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
January 19, 2016
Volume 13, Issue 1
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. EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS: Disaster Preparation, Mitigation, and Response
G. INDEPENDENCE: Community Integration
H. INTERNATIONAL: Topics Outside the United States
I. POP CULTURE: News and Topics Vary
J. EVENTS AND FUNDING: Conferences, Calls for Proposals, Papers, and Presentations
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A. CIVIL RIGHTS
1. EEOC Sues McDonald's Over Failure to Provide Sign Language Interpreter
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit against the fast food giant McDonald's in a Missouri federal court. The lawsuit arose after Ricky Washington applied online for a position at a McDonald's restaurant. Rickey is deaf, and the EEOC alleges when the manager of the restaurant learned he would need a sign language interpreter present at his interview, she canceled the interview.
The complaint argues that this conduct violates the ADA in that McDonald's has failed to provide a reasonable accommodation to an individual with a disability so that he may have equal opportunities in the application process. James Neely, Jr., the district director for the EEOC in St. Louis says that removing barriers in the hiring process for individuals with disabilities is a national priority for the EEOC.
Full Story: EEOC Sues McDonald's for Disability Discrimination, National Law Review, Dec. 23, 2015, available at
2. Ace Hardware Sued for Failure to Meet ADA Standards for Internet Site
Access Now Inc., a nonprofit organization, has brought suit against Ace Hardware in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. The suit alleges that the hardware chain has not complied with ADA standards for its website. The complaint states that the Ace Hardware website is not accessible to visually impaired or blind individuals. Individuals who are blind or visually impaired rely on versions of websites that are compatible with screen reader technology. The plaintiffs claim that Ace has not designed its websites to be used with screen readers. The plaintiffs are seeking compensation for legal fees and damages in an effort to encourage Ace to update its websites.
Full Story: Carrie Bardon, Nonprofit Sues Ace Hardware Corp. Claiming Failure to Comply with Disability Regulations, PennRecord, Dec. 23, 2015, available at
3. U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago Begins Checking Restaurants for ADA Compliance
The U.S. Attorney's office in Chicago, Illinois, has stated that it will be checking restaurants in the city and its suburbs to ensure they are in compliance with the ADA. Restaurant owners are covered under Title III of the ADA and must meet its accessibility provisions. Federal Investigators may follow up with the initial on-site inspections and noncompliant owners/operators will be given the option to upgrade their facilities or face legal action in the form of lawsuits and fines.
Full Story: Carol Shropshire, U.S. Attorney's Office Checking Restaurants' ADA Compliance, Chicago Tribune, Nov. 18, 2015, available at
1. End of the Year Employment Rates Look Good for People with Disabilities
New data from the Department Labor suggest unemployment is down across the board, including unemployment for people with disabilities. Unemployment for people with disabilities dropped sharply from 12.1 percent in November to 10.3 percent in December. The Labor Department statistics, released as part of the agency's monthly jobs report, indicate that the nation's economy added 292,000 positions in December.
Federal officials began tracking employment among people with disabilities in October 2008. There is not yet enough data compiled to establish seasonal trends among this population, so statistics for the group are not yet seasonally adjusted.
Full Story: Shaun Heasley, At Year's End, More with Disabilities Employed, Jan. 8, 2016, available at
2. Over 70% of Staff at Connecticut's Prospector Theater Have a Disability
The Prospector Theater in Ridgefield, Connecticut has made a special effort to employ people with disabilities. Over 70% of the employees at the theater are people with disabilities. Founder Valerie Jensen, inspired by her sister with Down syndrome, mapped out a business plan to provide adults with disabilities meaningful jobs. She knew the road would not be an easy one. According to Jensen, there was no comparable theater and no footprint for the project they were looking to undertake. Without a playbook, the Prospector Theater had to chart its own course. A year later, she says the journey has only just begun.
Jensen hires people of varied disabilities. The employees with disabilities work in all the sectors of the theater including concessions, food preparation, guest greeting, and ticket sales. She matches her employees with their preferred hobbies in a process she calls "sparkle mining." They are involved in every traditional facet of a theater.
