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 25, 2010
Volume 7, Issue 1
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. California to Build and Improve Accessible Sidewalks
As a result of a December 22 settlement in a class action lawsuit, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) will spend $1.1 billion to improve sidewalk access for pedestrians throughout California. The lawsuit was filed in 2006 by Californians for Disability Rights and the California Council for the Blind. The plaintiffs alleged that Caltrans discriminated against persons with disabilities "by denying them full and equal access to sidewalks, crosswalks, park-and-ride lots and other pedestrian facilities." The settlement also requires Caltrans to ensure that all new or altered pedestrian facilities are compliant with federal and state accessibility requirements, and mandates creation of temporary routes around construction sites. The settlement requires approval of the federal court where it was filed, and such approval is not expected before April 2010.
Full story: Melanie Turner, Caltrans to Spend $1.1B on Sidewalk Access, Biz Journals, December 22, 2009, available at
2. Lawsuit Filed on Behalf of Children with Autism
On January 14, attorneys at Public Counsel and Gibson, Dunn, & Crutcher filed a class action lawsuit seeking injunctive relief for children with autism. The suit has been filed against the Eastern Los Angeles Research Center (ELARC), a nonprofit organization through which California provides services to people with disabilities. The complaint alleges that ELARC illegally cut funding for developmental, individual difference, relationship-based (DIR) treatment provided to thousands of children with autism. DIR treatment, according to advocates, provides low-income children "with the only effective means by which they may grow into or continue to be healthy and functioning members of society." Under the Lanterman Act in California, organizations like ELARC are prohibited from unilaterally terminating "authorized and necessary services." However ELARC claims that under the July 2009 "Trailer Bill," they are prohibited from funding "experimental treatments." ELARC claims that DIR treatment is experimental because it has been used for a relatively short time, only ten years.
Full Story: Public Counsel, Class Action Suit Filed to Defend Rights of Children with Autism to Vital Cost-Saving Treatment, PR Newswire, January 14, 2009, available at
1. Department of Justice Announces Agreements Regarding Kindle DX
Under three separate agreements reached on January 13, Case Western Reserve University, Pace University, and Reed College will not "purchase, recommend or promote use of" the Kindle DX. The Kindle is a handheld device used to read electronic copies of books purchased from Amazon.com, Inc. The agreements are binding until the devices are made fully accessible for students who are blind or have reduced vision. According to the Department of Justice, all three universities agreed that "if they use dedicated electronic book readers, they will ensure that students with vision disabilities are able to access and acquire the same materials and information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as sighted students with substantially equivalent ease of use." These three universities, along with dozens of others, were part of a pilot program with Amazon.com, Inc., to experiment with the Kindle DX in a classroom setting. Although the Kindle has the capability to read text aloud, the menu and other navigational controls do not have similar control, thus inhibiting use by persons with visual disabilities.
Full story: Justice Department Reaches Three Settlements under the Americans with Disabilities Act Regarding the Use of Electronic Book Readers, U.S. Department of Justice, January 13, 2010, available at
2. District Court Rules Student Entitled to Dormitory Housing
A federal court in Michigan ruled that Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, violated federal law when it refused to allow a student with a disability to live in a dormitory on campus. Mr. Micah Fialka-Feldman, a student with an intellectual impairment that inhibits his ability to read and write, paid tuition for and was enrolled in an Oakland University program known as OPTIONS, which allowed students with intellectual impairments to take classes without receiving academic credit. Oakland initially permitted Fialka-Feldman to reside on campus but later rescinded his spot saying he was not enrolled in a "degree-seeking program." The District Court ruled that Oakland must provide a room for Fialka-Feldman. District Court Judge Patrick Duggan emphasized that his decision was based on the fact that Oakland's housing rules were arbitrary and indefensible, since they were merely "grounded on prejudice, stereotypes and/or unfounded fear." At the same time, the Court dismissed portions of Fialka-Feldman's claim that would have required Oakland to pay compensatory damages. Judge Duggan emphasized that "[t]he only remedy is to grant him a waiver of the housing policy requiring residents to be enrolled in a degree-granting program."
