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
March 27, 2009
Volume 6, Issue 3
The Disability Law & Policy Newsletter is a bi-weekly 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: Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Sections
504 & 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, and state civil rights law
B. EDUCATION: Special education & youth transition to successful postsecondary outcomes
C. TECHNOLOGY / TELECOMMUNICATIONS: Assistive, information, and communication technologies
D. HEALTHCARE / BENEFITS: Social Security Income / Social Security Disability Income / Medicaid & Medicare
E. WORKFORCE: Workforce Investment Act (WIA), Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act (TWWIIA), & Vocational Rehabilitation
F. INDEPENDENCE: News for and about the Independent Living Movement
G. EMERGENCY RESPONSE / PREPAREDNESS: Disaster mitigation and preparedness news
H. INTERNATIONAL: News for and about disability topics outside the U.S.
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A. CIVIL RIGHTS
1. Authorities Evacuate Housing for Employees with Intellectual Disabilities
Federal, state, and county investigators in Atalissa, Iowa, ordered the evacuation of living quarters used to house twenty-one male employees with intellectual disabilities. Henry's Turkey Service, a Texas-based company who contracted with a local meat-processing plant to provide labor, employed the men. Henry's Turkey Service compensated the men at reduced wages and deducted from their wages money for room, board, and "kind care." Investigators described conditions in the building, known as "the bunkhouse," as deplorable, heated only by space heaters and unequipped to provide the required degree of care. Henry's Turkey Service brought many of the men, now in their 60s and 70s, from Texas in the late 1970s.
Clark Kauffman, State Closes Bunkhouse that Housed Mentally Retarded Workers, Des Moines Register, February 8, 2009, available at
2. Court Allows NYS Housing Integration Lawsuit to Progress to Trial
In Brooklyn, a Federal District Court ruled disability advocates may proceed to trial with their lawsuit seeking integrated housing for adults with psychiatric disabilities. The lawsuit, filed six years ago, alleges the New York State practice of housing individuals with psychiatric disabilities in adult homes deprives the residents of their right to live in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs, violating the ADA. One plaintiff organization states that thousands of people currently reside in institutions in New York City alone, many of whom could be better served in their own homes or in smaller group homes. The state argues the suggested changes would require a "fundamental alteration" of its services, and consequently it should not be required to overhaul the system.
Julie Bosman, Suit Progresses on Housing for Mentally Ill, New York Times, February 20, 2009, available at
3. Human Relations Commission to Investigate Denial of Medical Leave
The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations will investigate a complaint against the city public school system filed by Richard N. Gliniak, Jr., a public school teacher with AIDS. Mr. Gliniak's complaint alleges the school district discriminated against him on the basis of his disability by refusing to evaluate adequately his claim for medical leave, consequently denying his claim. Mr. Gliniak took several medical leaves, all related to his treatment for AIDS-related illnesses, over the course of his seven-year tenure with the school district but has diligently provided the district with supporting documentation. Mr. Gliniak takes issue with the psychiatric examination the district ordered, claiming an evaluation by an AIDS specialist is more appropriate. The evaluation performed by the district determined him capable of working. Gliniak, however, believes the side effects caused by AIDS-related medications rendered him unable to teach for a temporary period.
Tim Cwiek, Teacher with AIDS Files Bias Complaint Against School District, Philadelphia Gay News, February, 2009, available at
1. Inclusive Classrooms Aid Autism Spectrum Students
The 2008 Support for Learning Journal recently published an article suggesting several key elements in creating a successful inclusive education environment for students with autism. Inclusive education is defined as placing a student with disability in a full time general education environment and providing necessary modifications and supports. Inclusive education offers benefits to both their social and academic opportunities. The article notes the importance of structure for the student, such as predictable and routine environments. Effective inclusive education also includes promoting understanding among class peers and actively teaching social skills in the classroom. Adapting class work to assist students struggling with abstract concepts is also important.
Teresa J. Foden, ADVICE: How Schools Can Use Inclusion to Help Autism Spectrum Students, Opposing Views, March 11, 2009, available at
2. Pennsylvania Advocacy Groups Demand Funding for Special Education
In 2007, Augenblick, Palaich and Associates, Inc., an educational policy consulting firm conducted a "costing out study," which became the basis for the 2008 funding formula adopted in Pennsylvania. This formula was aimed at basic education by giving money to the schools that needed it the most and holding all school districts to high levels of accountability. Though the 2007 study recommended the funding of special education on an individual basis, students with disabilities and their needs were often ignored in the 2008 plan.