Full Story: Tara Joyce, Prospector Theater Opens New World to Those with Disabilities, NBC Connecticut, Nov. 27, 2015, available at
1. U.S. Dept. of Ed. Says IEPs Should Meet Child's Grade-Level Standards
On November 16, the U.S. Department of Education released guidelines to make sure children with disabilities have the same quality of education as other students. The guidance states that students with disabilities should have IEPs that align with state academic standards for their grade level. This comes ahead of the 40th anniversary of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says we have come a long way since the passage of the law, and "we have moved beyond simply providing children and youth with disabilities access to the school house." By requiring IEPs to meet grade level standards, Duncan says, the guidelines will help ensure students with disabilities have the same opportunities to pursue their educational goal as their nondisabled peers. However, the guidance leaves open an exception for the "very small number" of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities.
Full Story: Education Department Announces New Guidance to Help Students with Disabilities, Disability.Gov, Nov. 20, 2015, available at
See Also: Michelle Diament, Feds: IEPs Should Align with Grade-Level Standards, DisabilityScoop, Nov. 17, 2015 available at
See the Full Guidance here:
2. University of Kansas Starts Program for Students with Intellectual Disabilities
Starting next fall, students with intellectual disabilities who may normally be excluded from college will be able to attend class at the University of Kansas (KU). Students with intellectual disabilities do not usually have many options after high school. The Transition to Postsecondary Education for Youth with Intellectual Disabilities Program will work on mainstreaming students with disabilities such as Down syndrome or autism.
KU is receiving a $1.5 Million federal grant to kickstart the program. While other schools in Kansas have programs for students with disabilities, none is fully inclusive. While the program is not full-time and is not toward a degree, Associate Professor Mary Morningstar says the goal to the program is the same as any other at the University, for students to exit with paid jobs.
Full Story: Associated Press. KU Program Tailored for Those with Intellectual Disabilities, Lexington Herald Leader, Dec. 26, 2015, available at
3. Recent Report Finds more Inclusion at Charter Schools
Charter Schools have often been criticized for having too few students with disabilities. A report released by the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools says the number of students with disabilities in charter schools is growing. The report says approximately 10.4 percent of students in charter schools have a disability compared to 12.5 percent in public schools. While public schools have a higher percentage of students with disabilities, the report found that in charter schools students with disabilities are more likely to attend class in an inclusive environment. Specifically, the report says that 84 percent of students with disabilities in charter schools spend at least 80 percent of their day in general education classrooms. In contrast in public schools, only 67 percent of students with disabilities spend 80 percent of their day in a general education class.
Full Story: Shaun Heasley, Inclusion More Common at Charter Schools, Report Finds, DisabilityScoop, Nov. 12, 2015, available at
4. More Students with Disabilities Graduating High School
Graduation rates for students with disabilities has risen to 63.1 percent for the 2013-2014 school year, according to figures just released from the U.S. Department of Education. This is an increase of about one percent from the 2012-2013 school year, and 4.1 percent over the last three years. The percentage refers to students with any kind of disability who earned a diploma from a four-year high school.
Policymakers hope that these figures mean that more people with disabilities will be able to attend postsecondary educational institutes, and have successful jobs, thus allowing them more independence and autonomy. However, while the rate of graduation has gone up nationally, it is not all good news. Some states lag far behind, with Nevada at the lowest rate of 27.6 percent.
Full Story: Shaun Heasley, Graduation Rate Trending Up for Students with Disabilities, Disability Scoop, Dec. 17, 2015, available at
1. Spirit Club Helps People with Disabilities Get Much Needed Exercise
People with disabilities are 57 percent more likely to be obese than those without disabilities. A vast majority of people with disabilities take medications which have weight gain as side effect. Additionally, because of unemployment rates, some people with disabilities find it harder to get out of the house and get moving. Finally, there are not enough programs for people with disabilities to get exercise.
That is where Spirit Club, founded by Jarad Cinder comes in. Cinder founded Spirit Club in April 2013 with an entry class of just six participants. Now he regularly has about 130 clients attending exercise sessions. The club services people with a vast array of different disabilities and focuses on teaching better exercise and eating habits. Based in Kensington, Maryland, Spirit Club has classes in locations in Montgomery and Prince George's counties and is seeking to expand to Baltimore.