Full story: Marisa Schultz, Oakland University Student Wins Fight to Live in Dorms, The Detroit News, December 29, 2009, available at
C. TECHNOLOGY / TELECOMMUNICATIONS
1. FCC Extends Waiver to Assist Persons with Hearing Disabilities
On December 24, 2009, the Federal Communications Commission renewed waivers for compliance with certain regulatory requirements for modes of technology that facilitate communication between persons with hearing or speech disabilities. The Commission first considered video relay service, which allows persons to communicate by sign language using a video link. It also considered telecommunication relay services, which uses the services of a communication assistant to relay either voice-to-text or text-to-voice speech. It also allows two persons with hearing disabilities to communicate through solely text-to-text means.
The FCC's waiver allows these programs to have a lower call quality than that which the mandatory minimum standards require. Though this may seem to place callers with disabilities at a disadvantage, the state of current technology requires that a lower call quality must exist because it requires an Internet connection that cannot support the quality of nonInternet-based calls. The waiver extension is only temporary, though: the FCC has continued it for six months, at which time it will require a new report on the necessity of continuing the waiver. In the future, it is likely that the call quality of these types of calling services will meet the current FCC standards, though it is unclear whether the FCC will increase its standards by then.
Telecommunications Relay Services, CG No. 03-123 (FCC December 24, 2009),
(last visited Feb. 05, 2010)
2. Invention Improves Road Safety for People Using Wheelchairs
A new device aimed at decreasing the risk of motorists hitting people using wheelchairs due to low visibility at night, uses a strobe light on the back of a wheelchair to boost the wheelchair's visibility. The designer, Tri-Citian Clement, has begun the process of obtaining a patent and manufacturer for the product, since a similar patented product does not exist.
Clement, who along with partners Wendy Simpson and Weldon Gorham, formed the corporation Wheelchair Safety Products, LLC, intends to sell the product for approximately 200 to 400 dollars. He also intends to use the product to convince Congress to study the problem of wheelchair users' vulnerability to car collisions. According to Clement, the findings could eventually lead to necessary regulation.
Full Story: Callie Watson, Light Makes Streets Safer For The Disabled, Tri-City Herald, December 25, 2009, available at
D. HEALTHCARE / BENEFITS
1. CLASS Act Would Increase Healthcare Options for Persons with Disabilities
In a briefing sponsored by the Health Affairs journal, panelists considered the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act, which is part of the healthcare reform bill being considered in both houses of Congress. The CLASS Act would allow workers with disabilities to enroll in a long-term healthcare plan. It would also offer an optional disability benefit for workers. The panelists determined that, once passed, the bills would benefit the long-term healthcare field. However, more actions need to be taken to overcome other problems facing the industry. They recommended that there should be additional funding for formal and family caregivers as well as an increase in training for caregivers.
The panel consisted of the executive director of the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, Robyn Stone; the director of the Families and Health Care Project at the United Hospital Fund, Carol Levine; and an associate adjunct professor at the Institute for Health and Aging at the University of California in San Francisco, Steven Kaye.
Full Story: CLASS Act Only Begins To Address Long-Term Care Needs, Panelists Say, McKnight's Long-Term Care News & Assisted Living, January 07, 2010, available at
2. Social Security Redbook 2010
The Social Security Administration's Red Book--a tool which provides references to the Social Security Disability Insurance, Social Security Income, and a number of other programs--is designed to inform the public regarding how to maximize social security benefits for persons with disabilities. This year, the Administration revised the Redbook by increasing the Substantial Gain Activity (SGA) amount for persons with disabilities other than blindness. Persons with visual impairments still benefit from a higher SGA amount. Also, the Administration did not change the amount required to qualify for Supplemental Security Income, which remains at $674 for an eligible individual and $1,011 for an eligible couple. In addition, the Administration increased the state threshold amount for determining whether a person with a disability qualifies for Medicaid while working.
