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
April 30, 2018
Volume 15, Issue 4
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. Guidance Allows Education Department to Ignore Complaints
The Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) protects the rights of students in public education. It issued guidance that allows the Department of Education to dismiss complaints. If the OCR receives a complaint that would pose undue hardship on the office or a pattern of complaints against many people, they can dismiss them. Also, the rules say the people filing the complaints cannot appeal the dismissals.
The OCR receives thousands of complaints each year. The new guidelines will allow the office to address every type of discrimination without having to address each complaint, says Elizabeth Hill of the Department of Education.
But disability rights advocates disagree. Miriam Rollin, director of the National Center for Youth Law's Education Civil Rights Alliance, says the new rule allows the OCR to ignore valid complains just because there are "a bunch of them." According to Executive Director Denise Marshall of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, the change makes no sense. If students are being discriminated against, the OCR should work to solve the problem, not ignore it.
Full Story: Hannah Lang, New Rules Let Ed Department Ignore Disability-Related Complaints, Disability Scoop, Apr. 2, 2018, available at
See Also: Mel Leonor, New Civil Rights Rule Triggers Hundreds of Dismissals, Politico, Apr. 3, 2018, available at
2. Proposed ADA Revision Stalled by Senator Duckworth
In February, the House of Representatives passed HR 620, a change to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that would make the law harder to enforce. In late March, Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promising to block a vote on HR 620. The letter was cosigned by 42 Democrats.
Advocates say this is cause for celebration. Duckworth has opposed HR 620 from the beginning. She wrote an editorial in October 2017, arguing that the change threatened to make people with disabilities second-class citizens. Under HR 620, people with disabilities would have to notify businesses that violate the ADA before filing a lawsuit. As Duckworth and her colleagues wrote, HR 620 would cut incentives for businesses to comply with Title III of the ADA until they received a complaint. They argue that this would change the essential meaning of ADA Title III.
Full Story: Robyn Powell, Sen. Tammy Duckworth Saves the Americans with Disabilities Act--For Now, Rewire News, Apr. 3, 2018, available at
3. The Balance Between Zoning Laws and Disability Rights Laws
The number of lawsuits based on zoning laws and disability rights laws has been rising. These laws often contradict each other. For example, zoning laws require paths to water be made out of sand, but this limits access for people with mobility disabilities, which violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Some topics of note are service animals and private homes. Public entities that provide housing such as apartment complexes must allow people with disabilities to have service animals, even if there are rules against having pets. However, the ADA defines service animals as dogs, while the Fair Housing Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act allow for a variety of species.
Private homes must comply with the least number of regulations, but new homes must be "generally accessible enough to be easily and safely visited by a person with a disability." If people run a business from their home, the part of the home where clients are seen must be accessible.
Full Story: Robin Paul Malloy, A Primer on Disability for Land Use and Zoning Law, Journal of Law, Property, and Society, 1, pp. 1-45 (2018), available at
1. We Need to Include Women with Disabilities in Conversations About Equal Pay
April 10 marked Equal Pay Day in the United States. Last year women received on average 80.5 cents for every dollar men earned. Equal Pay Day works to draw attention to that gap in hopes to bring about change.
The gap widens when women have disabilities. For example, women with disabilities earn 72 cents for every dollar paid to men with disabilities. Activists worry not enough is being done to fix this. They say we need to do better at including women with disabilities in conversations and activism surrounding equal pay. This can include steps as simple as making disability a part of workplace diversity.
Full Story: Robyn Powell, Disabled Women's Equal Pay Struggles Often Go Unheard -- But You Can Help Include Them, Bustle, Apr. 10, 2018, available at
2. UT Austin Offers Job Training to Students with Disabilities
Students with disabilities at the University of Texas at Austin (UT) felt that the school's career training services failed to address disability-specific issues. So UT Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) began offering "Disability and Employment" workshops once a week.
The program aims to help students with disabilities transition from college life to the workplace. Topics include resume writing, interviewing, disability rights in the workplace, asking for accommodations, and disclosing disabilities to employers.
Full Story: Stephanie Adeline, SSD Steps in to Help Students with Disabilities Address Challenges in Finding Employment, The Daily Texan, Mar. 22, 2018, available at
1. An Increase in Funding Helps Special Education
In March, President Trump signed a law that will give $1.3 trillion to schools and other public institutions to help people with disabilities, $13.1 billion of this funding special education. Specifically, the law says the Government Accountability Office must look at the complaints about the use of restrains and seclusion in schools. They must find ways to limit the use of these strategies and offer guidance on how to reduce incidents that cause schools to use them.
Other parts of the budget will go to services like vocational rehabilitation, independent living, and autism research.
