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
January 3, 2018
Volume 15, Issue 1
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. INDEPENDENCE: Community Integration
G. INTERNATIONAL: Topics Outside the United States
H. POP CULTURE: News and Topics Vary
I. EVENTS AND FUNDING: Conferences, Calls for Proposals, Papers, and Presentations
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
A. CIVIL RIGHTS
1. WHO Celebrates International Human Rights Day with Launch of Guidance Tools
The World Health Organization (WHO) launched the WHO Quality Rights guidance and training tools, Transforming Services and Promoting Rights in Mental Health, at their event celebrating International Human Rights Day. The Quality Rights Tool Kit offers modules on topics including, but not limited to, "Understanding Human Rights," "Creating Mental Health and Related Services Free From Coercion, Violence and Abuse," and "Promoting Recovery in Mental Health and Related Services: Handbook for Personal Use and Teaching."
Attendees praised WHO for its efforts in gaining compliance with human rights standards set forth by the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), and urged countries to comply with the CRPD and the concepts discussed in this new toolkit. The training and guidance tools are now available online for free. They are suggested for anyone in regular contact with mental health services, and are intended to aid in implementation of a human rights and recovery approach in line with the CRPD.
Full Story: IDA, IDA Participates in the World Health Organization Event to Celebrate International Human Rights Day, International Disability Alliance, Dec. 13, 2017, available at
See Also: WHO Quality Rights Guidance and Training Tools, WHO, 2017, available at
2. Advocates' Letter to Secretary of Education Urges Enforcement of IDEA Significant Disproportionality Rule
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Humans Rights, co-signed by 112 organizations, wrote a letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos urging the Department of Education (DOE) to enforce the significant disproportionality provision of the Individuals with Education Act (IDEA). This comes amid news that the DOE has proposed to delay the enforcement of the rule for two years. (See Education)
The letter emphasized how discriminatory practices undermine equal opportunity, and how students of color are the most disproportionately affected by being misidentified for certain special education services, more commonly placed in restrictive learning environments, and subjected to more discipline than their white peers. Through a collection of research, the letter demonstrates the need to address the significant disproportionality issue in special education and how so many individuals and organizations have come forward and expressed the severity of the issue. It also urged DeVos to deny the proposed delay for the enforcement of the IDEA's significant disproportionality provision.
Full Story: Letter re: Enforcement of IDEA Provisions Regarding Significant Disproportionality, The Leadership Conference, Dec. 6, 2017, available at
1. More New Yorkers with Disabilities to Earn Diplomas and Gain Employment
On December 11, 2017, New York's State's Board of Regents approved a change to statewide graduation requirements, making it easier for students with disabilities to earn nonRegents, or alternative, diplomas and enter the workforce. Previously, schools granted only alternative diplomas to students passing at least two standardized Regents exams. Such an emphasis on traditional exams prevented many students with disabilities from earning the diplomas necessary for gainful employment.
The change in requirements allows the Career Development and Occupational Studies Commencement Credential to take the place of passing scores on standardized exams in subjects like math and English. While the state still mandates that all students sit for these exams, passing marks are no longer required to graduate. Instead, students can pass a "work-readiness" exam or complete 216 hours of vocational training coupled with a job shadowing experience.
Public opinion on the decision remains split. Proponents champion the shift, arguing that it will provide students who struggle to pass traditional exams with an alternative means to demonstrate what they have learned. Among the change's most ardent supporters are the parents of children with disabilities who continually struggle to attain a diploma. Just as vehemently though, critics argue that allowing students to secure a diploma without passing any standardized tests detrimentally lowers the educational standards demanded by New York State. The change in graduation requirements will go into effect as early as this month.
Full Story: Monica Disare, New York Eases Graduation Requirements for Students with Disabilities, Chalkbeat, Dec. 11, 2017, available at
2. Employment Summit Invests in Pennsylvanians with Disabilities
Last month Pennsylvania celebrated the sixth annual Pennsylvania Disability Employment and Empowerment Summit. The event, sponsored by Pennsylvania's Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR), the state's Department of Education, and many other prominent state entities, demonstrated Pennsylvania's commitment to employees with disabilities. The two-day event included a job fair featuring over thirty employers seeking to hire individuals with disabilities. Among those employers in attendance were CVS Pharmacy and Crayola.