Social Security Online, What's New in 2010,
(last visited Feb. 02, 2010)
Social Security Administration, 2010 Red Book, available at
1. Employees with Disabilities Receive Subminimum Wages Under Federal Law
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. government only fined three out of 797 employers who paid below-minimum wages to employees with disabilities during the past five years. The unpaid wages totaled about five million dollars for more than 18,500 workers. United States Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa initiated the study by examining the enforcement of a federal law passed 71 years ago that allows employers to pay subminimum wages to employees with disabilities after obtaining federal approval. Though Congress intended the law to encourage employers to hire more persons with disabilities by making their labor cheaper, Senator Harkin says that it does not provide "fair employment opportunities that are sufficiently policed to prevent exploitation."
Federal fines may only be imposed when the employer willfully or repeatedly commits misconduct. A spokesperson from the Department of Labor indicated that, of the 797 cases, 635 could not even be investigated because they were self-audits, making it impossible to prove that a violation was committed. The spokesperson also noted that many of the violations were insignificant, such that a penalty would not have been appropriate.
Full Story: Few Labor Violators Are Fined, Des Moines Register, January 05, 2010, available at
(access fee required to view article)
2. Claims of Discrimination by Workers with Disabilities Rise
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission released a report that stated that claims of disability discrimination in 2009 rose by ten percent from 2008 to a total of 21,451. The increase in claims may have resulted from the recently revised the Americans with Disabilities Act, which includes treatable conditions such as epilepsy and diabetes. Courts had recently narrowed the scope of the ADA by excluding disabilities such as these from the Act's reach. In response to the statistics, the Commission's acting chairman stated that equal opportunities for persons with disabilities "remain elusive for far too many workers."
Full Story: Sam Hananel, Job Bias Claims Based On Disability, Religion Rise, ABC News, January 06, 2010, available at
1. Fair Housing Settlement Increases Access to Housing for Persons with Disabilities
A settlement has been achieved between the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) and the A.G. Spanos Companies based on litigation in 2007. The settlement requires that persons with disabilities in 11 states receive increased housing accessibility. Spanos, which is the fifth largest real estate developer in the U.S., will be required to update its apartment complexes around the country. Moreover, Spanos will be required to contribute millions of dollars to provide support in the form of accessible entrances and floor space for its residents with wheelchairs. Fair Housing praised the agreement. David Baade, executive director of the Fair Housing Continuum in Florida, said that "[b]uilding accessible housing from the start will protect the civil rights of those with disabilities and ultimately save hundreds of thousands of dollars."
Full story: Beth Sadler, Major Settlement Will Ensure That People with Disabilities Have Access to Housing, CivilRights.org, January 14, 2010, available at
G. EMERGENCY RESPONSE / PREPAREDNESS
1. United States Airlifts Injured Haitians from Earthquake Aftermath
On February 1, the United States government resumed its military airlift of gravely injured Haitians after a five-day suspension of the mission that was ordered because of overcrowded Florida hospitals. White House spokesperson, Tommy Vietor, indicated that Haitians with head and spinal cord trauma, severe burns, life-threatening wounds, and amputations would be airlifted after "assurances of additional capacity" in U.S. hospitals. The hospitals in question are almost exclusively in Florida, given its proximity to Haiti. Haitian doctors were ecstatic at the news because hundreds of persons in Haiti need critical medical care that is currently unavailable anywhere else. Medical intervention at this crucial moment will allow for the chance to avoid permanent disability or in some cases save fragile lives. Nonetheless, airlifting is not a permanent solution, and the continued success of the rescue mission requires trauma care and rehabilitation services available at a domestic level in Haiti, particularly in the capital city of Port-au-Prince.
