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
July 3, 2018
Volume 15, Issue 6
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. Civil Rights Groups Sue Department of Education
Multiple civil rights groups jointly filed suit against the Department of Education. The suit takes issue with new rules adopted by the department that allow more freedom in dismissing civil rights complaints. The new rules let the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights decline cases that add to a pattern of complaints already filed. Representatives claim that the change targets only those few people who serially file thousands of claims.
However, the civil rights groups worry that the vague language of the change will hurt groups like students with disabilities. The change could let the department block the only way many people can get their voices and cases heard. The lawsuit argues that the change violates the law and should not have been put in place.
Full Story: Erica Green, Disability and Civil Rights Groups Sue DeVos Over Investigation Rollbacks, N.Y. Times, May 31, 2018, available at
2. Girl Scouts Monitor Accessibility
A Ridgefield, Connecticut, Girl Scout troop proved to be effective advocates for people with disabilities. One of the troop members uses a wheelchair. The group surveyed local businesses' accessibility. They evaluated 27 businesses for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The girls measured doorways and checked for wheelchair ramps. If there were accessibility concerns, they talked to business owners about them. They also passed out stickers stating that "disability rights are civil rights." Their efforts started important dialogues about disability rights in their town.
Full Story: Macklin Reid, How Accessible Is the Village? Girl Scouts Survey the Scene, Ridgefield Press, Jun. 15, 2018, available at
1. New Virtual Reality Training Helps People with Disabilities Find Jobs
A virtual reality training hopes to make the job search easier for people with disabilities. The program focuses on improving interview skills. Nicknamed the "Molly training," it works through a virtual character named Molly. Molly conducts an initial 20-minute interview with a user to develop a baseline score. The process is then repeated to improve a user's skills and address their unique needs.
The tool boasts some impressive results. It has been tested by people with various mental illnesses, mood disorders, and autism. Those who worked with Molly proved twice as likely to find a job. Teachers rave about how the tool helps students learn to talk confidently about their job skills.
The project has caught the attention of some leaders in the field. The National Institute of Mental Health and the Kessler Foundation are both funding future research into Molly's effectiveness.
Full Story: Riley Langfeld, VR Job Training Shows Promise Helping Disabled Workers Find Jobs, Michigan Daily, Jun. 1, 2018, available at
2. California School Prepares Adults with Disabilities for the Workforce
A unique school in Sacramento, California, celebrated its first group of graduates last month. The Meristern School offers a curriculum tailored to students with autism. The school follows a model started in the United Kingdom. The Sacramento campus is the only one of its kind in the United States.
The school focuses on developing skills that can help students gain and retain employment. Students learn important skills like problem solving by taking classes in subjects like cooking and woodworking. Students are also placed in job, internship, or volunteer positions while at school. Placements include everything from jobs at a local country club to shifts at a senior living facility. The school and students aim to show that with the right supports people on the spectrum can thrive in the work place.
Full Story: Sammy Caiola, This Unique Sacramento School Wants to Get More Autistic Adults Into Jobs, Capital Public Radio, Jun.13, 2018, available at
1. Study Shows Students with Intellectual Disabilities Are Not Included
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, students with disabilities are supposed to attend class with their peers as much as possible. A national study found that students with intellectual disabilities (ID) are not given this chance as much as they could be.
Researchers looked at where schools placed students with ID over a span of about 40 years. They found that 55 to 73 percent of students with ID spent most of their time in segregated classrooms. Schools started placing students with ID in more inclusive classrooms beginning in 1990, but then that trend decreased by 2010.
Where schools placed students with ID varied throughout the country. Researchers suggest that this means some schools could work on placing students with ID in more inclusive settings.
Full Story: Shaun Heasley, Inclusion Rates Lagging for Students with Intellectual Disabilities, Disability Scoop, May 15, 2018, available at
2. Oregon School District Embraces Inclusion
Six years ago, West Linn-Wilsonville School District set a goal to become completely inclusive. Before 2012, the district sent students with disabilities to self-contained classrooms. Today, all students learn in general education classrooms.
The district started by changing its ideas. General education teachers began putting students with disabilities on their rosters and thinking of them as part of the class. It changed the roles of special education teachers and made their titles "learning specialist." The learning specialists were moved to buildings throughout the district. The district also changed its professional development, so general education teachers could learn skills to support students with disabilities. Plus, it hired more employees to support students with disabilities.