The Summit paid special attention to students with disabilities poised to enter the workforce. David De Notaris, Executive Director of the OVR, wanted the students to hear stories of successful business people in the effort to send the message, "If I can do it, you can do it." The event was expected to include over 400 area high school students with disabilities to celebrate and encourage their talents.
Full Story: Gary Puleo, Valley Forge Casino Resort hosts Pennsylvania Disability Employment and Empowerment Summit, Times Herald, Dec. 7, 2017, available at
1. Department of Education Delays Enforcement of Obama-Era Significant Disproportionality Rule
The Department of Education (DOE) has proposed a two-year delay for the Obama-era significant disproportionality rule. The rule would require states to take substantial steps to address racial biases that may be causing a disproportionate amount of minority students to be identified for special education. It is set to take effect in 2020.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) required states to address significant disproportionality, but did not provide specific guidelines. The proposed rule requires an analysis of districts that have disparately high percentages of minority students receiving special education services, segregated in restrictive classrooms or disciplined more often than other students.
Advocates for the delay feel there are more pressing concerns, such as that minority students with disabilities are not receiving the special education services to which they are entitled. However, those in opposition state that the delay will be harmful to the students currently experiencing discrimination.
Full Story: Erica L. Green, DeVos Delays Rule on Racial Disparities in Special Education, The New York Times, Dec. 15, 12017, available at
2. Standardized Tests Not Really Standard for All
Schools use standardized tests to analyze students' intelligence and progress, and assume that they are fair, since the tests are the same for everyone. For students with disabilities, fair is having test accommodations, such as a scribe for people who cannot write or a screen reader for people with visual impairments. These accommodations allow students to meet their specific needs so they can complete the test under circumstances similar to their peers without disabilities.
In Australia, like the U.S., law requires that reasonable adjustments (accommodations) are made to ensure equal access, but there are many considerations to be made on an individual basis to determine what is reasonable. To improve standardized testing in Australia, it is suggested that research is needed to get a better understanding of how test adjustment restrictions, such as allowing no more than double time on tests, affect students' ability to perform tasks. Research also is suggested on the effects of restrictions, such as time, on all students.
Full Story: Jacqueline Joy Cumming, Standardized Tests Limit Students with Disability, The Conversation, Nov. 22, 2017, available at
1. On World AIDS Day the National Institute of Health Spotlights Progress
December 1, 2017, marked the thirtieth anniversary of World AIDS Day. In a press release commemorating the occasion, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) celebrated notable strides while highlighting the work that still needs to be done. The press release stories a history beginning in the eighties and reaching a highpoint with drug regimens that now allow individuals with HIV to live fulfilling lives.
The NIH emphasized that the next necessary step toward eradication lies in implementing such treatments around the globe. Considering the resources and services feasible globally, researchers recognize that the once daily medication currently available remains unrealistic for mass implementation. Thus, the NIH indicates that the next step is developing a long-acting injection. Researchers continue to work on multiple projects in pursuit of this goal.
Full Story: Press Release, National Institutes of Health, NIH Statement on World AIDS Day 2017 (Dec. 1, 2017), available at
2. Report Reflects Disparities in Mental Health Care
At the end of November, a number of mental health and addiction advocacy groups released a new report finding that mental health treatment often proves inaccessible to those who need it. This study specifically highlights the paltry insurance coverage reserved for mental health and addiction services nationwide. In passing the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, Congress endeavored to ensure that mental health services remained as attainable as those for physical ailments. However, the findings of this most recent report indicate that Congress's goal has yet to be actualized.
Many of the findings proved concerning. Among them, the study found that insurers pay primary care providers 20 percent more than mental health or addiction specialists for comparable services. Such a reality strikes professionals as especially concerning because it discourages mental health and addiction specialists from contracting with insurance providers. Consequently, patients are saddled with exorbitant out-of-pocket costs. Facing such constraints, it often becomes impossibly difficult for patients to navigate the system and secure the services they most desperately need.
Full Story: Jenny Gold, Despite Parity Law, Therapists Often Remain Out of Reach, Disability Scoop, Dec. 12, 2017, available at
1. As Assistive Technology Grows, Costs (and Who Pays for It) Remain an Issue
Assistive technology is more prevalent than ever. However, actually accessing the technology can be an issue for many who need it, with high costs acting as a barrier. Screen reader software can cost the same as the laptop it helps a user access; a Braille keyboard with accompanying Braille display is far more expensive. Generally, the costs right now fall on the people with disabilities who need the technology as part of their everyday lives. State funding is not designed to cover the cost of assistive technology, and as it is not technically medical, insurance does not cover assistive technology either.
