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
February 28, 2018
Volume 15, Issue 2
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
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A. CIVIL RIGHTS
1. House Passes ADA Amendment Despite Activists' Concerns
Proponents describe the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Education and Reform Act, passed by the House of Representatives on February 15, as a bill to lessen dishonest lawsuits. The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities disagrees, and they are joined by some 200 disability rights groups nationwide. The bill makes those planning to file a lawsuit in federal court for a public accommodations violation (1) inform the business of the violation, (2) give them 60 days to develop an action plan to address the complaints, and (3) give them an additional 60 days to implement that plan.
The bill's co-sponsor Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California, described the goals of the bill as one to curb "rip-off artists," referring to attorneys who file false public accommodations suits. However, in a letter from September, the Consortium pointed out that this amendment would make the ADA function in ways that no other civil rights law does. Specifically, they allege that this bill would allow businesses to "discriminate with impunity" until they are educated by a person with a disability. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican from Washington and mother of a son with Down syndrome, opposed the bill. She said that, as a member of the disability community, she could not in good conscience support the bill. The prospects of the bill in the Senate, however, are uncertain.
Full Story: Mike DeBonis, House Passes Change to Americans with Disabilities Act Over Activists Objections, New York Times, Feb. 15, 2018, available at
2. Department of Justice Rolls Back Guidelines for Workers with Disabilities
Since the Americans with Disabilities Act's (ADA) passage in 1992, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has released manuals that explain the law and guidelines surrounding disability issues in plain language. They include guidance for the rights of people with disabilities to work in integrated workplaces. Near the end of December 2017 the DOJ dropped these documents.
Although removing the documents has no effect on the actual law, they have a strong effect on access to legal rights and understanding of the law. Eve Hill, a former attorney general with the DOJ's Civil Rights Division, clarified that these manuals would help people with disabilities get access to services and avoid using lawsuits unless necessary. Hill said that this move by the DOJ suggests an antipathy against enforcing federal disability laws. It also suggests that they are siding with sheltered workshops, which are not integrated and are able to pay people with disabilities subminimum wages. The DOJ's decision removed the manuals that would guide enforcement of the law against sheltered workshops.
Full Story: David M. Perry, Companies That Exploit Disabled People Have a Friend in Jeff Sessions, Pacific Standard, Jan. 3, 2018, available at
3. Cybersecurity Concerns Lead to Difficulty Voting for People with Disabilities
Voting has long had various obstacles for people with disabilities, from inaccessible locations to unusable paper ballots. People with disabilities often need special voting machines, equipped with earphones and other modifications that increase accessibility at the polls. However, as cybersecurity concerns have increased, many states and counties have switched back to paper ballots. Now, nearly half of all Americans must vote using paper ballots.
Michelle Bishop, a voting rights activist with the National Disability Rights Network, described many of the obstacles to voting that people with disabilities have faced in recent years. These obstacles include untrained poll workers and accessible machines that are not turned on. Bishop says that these obstacles tell people with disabilities that they are "not wanted." According to a 2016 survey by Rutgers University, voter participation has decreased among people with disabilities over the last two elections. The study pointed out a number of contributing factors to this decrease, including lack of accessible voting machines, physical barriers at polling stations, voter I.D. laws, and other obstacles that Bishop referred to as "segregating in the way we vote."
Full Story: Matt Vasilogambros, How Voters with Disabilities Are Blocked From the Ballot Box, Disability Scoop, Feb. 5, 2018, available at
1. Work Requirement Guidance Will Harm Those with Disabilities
On January 11, 2018, the Department of Health and Human Services issued guidance to allow states to make people work to be eligible for Medicaid benefits. Many people with disabilities rely heavily on Medicaid for medical insurance and critical supports and services, such as personal care assistants, not covered by private health insurance providers. If states impose a work requirement, it would jeopardize access to such necessary services.
Those who support the change say that people with disabilities would be exempt from the requirement. However, such an exemption would be limited to those receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Strict rules make it so many individuals with disabilities are denied SSI or SSDI benefits; fewer than 4 in 10 applicants are deemed eligible. Thus, despite the exception, many people with disabilities will be subject to the work requirement, and if they cannot work, will lose benefits through no fault of their own.
Many states are now considering requiring employment to receive Medicaid benefits. As of early January, Kentucky became the first state to receive approval for its work requirement program.
Full Story: Robin Powell, Despite Republican Claims, Medicaid Work Requirements Would Hurt People with Disabilities, Rewire, Jan. 12, 2018, available at
2. Lowe's Settles Discrimination Lawsuit
Lowe's Home Centers, LLC, was recently sued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC filed suit on behalf of an employee who has limited use of his right arm because of a spinal cord injury. Lowe's originally hired the employee as a customer service representative and later promoted him to department manager. Lowe's had full knowledge of his disability at the time of hiring. As department manager, the employee was required to operate power equipment that needed two hands to use. Due to his disability he was unable to direct these machines and so delegated that task to employees under his supervision without issue for six years. However, in 2015, Lowe's gave the employee notice that he could no longer receive that accommodation and then demoted him with a significant reduction in pay.