Full Story: Michelle Diament, Federal Budget Boosts Special Ed Funding, Addresses Autism Wandering, Disability Scoop, Mar. 28, 2018, available at
2. New Program Teaches Substance-Abuse Prevention to Students with Disabilities
Columbus City Schools added a new program to help children with disabilities learn not to abuse drugs. Called Stop to Live, the program consists of six lessons throughout the school year. It teaches ideas like peer pressure, finding adults who are trustworthy, and making good choices. The program consists of both classroom activities and one-on-one lessons.
Stop to Live is the first program of its kind. Its developers plan to replicate it nationally next year.
Full Story: Joanne Viviano, Program Teaches Special-Needs Kids to Avoid Harmful Drugs, U.S. News, Apr. 22, 2018, available at
1. "Selfie Medicine": The New Healthcare Craze?
Some doctors are using smart phones to make sure patients take their medicine. With new phone apps patients record themselves taking their medicine. The video then gets sent to an office so staff can see the patients taking their pills. Supporters say the medical selfie is a way to cut costs and ensure compliance. Many believe this will cut down on the over 100,000 people a year who die from not taking their medicine.
However, others see the practice as dangerous to privacy rights. Advocates in the disability community worry that this technology will unfairly target individuals with psychiatric disabilities. They fear doctors will use this practice to medicate individuals against their will.
The technology is already being used by those with tuberculosis and hepatitis, but its full impact remains to be seen.
Full Story: Angela Chen, "Selfie Medicine" Might Help People Take Their Pills--at the Cost of Their Privacy, The Verge, Mar. 28, 2018, available at
2. Normalizing Disability in Medical School
Students at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University (CMSRU) are working to increase support for medical students with disabilities. Nationwide only three percent of medical students disclose their disability and receive accommodations. This may be caused by the stigma attached to disability. Sami Kennedy, Priyanka Chugh, and Kelsey Coolahan hope to change that at CMSRU.
Kennedy, Chugh, and Coolahan formed a student group to promote disability awareness. Over a fifth of the student body has joined the group. The group has worked to connect with other medical students with disabilities across the country. Kennedy believes doctors with disabilities have a greater level of empathy and understanding. This can make them better doctors.
Full Story: Elana Gordon, Cooper Medical Students with Disabilities Push for Culture Change in Medicine, WHYY, Apr. 2, 2018, available at
1. Grindr Shares Users' H.I.V.-Status Data
Grindr is a social network aimed at men who are gay, bisexual, and transgender. Users can choose to disclose their H.I.V. status on their profiles. Grindr shares that information and other sensitive user data with other companies.
When researchers announced that this information is shared with advertising companies, Grindr responded by claiming that their practices are standard across the industry. They remind users that Grindr is a public forum.
Consumer advocates hope that online platform and app developers change their policies so that consumers feel like they have better control over what is shared with other companies. Many laws say people have the right to keep health and disability information confidential until they share it.
Full Story: Natasha Singer, Grindr Sets Off Privacy Firestorm After Sharing Users' H.I.V.-Status Data, New York Times, Apr. 03, 2018, available at
2. Twitter Adds Disability to Abuse-Reporting Options
Natalie Weaver and her followers on Twitter urged the social media giant to add disability as a specific protected category after images of her daughter became the target of pro-abortion activists. Ms. Weaver's daughter is a child with multiple disabilities.
When Weaver first reported the negative attention, Twitter said that the behavior did not break any of its rules. But Weaver's plea gained more and more media attention.
Now Twitter has added the ability to report such comments. Other areas of diversity that Twitter names protected categories include race, religion, gender, and orientation.
Full Story: Michelle Diament, Twitter Adds Disability to Abuse Reporting Options, Disability Scoop, Apr. 3, 2018, available at
1. "Incompetence" Laws Exclude Thousands of Americans From Voting
Spectrum Institute is a disability-rights advocacy group. They say many states have "incompetency" laws, which allow a judge to take away voting rights from individuals with mental disorders. However, there is no minimal standard for what level of cognitive ability is needed to vote.
These laws are generally in place to prevent voter fraud. A family member or guardian could use the ballot of the person with a disability to vote twice. While this could be a real concern, Michelle Bishop of the National Disability Rights Network warns that it creates a system where people with disabilities can lose their right to vote based only on their identity. Advocacy groups and the American Bar Association have begun pushing for a standard that asks whether people with disabilities said they want to vote. So far California, Maryland, Nevada, and New Mexico have adopted this standard.
