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
May 26, 2017
Volume 14, Issue 5
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 Arizona Law Requires Disability Rights Plaintiffs to Wait Before Bringing Lawsuits
The Arizona State Legislature voted in mid-April to approve a bill that affects the Arizonans with Disabilities Act. The Act mirrors the national Americans with Disabilities Act and gives plaintiffs with disabilities the right to sue in state court or bring a complaint at the Civil Rights Division of the Arizona Office of the Attorney General.
The new bill amends the Arizonans with Disabilities Act and requires that plaintiffs give business owners 30-days' notice to fix accessibility violations before bringing suit. If they need to do extensive work to become compliant, business owners potentially could have up to 90 days to take action and avoid a lawsuit. However, Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs noted, "This bill is taking civil rights away from people," as it will cause delays in making businesses accessible. The bill now passes on to the desk of the Arizona governor.
Full Story: Howard Fischer, Senate Approves Bill Giving Civil Rights Violators "Cure Period," Arizona Capitol Times, Apr. 17, 2017, available at
See Also: The Arizonans with Disabilities Act, available at
2. The Eleventh Circuit Holds Hospitals to High Standard in ASL Interpreting
The Eleventh Circuit held in early May that two plaintiffs who are deaf have standing to sue Baptist Hospital of Miami, Inc., South Miami Hospital, Inc., and Baptist Health South Florida, Inc., for failure to provide in-person American Sign Language interpreters under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This holding overruled the trial court's decision that the couple lacked standing to sue because they were unlikely to return to the hospital and that they failed to show any instances where communication difficulties resulted in "actual adverse medical consequences."
However, the Circuit Court found that the plaintiffs did have standing to sue the hospitals, noting that simply allowing people with disabilities to communicate in the most basic manner did not fulfill the requirements of the ADA. Rather, the question is whether the hospitals' failure to provide an in-person interpreter "impaired the patient's ability to exchange medically relevant information with hospital staff." Using a poor internet connection to stream in remote interpreters, rather than an in-person interpreter, could be considered a violation of the ADA if it was difficult for the patients to communicate with hospital staff.
Full Story: Katheryn Hayes Tucker, 11th Circuit Says Deaf Patients Can Sue Hospital Over Lack of Interpreters, Daily Report, May 10, 2017, available at
See Also: Court Allows Hospitals to Be Sued over Deaf Services, CBS Miami, May 9, 2017, available at
1. Combining the ABLE Act with Other Services to Increase Employment
The National Center on Leadership for the Employment and Economic Advancement of People with Disabilities (LEAD Center) developed a report to help people with disabilities understand the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act of 2014. The ABLE Act allows people with disabilities to save up to $100,000 without affecting their government-issued benefits.
The report, "The ABLE Act and Employment: Strategies for Maximizing the Effectiveness of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act as a Tool for Financial Stability and Employment Outcomes of People with Disabilities," explains various ways people with disabilities can use the ABLE Act to increase employment opportunities. For example, instead of limiting their income to maintain free insurance and services through Medicaid, people can save money in ABLE accounts and use it to pay for a Medicaid Buy-In Program that allows them to work more.
Full Story: The ABLE Act and Employment: Strategies for Maximizing the Effectiveness of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act as a Tool for Financial Stability and Employment Outcomes of People with Disabilities, LEAD Center, May 2017, available at
2. Controversy about Sheltered Workshops
Sheltered workshops -- companies and organizations that employ people with disabilities to do simple, repetitive work for less than minimum wage -- have operated for decades. But in 2014 the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) ruled that sheltered workshops must be integrated by 2019. CMS provides the funds to operate sheltered workshops.
Proponents of the ruling say that people with disabilities will live fuller lives by having the opportunity to work in integrated settings and that the exclusive settings of sheltered workshops are discriminatory. Those opposed to the change argue that sheltered workshops provide people with a safe place to work, especially for people who have medical needs. They also say that it will cost the government more money to provide the services people with disabilities will need to work in the community.
While this controversy continues, sheltered workshops are aiming to become integrated by July 1. One such program, Goodwill Industries of Southwestern Pennsylvania, has integrated its workplace by employing people from other groups that have trouble finding jobs, for example, people released from prisons. Although Goodwill pays some employees below minimum wage, it plans to pay all employees minimum wage by July 1.