The EEOC has claimed that Lowe's failure to accommodate its employee violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The company has agreed to pay $55,000 to account for the violation. Lowe's will also mandate ADA training for all employees to ensure the law is followed in the future.
Full Story: Press Release, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Lowe's Home Centers to Pay $55,000 To Settle EEOC Disability Discrimination Lawsuit (Jan. 26, 2018), available at
1. Texas Ordered to Support Students Denied Special Education
The Department of Education announced on January 13, 2018, that Texas violated federal law by denying students with disabilities access to appropriate public education for several years. Data from Texas education officials shows that the number of children recognized as having a disability declined from the 2003-2004 school year to the 2016-2017 school year by 32,000 students, while total enrollment in Texas schools grew by more than one million students.
At issue was an illegal cap set by the Texas Education Agency that pressured schools to identify no more than 8.5 percent of their students as having a disability and qualifying for special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
The Texas state education commissioner pledged to act to address the report. He outlined steps the agency has taken. These include making more resources available to schools on how to find students with disabilities and hiring 39 additional special education support staff in the last year.
Full Story: Lauren Camera, DeVos Orders Texas to Identify, Help Students Illegally Shut Out of Special Education, U. S. News, Jan. 11, 2018, available at
2. George Washington University Inspected for Alleged Disability Discrimination
The Department of Education investigates George Washington University (GW) for alleged disability discrimination on its website accessibility. An examination of several of the University's core websites revealed that many photos and videos lack text descriptions and closed captions.
A complaint has prompted a federal review of the University's policies and procedures for online accessibility. Experts said the complaint may require GW to change how it manages website features. These changes will be made so students with disabilities are not put at an academic disadvantage.
University officials say they have started a task force to address this issue, but they would not release any information about the task force.
Full Story: Leah Potter, Officials Examine Website Accessibility Amid Federal Disability Investigation, GW Hatchet, Jan. 29, 2018, available at
1. Trump Prioritizes Mental Health Care for Veterans
President Trump signed an executive order in January that will require all new Veterans have access to 12 months of mental health coverage. Previously, such coverage was only available to specific types of Veterans, like those serving in combat zones. As of March 9, all Veterans will have access to complete mental health coverage. An additional $200 million per year is expected to be spent on the expansion.
This move is in response to the exceedingly high rate of suicide among Veterans. It is estimated that approximately 20 Veterans a day commit suicide. With this executive order, the president has promised that Veterans who need "mental health and suicide prevention services will receive them" as soon as they leave the service.
Full Story: Dave Boyer, Trump Signs Executive Order Expanding Mental Health Services for New Veterans, Washington Times, Jan. 9, 2018, available at
2. Study Trains Parents to Facilitate Speech Therapy Over Skype
As part of a new study by the MIND Institute parents are trained to act as speech therapists for their children. Parents are scheduled to log into Skype multiple times a week to consult with a speech therapist. Strategies and exercises parents learn during sessions are targeted to develop their children's speech and vocabulary. Presently, 30 families across the US are participating in the 12-week study.
The skills parents are taught to use include activities like reading a book together. They use wordless picture books to tell stories, help fuel imagination, and work on vocabulary and sentence structure. The parents are trained to ask pointed questions meant to draw increasingly developed responses from their children. Researchers hope that a familiar setting and organic conversations will help children to learn more than they would in a clinical setting. The study is also striving to make speech therapy more accessible to families and children that need it.
Full Story: Molly Sullivan, Skype Broadening Access to Speech Therapy Study, Disability Scoop, Feb. 9, 2018, available at
1. DOJ Cancels Plans to Issue ADA Web Compliance Guidance
The Department of Justice (DOJ) makes rules that interpret and offer guidance for the Americans with Disabilities Act. In 2010, the DOJ announced that it planned to issue rules about businesses' responsibilities for making their websites accessible to people with disabilities by 2018. However, in August of 2017, the regulations were placed on the "inactive" list. Now, they have officially withdrawn the advance notice of rulemaking.
Customers have sued many businesses over web accessibility. The lack of clear standards has created uncertainty throughout different districts, leading to different web accessibility standards across the country.
Full Story: Richard P. Lawson, DOJ Drops Plans for ADA Guidance, Lexology, Jan. 18, 2018, available at
2. New Approach to Mass Transit Focuses on Accessibility
The Accessible Olli is a futuristic-looking, self-driving shuttle bus that features many assistive technologies, including wheelchair ramps, software that processes sign language, and simplified displays. The shuttle will be released in a few months in international cities, including Buffalo, New York, and Copenhagen, Denmark.
Local Motors developed Accessible Olli in collaboration with people with disabilities and designed it to perform the functions of mass transit in a more efficient and personalized way.
