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
October 3, 2017
Volume 14, Issue 9
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 Paper Examines Land Use and Sidewalk Accessibility Under the ADA
The Americans with Disabilities Act covers many aspects of disability rights that affect the everyday lives of people with disabilities. One major element of the ADA is its regulations regarding sidewalks. A new paper, written by faculty and students at Syracuse University College of Law, presents the historical and modern state of the ADA's legal influence on sidewalks and answers important legal questions about the duties of local communities and governments under the ADA.
The paper examines several topics, including how different laws define "sidewalk," when performing sidewalk repairs will bring older sidewalks under the scope of the ADA, and how snow removal can affect accessibility. It also offers a summary of the currently available resources for businesses and governments to use in planning for accessible sidewalks.
Full Story: Robin Paul Malloy, Sarah Spencer and Shannon Christina Crane, Land Use Law and Sidewalk Requirements Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Real Property, Trust and Estate Law Journal, 51, pp. 403-429 (2017), available at
2. Social Security Disability Appeal Wait-Times Approach Highest Recorded
After appealing two denials for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, applicants now wait an average of 596 days before getting a judicial hearing. There is now a backlog of around 1.1 million cases waiting to be heard, an increase of 400,000 since 2010. This leaves people who cannot work because of a disabling condition highly vulnerable to bankruptcy while they wait for their appeal to be heard. Although retroactive benefits may be given if they win on appeal, that does little to help the negative long-term economic and social consequences that can occur during the waiting period, such as home foreclosure.
Although news reports and politicians often suggest that disability benefits are given out too easily, only around 36-percent of initial applications are approved. Following an initial application, the wait time for a decision is four months. After a rejection and appeal, there is another four-month waiting period for a decision. These first appeals have the lowest likelihood of success, around 13 percent nationally. An appeal from a second rejection has a waiting time anywhere from 11 to 26 months, if an appeal is granted at all. However, these appeals have the highest success rate, at around 62 percent. Some applicants are able to win after two denials because their conditions have deteriorated in the interim waiting period; others win because the two previous stages have uncovered detailed and complete medical records they did not have access to before.
The Social Security Agency had developed a plan to reduce wait time in 2015, which included hiring 250 additional administrative judges each year in 2016, 2017, and 2018. Although they hit their goal in 2016, they hired only 30 new judges in 2017 because of budget cuts and hiring freezes throughout the federal government.
Full Story: Kathleen Pender, Wait Time for Federal Disability Benefits Appeal Hits a Record, San Francisco Chronicle, Aug. 19, 2017, available at
See also: Social Security Disability, SSI Decisions -- What Is the Rate of Approval?, Social Security Disability SSI Resource Center, available at
1. EEOC Sues Golden Coral for Employment Discrimination
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit this month on behalf of Sean Fernandez, a former employee of Golden Coral who lives with autism. The suit alleges that the restaurant subjected Fernandez to a hostile work environment on the basis of his disability and his sex. The suit further asserts that Fernandez was forced to leave his job at the restaurant due to the hostile working conditions.
In its complaint, the EEOC details alleged harassment perpetrated against Fernandez by a superior. The complaint claims that Fernandez's superior repeatedly called him the r-word and referred to him as stupid. The complaint further alleges that Fernandez's supervisor pressured him for oral sex, threatened to sexually assault him, and initiated undesired physical contact with Fernandez. The suit details that Fernandez requested to be moved to another shift, but resigned when he continued to be sexually harassed by the same supervisor. The EEOC argues that in fostering such a work environment, Golden Coral violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Full Story: Press Release, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, EEOC Sues Golden Corral for Disability, Sexual Harassment and Discharge, Sept. 8, 2017, available at
2. National Disability Organization Recognizes Best Disability Employers
In September, the National Organization on Disability (NOD) announced the 2017 recipients of their Leading Disability Employment Seal. NOD celebrated winners at their annual disability employment event: Inclusion by Design. In its second year awarding the seal, NOD bestowed the distinction upon 45 different organizations including AT&T, JetBlue, and Hilton.
