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
November 18, 2011
Volume 8, Issue 8
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: 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.
I. SPECIAL TOPIC: News and topics may vary
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A. CIVIL RIGHTS
1. In Response to Law Requiring Photo ID, DMV Will Provide Ride to Voters Who Need It
On September 7, 2011, Kevin Shwedo, Executive Director of South Carolina's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) announced that the DMV would accommodate individuals who needed transportation to obtain a required photo ID for voting. A state law currently under federal review requires voters to present a driver's license, DMV photo ID, passport, military ID, or photo voter registration card in order to vote. South Carolina is one of five states that passed laws in 2011 requiring some form of ID at the polls. Many critics of the law argue that people with disabilities who may not have a photo ID and do not have access to a DMV to acquire a photo ID are being disenfranchised by this law. Advocates have challenged the photo ID law, comparing it to a modern day poll tax. The law restricts voting access for residents who have difficulty obtaining driver's licenses because they are poor, elderly, or have disabilities. According to the Election Commission, more than 178,000 registered voters--or 7 percent--do not have a license or DMV photo ID.
According to Shwedo, the South Carolina DMV has enough resources to provide transportation to all of the residents who require a ride, based on the level of need for transportation. Shwedo and Governor Nikki Haley announced that the DMV would transport people who require photo identification cards to 67 DMV offices. The goal of the transportation effort was to provide everyone with an opportunity to obtain an ID card. Shwedo also encouraged advocacy groups to provide additional transportation to individuals in wheelchairs. In addition, Shwedo said that the DMV worked to aid those who did not have the required paperwork take steps toward resolving those issues, such as obtaining court assistance.
Full Story: Suzanne M. Schafer, DMV: Voters Who Need Ride for ID Will Get It, Houston Chronicle, Sept. 07, 2011, available at
Jim Davenport, South Carolina Voter ID Law Could Hit GOP Seniors, Nov. 7, 2011, available at
2. Delaware Laws Promote People-First Language and Establish Disability History Month
On August 17, 2011, Delaware Governor Jack Markell signed three bills into law to promote the respect and general inclusion of individuals with disabilities. The new laws mandate the use of people-first language in legislation and establish a Disability History and Awareness month. People-first language emphasizes the importance of recognizing an individual distinct from and "prior to" his or her disability. People-first language disfavors the term "disabled" and encourages instead "person with a disability."
According to the recently passed laws, all newly drafted laws, regulations, and publications must use people-first language for individuals with disabilities, and the state must revise the current state code to do the same. The recently passed laws designate October as Disability History and Awareness Month, and provide that schools and organizations should use the month to foster greater understanding and education about disability. A number of groups supported these laws, including Special Olympics Delaware, Autism Delaware, the Developmental Disabilities Council, the Governor's Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens, and the State Department of Health and Social Services.
When commenting on the recently implemented laws, Governor Markell stated, "These bills ensure we emphasize people first and disabilities second when we use them in law." He went on to assert that people should not be defined by their disabilities, and that the language previously used in the state's laws, codes, and regulations to describe disabilities should be changed to reflect that fact. Senator David Sokola, who co-sponsored the legislation, said that "civil rights start with civil treatment of all people," and that changing the language is a step toward changing attitudes.
Full Story: New Laws Promote Dignity for Persons with Disabilities, Aug. 18, 2011, available at
3. Man with Down Syndrome Beaten by Miami-Dade Police over Colostomy Bag
On September 17, 2011, Gilberto Powell, a twenty-two year old man with down syndrome, was beaten by police officers outside his home. The Miami-Dade officers stopped Powell when they noticed a "suspicious bulge" in his pants, which was a colostomy bag. When the police officers attempted to pat Powell down, the officers claim that he tried to run away. One officer struck Powell in the face and knocked him to the ground. Powell's father said when he ran out of the house to see what happened, "[the officer] had him by the boxers. He took his pants off ... I felt helpless 'cause he was calling my name." The colostomy bag was pulled from Powell's body in the struggle.
Powell was not arrested and he asserts that he did not attempt to run from the officers and fully cooperated with them. The Miami-Dade Police Department announced that the resolution of this incident is a top priority.