Full Story: Ben Fox Rubin, This Self Driving Shuttle Puts Accessibility First, CNet, Jan. 26, 2018, available at
1. Money Follows the Person Needs Renewal
In 2005, the Deficit Reduction Act set up Money Follows the Person (MFP). MFP gave states billions of dollars to help people with disabilities transition from living in large institutions to homes within the community. The ten-year program helped 75,000 people move out of long-term care facilities, and advocacy groups are asking people to contact their representatives to urge the government to renew the program.
MFP benefits people with disabilities and government funding sources. People with disabilities who are active in the community can find jobs more easily, build relationships, and are happier. It is less expensive for Medicare and Medicaid to fund services like home health care that allow people to live in the community than it is to pay for institutional care.
Full Story: Courtney Perkes, Federal Program That Moves People out of Institutions in Jeopardy, Disability Scoop, Feb. 19, 2018, available at
See Also: Eric D. Hargan, Report to the President and Congress: The Money Follows the Person (MFP) Rebalancing Demonstration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, June 2017, available at
2. Government Threatens to Decrease Non-Emergency Transportation
People who have Medicaid are eligible to use non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) to go to medical appointments. About 104 million people use NEMT each year. The federal government wants to limit the use of NEMT to save money and is giving states the ability to cut this service.
Proponents say that cutting NEMT will reduce costs caused by fraud. For example, a Massachusetts NEMT provider billed for rides for people who had died. Plus, by eliminating NEMT, they say Medicaid will be more like traditional insurance companies, which do not provide transportation.
Critics say NEMT is a vital service. A study by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services found that transportation issues were the third-greatest obstacle faced by adults with disabilities going to medical appointments.
Full Story: JoNel Aleccia, Medicaid Transportation at Risk in Some States, Disability Scoop, Jan. 30, 2018, available at
1. People with Disabilities Promised the Right to Vote in France
Under Article Five of France's Electoral Code judges can decide whether people with disabilities who are under guardianship may vote. This affects over 385,000 people with mental and intellectual disabilities. The French National Consultative Commission on Human Rights urged the government to repeal Article 5 in January 2017.
In February, the French government announced that all people with disabilities will be given the right to vote. State Secretary for Persons with Disabilities, Sophie Cluzel, said that the government cannot call people with disabilities citizens and then deprive them of the right to vote.
Full Story: Lea Labaki, People with Disabilities to Get Vote in France, Human Rights Watch, Feb. 9, 2018, available at
See Also: Youen Tanguy, Secretary of State Sophie Cluzel Wants to Open the Right to Vote to all People with Intellectual Disabilities, LCI, available at
2. British Columbia Highlights Mental Health Awareness
In honor of Psychology Month, the British Columbia Psychological Association (BCPA) hosted free public presentations about mental health disabilities in Metro Vancouver and Victoria in February. Some topics included were promoting good mental health, gender identity in children and youth, raising children with challenging behaviors, suicide, and depression.
The BCPA's goal was to increase awareness of mental illness and create a conversation about mental health. It also wanted to let people know where to find treatment to help with mental illness.
Full Story: BC Psychological Association, Psychology Month Highlights Depression as the World's Leading Disability, Globe Newswire, Jan. 29, 2018, available at
H. POP CULTURE
1. Breaking Barriers: An Actress with Down Syndrome Plays the Lead
Jamie Brewer, a well-known actress with Down syndrome, is the lead role as an individual with Down syndrome in the play Amy and the Orphans. The show centers around three siblings who reunite and go on a road trip after their father's death. It opens on March 1, 2018, at the Laura Pels Theater in New York City.
Brewer has played roles on the television series American Horror Story and starred in the movie, The Ringer. She also is the first person with Down syndrome to walk the runway at New York Fashion Week.
Full Story: Sopan Deb, A Barrier Breaks: An Actress with Down Syndrome Plays the Lead, NY Times, Feb. 14, 2018, available at
2. A First: 2018 Gerber Baby Is a Child with Down Syndrome
An 18-month-old, Lucas Warren, made history on February 7, 2018. He is the first child with Down syndrome to become Gerber's "Spokesbaby of the year" in Gerber's 91-year history. The company started looking for the "Gerber Baby" in 1927, soon after Gerber was founded.
Gerber selected Lucas from more than 140,000 entries to its photo search contest. The "Gerber Baby" title means Lucas' parents will get a $50,000 prize. Also, Lucas will be on Gerber's social media channels and will be featured in Gerber ads through the year.
Full Story: Andrea Diaz, For the First Time in its History, the Gerber Spokesbaby is a Child with Down Syndrome, CNN, Feb. 8, 2018, available at
I. EVENTS AND FUNDING
Call for Papers and Proposals
Webinars and Conferences
Care Home Stories: Aging, Disability, and Long-Term Residential Care edited by Sally Chivers and Ulla Kriebernegg "challenge stereotypes of institutional care for older adults, illustrate the changes that have occurred over time, and illuminate the continuities in the stories we tell about 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, Lauren Galloway, and Matthew Ramsay.
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