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
August 31, 2017
Volume 14, Issue 8
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. Lawsuit Challenges Disability Discrimination in Louisiana's St. Bernard Parish
In 2015 and 2016, Dionna Richardson and Cathy Moore converted houses, located in the parish of St. Bernard, into group homes for children with disabilities. At that time, no group homes were located in the parish, and children with disabilities would need to either leave their community to enter nursing homes or move out of the parish to find the care they needed. However, as a recently filed lawsuit alleges, St. Bernard Parish prevented any children with disabilities from moving into the newly converted homes and amended its zoning code to ban group homes for people with disabilities in the low density residential neighborhoods where the houses were located.
The lawsuit, brought by Richardson and Moore, alleges that the ban on group homes violates not only the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act but also the Fair Housing Act and state law on the basis of disability. The suit seeks an injunction to allow the homes to open immediately.
Full Story: Della Hasselle, St. Bernard Faces Lawsuit over "Deliberately" Barring of Homes for Disabled Children, The New Orleans Advocate, Aug. 6, 2017, available at
2. Dismissal of ADA Case Provides Warning for People with Disabilities under Trump
After surgery for a heart condition and temporary leave from work, Emily Hall was no longer able to perform her job as a deputy for the Richmond, Virginia, Sheriff's Department. The department told her she could apply for a less strenuous job, but after applying Hall did not get that position. Hall, initially joined by the U.S Department of Justice (DOJ), sued the Sheriff's Department. When Hall lost the case at the district court level, the DOJ joined Hall in appealing the decision to the Fourth Circuit. However, on July 28, the DOJ moved to dismiss its own appeal, which the court granted.
Former DOJ employees have since come forward to criticize this decision. Although Lauren Ehrsam, a DOJ spokesperson, issued a statement that the department was committed to enforcing the ADA, Sam Bagenstos, who worked in the Civil Rights Division during the Obama administration, said that the DOJ's withdrawal was indicative of a decision in the administration to "slow down" their enforcement of the ADA. However, certain business groups, such as the National Federation of Independent Businesses, have expressed appreciation for the decision.
Full Story: Betsy Woodruff, Is This an "Ominous" Message for the Disabled under Trump? Daily Beast, Aug. 8, 2017, available at
1. Individuals with Disabilities Being Paid Below Minimum Wage
According to a provision in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employers who apply to the Department of Labor for a waiver can pay lower wages to people with disabilities. The intention was to prevent loss of employment opportunities where otherwise an employer might overlook an individual with disabilities in the hiring process. In 2014, President Obama included individuals with disabilities in his executive order to raise minimum wage for individuals working on federal service contracts. Unfortunately, this excludes individuals who work in factorylike jobs.
Advocates against the subminimum wage say that a subminimum wage creates a perception that individuals with disabilities cannot hold down a job, or compete with individuals who do not have a disability. Disability advocates state the subminimum wage goes against the intentions of the ADA. Others, like Goodwill CEO Jim Gibbons, believe the subminimum wage allows sheltered workshops to provide jobs to people with severe disabilities, people who he thinks could not otherwise find employment.
Some states have abolished the ability for employers to pay below minimum wage even when applying the waiver. The National Council on Disability has proposed schools implement curricula for individuals with disabilities that promote a future in fields other than subminimum wage jobs. The belief is that if individuals are encouraged at a young age to pursue higher goals and are provided with the resources to achieve those goals, they can achieve those goals.
Full Story: Ashley Dejean, Many People with Disabilities Are Being Paid Way Below the Minimum Wage, and It's Perfectly Legal, Mother Jones, Aug. 8, 2017, available at
See Also: Subminimum Wage, United States Department of Labor, available at
2. Workplace Inclusion for Individuals with Disabilities
Jim Strickland, a life skills teacher and volunteer member of the Committee for Creating and Sustaining Opportunities for People with Disabilities, helped start an inclusive workplace program in Everett, Washington, to provide jobs for individuals with disabilities. Nearly 30 employers participate in the Inclusive Workplace Partners Program. Employees are matched with a local business that offer jobs or training for individuals with disabilities.
Employers that participate in the Inclusive Workplace Partners Program receive a certificate from the mayor and a sticker to put in the window of their workplace so customers are aware of their involvement in the program. The program aims to give individuals with disabilities a place to work or provide training they need to enter the workforce. For instance, prior to working, one student was uncomfortable answering questions from customers, but through the program he developed this skill.