Full Story: Brian Hamacher, Man with Down Syndrome in Clash with Cops, Sept. 16, 2011, available at
Man with Down Syndrome Beat by Police over Colostomy Bag, Sept. 23, 2011, available at
4. $4.5 Million Jury Award in "Wrongful Birth" Lawsuit Raises Disability Rights Concerns
On September 9, 2011, a West Palm Beach, Florida jury awarded Ana Mejia and her husband Rodolfo Santana $4.5 million in damages in a "wrongful life" lawsuit brought by the parents against their doctors, who they claim failed to inform them that their three-year-old son would be born without arms and with one leg. The plaintiffs argued that they were entitled to damages, because had they been informed of their son's disability, they would have terminated the pregnancy. The jury's verdict and large award -- reached after two days of deliberation -- has given rise to renewed concerns about portrayals of disability in legal and medical circles. Florida is one of twenty-five U.S. states with a "wrongful birth" statute, which allows parents to sue on behalf of children with disabilities, on the basis that they would not have had the child if not for the negligence of their health care provider.
Certain advocates argue that implicit in these statutes, and in the Florida jury's recent verdict, is the assumption that the lives of children with disabilities are somehow less valuable than the lives of children without disabilities. By providing that parents are legally entitled to damages specifically in cases where they were not informed of their child's disability, it is argued that "wrongful birth" statutes devalue people with disabilities and perpetuate stereotypes of deficit.
Full Story: Jane Musgrave, Jury Awards West Palm Beach Parent of Child Born with No Arms, One Leg $4.5 Million, Palm Beach Post, Sept. 9, 2011, available at
See Also: Andrew Marra, Deformity Doesn't Mean Inferiority (Point/Counterpoint: Is 'Wrongful Life' Lawsuit Morally Justified?), Palm Beach Post, Sept. 6, 2011, available at
1. Distribution of Millions of Dollars to Instruct New Special Educators
2. Community College Professor Shushes Student with a Stutter in Class
The Department of Education is currently distributing over $19 million dollars to special education teaching programs nationwide. The goal is to use this money to improve teachers' training in working with students with disabilities. This includes disciplines such as early intervention, speech and language, and transitions.
$11.5 million will be allocated to teacher training programs at universities in 24 states. Another $7 million will go to state officials in Connecticut, Louisiana, Maine, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon and Wyoming to improve the professional development offerings for teachers in those states.
The U.S. Secretary of Education recognizes that "the quality of education our students with disabilities receive is dependent on how well the workforce is prepared to address their needs." These new funds will be allocated to better prepare special educators to address the needs of their students.
Full Story: Michelle Diament, Feds Allocate Millions to Train Special Educators, Disability Scoop, Oct. 4, 2011, available at
In a history class at the County College of Morris in Randolph, New Jersey, 16-year-old Philip Garber, Jr., was not called on even though he had his hand in the air for a majority of his 75-minute class. Garber was not called on because he had a stutter and his professor felt that his stutter made his questions and answers take too long in class. Garber's professor wrote him an email, asking him to ask his questions only before or after class "so we do not infringe on other students' time." She also told Garber that his "speaking [was] disruptive." She also suggested that he write down his response to questions that she asks in class.
When Garber reported this treatment to the dean, the dean suggested that he switch into another class. When contacted, the college's communications director would not say if the professor had been disciplined.
Full Story: Richard Perez-Pena, Stutterer Speaks Up in Class; His Professor Says Keep Quiet, Oct. 10, 2011, available at
C. TECHNOLOGY / TELECOMMUNICATIONS
1. New Technology Patent Hints at Further Accessibility Efforts by Apple Inc.
A patent filed on September 1, 2011, by Apple, Inc., with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office hints that the company is on the verge of implementing major accessibility features with its popular technologies, including the iPad, iPod, and iPhone. While Apple products are generally noted for various attributes that make them accessible to people with disabilities--such as text-to-speech functions and built-in screen loupes for text magnification--certain users with dexterity issues or low vision face difficulties using Apple touch screens, which lack tactile cues and can be difficult to operate for some. The technology outlined in Apple's new patent application offers a solution to touch screen inaccessibility: increased compatibility with alternatives such as joysticks, breathing straws, and voice command add-ons.