Despite this, disability rights activists are optimistic. Eric Duffy, of the National Federation for the Blind, points to legislation proposed in Congress to provide a tax credit to people who have to purchase their own assistive technology. He also speaks about the relatively low cost for firms to provide accessible websites, along with the increasing victories in courts ordering sites to be accessible. As for next steps, Duffy stressed that investments must be made to increase awareness for people with disabilities about the types of technology that are available. This could be accomplished through public education advertising programs and local organizations to teach their communities. He also hinted at pursuing congressional lobbying or filing further accessibility lawsuits as potential strategies for achieving these goals.
Full Story: Sintia Radu, Who's Paying for Assistive Technology? U.S. News & World Report, Dec. 1, 2017, available at
2. Several Web Accessibility Suits Reach Settlement; Filings Continue to Rise
There has been a rise in the number of lawsuits alleging that companies with inaccessible websites are violating the American's with Disabilities Act (ADA). Specifically, the websites are not accessible to people with visual impairments and therefore are denying access to businesses and government services, which is a form of disability-based discrimination. This past fall several class-action cases were settled against a number of large businesses, including KMart and GrubHub. Although the details of the settlements were not disclosed, the law firm representing the plaintiffs noted that they are consistent with their goals of bringing websites and apps into ADA compliance.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) had planned to provide guidance on what the ADA required of businesses to be compliant. However, those proposed regulations have been put on hold, with no indication they will be pursued anytime soon. In the absence of DOJ guidance, and with courts increasingly recognizing the need for web accessibility, it is likely that companies will continue to reach settlements in web accessibility cases, rather than take cases to trial which may be unsuccessful.
Full Story: Richard P. Lawson, ADA Litigation Continues with Recent Settlements, Lexology, Dec. 7, 2017, available at
1. Tax Reform Fails to Expand ABLE Act
As the tax reform bill signed on December 20, 2017, weakened the Affordable Care Act by no longer requiring that most Americans have health care, it also did not amend a provision in the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act of 2014 to allow more people with disabilities to utilize this resource.
The ABLE Act allows people with disabilities to save money in ABLE Accounts without affecting their needs-based, federal-funded benefits, such as Social Security Disability Insurance and Medicaid. There are about 15,000 ABLE accounts open throughout America, but many families and individuals who would qualify to open one have not done so. Some are not aware they exist, while others are concerned with the Medicaid payback provision, which allows states to take back the balances in people's ABLE Accounts upon their deaths.
Millions of other Americans with disabilities do not qualify to open ABLE Accounts because of a provision that requires the onset of disability to occur by the age of 26. There was talk of raising the age to 46, but this change was not included in the bill.
Full Story: Michael Morris, Millions of Americans with Disabilities Left Out in the Cold: No Expansion of Eligibility for ABLE Accounts in Final Tax Reform Bill, HuffPost, Dec. 19, 2017, available at
See Also: Judson Berger, Congress Approves Final Tax Reform Bill, Handing Trump Year-End Victory, Fox News, Dec. 21, 2017, available at
2. Lack of Affordable Housing for People with Disabilities
In its most recent report, the Technical Assistance Collaborative (TAC) and the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Housing Task Force stated that housing pricing exceeds Supplemental Security Income (SSI). This forces many people with disabilities to become homeless or live in institutions.
The report states that in 2016 the average income for people with disabilities on SSI was $9,157 a year, 22 percent below the federal poverty level. Studio apartments averaged at around $752 a month, which equaled about 99 percent of monthly SSI payments. As a result, about 87,000 people with disabilities are homeless, and between 200,000 and 300,000 live in institutions, which is more expensive for taxpayers than providing more housing assistance.
The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Olmstead Decision (1999) require the government to serve people with disabilities in the most inclusive way possible. According to the report, the disability community and policy leaders must work together to stop this housing discrimination and improve rental assistance programs for people with disabilities.
Full Story: Shaun Heasley, Report: Housing A "Crisis" for People with Disabilities, Disability Scoop, Dec. 15, 2017, available at
See Also: Gina Schaak, Lisa Sloane, Francine Arienti, and Andrew Zovistoski, Priced Out: The Housing Crisis for People with Disabilities, Technical Assistance Collaborative, Dec. 2014, available at
1. Canadian Government Program to Support Inclusion
The Canadian Government has renewed the Social Development Partnership Program Disability (SDPP-D), a national program focused on supporting inclusion of individuals with disabilities. The SDPP-D calls on not-for-profit organizations with missions aimed to improve inclusion of people with disabilities to submit proposals for projects that would increase participation and integration of the disability community.