NOD established the honor to recognize those companies investing in the talent of people with disabilities and to encourage more organizations to foster an inclusive work environment moving forward. The companies honored this year were evaluated on a number of different factors using the Disability Employment Tracker, a program which NOD developed in partnership with the National Business and Disability Council. The Disability Employment Tracker is a free, confidential assessment tool that evaluates self-reported data from participating companies to determine their level of disability inclusion.
For those companies interested in participating in the 2018 cycle, the 2018 Disability Employment Tracker goes live on October 1, 2017.
Full Story: Press Release, National Organization on Disability, National Organization on Disability Announces Winners of 2017 Leading Disability Employer Seal, Sept. 12, 2017, available at
1. Study of Higher Education Aims to Increase University Enrollment of Students with Disabilities
Charles Sturt University in Australia has begun a study into why the enrollment of students with disabilities in universities is so low. As education is connected to higher status in the community and higher employment opportunities, this study may rebut the devaluing presumption that people with disabilities will not participate in higher education.
The study looks at the experiences of people with disabilities to identify why they have such low enrollment rates, and will determine what needs to be done to address this problem. The research will hopefully increase access and participation in higher education for people with disabilities and change the common belief that people with disabilities will not become university students.
Full Story: Sophie Boyd, Charles Sturt University Conducts Study in Regional Universities and People with Disabilities, The Border Mail, Sept. 13, 2017, available at
2. Secretary of Education DeVos Calls on Public Schools to Better Serve Children with Special Needs
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has called upon public schools to better serve the needs of children with disabilities. Following the Endrew Decision, in which the Supreme Court raised the standard for educating children with special needs, DeVos wants to reconfigure the school system, as it has not changed significantly since the early 1900s.
For children with special needs, DeVos believes parents should have the right to choose which schools meet their children's specific needs. Although DeVos is critical of the public school system and provided no guidance on how funding should be allocated or produced for educating children with special needs, she took note of concerns from the administration of a private autism center in Denver.
Full Story: Nic Garcia, Minimum Progress for Students with Disabilities "Preposterous," Betsy DeVos says in Denver, Chalkbeat, Sept. 13, 2017, available at
1. NIH Distributes Funds for Continued Autism Research
On September 7, 2017, the National Institute of Health (NIH) awarded nearly $100 million in research grants aimed at furthering Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) research. The NIH distributed the funds as part of the Autism Centers of Excellence Program, which supports substantial research endeavors increasing understanding of and developing intervention strategies for ASD. This distribution marks the third cycle of grants awarded as part of the Autism Centers of Excellence Program that was established in 2007.
In offering the grants, the NIH intends to build on strides autism research has made over the last ten years, and aims to promote innovation and multidisciplinary collaboration in the field of ASD research. The nine programs receiving this cycle's grants span the United States and include a number of research projects. For example, researchers at Yale University are analyzing the brains of newborns to identify early indicators of ASD, and George Washington University researchers are focusing their efforts on better understanding autism and gender in adolescence.
Full Story: Press Release, National Institute of Health NIH Awards Nearly $100 Million for Autism Centers of Excellence Program, Sept. 7, 2017, available at
2. SSA Fast Tracks Benefits for Applicants with Certain "Serious" Disabilities
Earlier this month, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Nancy A. Berryhil announced three additions to the Social Security Administration's list of Compassionate Allowances conditions. The SSA identified these newly approved conditions as vanishing white matter disease-infantile and childhood onset forms, congenital myotonic dystrophy, and Kleefstra syndrome. With these additions, the list of compassionate allowances conditions now encompasses a range of 228 different conditions.
According to the Social Security Administration, the Compassionate Allowances conditions distinction marks disabilities that clearly meet the SSA's standards to receive benefits. Often individuals with these conditions receive benefits directly following proof of diagnosis. The Compassionate Allowances conditions list allows those with especially severe health conditions to expediently receive the help they need. Berryhil noted that such a list speeds up the process across the board and enables the SSA to more efficiently provide people with disabilities with needed benefits.
Full Story: Press Release, Social Security Administration, Social Security Expedites Decisions to Those with Serious Disabilities Compassionate Allowances List Grows, Sept. 5, 2017, available at
1. Push Increases Internet Accessibility Under the ADA
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires all public accommodations to be accessible to people with disabilities. Although the ADA is not directly focused on concepts like cyberspace and the internet, there has been an increase in litigation within the last year and a half seeking to have websites held to the same standards as physical retail stores.