Full story: Peter Baker and Joseph Berger, U.S. to Resume Airlift of Injured Haitians, New York Times, February 1, 2010, available at
2. Christian Group Assists in Care of Persons with Disabilities in Haiti
The Greenville, South Carolina, branch of Christian Blind Mission (CBM), an international disability advocacy group, has been extremely active in assisting persons with disabilities in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti. The organization works with local partners in poor countries in disability treatment and prevention, and also by providing ancillary education, loan, and rehabilitation services. CBM had some 50,000 clients in Haiti before the earthquake. As a result of the earthquake, their mission has expanded to provide for the immediate medical needs of Haitians with disabilities, as well as those at risk to become disabled as a result of the disaster. Two hospitals affiliated with CBM in Haiti are still intact after the earthquake and tremors. These hospitals have been providing trauma care, in addition to the specialty services that they normally provide to persons with vision problems and tuberculosis. Ron Nabors, the CEO of the Greenville CBM, stressed the importance of the services provided in the aftermath of a disaster, because the proportion of the Haitian population who have disabilities will increase dramatically because of an emergency of this severity.
Full story: Liv Osby, Greenville Mission Helping Care for Disabled in Haiti, Greenville Online, January 26, 2010, available at
3. Illinois City Creates Emergency Response Registry for Persons with Disabilities
Persons with disabilities or special needs in Ottawa, Illinois, are now able to provide information to a citywide database accessible to emergency response workers, pursuant to a new state law. The database is intended to assist emergency response workers in providing more effective services during an emergency. For the purposes of participation, disability is defined based on the Americans with Disabilities Act, and special needs are defined as "increased risk for a chronic physical, developmental, behavioral or emotional condition, requiring health and related services of a type or amount beyond that required by people in general." Forms to enter the information are available to persons with disabilities at the local police and fire departments, or online at http://www.ottawapoliceandfire.com. All information must be updated every two years or as information changes. Written permission of a parent or guardian, for minors, or a caregiver where applicable may be required.
Full story: OTTAWA: Emergency Forms available for the Impaired, The Times, December 20, 2009, available at
1. UK Trust Begins Campaign to End Mental Disability Stigma
The South West Yorkshire Trust, based in the UK, recently began a poster campaign that aims to reduce stigma regarding mental disabilities. One of its posters displays a scrabble board satirizing the names people give to persons with mental disabilities. Another compares mental health disabilities to physical disabilities. A third demonstrates how people with intellectual disabilities can be discriminated against. The communications department of the Yorkshire Trust created the posters and is distributing them throughout health centers, libraries, and colleges in the UK.
The Chief Executive of the Trust, Steven Michael, said that the Trust began the campaign because persons with mental disabilities say that stigma can be more severely harmful than the mental disability itself. He also cited statistics saying that one out of four persons in the UK will have a problem with their mental health, and about one million people in the UK have an intellectual disability.
Full Story: Gemma O'Reilly, South West Yorkshire Poster Campaign Aims to End Stigma About Mental Health Problems, PRWeek, January 07, 2010, available at
2. European Research Group Incorporates Hearing Aid Technologies
The Hearing at Home Project, headed by Jochen Meyer, has developed new applications for hearing aid technology using the television. The devices should facilitate multiple areas of home life for persons with hearing disabilities. The first development allows users to tune their hearing aids in only a few minutes. The tuning process normally takes a substantial amount of time and must be performed by a professional. The technology allows the user to determine quickly which frequencies are problematic and boost those directly on the television. Also, the device provides a visual alert on the television when the doorbell, phone, or other household appliances ring. The technology accomplishes these feats by connecting hardware from the house to the television.
The second development involves creation of a talking head on a person's television, which lip syncs the words that are spoken on various television programs. Users of the technology who read lips can then follow the dialogue.
Full Story: New Hearing Aid Technology in Europe Comes to the Home, The Gov Monitor, January. 03, 2010, 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); Senior Editor Elizabeth Ribet; and Associate Editors Jeffrey Davenport, B.A., Kenneth Hunt, B.A., Dara Lenoff, B.S., Eric Moll, B.A./B.S, and Paris Peckerman.
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