Strickland hopes the success of this program will cause the program to expand into other cities.
Full Story: Kari Bray, Program in Marysville Finds Jobs for People with Disabilities, HeraldNet, Aug. 10, 2017, available at
See Also: Inclusive Workplace Partners Program, The City of Marysville, Washington, available at
1. N. Y. City Education Department Accused of Failing to Provide Necessary Services
Letitia James, the New York City public advocate, recently released a report showing that nearly half of all vouchers issued by the New York City Public School System went unused. When a school cannot provide a required service to a student with a disability, it is required to issue a voucher for repayment to the family of the student, who must then find the service on their own. James' report suggested that a significant portion of students with disabilities were not receiving the services to which they were legally entitled. Now a lawsuit has been filed by two students with disabilities, their mothers, and a Bronx nonprofit, which alleges that the New York City Education Department has failed to provide a free appropriate public education, which is required by federal law.
The lawsuit alleges that the issue is worst in the Bronx, where some districts saw as much as 90% of vouchers go unused. The Bronx has the highest poverty rate of the city's five boroughs. The main allegation of the lawsuit is that by putting the burden of obtaining services on the family and never checking up to ensure that services, like speech therapy and counseling, are being received by the student, the city is violating several federal laws, including the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Kate Taylor, City Violates Disabled Students' Rights, Suit Claims, N.Y. Times, Jul. 27, 2017, available at
2. Virginia Education Forum Held to Discuss Disparate Discipline Rates
One of the biggest issues at a recent education forum, held August 12 in Richmond, Virginia, was the punishment rates for African American students with disabilities. Within the past year, the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) cited several school districts in Virginia for suspending African American students with disabilities at a disproportionately high rate. For instance, the Legal Aid Justice Center and American Civil Liberties Union submitted statistics to the federal Office for Civil Rights showing that African American students with disabilities were almost 13 times more likely to receive short term suspensions than white students without disabilities.
The VDOE also cited Richmond specifically for mischaracterizing African American students with disabilities as having an "other health impairment," as opposed to having a disability, which limits the services the students would be legally entitled to. In April, a federal civil rights investigation into Richmond Public Schools was announced following complaints about the disparate discipline rates being reported.
The forum was hosted by the new education task force that Virginia founded in April, after these concerns and investigations started mounting. At the forum, parents and guest speakers talked about the need to reform how discipline is administered in schools, as well as the need for better training for school officials. The goals of the forum were to educate parents and empower them with information on how to ensure their children are treated in an appropriate manner.
Full Story: Vanessa Remmers, Parents' Concerns over Discipline Disparities at Forefront of Education Forum, Richmond-Times Dispatch, Aug. 12, 2017, available at
1. Reduced Costs for Supplemental Security Income under Medicaid Expansion
Researchers at Indiana University and Cornell University found expanded Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act may result in federal and state savings. They suggest that budget cuts to Medicaid spending may increase costs in Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs.
The study focused on the financial effects of individuals receiving expanded benefits of Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act. The expanded Medicaid benefits are available to most adults, do not require people to have a disability or low income, and are comparable to the healthcare benefits people on SSI receive. As a result, there has been a decrease in people relying on SSI programs, which provide monthly stipends as well as healthcare benefits. This caused an increase in savings at federal and state levels, which is attributed to the government only covering healthcare costs, and not disbursing cash benefits.
Full Story: Jim Hanchett, Medicaid Expansion under Obamacare Can Reduce Government Costs for Supplemental Security Income, Indiana Daily News, Aug. 7, 2017, available at
See Also: Study of ACA Impact on Health Behaviors, Research IU Bloomington, Jan. 26, 2017, available at
2. Senate Passed Bill Allowing Over-the-Counter Sales of Hearing Aids
On August 18, the Senate passed a bill with overwhelming bipartisan support allowing individuals to purchase hearing aids without a prescription in an attempt to make hearing aids more accessible to those who need them. The average cost for one hearing aid is $2,300, and they are not covered by Medicare or many insurance companies. As a result, many individuals who need hearing aids do not have them.