Full Story: Matt Vasilogambros, Thousands Lose Right to Vote Under "Incompetence" Laws, Disability Scoop, Mar. 27, 2018 available at
2. Advocates Fear New York State Budget Encourages Institutionalization
New York State passed its budget last month, and one provision is likely to have a major impact on individuals with disabilities. In the new budget, if someone is permanently placed in a nursing home for three months, nursing home placement is taken out of his or her Medicaid managed care system. Advocates warn that this could encourage institutionalization.
Activists also point to other policies that encourage institutionalization. Many involve funds being available for all nursing home services but for only some home-based services. Advocates fear for the disability community as politicians fail to protect it.
Full Story: Press Release, Center for Disability Rights, Budget Encourages Managed Care Plans to Institutionalize Disabled People, by the State's Action (Apr. 12, 2018), available at
3. Massachusetts Resource Directory for Families with Disabilities Now Available in Spanish
A resource directory of services for children with disabilities in Massachusetts is now available in Spanish. The directory is a free online service. It includes information on disability-related professionals, such as doctors, therapists, and legal aid. Information on activities like sports, social clubs, and summer programs is also available. In addition, there are how-to guides available online for various disability-related topics, like applying for SSDI, employment, and special education.
Full Story: Ricki Meyer, Massachusetts Resource Directory Now Available in Spanish, Exceptional Lives, Apr. 5, 2018, available at
See Also: How-to Guides in Plain Language. Tailored to Your Family., Exceptional Lives, 2018, available at
1. Parents of Child with Unknown Terminal Illness Fight Legal Battle to Stop End-of-Life Plan
Tom Evans and Kate James, parents of Alfie Evans, went to court on Monday, April 16, 2018, to fight for their child to continue to receive treatment. Alfie is almost two years old. Doctors have been treating him for a degenerative brain disease at Adler Hey Children's Hospital since December 2016. They cannot diagnose the disease. In February the court ruled that the hospital could stop treating Alfie against his parents' wishes. On Wednesday, April 11, the court supported an end-of-life care plan with a date to stop life support.
On April 12, protesters surrounded the hospital. Police were assigned to stop the parents from taking Alfie to a hospital in Italy, which has agreed to continue to search for a diagnosis. Mr. Evans was told that if he tried to take his child out of the hospital, he would be imprisoned. The Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights have both declined to hear the case.
Full Story: Alfie Evans: Toddler's Parents Launch New Legal Challenge, BBC, Apr. 13, 2018, available at
2. International Film Festival Features Disability
The Global Roots Film Festival in Vermont showcased films focusing on disability over the weekend of April 13, 2018. The festival included 10 feature-length films and two short films. The festival was praised for not including films where people with disabilities are inspiring. Instead, they told the stories of people with disabilities that are not seen in mainstream media.
The various films challenge common ideas about disability. Taboo topics like sex, love, racism, and mental health are at the heart of each story. The films came from all around the world, which gave a global perspective and critique of disability issues.
Full Story: Rachel Elizabeth Jones, Global Roots Film Festival Focuses on Disability, sevendaysvt.com, Apr. 11, 2018, available at
H. POP CULTURE
1. Zappos and PBS KIDS Make a New Line of Accessible Clothes
PBS KIDS teamed up with Zappos to introduce a new line of clothes designed for children with disabilities. The line will include t-shirts and lounge pants with fun designs, such as dinosaurs. The clothes can be put on backwards or inside out, so children can dress independently. To accommodate sensory disabilities, they will not have buttons, feature dissolvable tags, and be made of soft fabric.
The clothes will soon be available at Zappos. People can sign up to be notified when the line is on the market.
Full Story: Shaun Heasley, Zappos, PBS Launching Apparel for Children with Special Needs, Disability Scoop, Apr. 12, 2018, available at
See Also: PBS Kids Zappos Adaptive, available at
2. Sesame Street Increases its Focus on Autism
Sesame Street introduced Julie, a four-year-old with autism, over two years ago. Since then they continue to expand their focus on autism.
Sesame Place, a Sesame Street theme park, is the first theme park to be a Certified Autism Center. This means park employees are trained to work with people with autism. The park has two quiet rooms for visitors who need to take breaks. In addition, the park's website will have material to help people with autism prepare to go to Sesame Place.
Sesame Street's website will offer material to help children learn about autism. For example, there will be four videos featuring Julia. The website will also offer routine cards showing Julia and her friends going to a birthday party and participating in other activities that might be challenging for children with autism.
Full Story: Shaun Heasley, Sesame Street Expands Autism Focus, Disability Scoop, Apr. 5, 2018, available at
I. EVENTS AND FUNDING
Call for Papers
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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 Angel Baker; and Associate Editors Kate Battoe, Christina Kalebic, John Cronin, Lauren Galloway, and Eddie Zaremba.
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