Although many businesses view the ADA as a mandate they are forced to comply with, Mark Lacek of auditing company Accessible360 characterizes accessibility as a positive goal all companies should have. More accessibility, he argues, means your company reaches more customers. Approaching web design through the idea of universal design should be the goal, Lacek argues. Universal design stresses the creation of environments or services that can be used by everyone, regardless of their ability level. It follows that the more universally accessible a website is, the better it is for all users. Not only does a lack of accessibility expose companies to potential ADA lawsuits, but it is also a poor business choice in an increasingly online world.
Full Story: Eillie Anzilotti, The Internet Is the Next Frontier in Making the World Accessible to All, Fast Company, Sept. 14, 2017, available at
See Also: Edward Steinfeld and Jordana Maisel, What Is UD? Universal Design, 2012, available at
2. Technology Offers Personalized Shopping Experience for People with Disabilities
The Beam Smart Presence System, an app developed by clothing retailer American Eagle Outfitters and tech company Suitable Technologies, will allow those who are unable to travel to a physical store to access the retail experience offered by brick-and-mortar stores. The app controls a tablet on wheels located in the store, which the Beam user guides around from a remote location, accompanied by a sales clerk. The user can ask questions about clothing and get recommendations from the staff, who can show clothing to the user in real time.
American Eagle project manager Matt Nichelson envisions many uses for this kind of technology, including internal use by the retailer for things like checking in on remote retail locations in areas like Alaska. There is not currently a timeframe for the app to be commercially released.
Full Story: Stephanie Rittenbaugh, Shoppers with Disabilities May Soon "Beam" into Stores, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Disability Scoop, Sept. 5, 2017, available at
1. Latino Disability Summit and Resource Fair Breaks Down Traditional Disability Stigma
The second annual Latino Disability Summit and Resource Fair was held on September 16 in Phoenix, Arizona, at Ability360, an accessible facility aimed at promoting independence for individuals with disabilities. The event began last year as a way to break the stigma that is commonly associated with disability in the Latino community. Traditional Latino belief holds that disability is a punishment from God. The Latino Disability Summit and Resource Fair was an opportunity to bring the Latino disability community together and provide them with support and resources.
Over 70 organizations attended to display their resource options to the families that may need them. Many of the resources available were unknown to the patrons of the event, and there are even more options that were not present. A patron applauded the event for not only connecting people to the resources they need, but also changing the way the disability community is perceived. The event hopes to gain momentum in the years to come by including more organizations and catching more attendees to increase awareness in the community.
Full Story: Alexis Egeland, Latino Disability Summit Bridges Cultural Divide, azcentral, Sept. 16, 2017, available at
See Also: Disability Summit & Resource Fair, Ability360, available at
2. The Justice System Is Not Just Without the Access to and Participation From the Disability Community
According to disability rights lawyer Dev Datta Joshi, access to justice for individuals with disabilities is a worldwide problem. Along with physical barriers, such as inaccessible courtrooms and communication barriers, individuals with disabilities are faced with numerous other legal barriers, like standing, guardianship, and inadequate procedural accommodations. The legal system has a tendency to either coddle or forget the disability community when they should be assuring them that they have equal access to the courts.
Without the involvement of the disability community in the justice system, justice cannot fully be achieved. To facilitate an accessible justice process, people with disabilities need to be involved to provide guidance in the legal profession and in the courtrooms. Every aspect of the justice system needs to have people with disabilities involved if it truly is to provide access to justice for all.
Full Story: Dev Datta Joshi, People with Disabilities: Access to Justice, The Himalayan Times, Sept. 11, 2017, available at
1. Accessibility Project in Nepal First of Its Kind
As the beginning of a planned three-year-long post-earthquake reconstruction program, called Accessibility for Inclusion, Nepal is embarking on its first ever, government sponsored, accessibility project. The accessibility campaign began in Nepal, starting with access audits of Ratnapark, a known public park, and Siddha Pokhari, a historical pond. People with all degrees of ability and technical experts collaborated with stakeholders to identify places that need improved accessibility.
Following this initial effort, 150 public places are scheduled for access audits, including public transportation, schools, malls, temples, and government buildings. The agencies involved have assured the public that they will amend the determined accessibility issues in their public spaces.