Currently, the only way for an individual to buy a hearing aid is through a certified audiologist, which drives the price up. The shift in accessibility may also open up opportunities for technology companies, like Apple, to develop less expensive hearing assistance technology. The bill has been met favorably by the Hearing Loss Association of America, stating that they are pleased with the alternative, accessible option for individuals with mild to moderate hearing loss. Conversely, the world's top six hearing aid manufacturers opposed the bill.
Full Story: Synclaire Cruel, Senate Approves Bill that Would Allow Over-the-Counter Sale of Hearing Aids, PBS Newshour, Aug. 4, 2017, available at
1. New Cochlear Implant Uses Smartphones to Help People with Hearing Disabilities
A new cochlear implant, the Nucleus 7 Sound Processor, will be released in September. The implant works like many other cochlear implants; it is surgically embedded and bypasses the ear to transmit sound directly to the auditory nerve. The Nucleus 7 differs, however, in that it is controlled by an app on the user's smartphone. The app's interface allows users to tailor the hearing level to their surroundings more accurately than traditional cochlear implants, and in a less intrusive fashion.
Mathias Bahnmueller, an early tester of Nucleus 7, has Meniere's disease, which causes vertigo, tinnitus, and hearing loss. Bahnmueller has reported significant improvements in both workplace and home interactions, including being able to listen to his daughter practice the violin.
Full Story: Abrar Al-Heeti, This Implant Beams Sound Directly to Your Brain from an iPhone, CNet, Jul. 26, 2017, available at
2. Automated Homes Help People with Disabilities, But at High Costs
Although initially developed by engineers to recreate sci-fi fantasies, smart homes in modern times are important tools for increasing agency and accessibility for elderly people and people with disabilities. Modern smart homes are capable of exhibiting many accessible features, including automated doors and lighting, air conditioning, and heating controlled by smartphones; tables and counter-tops that can be raised or lowered; and wider halls, bathrooms, and showers. As may be expected, houses with features such as these cost as much as $500,000, although the cost has been going down as the technology becomes more commonplace.
Several organizations are working to help with the costs. One such organization, the Stephen Siller Tunnels to Towers Foundation, has spent the last few years building mortgage-free smart homes for American veterans with disabilities. Founded in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Tunnels to Towers has built 36 smart homes across the United States, which house veterans with disabilities.
Full Story: Harold Stark, Empowering Disabled Homeowners with Automated Homes, Forbes, Aug. 10, 2017, available at
1. Pilot Program at Sheraton Hotel Making Travel Easier for Families with Autism
Seventeen-year-old Alexander Behura proposed a program to airlines, cruise ships, hotels, and government officials after seeing the difficulties of traveling the world with his parents and younger brother with autism. After being turned down or not replied to for months, Ian Gee, the General Manager of the Sheraton Park Hotel near Disneyland, invited Alexander to make a presentation to the managers of the Sheraton Park. After a successful presentation, the hotel worked with Alexander to create a more accessible and inclusive hotel experience for families with special needs.
Now the Sheraton Park Hotel surveys guests for their accommodation needs and has them ready when they arrive. The hotel also offers free tablets; weighted vests, which produce a calming effect by simulating a hug or squeeze; and exercise balls at the front desk. The gift shop is now supplied with necessities such as adult diapers, swim diapers, and floaties, in addition to oversized stroller rentals and specialized sitting services available at the hotel. The hotel now offers inclusive food options as well, including gluten- and casein-free options, and adaptive dishes and utensils. If the program, named the Member of Autism Care Services, MAX for short, is successful, the Sheraton's parent company, Marriott, may provide it in more hotels across the country.
Full Story: Joseph Pimentel, This Teen Inspired a Major Anaheim Hotel to Make Stays a Little Easier for Those with Autism, The Orange County Register, Aug. 14, 2017, available at
2. New Program Promotes Independence and Jobs for Teens with Visual Impairments
Blind Industries and Services of Maryland has created a new program for their Eastern Shore Division focused on using technology to help teens with visual impairments live independently and enter the job market. The Gaining Leadership, Independence, Direction and Experience (GLIDE) workshop shows teens how to be resourceful and use alternative skills to perform tasks like using a computer or tablet and identifying currency.
The program is designed to help these teens break down barriers in the job market and show employers that they are prepared to take on a variety of jobs. Additionally, the instructors say these skills not only help with finding jobs, but also living successful independent lives.
