to include "real-world evidence," defined as "data regarding the usage, or the potential benefits or risk, of a drug derived from sources other than randomized clinical trials." Real-world evidence is considered a lower standard because it does not require randomized clinical trials. The Secretary of the FDA is now given greater discretion to accept or limit these forms of evidence. Given the long-term effects these regulation changes can have, it raises concern on the effects on new drugs and equipment.
Full Story: Deborah Mazer, Gregory Curfman, 21st Century Cures Act May Affect Future Drugs and Devices, Health Affairs Blog, Feb. 14, 2017, available at
1. Sign Language Translating Kiosks Increase Accessibility at Restaurants
Self-order kiosks are becoming more and more commonplace at restaurants. A new wrinkle to this type of technology, from manufacturer Juke Slot, includes the ability to set the language on the device to sign language. The new kiosk, called Oublié, features a virtual avatar, which translates customer's selections into sign language.
Kiosks in general provide a significant aid between the deaf community and the restaurant community. However, because many people who are deaf struggle to read above a third-grade level but can communicate in sign language, Juke Slot's ADA compliant software is a big step towards accessibility in restaurants for the deaf community. Members of the community hope the days of miscommunicated, handwritten orders are soon gone.
Full Story: Grace Vasa, Kiosk Translating in Sign Language Assist Deaf Customers and Help Restaurants Reduce Risk of ADA Lawsuits, Globe Newswire, Feb. 20, 2017, available at
2. Early Victory for Text to 911 Case in Arizona
Three Arizona residents, who are deaf, as well as the National Association for the Deaf (NAD) won an early victory in their case against state and local governments in which they seek implementation of text to 911 capabilities. On February 14, just over a year after the suit was filed, a judge in the Arizona District Court denied the defendants' motion to dismiss the case.
The suit alleges that the existing 911 services available to deaf individuals are inadequate. The options are to use either obsolete "text-telephone" devices (TTY devices), which most people who are deaf do not have, or use telecommunications relay services (TRS), which requires high-speed internet connections. This decision allows the plaintiffs to proceed in their attempt to establish that the law requires accessibility to 911 services -- through text to 911.
Full Story: National Association of the Deaf, Text to 911 Lawsuit Advances, Feb. 14, 2017, available at
F. EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS
1. Allergic Reactions Caused by Mishandling Food in Dining Halls
Students at Ithaca College in Cornell, New York, who have severe food allergies are asking the school to provide a safer eating environment for them. One student recently had a reaction to tree nuts and is requesting increased training requirements for staff in the dining halls to prevent mislabeled or mishandled food in the future. For individuals with food allergies mislabeled food can be life threatening. The school reports that it labels foods that contain the seven most common food allergens to help mitigate instances of allergic reactions from students.
A food allergy also is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, obligating colleges to make changes to their food services practices to accommodate students with food allergies.
Full Story: Mishandling of Dining Hall Food Causes Allergic Reactions, The Ithacan, Mar. 1, 2017, available at
See Also: Fare College Food Allergy Program, Pilot Guidelines for Managing Food Allergies in Higher Education (2015), available at
2. Deaf Community Involved in Emergency Preparedness
The Department of Emergency Management in Barbados is now partnering with the Barbados Counsel for the Disabled to include members of the disability community in national preparedness activities. The Department of Emergency Management is focusing on the deaf community because during tropical storm Matthew last fall, the Department of Emergency Management neglected to reach the deaf community for the two-day coverage of the storm.
During a recent public safety announcement, The Barbados Counsel for the Disabled operations manager addressed the heightened awareness around individuals with disabilities and the steps that will be taken moving forward to increase inclusivity.
Full Story: Disabled Community Being Included in National Preparedness Activities, The Barbados Advocate, Mar. 4, 2017, available at
1. Dating App to Include People with Disabilities
A new dating app, Glimmer, is trying to create an inclusive space for online dating, particularly for people with disabilities. The app is not exclusively for the disability community but provides options to disclose disabilities easily. It aims to connect people "based on similar interests and lifestyles," unlike mainstream dating apps. Glimmer wants people to feel comfortable talking about all areas of life and hopes to change the culture of online dating. Glimmer not only aims to connect people romantically but also provides an opportunity for people to create friendships based on a of variety of discovery settings. In just over a month, over 5,000 users have begun using Glimmer, and the number is growing. With the increasing positive feedback, Glimmer is working on outreach and making the app more accessible to more users, including people who are blind.
Full Story: Nicole Schnitzler, Dating App Glimmer Wants to Help Folks with Disabilities Find Love, Chicago Tribune, Feb. 14, 2017, available at
See also: Kitty Knowles, Love Your Disability: Glimmer Shines Bright in a Sea of Failed Dating Apps, The Memo, Feb. 8, 2017, available at
2. Self-Directed Care for People with Serious Mental Illnesses
People with serious mental illnesses (SMI), such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, are traditionally treated with medication and psychotherapy. While these treatments help subdue symptoms, they may not do enough for overall mental health and community participation. A new treatment approach, self-directed care (SDC), has been proposed as an alternative to traditional methods. The SDC program allows participants with SMI to request funding to receive nonmedical goods and services, through their provider, that they feel would help them accomplish personal wellness goals.