Full Story: Krishna Gahatraj, First Access Audit Campaign in Kathmandu Aimed to Promote Accessibility as Prerequisite for Persons with Disabilities, Disabled World, Sept. 7, 2017, available at
2. Model Gives Mobility Disability Its Debut at Fashion Week
Rachel Romu, former University of Toronto track and field athlete, just put mobility disabilities in the spotlight at Toronto Fashion Week (September 5, 6 and 7). As a model who walks with a cane, Romu has been working to bring positive images of disability to the forefront of media and pop culture.
After being diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a connective tissue disorder, Romu had begun modeling to boost her self-esteem. Now, her goal is to make disability a common place appearance on runways. She wants "to bring disabled visibility into people's living rooms."
Although she admits this can be a challenge, as she has had a job canceled because she uses a cane, she continues to pursue her mission.
Full Story: Davis Hains, Moel Brings "Disabled Visibility" to Toronto Fashion Week, Metro, Sept. 10, 2017, available at
See Also: Mursal Rahman, Lack of Diversity at Toronto Fashion Week a Concern, Toronto Observer, Sept. 27, 2017, available at
I. POP CULTURE
1. ABC Premieres Another Series about a Person with a Disability
ABC, which premiered Speechless last fall, announced the debut of another program featuring a character with a disability. The Good Doctor focuses on Dr. Shaun Murphy, a gifted surgeon who has autism. Although Murphy has the support of the president of St. Bonaventure Hospital, he must prove himself to his co-workers and patients.
The show aims to depict how Murphey sees the world. In one scene, pictures and text appear on the screen while he treats a boy. Producer David Shore says the show uses these tools to help viewers understand how Murphy perceives situations.
The Good Doctor debuted on September 25. ABC10 talked with specialists Marjorie Solomon, Megan Tudor, and Cory Coleman from the UC Davis MIND Institute, which studies neurodevelopmental disorders. Coleman was diagnosed with autism as an adult, and he recognized himself in the show. Dr. Solomon commented that most people who have Murphy's intellectual abilities also have learned more social skills, and Dr. Tutor wants audiences to understand that most people with autism are not as independent and functional as Murphy. Despite their criticism, the specialists agree that The Good Doctor portrays many characteristics of autism very well.
Full Story: Shaun Heasley, Autism Drama Set to Debut on ABC, Disability Scoop, Jul. 25, 2017, available at
See Also: Ileane Rudolph, Freddie Highmore Assumes "The Good Doctor": "It's Nice to Be Saving People after Years of Killing Them," TV Insider, Sept. 5, 2017, available at
See Also: Irene Cruz, The Good Doctor: How Accurate Is New Show about Autism? ABC10, Sept. 25, 2017, available at
2. First Comic Book to Feature a Character with Down Syndrome
Associate professor of communication Sheena Howard of Rider University teamed up with Marvel writer David F. Walker to write a comic book, Superb,for the Lion Forge comic Catalyst Prime series. The book centers around Jonah, a super hero with super strength, telekinesis, and telepathy, who has Down Syndrome. The authors worked closely with the National Down Syndrome Society to write an accurate representation of a person with Down Syndrome.
However, disability is not the book's sole focus, according to Howard. For her, it is a coming-of-age story that focuses on many differences. Jonah's mother died and he cares for his depressed father. The parents of his best friend, Kayla, work late hours and spend little time with her. The two friends deal with their unique struggles while becoming super heroes.
Full Story: Paige Ewing, Professor Breaks Barriers in the Comic Book World, The Rider News,
Sept. 5, 2017, available at
See Also: Sheena Howard and David F. Walker, Superb, Read Comic Books Online, 2017, available at
J. EVENTS AND FUNDING
Call for Papers and Proposals
Webinars and Conferences
Down's Syndrome Screening and Reproductive Politics: Care, Choice, and Disability in the Prenatal Clinic by Gareth M. Thomas analyzes prenatal screening for Down Syndrome from varying perspectives.
Staying in Life: Paving the Way to Dementia-Friendly Communities by Verena Rothe, Gabriele Kreutzner, and Reimer Gronemeyer, explores how society could develop environments that help people with dementia continue to live their lives in the community, rather than nursing homes.
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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