Following a new study by Augenblick conducted this year, more than 35 disability advocacy groups are standing behind a bill to support reformation for special education funding. The 2009 report indicates that 400 of the 501 school districts in Pennsylvania provide inadequate funding for special education. In addition, Philadelphia, which educates the largest number of students with disability in the state, has a 30% dropout rate for high school age students with disabilities.
To see the complete February 2009 report and data go to
Brett Schaeffer, 35 Advocacy Groups Ask Legislators to Fix Special Education Funding, Philadelphia Public School: The Notebook, Spring 2009, available at
C. TECHNOLOGY / TELECOMMUNICATIONS
1. New Prosthetic Listens to Brain
A new technique, targeted muscle reinnervation, is making it possible for individuals with prosthetic arms to move their arms automatically. Reinnervation works by rewiring a patients remaining nerves and connecting them to another muscle in the body, usually the chest; and, when the individual decides to move his arm, the brain sends signals to the chest muscles, which in turn send an electric signal to the prosthetic arm instructing it to move. The new procedure is costly and takes months for the rewired nerves to grow, but reinnervation is the fastest and most advanced system currently used. Furthermore, reinnervation may be possible to use with soldiers who have sustained extensive damage to nerves, muscle or bone.
Pam Belluck, In New Procedure, Artificial Arm Listens to Brain, The New York Times, February 11, 2009, available at
2. Robotic Suit to Help Individuals with Paralysis Walk
A new invention known as ReWalk can help individuals with paralysis walk. ReWalk is a robotic suit, functioning similar to an exoskeleton, which consists of lightweight, motorized leg supports and an assortment of intricate motion sensors. Users wear a backpack containing a computerized control box that assists the robot to recognize when a step must be taken. ReWalk is currently going through clinical trials in Tel Aviv but may be available for purchase as early as 2010.
Robotic Suit Helps Paralyzed Walk, January 9, 2009, CNN.com, available at
D. HEALTHCARE / BENEFITS
1. Court Finds Insufficient Evidence of Link Between Vaccines and Autism
A recent decision by a special court held the plaintiffs, parents of children with autism, could not provide conclusive evidence supporting their claim that childhood vaccines containing thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative used in vaccines until 2001, brought on their children's autism. In rare cases, vaccines can cause shock, health complications, or death, most often in children with compromised immune systems. However, the court ruled the plaintiffs lacked the ability to link the vaccines to autism.
The federal government does recognize side effects to vaccines generally, but not specifically with autism. However, the federal government settled a case in May 2008 where a girl with autism was found to have been "damaged by the vaccines."
Donald G. McNeil, Court Says Vaccine Not to Blame for Autism, New York Times, February 12, 2009, available at
2. Home Health Program Becoming a National Model
The Baptist Health Home Health Network, a program in Arkansas, received national attention for using technology and teamwork to help patients who have trouble understanding and following doctors' orders because of illness, disability or illiteracy. The National Association for Home Care and Hospice is now trying to use the network as a model for a national pilot program. The network is made up of nurses who often call patients at home to check in on them, and use technology such as a telehealth computer to monitor patients in their homes.
Carolyne Park, Baptist's Home-Health Program Is Seen as a National Model, Arkansas Democrat Gazette, February 2, 2009, available at
3. Parents Calling on Virginia Insurers to Pay for Costs of Autism
Parents in Virginia have marched on Richmond and demanded the Virginia General Assembly require insurers to cover the therapy costs of autism. The Virginia legislature is considering a bill this legislative session. However, private businesses are protesting that the law will drive up healthcare premiums during an economic recession. Furthermore, many companies are threatening to drop their policies and leave employees with no healthcare coverage if costs become too high. The Virginia bill would mandate coverage for the diagnosis and treatment of autism, with a cap on the amount spent on treatment at $36,000 per year and would apply only to policies offered by businesses with more than 50 employees.
Fredrick Kunkle, Seeking Help for Autistic Kids, Washington Post, February 2, 2009, available at
1. ADA Amendment Act May Result in Increased Accommodations
The ADA Amendments Act broadens the definition of disability, allowing the consideration of more employees as individuals with a disability. As a result, employers are now responsible for providing more accommodations. In instances requiring an expensive accommodation, such as the purchase of assistive technology, employers should be wary of declining to provide an accommodation based on cost. Instead, they should ask the individual with a disability if he or she is willing to pay the difference.
