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
December 1, 2017
Volume 14, Issue 11
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 Federal Data Shows Decrease in Disability-Related Hate Crimes
There has been a rise in hate crimes in recent years, but the FBI reports a drop in disability-related hate crimes. The FBI stated in a press release that there were 76 hate crime offenses related to disability reported in 2016, which is a decline from 88 the previous year.
The figures released last month come from the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program. While disability-related incidents fell, the agency's report shows that the overall number of hate crimes rose, with 6,121 incidents reported last year. This year's data indicates that 1.2 percent of hate crimes were related to disability. Of the offenses reported, 47 targeted those with mental disabilities, while 29 related to physical disabilities.
The FBI figures are based on reports from over 15,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide.
Full Story: Michelle Diament, FBI Reports Drop In Disability-Related Hate Crimes, Disability Scoop, Nov. 14, 2017, available at
2. Iowa School Sued for Misusing Disciplinary Tactics
Disability Rights Iowa, a nonprofit law center, and Children's Rights, a national watchdog group, filed a lawsuit against Iowa's Boys State Training School for misusing psychotropic drugs and other tactics to subdue students. The facility is a state-run school for juvenile offenders. The suit focuses on three students with mental illness, but the advocacy groups hope to make it a class-action suit.
The school houses around 130 teenage boys, most of whom have mental illnesses, and offers education and other programs to help the boys reenter society. During its investigation, Disability Rights Iowa discovered that the school was using disciplinary tactics such as solitary confinement and physical restraints in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act for transgressions such as talking in the showers and arguing with other students. They also allege the school's staff gave boys medication to subdue them without the consent of their parents.
Full Story: Robin Bull, Iowa's Boys State Training School Accused Failing to Provide Adequate Mental Health Care, USA Herald, Nov. 28, 2017, available at
See Also: WQAD Digital Team, Lawsuit: Iowa School for Juvenile Offenders Misusing Drugs, WQAD, Nov. 27, 2017, available at
See Also: Pat Curtis, Report Critical of Methods Used at Boys State Training School in Eldora, Radio Iowa, Aug. 8, 2017, available at
1. Research Looks at Disability and Employment from a New Angle
A new study released by the University of New Hampshire Institute on Disability on behalf of the Kessler Foundation centers on the feedback of supervisors who manage employees both with and without disabilities. The survey, believed to be the first of its kind, asked management to divulge details about the effectiveness of recruitment, training, and retention strategies in successfully employing people with disabilities. Over 3,000 supervisors representing the private sector, nonprofit organizations, and government work offered their input and experiences.
Findings revealed that the practices deemed most conducive to fostering the employment of people with disabilities were also the most underutilized. For example, the companies that relied on job coaches and training programs to ensure complete integration of people with disabilities ranked the practice as highly effective. However, on the whole, only one in five companies reported taking advantage of such strategies. President and CEO of the Kessler Foundation, Rodger DeRose, hopes that this telling research will encourage companies to further engage in inclusive employment. The report detailing the findings of the project can be found here:
Full Story: Shaun Heasley, Survey Reveals Gaps in Supporting Employees with Disabilities, Disability Scoop, Nov. 7, 2017, available at
2. New App Designed for Helping Young Pennsylvanians with Disabilities Enter the Workforce
A new app released jointly by the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania and Governor Tom Wolf's administration aims to give students with disabilities the boost they need to transition from high school to the workforce or postsecondary education following graduation. The free app called PA Planning for the Future Checklist targets students ages 14 to 21 in efforts to ensure that this vulnerable demographic is prepared for independent living.
David DeNotaris, executive director for the state Department of Labor & Industry's Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, is proud of the strides Pennsylvania continues to make in disability employment. He specifically referenced the 13,200 Pennsylvanians with disabilities who entered the workforce last year, the highest figure of any of the 50 states. Despite the progress, DeNotaris recognizes that there is still much work to be done.
The app provides supports to students with disabilities on multiple fronts, and as the name suggests, it does so via customizable checklists. With helpful information about everything from PSAT testing to job shadowing to Medicaid services, this app serves as a one stop shop for young Pennsylvanians with disabilities trying to plan their futures. For those interested, the app can be found here: https://uwswpa.org/download-pa-planning-for-the-future-checklist/
Full Story: Natasha Lindstrom, App Aims to Get Students with Disabilities on "Trajectory for Independent Living," TribLIVE.com Nov. 8, 2017, available at
1. Federal Judge Rules Cuffing of Students by School Officer Unconstitutional
On October 11, 2017, the District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky Northern Division at Covington ruled that using handcuffs to restrain children in schools violated their Fourth Amendment rights. In 2015, two young students with disabilities had their arms cuffed above their elbows, behind their backs, as a punishment for behaviors associated with their disabilities. Although the school district has specific policies prohibiting the use of handcuffs on students, the officer proceeded to cuff the children on three separate occasions.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit on behalf of the children. Following the suit, the Department of Justice launched a federal investigation into the school district's disciplinary procedures. The judge held that the actions of the small children could not be considered a serious physical threat and ruled that the county is liable for the actions of the officer. A trial will be held to determine damages.