By 2015, the district was fully integrated. Inclusion is good for all students. Since the district made the change, graduation rates have risen for students with and without disabilities. Also, students without disabilities see their peers with disabilities as fellow students, not only as kids with disabilities. These changes allowed students with disabilities to form relationships with their peers without disabilities that they could not have formed in a self-contained classroom.
Full Story: Taylor Mirfendereski and Susannah Frame, Oregon School District Includes All Students with Disabilities in Regular Classes, K5 News, May 24, 2018, available at
1. Medicare Lacks Coverage for Mental Illnesses
People who receive Social Security Disability Insurance for two years become eligible for Medicare. Many of these people have mental illnesses. Over the past 12 years, Medicare has improved its coverage for people with mental illnesses by covering most antipsychotic and antidepressant medications. The Affordable Care Act expanded Medicare's coverage to include important therapies to keep people with mental illnesses from needing in-patient treatment.
However, there are many problems with Medicare's coverage for people with mental illnesses. In 2008, Congress passed the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. This made insurance companies provide the same level of care for mental illnesses as all health issues, but Medicare does not have to follow this law. It limits in-patient psychiatric care to 190 days for an individual's lifetime but does not set this limit on other hospital stays. Plus, it does not cover most long-term treatments for people with mental illnesses.
Full Story: Andrew Sperling, Medicare and Mental Health, Washington Times, Jun. 26, 2018, available at
2. ACLU Sues to Ensure Prisoners with Disabilities Receive Appropriate Care
After a knee injury in high school, Sy Eubanks' doctor prescribed opioids for pain. Eubanks soon became addicted. Almost thirty years later he still lives with Opioid Use Disorder (OUD). For years, Eubanks successfully used Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) to treat his disorder. However, he has been barred from using MAT since September, when he became an inmate at Whatcom County Jail.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recently filed a lawsuit claiming that the county is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA protects all Americans, including inmates who live with disabilities. OUD qualifies as a disability under the ADA. The ACLU claims that by failing to offer MAT, the county is discriminating against people like Eubanks because of their disability. Whatcom County Jail's current solution for OUD is withdrawal. The ACLU says that does nothing to treat the causes of addiction and makes inmates more likely to relapse on release. The ACLU presents a new approach to drug treatment that could have national implications.
Full Story: Amy Roe, People in Jail Deserve Effective Drug Treatment Not Forced Withdrawal, ACLU, Jun. 15, 2018, available at
1. Houston's Bus System Aids People with Visual Disabilities
Metro is the bus system in Houston, Texas. It has developed a way for people who are blind or have low vision to easily navigate the bus system. Metro is installing a small beacon on every bus stop. Customers can enter their destination into the Metro app, which will guide them to the correct bus stop. Customers can set the app to give them audio directions or to have their phones pulse as they go towards a stop. The pulsing speed increases as they near the correct bus stop.
Michael McCulloch is a person with a visual disability. He can navigate the bus routes he takes regularly but has difficulty if he needs to go somewhere outside of his routine. McCulloch helped Metro test the beacon system. He says the beacons have allowed him to go places where he would not normally go, like to a new restaurant. Metro plans to have the system ready to use by this fall.
Full Story: Dug Begley, Beacons Put Metro at Forefront of Disabled Service Advances for Transit, Houston Chronicle, May 29, 2018, available at
2. Engineering Students Develop Inexpensive Assistive Technology
Through the Inclusion Engineering Project, high school students from Minnesota were paired with students with disabilities. Each group of engineering students had to learn about the needs of a student with a disability. The students would then design something to address those needs.
Some of the designs included a wooden box attached to a walker that allowed an eight-year-old to carry his books, gloves with different color fingers to help a first grader with her dexterity, and blocks with Braille on them for a toddler.
Each design cost $35 or less. They were showcased at Hennepin Technical College's Engineering Technology Fair in May.
Full Story: Liz Sawyer, Shakopee Engineering Students Construct Life-Changing Products for Disabled Peers, Star Tribune, Jun. 2, 2018, available at
1. Minnesota City Among First to Be "Autism Friendly"
Austin, Minnesota, is home to a community with the goal to help people with autism fit in everywhere. The Autism Friendly Austin project works with schools, businesses, and residents to accommodate people with autism. This project is one of the first of its kind.