After participants met with a recovery coach to discuss and plan individual goals, participants submitted written requests outlining how the goods or services would aid in the accomplishment of their goals and the cost of what was requested. Once the request was processed and approved, a debit card was issued to purchase the desired items. Most requests involved purchases relating to fitness, transportation, self-care, and social life. Given the requested goods, participants may be able to take more control of their recovery without involving medicine, while improving their overall mental health. The SDC program may help expand the concept of "medical necessity" to include nontraditional methods that may help people with SMI lessen their need for medical treatments.
Full Story: Self-Directed Care May Help People with Serious Mental Illness Take an Active Role in Their Recovery, National Rehabilitation Information Center, Mar. 15, 2017, available at
1. China Releases New Education Regulations That are Not CRPD Compliant
China recently released new government regulations concerning education with the goal of achieving compliance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The Regulations of Education of Persons with Disabilities encourage mainstream education for children with disabilities, rather than placing them in a segregated classroom. However, critics of the regulations have said this does not go far enough in achieving the fully inclusive educational system envisioned by the CRPD.
For example, the regulations still allow schools to deny enrollment to children with significant disabilities without recourse from the students' parents. There is no way for parents to appeal the school's decision, even if they suspect it was because the child had a significant disability. In addition, the new regulations do not provide a mechanism through which students can seek reasonable accommodations either on tests or in the school building itself. Human Rights Watch recently noted its concerns that the regulations will be ultimately unsuccessful in creating an inclusive education system in China.
Full Story: China: New Rules for Students with Disabilities Inadequate, Human Rights Watch, Mar. 6, 2017, available at
2. People with Disabilities in Australia Establish Disability Services Review Website
Two Australian women, Jenna Moffat and Beecher Kelk, have recently started a website, called Clickability, where people with disabilities can review disability service providers . The founders compare it to TripAdvisor, where people review hotels and accommodations, but for disability support services. On Clickability people can leave reviews about social workers, aides, transport services, and other services for people with disabilities .
The founders hope that the site will create more competition between different disability service providers. The website now includes places to leave reviews for over 1,000 service providers in Australia, and it is quickly expanding. Moffat and Kelk are currently working on making the website accessible for all people with disabilities. Kelk explained one area posing difficulty is developing accessibility features for people with intellectual disabilities.
Full Story: Ariel Bogle, People with Disabilities Now Have Their Own Relevant Version of Yelp, Mashable, Mar. 6, 2017, available at
I. POP CULTURE
1. PBS Will Air Documentary on Autism
In April 2017, PBS will be showing "Spectrum: A Story of the Mind." It is a documentary that originally premiered during the International Day of Persons with Disabilities in 2015. The film seeks to portray autism in a sensory manner to the viewer, using live action and animation. Producer Jill Jones says of the film, "We explore worlds where lights, sounds, [and] colors affect behavior[,] hoping to educate and inspire empathy from neurotypical people."
Full Story: Shaun Heasley, PBS to Broadcast Autism Documentary, Disability Scoop, Mar. 10, 2017, available at
See also: Spectrum: A Story of the Mind, available at
2. New Guidebook to Walt Disney World for People with Disabilities
Amy Schinner, author of new guidebook "Mouse Ears for Everyone: A Guide to Walt Disney World for Guests with Special Needs," was inspired to write the book after numerous family vacations to Walt Disney World. Her son, Ben, lives with autism, so Schinner is familiar with finding the appropriate accommodations for their family.
Schinner was surprised that a guidebook like hers did not already exist. Originally, she wanted to focus just on guests who live with autism. However, because no other comprehensive guidebooks existed, Schinner spent four years writing to make the book inclusive of other disabilities.
Full Story: Eric Schwartzberg, West Chester Woman's Book Helps Special Needs Guests Navigate Disney, Journal-News, Mar. 5, 2017, available at
3. Disability Awareness Day in Vermont
Four hundred people attended Disability Awareness Day at the Vermont state capitol on March 2, 2017. The day was organized by the Vermont Coalition for Disability Rights. The goal of the event was to highlight issues that people with disabilities in Vermont face and some of the recent improvements in law, such as ABLE savings plans. Stephanie Woodward, from the Center for Disability Rights in Rochester, New York, gave the keynote speech. The message to lawmakers in Vermont and everywhere was "Break Barriers; Build Bridges."
Full Story: Hundreds Attend Disability Awareness Day, VT Digger, Mar. 10, 2017, available at
J. EVENTS AND FUNDING
Call for Papers and Proposals
Webinars and Conferences
No Right to Be Idle: The Invention of Disability, 1840s-1930s by Sarah F. Rose "shows how people with disabilities lost access to paid work and the status of "worker--a shift that relegated them and their families to poverty and second-class economic and social citizenship."
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, John Cronin, and Eddie Montesdeoca.
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