Full Story: Court Finds Kenton County Sheriff's Department Liable for Damages, ACLU, Oct. 13, 2017, available at
See Also: Moriah Balingit, "Excessive Force": Judge Rules in Favor of Children Who Were Handcuffed at School, Oct. 17, 2017, The Washington Post, available at
2. Early-Childhood Education Yields Higher Graduation Rates, Lower Special Education Needs
A recent study performed by the American Educational Research Association has shown that students who have access to early-childhood education programs have higher rates of high school graduation and lower rates of special education placement and being held back. The study analyzed 22 experiments performed between 1960 and 2016 that offered programs to children from birth to age five.
The study suggests that putting more focus and funding into early-childhood programs would significantly benefit children, particularly in the future. The longterm benefits include good health, lower rates of incarceration, and higher pay, which balance the initial expenses. While some are concerned about "fadeout," where students no longer experience the benefits of these programs past completion, this study shows that the benefits are seen throughout adolescence.
Full Story: Kevin Mahnken, Early Education Is a Game Changer: New Report Shows That Reaching Infants and Toddlers Reduces Special Education Placement, Leads to Soaring Graduation Rates, Nov. 16, 2017, The 74, available at
1. Fitbit and One Drop to Collaborate, Streamlining Care for People with Diabetes
One Drop, a diabetes focused management and care platform, hopes to capitalize on the popularity and accessibility of Fitbit to advance the quality of care for those with diabetes. Starting in November, users gained the option to sync their Fitbit data with their One Drop platforms to provide a much fuller picture of overall health. To promote the partnership and ensure full access, One Drop will now carry Fitbit devices at its storefront for consumer convenience.
This partnership will streamline the treatment offered to those with diabetes. For example, Fitbit data will now be included on the One Drop reports available to physicians. The inclusion of additional health data will allow doctors to make more educated, individualized treatment decisions. Additionally, One Drop's certified diabetes educators will work to highlight connections between individual data sets so as to best help users understand how Fitbit-tracked factors like heart rate, sleep, and physical activity impact their unique healthcare needs.
Full Story: Bill Siwicki, One Drop Collaborates with Fitbit for Diabetes Data Analysis, Healthcare IT News, Nov. 1, 2017, available at
2. Management Firm's Decision Could Bring Iowa Medicaid Lawsuit to a Halt
Last year, the state of Iowa changed the structure of its Medicaid system, choosing to relinquish authority to private management companies. Governor Kim Reynolds claimed that such a shift reduced cost and expedited care. However, Iowans with disabilities vigorously protested, citing cuts to critical home and community-based services for people with disabilities.
In response to the change, Disability Rights Iowa filed suit on behalf of six Iowans with disabilities whose services were subsequently cut. The suit claims that without sufficient home and community based services, individuals with disabilities will be forced to move into nursing homes in violation of their legal rights. After a recent hearing, parties are waiting to see if the judge will allow the case to move forward as a class action.
However, recently the private management company responsible for the care and services of all six named plaintiffs, AmeriHealth Caritas, announced it would no longer participate in the Iowa Medicaid program and consequently jeopardized the viability of Disability Rights Iowa's case. The fate of the lawsuit and Iowans with disabilities now hangs in the balance because as the state argues, no evidence indicates that other managed care companies participating in Iowa's Medicaid program engage in the complained of practices.
Full Story: Tony Leys, AmeriHealth's Exit Should Curtail Disabled Residents' Suit against Iowa, State Lawyers Say, Des Moines Register, Nov. 6, 2017, available at
1. Technology Supports Students with Disabilities
For students with a learning disability, even the simplest of classroom tasks can be a challenge without the proper support. Personalized learning experiences and implementing Universal Design for Learning, which modifies lessons for all learning styles, are the keys to student success. Both ever-developing assistive technology and mainstream computer programs help teachers make classrooms very accessible.
Speech-to-text software, such as Dragon Naturally Speaking, can help students who have trouble writing by allowing them to compose work by speaking rather than writing. Text-to-speech software, like Learning Ally, help students who have trouble reading.
Many widely-used programs also can help students with learning disabilities. In 2016, Microsoft included Learning Tools into its note-taking app, OneNote. This feature offers dictation, the ability to break words up into syllables, and much more. Teachers praised Learning Tools so much that Microsoft now offers it for Word and Edge.