Further, the reasonableness of an accommodation's cost is based upon the agency's resources, not the employee's salary. However, an increase in accommodations does not necessarily translate into a large increase in costs, since the average cost of an accommodation is $500. Many accommodations do not cost anything, such as eliminating one of the nonessential functions of a job. Additionally, providing reasonable accommodations can, in the long run, save employers money by increasing the productivity of the individual with a disability and saving on training costs.
Melissa Turley, Increasing Reasonable Accommodations, Human Resource Executive Online, March 3, 2009, available at
2. Avoid Budget Cuts for Disability Services by Using Stimulus Cash
In Massachusetts, Governor Deval Patrick's proposed budget for FY 2010 contained large cuts to disability services, including a $78 million cut to the Department of Mental Retardation. If enacted, more than 11,000 Massachusetts citizens will lose disability services. Included among the cuts is the elimination of Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission's program that employs individuals with severe disabilities. However, the January budget proposal may eliminate the need to cut these important services because more funds have been made available through the stimulus package, and if the money is spent as Congress intended, Massachusetts' budget can be balanced without cutting these important disability programs.
Gary Blumenthal, Blumenthal: Use Stimulus Cash to Avoid Cuts, Daily News Tribune, March 8, 2009, available at
3. Gulf Coast Enterprises Hire Many Individuals with Disabilities
Gulf Coast Enterprises (GCE), founded in 1986, currently employs 850 people with disabilities in seven states. Like any other business, GCE strives to turn a profit. However, unlike many other businesses, turning a profit isn't the only bottom line. GCE also aims to help individuals with severe disabilities become successful in the workplace. While some businesses look to screen out individuals with disabilities, GCE looks to screen them in.
One of GCE's largest employers is the Pensacola Naval Air Station, which employs approximately 320 individuals with disabilities in food service, custodial, and administrative jobs at area bases. Most of these employees have severe disabilities and would often be expected to have great difficulty in the traditional workplace. However, through employment with GCE and the Pensacola Naval Air Station, these employees are able to earn living wages and health benefits, pay taxes, and participate in their communities.
Travis Griggs, Disabled Join Ranks at Pensacola Navy Base, Pensacola News Journal, February 22, 2009, available at
1. Nonprofit Organization Helps People with Disabilities Become Homeowners
Aware, Inc., a nonprofit organization, recently held an open house for people with developmental disabilities. The organization wanted to discuss an upcoming program helping people with developmental disabilities to own a new home by allowing their Social Security payments to cover the mortgage. The group recently built homes that will be sold to between one and four people with developmental disabilities. Aware's goal is to assist people with developmental disabilities to become as independent as possible, encouraging them to partake in neighborhood activities and find jobs, as well as learn responsibility with tasks such as paying bills. The new homes are open to people of varying levels of disability. Aware suggests that people with significant disabilities consider living with a roommate to ensure their needs are met.
Ryan Hall, Group Hopes to Provide Housing for Disabled, Great Falls Tribune, February 1, 2009, available at
2. National Federation for the Blind Supports Bill for Work Incentives
The National Federation for the Blind has voiced support for the Blind Persons Return to Work Act of 2009, sponsored by Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), which will eliminate penalties experienced by blind people who enter employment. The National Federation for the Blind says many blind people hesitate to return to work because they will lose Social Security Disability Insurance, and their income from employment rarely makes up the difference. The proposed House Bill would facilitate the transition to employment by providing incentives for people entering the workforce that counteract the penalties and loss of income they might otherwise face. Congressman Lewis and the National Federation for the Blind both voiced hopes that the bill will give more independence and financial freedom to people who are blind and want to become self-sufficient.
National Federation for the Blind Praises Bill to Create Work Incentives and Opportunity, PR Newswire, February 8, 2009, available at
3. Stimulus Bill Provides Business Contracts with Disabled Entrepreneurs
A stimulus bill being considered by the Secretary of the Treasury may give special consideration to businesses owned by people with disabilities. U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Enable America, a nonprofit organization with the mission of providing employment opportunities to people with disabilities, have been working in support of the bill. The original bill included special consideration for businesses owned by women and minorities, but Harkin's version aims at aiding people with disabilities, a demographic of the population with significantly lower employment rates. Enable America hopes that providing benefits for employers in the stimulus bill will not only help businesses owned by people with disabilities during difficult economic times, but also will encourage employers to hire people with disabilities when they might otherwise not be considered for a job.