Full Story: Kate Giammarise, Sheltered Workshops at a Crossroads, Disability Scoop, May 3, 2017, available at
3. Pilot Program Strives to Increase Employment of People with Disabilities in Boston
The National Organization on Disability teamed up with Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities and with the University of Massachusetts Medical School's Work Without Limits to create a pilot program to help college graduates with disabilities find employment. Dubbed Campus to Careers, the program will match graduates with local businesses so employers can find talented employees with disabilities.
Campus to Careers will work with several college graduates from about ten universities and seven employers. By providing the services students with disabilities need to connect with employers and training employers on inclusive policies, College to Careers hopes to identify which services are most effective for raising the employment rate of college graduates with disabilities. Once these are identified, the team hopes to recreate the program on a broader scale.
Full Story: Carol Glazer and Kathleen A. Petkauskos, How Boston Can Help America's College Grads with Disabilities Find Jobs, Huffpost, Apr. 18, 2017, available at
See Also: Boston Chosen for Innovative Pilot from NOD to Connect College Students with Disabilities to Professional Opportunities, National Organization on Disability, Apr. 18, 2017, available at
1. The American Health Care Act's Impact on Students with Disabilities
The American Health Care Act (ACHA), which will replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), recently passed the House of Representatives and cuts Medicaid by 25% ($880 billion). A hefty Medicaid cut is likely to be a feature of any healthcare plan put forward to replace the ACA. This is a cause for concern for disability education advocates and school superintendents across the nation. Medicaid funding is used by school districts to cover costs associated with special education services and equipment, including physical and speech therapists and vision/hearing screenings.
School districts receive an estimate of $4 billion from Medicaid, 70% of which is used to pay health care professionals who serve students with disabilities. The Save Medicaid in Schools Coalition, a subset of the School Superintendents Association, sent a letter to Congress explaining that the ACHA would force states to ration funds used for children with disabilities' healthcare and special education services. States would still be required to meet the minimum standards of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and these cuts would either seriously constrain their ability to do so or force them to make significant cuts elsewhere in education.
Full Story: Erica L. Green, A Little-Noticed Target in the House Health Bill: Special Education, N.Y. Times, May 3, 2017, available at
See Also: Press Release, School Superintendents Association, Save Medicaid in Schools Coalition Issues Statement Rejecting American Health Care Act, Apr. 28, 2017, available at
2. School Choice and its Hidden Costs
A growing number of parents of children with disabilities rely on voucher programs to send their children to private schools. These programs have been successful for many participants, but others have found flaws in them. The main concern is that once a student is enrolled in a private school, they are no longer covered by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The terms of the specific voucher program will determine which rights parents waive, including the rights to a free education, to a state-certified teacher, and to a hearing to dispute disciplinary action against a child.
One family, the Walkers, reported that they were charged an additional $2,400 in fees, which weren't covered by their voucher, after they enrolled their son in the Achievers Institute. Private schools do not have to prove that they have any sort of specialized program to meet the needs of students with disabilities. Further, the documents that parents sign when enrolling in these voucher programs may not clearly specify the rights being waived. Although many private schools claim to go above what IDEA requires, the lack of accountability as well as the covert nature of the waivers is what worries activists and families.
Full Story: Dana Goldstein, Special Ed School Vouchers May Come with Hidden Costs, N.Y. Times, Apr. 11, 2017, available at,
1. Impact of American Health Care Act on Healthcare
On May 4, the House of Representatives passed a new health care bill, the American Health Care Act. If passed in its present form by the Senate and signed by the President, it would impact individuals with pre-existing conditions, high-risk individuals, and individuals who rely on Medicaid. Pre-existing conditions that may not be covered include Alzheimer's, depression, bipolar disorder, and others. The bill also would allocate $8 billion over five years to states that apply for a waiver to help subsidize costs for individuals with pre-existing conditions.
The American Health Care Act also would require individuals who receive Medicaid to work unless they are disabled, pregnant, or elderly. The way Medicaid is financed would change, starting in 2020, to per capita financing rather than a matching program. After 2020, state Medicaid plans would no longer be required to provide emergency services, pregnancy and newborn care, prescription drugs, and pediatric services.