Participants offer different services that make what they do more accommodating. For instance, a local dentist offers sunglasses, blankets, and earphones to make the experience better for patients with sensory disabilities. It also provides a pamphlet that explains exactly what happens at an appointment to help people with autism prepare for their visits. A local museum allows residents to socialize in a comfortable way by sharing information about personal hobbies and passions. Residents can host an exhibition table of their own to display and share information with guests.
Full Story: John Reisman, City Among First to Go "Autism Friendly," Disability Scoop, May. 22, 2018, available at
2. Suicide Resources in New York City
Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain were two famous New Yorkers who committed suicide during the first week of June. Between 2008 and 2014, suicide rates rose two percent each year. In 2014, the latest year with available data, 565 people died from suicide in New York City alone.
Suicide is preventable, and loved ones and friends can help people who may be suicidal. For instance, if people talk about feeling trapped, say they feel hopeless or drink more alcohol, they might be thinking about suicide. Asking them if they are suicidal could be helpful. Listen to them and do not dismiss their feelings. Keep them safe by taking away anything that could be lethal.
NYC Well operates a 24/7 hotline available in English, Spanish, and Mandarin. The city also operates Crisis Respite Centers, where people can stay in a safe and supervised setting. There are also national resources available, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and SpeakingOfSuicide.com.
Full Story: Jonathan Wolfe, New York Today: Suicide Resources in the City, New York Times, Jun. 11, 2018, available at
1. Pride Parade in Calgary Attracts Thousands
Calgary is a city in Alberta, Canada. It hosted a disability pride parade last month. More than 1,000 people showed up to offer support. The parade marked the 20th anniversary of celebrating disability pride. Organizers thought it represented the best turnout in the event's history.
Disability Action Hall is a local advocacy group that organized the parade. Leaders stated that it was meant to celebrate disability as a point of pride rather than a source of stigma. The parade culminated with guest speakers, performers, food, and music.
Full Story: Sammy Hudes, Thousands Join Disability Pride Parade in Downtown Calgary, Calgary Herald, Jun. 3, 2018, available at
2. Disability Law Summer School Held in Galway
Over 220 delegates from 50 countries visited Ireland in late June for the world's largest Disability Law Summer School. This year marks the tenth annual summer school. NUI Galway's Centre for Disability Law and Policy hosted the event. This year's theme revolved around intersectionality.
The Summer School focused on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), an international disability rights law. The event aimed to help participants use the law to improve the lives of people with disabilities worldwide.
Full Story: Micheál Ó Maoileoin, Galway to Host World's Biggest Disability Law Summer School, Galway Daily, Jun. 15, 2018, available at
H. POP CULTURE
1. Documentary About Former Principal Who Has ALS Aired Nationally
Mr. Connolly Has ALS is a documentary by disability filmmaker Dan Habib about a school principal who contracted ALS. He used aids to do what he loves and serve his students and the community as long as he could. For instance, he used an iPad to communicate and an electric scooter to move from place to place.
Connolly wanted to use his experience to teach his students about disability and perseverance. The film features Connolly, as well as current and former students, sharing their perspectives. The film aired on PBS on June 11 and is available online to stream for free for one month from that date. Captions are available as well.
Full Story: Monitor staff, Documentary on Gene Connolly to Be Broadcast Nationally on PBS, Concord Monitor, Jun. 10, 2018, available at
2. Frida Kahlo Exhibit Highlights Artist's Identity, Including Disabilities
Frida Kahlo was a Mexican artist who had physical disabilities related to polio and a bus accident. She made disability a part of her identity. Known for her visual art, artifacts from her life are on display now in London.
The exhibit shows her elaborate clothing, as well as very personal belongings, such as her crutches and prosthetic leg. The author asks whether Kahlo intended to portray her life as a performance. While the author disagrees with the exhibit curators' emphasis on her life instead of her art, some of the artifacts are props from her famous works.
Full Story: Jonathan Jones, Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up Review--Forget the Paintings, Here's Her False Leg, The Guardian, Jun. 12, 2018, available at
I. EVENTS AND FUNDING
Call for Papers
The Cost of Insanity in Nineteenth-Century Ireland: Public, Voluntary and Private Asylum Care by Alice Mauger is the first comparative study of public, voluntary and private asylums in nineteenth-century Ireland."
Investigating the Body in the Victorian Asylum: Doctors, Patients, and Practices by Jennifer Wallis "explores how the body was investigated in the late nineteenth-century asylum in Britain."
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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, Lauren Galloway, and Eddie Zaremba.
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