Stimulus Bill Is a Victory for People with Disabilities, PR.com, February 19, 2009, available at
G. EMERGENCY RESPONSE / PREPAREDNESS
1. Workshop Analyzes Needs of Individuals with Disabilities in Emergencies
A two-day workshop sponsored by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and Homeland Security Standards Panel (HSSP) took a proactive step toward ensuring the safety of individuals with disabilities in the event of a disaster. Participants discussed the strengths and weaknesses of current standards for evacuating individuals with disabilities and priorities for improving these standards in the event of emergency. Participants emphasized the necessity of outreach and education and that organizations developing these standards, including architects, engineers, building owners and government representatives, must have a comprehensive understanding of the needs of individuals with disabilities.
ANSI-HSSP will form a task group to identify and prioritize the specific needs of individuals with disabilities during a disaster. The task force hopes to standardize resources to achieve a high level of emergency preparedness for all individuals, including those with disabilities.
A report on the workshop is available at
ANSI-HSSP Workshop Spotlights Emergency Preparedness Needs for Persons with Disabilities, ASNI News and Publications, February 10, 2009, available at
2. FEMA Urges Washington Residents with Disabilities to Prepare
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Washington Emergency Management Division (WEMD) are urging Washington residents with disabilities to be prepared for disasters that may affect the state. Both FEMA and WEMD believe individuals with disabilities should make their own emergency plans because they are in the best position to recognize their own functional abilities and possible needs during and after an emergency. Some suggestions from FEMA and WEMD include (1) making plans for accessible transportation in the event of an evacuation, (2) researching special assistance through their local emergency management coordinator, and (3) ensuring the availability of copies for all prescription medications and supplies.
For other suggestions and more information regarding preparing for an emergency, visit the following websites:
FEMA Encourages People with Special Needs to Prepare, Media-Newswire, March 3, 2009, available at
3. Janet Napolitano Sworn in as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security
On January 21, 2009, Janet Napolitano was sworn in as the third Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. As part of her new position, Ms. Napolitano will serve as the Chair of the Interagency Coordinating Council (ICC) on Emergency Preparedness and Individuals with Disabilities. The ICC, established by Executive Order 13347 ("Individuals with Disabilities in Emergency Preparedness"), is charged with ensuring individuals with disabilities plan for all stages of emergency stations, including mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. Ms. Napolitano's previous homeland security experience includes leading the domestic terrorism investigation in the Oklahoma City Bombing while serving as a U.S. Attorney and participating in various homeland security initiatives while she served as the Arizona Attorney General and Arizona governor.
Department of Homeland Security, Secretary Janet Napolitano, February 25, 2009, available at
1. Pacific Rim International Conference on Disabilities Taking Place in May
The 25th Annual Pacific Rim International Conference on Disabilities will take place on May 4-5, 2009, in Honolulu, Hawaii. The PacRim Conference is one of the leading disability conferences in the world, offering the latest analysis, research, and real world practices on disability issues. Drawing 1,200 leading disability experts, advocates, and activists in 2008, the 2009 PacRim Conference is offering special seminars on the economic downturn, fetal alcohol syndrome, and other timely issues. To register for the conference, visit the PacRim website at http://www.pacrim.hawaii.edu/, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (808) 956-7539.
For more information:
Pacific Rim, Working toward a Brighter Future, February 2009, available at
2. Nongovernmental Organizations Focusing on Disabilities in Myanmar
Nongovernmental organizations such as France's Handicap International have set up clinics in the delta region of Myanmar over the past 10 months as part of an emergency response for victims of Hurricane Nargis. Handicap International provides physiotherapy, a method for providing maximum movement and functional ability, for individuals with disabilities and injuries from fracture complications, amputations, spinal cord injuries, congenital amputees, cerebral palsy and stroke.
Myanmar's Ministry of Social Welfare recently signed a three-year government plan of action on disability, which aims to create efforts between NGOs and the government to increase integration of people with disabilities in schools, offices and health facilities, as well as increasing physiotherapy and other services for people with disabilities. Although the number of NGOs in the delta region has increased since the hurricane, still not enough organizations deal specifically with disabilities issues to meet the need in the region.
Becky Palmstrom, NGOs Tackle Disability in the Delta, Myanmar Times, March 6, 2009, available at
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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., Managing Editor Deepti Samant, M.S. (Rehab), M.S. (ECE); and Associate Editors Janelle Frias, B.A., Lauren Chanatry, B.A., Shawna Castells, B.S., Aaron Gottlieb, B.A., Carly Pavlick, Amanda Bernasconi, and Nicole Loring.
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