Full article: Gillian Mohney, How the New Trumpcare Bill Could Affect Health Care Consumers, ABC News, May 5, 2017, available at
See also: Nicole Chaves, Pre-existing conditions: Pregnancy, Sleep Apnea Could Make You Pay More, CNN, May 5, 2017, available at
2. Lack of Accessibility at Fitness Facilities
According to a recent study published in the Disability Health Journal, individuals with physical and mobility disabilities have limited opportunities to participate in physical activity due to barriers in the built environment, the lack of knowledge of fitness staff, and the costs associated with membership fees at recreation facilities. Previously, only a handful of studies examined the accessibility of fitness facilities for individuals with disabilities. The results of this latest study indicated that none of the facilities examined were fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Of the fitness facilities included in the study, the majority received a low accessibility score in all sections other than programs, parking, and water fountains. The study found similar results in both urban and suburban facilities, regardless of whether they were built after the passage of the ADA. Further research is needed to plan how to remove barriers in fitness facilities.
Full Story: James H. Rimmer, Sangeetha Padalabalanarayanan, Laurie Malone, Tapan Mehta, Fitness Facilities Still Lack Accessibility for People with Disabilities, Disability Health Journal, Apr. 2017, available at
1. Augmented Reality: Using Google Glass to Aid People with Visual Impairments
Candice Jordan lost her sight at the age of 21. Through Aira, a service used with Google Glass or smart phones, she has increased her independence substantially. Aira takes a video feed from the glasses or a smart phone camera and sends it to a human agent who describes the surroundings to the users and helps them navigate through it. Candice uses it for everything from reading menus to shopping to avoiding obstacles in the road on walks. Her favorite benefit of using Aira is saying, "No, I've got it, thanks," when people ask if she needs help. She says that previously going to stores would be a substantial hassle, because she would need to "market herself," -- act politely, wait for assistance, and slowly go through her list with whichever employee was assisting her. Being able to shop independently has been a major boon for Candice.
Other assistive technologies were highlighted, including a navigation aid for people with visual impairments that uses GPS enabled shoes; smart hearing aids that automatically control other devices, like locking users' houses when they get home; and QR codes that, when scanned, play an audio-file describing the product.
Full Story: Michelle Donahue, Augmented Ability: Assistive Tech Gets Smart, PCMag, May 9, 2017, available at
2. Smart Tech Plays Major Role in Schizophrenia Rehabilitation
Many people with schizophrenia, according to a 2014 survey, use technology to cope with symptoms and expect technology to become an even bigger part of their recovery in the future. A combination of phones, wearable technology, and smart home technology is envisioned by activist Dante Murray as a potentially holistic approach to predicting and preventing psychotic episodes.
Use of technology like Apple Watches and Fitbits, which link up to smart beds, can gather real time data about phone use, sleep, exercise, and more. Getting good approximations of sleep patterns and other habitual behavior can help inform people with schizophrenia about what activities are more likely to bring about episodes.
Other technologies are designed to quickly help people with schizophrenia cope with their symptoms throughout their day. An app called Focus, developed by Dr. Dror Ben-Zeev, the head of the Mobile Health for Mental Health program at the University of Washington, is one example. If a person hears voices predicting the future, Focus helps to ask those voices to predict something soon, such as what cars will pass next. When the predictions fail to come true, the app asks if the voices could be incorrect, which helps the user cope. Focus is still in clinical testing. However, Dr. Ben-Zeev hopes that combined use of "quick-fix" applications and the more long-view, data gathering technology discussed above, can significantly boost non-medicated treatment and independence for people with schizophrenia.
Full Story: David Priest, Meet Your Next Therapist: The Smart Home, CNET, Apr. 10, 2017, available at
1. Stairs: An Obstacle of the Past?
Masters students from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and Zurich University of the Arts are developing Scewo, a self-balancing wheelchair that can climb stairs. In addition, Scewo has a very tight turning radius, can raise people to reach items above them, and can stop on a dime.
Scewo has three gyroscopes that keep it balanced and tracks like a tank that allow it to climb stairs. The tracks also provide better traction on slippery surfaces. Scewo is in a prototype stage, but the team hopes to have it on the market by December 2018.
Full Story: Luke Dormehll, No Ramp? No Problem, for This Stair-Climbing Electric Wheelchair, Digital Trends, May 9, 2017, available at
See Also: Scewo, available at
2. Kansas Offers On-Demand Transportation
The Kansas City Area Transportation Authority partnered with Transdev, a private transportation company, to develop an on-demand transportation service geared towards people with disabilities, called RideKC Freedom On-Demand. People can use the RideKC Freedom On-Demand app or call to schedule rides on the day wanted.