Full Story: Cortez, Meghan, 3 Ways Assistive Technology Supports Students with Disabilities EdTech, Nov. 7. 2017 available at
See Also: Jacqueline Howard, Technology Opens New World for Brothers with Dyslexia, CNN, Jul. 18, 2017, available at
See Also: Immersive Reader: Microsoft Learning Tools, OneNote, 2017, available at
2. Airbnb Acquires Site Offering Accessible Accommodations
As a result of a settlement between Airbnb, a tech company that offers hospitality services, and two advocacy groups in San Francisco, the business is working towards becoming more accessible. Many users have complained about the lack of accessible homes, and some hosts have denied hospitality to people who have service animals.
Airbnb will make its website easier to search, including options such as "no stairs." It also plans to train its staff to identify disability discrimination and help guests who experience it. Hosts will be monitored more closely, receive a warning if they are found to be discriminatory, and dismissed if the pattern continues. Hosts are required to let service animals into their home, even if their profiles say pets are not allowed.
Airbnb also bought Accomable, a company in England that arranges for accessible vacation homes. Accomable has a strict vetting policy for evaluating the accessibility of potential hosts' houses. Accomable CEO Srin Madipalli was excited to start working with Airbnb to improve its accessibility.
Full Story: Caroline Spiezio, Airbnb Boosts Accessibility Following Pre-Litigation Settlement with California Advocacy Groups, The Recorder, Nov. 21, 2017, available at
See Also: Carolyn Said, Airbnb Acquires Site Offering Accessible Accommodations, Disability Scoop, Nov. 16, 2017, available at
1. Supreme Court Allows Execution of Inmate with No Memory of Murder
On November 6, 2017, the Supreme Court ruled that the execution of Vernon Madison should be allowed to proceed, despite Madison having no recollection of his crime. Madison was sentenced to death after killing officer Julius Schulte in 1985. Although Madison is legally blind, speech- and mobility-impaired, incontinent, and has no memory of his crime, the court ruled that since he was able to "rationally understand" that he was being punished for a crime that he had committed, the execution was proper.
The court was unanimous in its decision, but three justices published concurring opinions calling for the need to revisit the substantial legal question of whether the death penalty should be used on individuals with disabilities that have no recollection of their crimes, and the death penalty in general. The state will be pursuing a new execution date in the near future.
Full Story: Adam Liptak, Justices Allow Execution of Inmate Who Cannot Recall His Crime, Nov.6, 2017, The New York Times, available at
See Also: Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall Welcomes U.S. Supreme Court Decision Clearing the Way for Execution of Death Row Inmate Vernon Madison, Nov. 6, 2017, State of Alabama Office of the Attorney General, available at
2. First New York City Marathon Runner Who Is Blind to Use "Corrective Navigation"
Simon Wheatcroft, a 35-year-old man with retinitis pigmentosa, which causes him to be visually impaired, was the first man to use corrective navigation to run the New York City Marathon on Sunday, November 5, 2017. Wheatcroft wore a Wayband, an armband designed to send vibrations to the runner to guide his path, and a chest sensor to alert him to his surroundings. He also was equipped with an iPhone and additional GPS locator to enhance his location accuracy and preserve battery life.
WearWorks, a young company out of Brooklyn, of which Wheatcroft holds an equity share, designed the devices. The technology is similar to that of a smart car that has the technology to avoid collisions and assist in parking. However, the system sends out vibrations rather than beeps. While the technology is new, and had not been tested in a race before, it assisted Wheatcroft in completing the race, with two guide runners. As an experienced marathon runner, Wheatcroft was able to navigate the course despite some technical difficulties, and he says it was the perfect situation to experiment with corrective navigation because it simulated the typical surroundings of an urban environment.
Full Story: Jeré Longman, Blind Runner's Wearable Technology Gets Off to Complicated Start, Nov. 5, 2017, The New York Times, available at
1. India Hosts Its First Inclusive Tandem Cycling Expedition
In August, over twenty individuals embarked on a 550-kilometer journey between Manali and Khardung La, the highest traversable road in the world. Fifteen cyclists, equipped with a support crew, spent nine days cycling and camping through the mountains in temperatures down to -6 degrees Centigrade (21 degrees Fahrenheit). The cyclists ranged in ages, disabilities, and experience, including seasoned cyclists, new athletes, young, old, individuals with prosthetics, individuals with visual impairments, and many others.
InSync, the expedition, was organized by the Adventures Beyond Barriers Foundation, a nonprofit focused on promoting inclusion through adventure sports. They plan for this to become an annual event.