The technology described in Apple's patent application consists of a new method for connecting Apple products to accessories, which could work in the place of the touch screen. It is likely that the patent signals increased attention by Apple. to accessibility issues and to broadening the appeal of Apple products for people with disabilities.
Full Story: Shaun Heasley, Apple Filing May Signal Focus on Disability Market, Disability Scoop, Sept. 6, 2011, available at
2. Google+ Sign Language Friendly Video Chat Sets It Apart from Other Social Networks
On September 10, 2011, social networking site Google+ announced alterations to its "Hangouts" application--a feature for large-group video chatting and sharing--which make the application more "sign language friendly." When multiple people are sharing in a conversation, the Google+ video chat application selects one video feed at a time to "have the floor," or temporarily head the conversation by way of larger video feed and increased output volume. While this function serves a practical purpose, up until recently the method for determining who "has the floor" was based on microphone volume measurements. In other words, the person speaking the loudest would control the conversation. Problems arose when video chat users communicated with sign language, as the application failed to discern whose video feed should be highlighted.
To address this problem, Google+ made a simple alteration to the Hangouts application. By pressing "shift+s" during a conversation, individual users can now take control of the forum. Google made the change in the hopes that its video chatting feature would become more accessible for people using sign language to communicate over the Web.
Full Story: John D. Sutter, Google+ Gets More Sign Language Friendly, CNN, Sept. 14, 2011, available at
D. HEALTHCARE / BENEFITS
1. Congressional Budget Office Predicts Disability Social Security Will Run Out by 2017
In late August, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a study that predicted a grim future for Disability Social Security. The study, titled "Long-Term Budget Outlook: Additional Information," reports that in 2010, Social Security payouts exceeded revenues for the first time since 1983. The CBO projects this gap to increase over the next five years as members of the baby-boom generation enter retirement. If these projections hold true, the CBO reports that Disability Social Security will be insolvent by 2017.
The CBO estimates that 56 million people will receive Social Security benefits in 2011, 19 percent being Disability Social Security recipients. Disability Social Security neared exhaustion in 1994, but legislation redirecting funds from traditional Retirement Social Security prevented insolvency. The CBO predicts that if similar action is taken to address current projections, the combined sources will be insolvent by 2038. Possible policy proposals to stabilize Disability Social Security referred to by the CBO include increases in the social security payroll tax, reductions in people's initial benefits, increases in the full retirement age, and reductions in the cost-of-living adjustments that are applied to continuing benefits.
Full Story: Congressional Budget Office, Social Security Policy Options, CBO.gov, July 2011, available at
Congressional Budget Office, CBO's 2011 Long-Term Projections for Social Security: additional information, Aug. 2011, available at
2. National Group Looks to Educate, Empower Individuals with Spinal Cord Injuries
The National Spinal Cord Injury Association (NSCIA) has launched a nationwide initiative to provide tools and resources for individuals with spinal cord injuries and disorders. The program is sponsored by Allsup, a nationwide Social Security disability representation company. NSCIA is distributing backpacks to people newly injured or diagnosed with spinal cord disorders that are leaving hospitals and rehabilitation facilities. The backpacks contain relevant information on mobility and medical equipment, disability benefits, accessible housing, leisure and travel, healthcare, and much more.
Approximately 700,000 Americans have disabilities of the spinal cord, which can include traumatic spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, polio, and ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), among others. Applying for Social Security disability benefits can be a lengthy process for these people. About two-thirds of initial applications are denied and applicants often have to progress through multiple levels of appeals before receiving benefits. NSCIA's initiative is designed to empower those with disabilities of the spinal cord to overcome these challenges and help them secure a monthly income and qualify for Medicare coverage.