Full Story: Lissette Nunez, Blind Industries Helps Visually Impaired Teens Become Independent, WMDT News Aug. 9, 2017, available at
See Also: BISM Youth Services, Blind Industries and Services of Maryland, 2017, available at
1. App Allows People with Visual Impairments to Hear Books in India
Research scholars from Carnegie Mellon University and disability experts and officials from ITT Delhi have created a first-of-its-kind Android app to make books available for individuals who are visually impaired in India. The app, Hear2Read, is an open source text-to-speech software that provides books in local languages.
Homiyar Mobedji, a disability expert, has made textbooks for people with visual impairments using the app. Currently, the app provides audio books in six regional Indian languages: Gujarati, Kannada, Marathi, Punjabi, Tamil and Telugu. The app's creators have been awarded the Mphasis Universal Design Award that recognizes work toward improving the lives of individuals with disabilities.
Full Story: App Lets Visually Impaired Hear Books in Local Language, Outlook, Aug. 6, 2017, available at
2. Rehabilitation Services in Tajikistan Improving Inclusion
Following a polio outbreak in 2010, several hundred Tajik people developed impairments and are now in need of long-term rehabilitation care. Individuals with disabilities and people with noncommunicable diseases make up the largest groups in need of rehabilitation services. Disabilities associated with noncommunicable diseases include, for instance, amputation, blindness, and paralysis.
The World Health Organization (WHO), which promotes inclusion of individuals with disabilities, set up a rehabilitation program in 2013 to help individuals affected by polio. The WHO then helped the Government of Tajikistan develop the National Programme on Rehabilitation of Persons with Disabilities and will help run it from 2017 to 2020. The program focuses on individuals with long-term impairments and with functional difficulties. Its goals are to promote inclusion of individuals with disabilities, accessibility, and high-quality services for individuals with disabilities in Tajikistan.
Full Story: Breaking the Link Between Disability and Exclusion in Tajikistan, World Health Organization, Aug. 7, 2017, available at
I. POP CULTURE
1. Disability Activists Comment on Game of Thrones
HBO's series Game of Thrones portrays characters with many types of disabilities, such as blindness, paralysis, and intellectual disability. Rebecca Dinklage, National Council on Disability's executive director and a little person, praises the show for changing people's perception about disabilities.
One of the show's main characters, Tyrion Lannister, is a little person who is very powerful and has a complex personality. Despite his power, Lannister does not escape being persecuted because of his disability and one episode has a king mock him by putting on a vulgar play cast entirely with little people. Dinklage says she has never seen her life depicted so well.
David Perry, a disability rights activist with a Ph.D. in medieval history, is also a fan, but he takes issue with some of the ways Game of Thrones uses disability as a storytelling device. For example, Lannister's brother, Jaime, loses his hand and learns to fight with his other hand far too quickly. Although Perry finds parts of the show lacking, he says it is historically accurate that a society without modern medicine would have people with varying disabilities and admires how the show explores this.
Full Story: Neda Ulaby, "Game of Thrones" Finds Fans among Disability Rights Activists, Too, National Public Radio, Jul. 10, 2017, available at
2. Off-Broadway Musical Raises Disability Awareness
A new family-friendly musical, Addy & Uno, features five puppets, each of whom has a different disability. For example, Melody is visually impaired and her walking stick doubles as a microphone, a sword, and a wand. Addy & Uno emphasizes each puppet's ability while telling a story about protecting themselves from bullies and forming friendships.
Based on the research of Nava R. Silton, a developmental psychologist and creator Addy & Uno, the musical shows children that their peers with disabilities have unique abilities and gives children with varying disabilities a chance to see themselves in a positive light. Silton hopes Addy & Uno will inspire children to interact more with their peers with disabilities and help children with disabilities to focus on their abilities, rather than their disabilities.
Addy & Uno is playing August 28 through September 24 at The Theater at 14th Street Y in New York City.
Full Story: BroadwayWorldJR, Family Musical about Disability Addy & Uno Coming to the Theater at 14th Street Y, BroadwayWorld, Jul. 26, 2017, available at
J. EVENTS AND FUNDING
Call for Papers and Proposals
Webinars and Conferences
Expanding the Circle: Respecting the Past, Preparing for the Future (2nd ed) by Jean Echtermacht and Jana Hallas is a curriculum developed for American Indian high school students with disabilities.
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, Christina Kalebic, John Cronin, and Laura O'Brien .
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