Full Story: Yashasvini Rajeshwar, When Disability Is Just Another Marker, Nov. 1, 2017, The Hindu, available at
See Also: Adventures Beyond Barriers, InSync #M2K2017: MeetTheCyclists, Facebook, available at
2. Young Disability Activist and Student Becomes Youngest Senator in Australia
Jordon John-Steele, 23-year-old disability activist and student at Macquarie University, has become the youngest senator in Australia's history. John-Steele is an individual who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. He first ran in a federal election when he was 18.
In his new position, he plans to push an agenda focusing on climate change, disability issues, and youth unemployment. John-Steele will take time off from his study of politics to fully dedicate himself to his new leadership role. He is most excited to bring the lived experiences and diverse perspectives of individuals with disabilities to the political table.
Full Story: Eliza Laschon, Jordon Steele-John Bringing Lived Experience with Disability to Parliament in Replacing Scott Ludlam, Nov. 9, 2017, ABC, available at
I. POP CULTURE
1. Increase in Disability-Related Movies Not Accompanied by Disability Inclusion
Several major Hollywood blockbusters this year have (or will) feature main characters with physical disabilities. These films, including Stronger, Breathe, and Blind, all star actors who do not have disabilities. In Stronger, Jake Gyllenhaal plays a double amputee, while Andrew Garfield in Breathe plays a man paralyzed from the neck down by polio. When asked, the directors of these films admitted to not even considering actors with disabilities for the roles.
The recent push for inclusion in Hollywood has focused on race and has largely left disability out, according to Jay Ruderman of the disability rights organization Ruderman Family Foundation. April Webster, who works on the Inclusion and Diversity Committee for the Casting Society of America, suggests that casting actors with disabilities is potentially a smart business move. When people can relate to an actor in a real way, they are more likely to watch a show or film, she argues.
Lauren Appelbaum of RespectAbility, a disability-rights nonprofit, urges studios to look to recent examples from television where actors with disabilities portrayed characters that were not "disability focused," such as Gaten Matarazzo's character Dustin in Stranger Things. Casting actors with disabilities to play roles that do not center on their disability would go a long way to advance the overall inclusion movement in Hollywood right now, Appelbaum says.
Meanwhile, on television, representation of characters with disabilities is at an all-time high. Prime time scripted shows feature 16 characters with disabilities this season, according to GLAAD, an organization that tracks inclusion for minority groups on television. This is the highest total since GLAAD started tracking the data in 2010. Despite the upward trend, activists from RespectAbility suggest that the number is about 1/6 of what it should be, based on real-life statistics on the number of people with disabilities.
Full story: Patrick Ryan, Hollywood Is Talking about Inclusion More Than Ever, But Not for Disabled Actors, USA Today, Oct. 22, 2017, available at
See also: Shaun Heasley, TV Including More Characters with Disabilities, DisabilityScoop, Nov. 9, 2017, available at
2. ABC's The Good Doctor Gets Autism Mostly Right
The Good Doctor, a new prime time drama on ABC, features as its main character Dr. Shaun Murphy. Portrayed by Freddie Highmore, Murphy has both autism and savant syndrome. The Good Doctor has been a massive hit so far this season, and it has Highmore's largely accurate portrayal of autism to thank. Parents of children with autism have praised certain small details of the character that Highmore gets right, including walking with "ready hands," a technique used by people with autism to self-monitor behavior; speaking in a monotone voice; and interpersonal interaction struggles, as really bringing the character home as an accurate representation of an adult with autism.
Some critics have complained that this depiction presents only one picture of autism, which is a spectrum disorder with a wide range of different challenges depending on the individual. Despite this, most agree that it is an accurate representation of one of the possible outcomes for an adult with autism. Further, the show has been praised for opening and expanding a cultural dialogue on autism, as well as showing how people with autism can serve as functioning members of society.
Full story: Jennifer Sheehan, "The 'Good Doctor" and Autism: Does ABC Get It Right? DisabilityScoop, Nov. 1, 2017, available at
J. EVENTS AND FUNDING
Call for Papers and Proposals
Webinars and Conferences
Beep: Inside the Unseen World of Baseball for the Blind by David Wanczyk "illuminates the sport of blind baseball to show us a remarkable version of America's pastime."
The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability by Jasbir K. Puar "brings her pathbreaking work on the liberal state, sexuality, and biopolitics to bear on our understanding of disability."
The Disability Law & Policy e-Newsletter is supported by the following sources:
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Note to readers: News article links may require free registration for access, or may be active for a limited time before the respective news services archive them. Archived items may also be available for a fee. Products mentioned in this newsletter are for information only and do not constitute an endorsement.
The Disability Law & Policy e-Newsletter is the collaborative product of Editor-in-Chief David W. Klein, Ph.D., Executive Editor William N. Myhill, M.Ed., J.D.; and Associate Editors Kate Battoe, Christina Kalebic, John Cronin, Lauren Galloway, and Matthew Ramsay.
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