Full Story: Allsup Supports New Beginning Launch During Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month, Sept. 9, 2011, available at
1. Florida Devises Plan to Improve Employment for Individuals with Disabilities
The state of Florida hopes that employers will be more receptive to hiring individuals with mental and developmental disabilities after passing a new law. Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a bill and issued an executive order, on July 1, 2011, encouraging Florida businesses to hire workers with mental and developmental disabilities. The bill grants employers immunity from liability for negligent or intentional acts or omissions by individuals with mental and developmental disabilities. For the employer to be immune from suit, the employee with a disability must receive some "service" from the employer. To gain immunity granted by the law, the employer must complete its service to the person with a disability and have no prior notice of the unsafe condition caused by that person.
The executive order created the Commission on Jobs for Floridians with Disabilities, designed to give individuals with disabilities more independence and improved quality of life. The Commission will help find ways to make sure that people with disabilities do not miss out on employment opportunities simply because they have a disability. The goal of the Commission will be to identify barriers in state and local programs that hinder employment for persons with disabilities and recommend changes to Florida laws, policies, and procedures that can help remove those barriers and increase employment for individuals with disabilities.
People with disabilities have been disproportionately affected by the recent downturn in the economy. Workers with disabilities lost nine percent more jobs than workers without disabilities. In Florida, more than 1 million Floridians, roughly 12 percent of the state's working-age population, live with some form of physical or mental disability. According to the American Community Survey, from 2005 to 2007, only 38 percent of working-age Floridians with disabilities were employed, compared with nearly 79 percent of all working-age Floridians.
Full Story: Florida Takes Aim at Employment Barriers for Disabled, HR.com, Aug. 16, 2011, available at
See also: Governor Scott Creates Commission on Jobs for Floridians with Disabilities, Office of the Governor of Florida, July 26, 2011, available at
See also: CS/SB 926: Liability/Employers of Developmentally Disabled, Florida Senate, July 1, 2011, available at
1. Settlement May Allow Adults to Move Out of Nursing Homes into Their Own Homes
Illinois may begin to take steps to relocate individuals with disabilities out of nursing homes and into their own homes. This action is part of a proposed settlement filed on August 29, 2011, to resolve a class-action lawsuit filed by disability rights advocates and elder rights advocates. The lawsuit demands that Illinois obey the decision in the 1999 Supreme Court case, Olmstead v. L.C., by allowing individuals with disabilities to live in the least restrictive setting appropriate. The proposed settlement would require state agencies to offer subsidized housing for individuals who want to move out of nursing homes. Illinois taxpayers need not worry because, in other states, subsidized housing has proven to be less costly than nursing homes. Additionally, the settlement requires that the new subsidized housing plan be no more costly to Illinois than their use of nursing homes.
Full Story: David Jackson, State May End Reliance on Nursing Homes for Disabled Adults,Chicago Tribune, Aug. 29, 2011, available at
See also: Olmstead v. L.C., 527 U.S. 581 (1999) available at
2. Accessible Housing: Hard to Find and Hard to Sell
The majority of existing single family houses and new houses have entrances with at least one step. Federal law only requires five percent of newly constructed, publicly funded, single-family homes to be accessible for people with mobility disabilities and, in general, the ADA is not applicable to private housing. As a result, it is especially difficult for people with disabilities to find accessible houses. For people who own accessible houses and are looking to sell, finding buyers is equally difficult. Sellers struggle to find buyers who need or desire the accessibility features of their homes. There are few resources for helping people find or sell accessible homes; for example, there is only one website focused on listing accessible homes. Other resources include contacting associations for people with disabilities or similar parties, such as lawyers focused on disability issues.
Full Story: Sandra Fleishman, Handicap-Accessible Housing Market Is Still a Work in Progress,Washington Post, Aug. 27, 2011, available at
G. EMERGENCY RESPONSE / PREPAREDNESS
1. FEMA Hosts Three Day Inclusive Emergency Management Conference
The Federal Emergency Management Agency hosted its second annual "Getting Real" conference from September 12-14, 2011 in Arlington, VA. The title of the conference this year was "Promising Practices in Inclusive Emergency Management for the Whole Community." The focus was to identify such promising practices to strengthen the entire community's ability to prepare and respond to disasters. Co-sponsors of the conference included the National Council on Disability, the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, and others. Discussions came from a wide variety of experts within the disability and emergency management communities. Furthermore, the conference included workshops regarding lessons learned from recent disasters, including the 2011 tornados in Alabama and Joplin, Missouri. This conference was also available by webcast to anyone not able to go. Recordings of the three-day event will be posted for on-demand viewing.