This is different from most paratransit services offered in Kansas City. With those services, people had to schedule rides a day in advance and pay with cash. RideKC Freedom On-Demand accepts cash and credit cards, or people can pay with the app.
Full Story: Robert A. Cronkleton, Uber-Like Service Designed for Riders with Disabilities, Disability Scoop, May 2, 2017, available at
See Also: RideKC Freedom On-Demand, available at
1. North Korea Agrees to Visit by United Nations Disability Expert
In a historic move, North Korea agreed to allow Cataline Devandas-Agular, the disability expert from the United Nations Human Rights Council, to visit in early May. This is the first visit ever of an independent expert from the Council, as North Korea has never allowed any United Nations human rights investigators to visit the country.
Devandas-Agular will visit Pyongyang and the South Hwanghae Province and will focus on the treatment of children with disabilities in North Korea. North Korea ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2016. However Devandas-Angular stated that there have been concerns with North Korea implementation of the Convention. She plans to hold a press conference in Pyongyang after her visit and will then submit a report to the United Nations on her findings.
Full Story: North Korea Opens Door a Crack to Welcome U.N. Disability Expert, Reuters, Apr. 27, 2017, available at
2. Hungarian Institution for People with Disabilities to Close after Reports of Abuse
Tophaz Special Home, an institution for people with disabilities in Hungary, will be forced to shut down following a report released by the Mental Disabilities Advocacy Centre. The report revealed that the over 200 residents in the facility were kept in deplorable conditions, such as cages; were malnourished; and some had gaping open wounds.
After the report was released, Hungary's Ministry for Human Resources agreed to shut down the institution, however not immediately. Mental Disabilities Advocacy Centre cited the main problem as society's acceptance of placing people with disabilities in institutions rather than their own homes and encouraged the Hungarian government to immediately shut down the facility. A representative from the Hungarian government noted that it is a top priority to move people into community-based care and that the government would do so as soon as possible.
Full Story: Nick Thorpe, Hungary State Institution to Close over Shocking Conditions Report, BBC News, May 4, 2017, available at
I. POP CULTURE
1. Zappos Clothing for People with Disabilities
Zappos, an online store selling clothes and footwear, is developing a product line to cater to people with disabilities. The department, Zappos Adaptive, features clothing that is easy to put on and sensory-friendly. Some examples include clothes with removable tags for people with sensory disabilities, shoes designed for braces to fit in them, and elastic waist pants for people with fine motor impairments.
The company intends to expand Zappos Adaptive and welcomes feedback from customers.
Full Story: Shaun Heasley, Zappos Looks to Help Shoppers with Special Needs, Disability Scoop, May 1, 2017, available at
See Also: Zappos Adaptive | Functional and Fashionable Products to Make Life Easier, Zappos, available at
2. AMC Movies Improves Theater Experience for People with Visual Impairment
As a result of a settlement in Blanks et al. v. AMC Entertainment, Inc., et al., a class action suit started by Scott Blanks against AMC, the theater chain is improving its accommodations for patrons with visual disabilities. Blanks filed suit claiming that while AMC theaters provided audio-description devices, they often did not work, or AMC staff would provide him with devices that amplified sound, meant for people with hearing impairments.
AMC will be training its staff to use audio-description devices properly and test them regularly to ensure they are not malfunctioning. The company plans to make audio descriptions for all their pre-movie announcements and to get audio descriptions for as many previews as possible.
Full Story: Nicholas Iovino, AMC Movies Settles Class Action with the Blind, Courthouse News Service, Apr. 28, 2017, available at
See Also: Audio Description in AMC Theaters, Disability Rights Advocates, available at
J. EVENTS AND FUNDING
Call for Papers and Proposals
Webinars and Conferences
Scholarships and Grants
Marathon Wheeler: Living with Physical Disability by Heather S. Coombes is a memoir about "navigating life with a disability [cerebral palsy]." http://www.broadwayworld.com/bwwbooks/article/Memoir-Offers-Accurate-Look-at-Life-with-Disability-20170501
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 Kate Battoe, Catherine Ostrowski-Martin, Laura O'Brien, and John Cronin.
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