The goal of the SDPP-D is to use local organizations to collaborate and share information to address the social issues that individuals with disabilities face. By coming together, the program hopes to increase the opportunity for and participation in community engagement activities for all citizens. Since the beginning of the SDPP-D in 1998, $11 million have been spent annually on projects improving participation and integration of people with disabilities in Canada.
Full Story: The Government of Canada Launches Renewed Program to Support the Social Inclusion of Canadians with Disabilities, Accessibility News International, Dec. 15, 2017, available at
2. Scottish Health Boards Cut Spending on Child Mental Health, Despite Failing to Meet Government Standards
The Scottish government has a maximum wait time of 18 weeks between referral of a child and that child receiving mental health services. However, only 6 of 14 health boards met that standard in the last quarter. One health board, Lothian, cut spending the most, but saw only 57% of child referrals in the required 18 weeks. Another health board, Grampain, also cut a substantial amount and saw only 33.1% of child referrals within 18 weeks.
With many people not being seen within the set timeline, staff is dealing with a surge in emergency appointments. Grampain is seeking additional clinical staff. The nurse director of Lothian said that young people are accessing mental health services more than ever before. To handle the major issue of people not getting the services they need, health boards are reformulating their procedures and reprioritizing the individuals that have waited the longest.
Full Story: Shelley Jofre, Child Mental Health Spending Drops, BBC, Dec. 18, 2017, available at
H. POP CULTURE
1. Lawrence Guy, Patriots Lineman with Dyslexia, Finds NFL Success
Growing up with undiagnosed dyslexia, Lawrence Guy struggled throughout his early education. He reports being placed in self-contained classes for students with disabilities, with no individualized support. It was not until he earned an athletic scholarship to play football at Arizona State University that he was properly diagnosed. Despite initially being hesitant, Guy eventually began to use the resources the university provided. By the time he was an upperclassman, he had raised his GPA to 3.5, despite being near failing during his first semester.
Now, Guy is speaking out about his experiences to encourage young athletes with disabilities to use the resources available to them. Often, athletes with learning disabilities will be hesitant to admit they need help or seek out resources. According to Jean Boyd, associate athletic director at Arizona State University, positive reinforcement athletes receive from their physical success leads them to reject the possibility that they could have a disability because of the physical association with that word. In speaking out about his experience, Guy hopes to destigmatize learning disabilities so that young athletes do not have to go through struggles similar to his. Guy is now in his seventh year in the NFL and recently signed a four-year, $20 million deal with the Patriots.
Full Story: Mark Daniels, Patriots' Lawrence Guy Tackled Learning Disabilities to Thrive in NFL, Providence Journal, available at
2. "Sensory-Friendly Santa" Offers Children with Autism Access to Holiday Tradition
Away from large crowds, bright lights, and loud holiday music, Kerry Magro offered a different kind of Santa Claus meet-and-greet in Jersey City, N.J. Children with autism and other sensory-related difficulties could meet Santa and take part in arts and crafts with longer time slots, no lines, and therapists on staff. Magro, who is a motivational speaker, author, activist, and a man with autism, plays the role of Santa and has done so since founding the event in 2014.
Magro recalled the challenges he had growing up, dealing with sensory challenges that prevented him from going to large malls to see Santa Claus. In the last three years, he reports that over 500 children have attended the events.
Full Story: Taylor Pittman, Man with Autism Offers Sensory Friendly Santa Visits So No Kid Misses Out, Huffington Post, Nov. 28, 2017, available at
I. EVENTS AND FUNDING
Call for Papers and Proposals
Webinars and Conferences
Crip Times: Disability, Globalization, and Resistance by Robert McRuer "asks how disability activists, artists and social movements generate change and resist the dominant forms of globalization in an age of austerity, or 'crip times.'"
The Disability Law & Policy e-Newsletter is supported by the following sources:
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
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.
To subscribe to this free e-newsletter, go to http://disability.law.uiowa.edu/lhpdc/publications/news.html for directions for the "Disability Law & Policy e-Newsletter."
The e-Newsletter is archived at http://disability.law.uiowa.edu/lhpdc/publications/news.html
Re-distribution / forwarding of this e-Newsletter to your networks is encouraged.