Conference Web Site:
Full Story: Welcome to "Getting Real II - Promising Practices in Inclusive Emergency Management for the Whole Community," FEMA, Sept. 12, 2011, available at
1. Deaf Filipinos March to Support Caption and Sign Language Mandate Bills
On September 12th, approximately 150 deaf people marched to the House of Representatives in the Philippines to push for the passage of two bills mandating the use of sign language in court (HB4631) and on televised news programs (HB 4121). Many of the people who marched were members of the Philippine Deaf Resource Center. The Center gathered over 100,000 signatures calling for the enactment of the bills. The Center expressed in a letter to the House Speaker, Feliciano Belmonte, Jr., that the "120,000 documented deaf ... Filipinos will definitely benefit from such practices, making it possible for [the deaf] to [comprehend] timely and relevant information."
Currently, major news programs in the capital city, Manila, do not use subtitles or sign language insets. According to the Center, "although some regional stations have started utilizing sign language insets with the help of non-government organizations, this practice is unfortunately not carried out by their mother stations." Lawmakers also cited data from the Center that demonstrated a need for interpreters during investigative and judicial proceedings due to the high incidence of criminal cases that involve deaf persons. The authors of the bill also stated that it is the responsibility of the State to provide interpreters during any government proceedings including police investigations and court or public hearings.
Full Story: Deaf People March to Demand Sign Language in Courts, TV News, Disability News Asia, Sept. 15, 2011, available at
Gerry Baldo, Bill Seeking Presence of Court Interpreters for Deaf Pushed, Sept. 13, 2011, available at
2. Employment Quota for People with Disabilities Approved in India
On September 13th, Meira Kumar, Speaker of the Lok Sabha, approved a quota for employing people with physical disabilities in the Lok Sabha Secretariat. The Lok Sabha is the lower house of parliament in India. Three percent of vacancies in cases of direct recruitment are reserved for people with disabilities. Of the three percent, one percent respectively will be reserved for people with low vision, hearing disabilities, and physical disabilities.
Full Story: Quota for Disabled People in Lok Sabha Jobs Approved, Daijiworld.com, Sept. 13, 2011, available at
I. SPECIAL TOPIC: POPULAR CULTURE
1. In New Batman Comic "One Lock, Many Keys," Autism Takes Center Stage
In August, DC Comics published a collection of short Batman comics in an issue entitled "Batman 80-Page Giant 2011." One of the collection's short stories, a ten-page tale titled "One Lock, Many Keys," focuses on the experiences of a young boy with autism named Lucas as he reads a Batman comic, only to have the events come to life outside his bedroom window. In the story, Lucas has just crawled into bed after overhearing his parents in an argument about whether he should be allowed to read comic books. Hearing a noise outside his bedroom window, Lucas looks out and is amazed to see a real-life Batman duking it out with zombie nemesis Solomon Grundy.
The story ends with Lucas reaching a developmental milestone as a result of his adventures with the Dark Knight. According to the story's creators, the tale was lifted from real-life experiences in parenting and was meant to focus on themes of creative therapy and the power of unlocking children's imaginations. Batman first appeared in DC's "Detective Comics #37" in May of 1939. Last month's appearance of a character with autism is a first in the Batman universe.
Full Story: Chuck O'Donnell, Maywood Writer Introduces Autism to Comics, The Record, Aug. 17, 2011, available at
See Also: Michelle Diament, Batman Takes on Autism, Disability Scoop, Aug. 24, 2011, 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.; Senior Editor Kelly J. Bunch, J.D.; and Associate Editors Brandon Sawyer, Matthew Saleh, Dana Mele, Tovah Miller, Jonathan Schnader, Stephanie Woodward, Robert Borrelle, Jr., Brandon Hill, and Paris Peckerman.
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