Full Story: Edward Lee, Club Helping People with Disabilities Be More Physically Active, DisabilityScoop.com, Dec. 1, 2015, available at
1. Swiss Students Invent a Wheelchair that Can Climb Stairs
Swiss students from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology have designed and developed a wheelchair that can go up any type of stairs. The Scalevo wheelchair uses a rubber track system which grips the stairs as it ascends a staircase. The wheelchair ascends backwards, so that the occupant may see what is below, and also includes a video camera and screen, much like a car back up camera, so that the occupant may see what is above.
This model of stair-climbing wheelchair has an accessibility advantage over previous attempts at stair climbing wheelchairs. All functions are automated, which helps to eliminate the need for the user to have use of at least one arm and upper body control, which previous attempts at a stair climbing wheelchair required.
The student designers are hopeful that the technology will spread widely and reduce the inconvenience of out-of-the-way access ramps and lifts.
Full Story: Jim Drury, Stair-Climbing Wheelchair Offers Alternative to Lifts and Ramps, Reuters, October 16, 2015, available at
2. Dyson Award Given to Creator of 3D Printed Robotic Hand
The James Dyson Award is an award open to design engineering students in an effort to encourage interest in engineering. Joel Gibbard, creator of tech project Open Bionics, won the award for his 3D printed robotic hand design, which can be custom fitted to amputees and made in less than two days.
The prosthetic detects muscle movements in the user's forearm, which is how the user controls the grip of the hand. The device can only be used by people with below-elbow amputations, but Gibbard's ultimate goal is to extend the user population to people with above-elbow amputations as well.
Gibbard is confident that his technology will make prosthetics less expensive, especially for children who need new prosthetics more frequently as they grow. The prosthetics will be on the market starting in the second half of 2016.
Full Story: Leo Kelion, Open Bionics Robotic Hand for Amputees Wins Dyson Award, BBC News, August 25, 2015, available at
F. EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS
1. Transit Authority Drill to Incorporate Disabilities in Emergency Plan
To allow first responders to practice evacuating people with disabilities from trains, members of the Washington Metro Accessibility Advisory Committee volunteered as "actors" in an evacuation drill. The experiences of those actors and first responders during the drill will help to account for people with disabilities in planning for an emergency.
Two visually impaired volunteers found that communication between first responders and persons with disabilities was important. One woman with a visual disability said Metro staff and firefighters proposed unnecessary alternatives to help her reach the station platform. They did not ask her what assistance she needed, but assumed what her disability was. She also said she was at a disadvantage because she could not pick up information by observation, which is what most other riders did. Another visually impaired volunteer said he had difficulty understanding what was going on because instructions would be interrupted by sound coming from the radios of Metro Staff and police officers, sometimes at the same time.
Members of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority committee for seniors and people with disabilities said first responders need to speak to people with disabilities more during emergencies. This sentiment was echoed by Pete Pirigner, spokesperson for Montgomery County Fire and Rescue, who said riders with disabilities must communicate with people responsible for helping them exit the car.
Full Article: Kathleen Stubbs, Metro Focuses on Disabled in Emergencies, The Sentinel Newspapers, December 17, 2015, available at
1. Disability Rights Groups Fight for Uber
Although Uber has recently been criticized for not having enough accessible vehicles, several disability rights groups have been speaking out against this criticism. Disability rights groups Community Options, Inc., Open Doors Organization, and My Blind Spot have joined the "NY Needs Uber" movement, citing that the ride-sharing service allows people with disabilities to live more independently.
The organizations cite that the benefits of Uber include increased mobility and employment for people with disabilities. Further, Uber's GPS tracking system is beneficial for users of the service who are blind, as they can check if the driver is using the fastest route to their destination.
Full Story: Craig Bragg, Disability Rights Groups Back Uber's Upstate Push, Times Union, Dec. 20, 2015, available at
2. Police Raid Twelve Neglectful, Unlicensed Care Homes in Georgia
Search and arrest warrants have been issued for eight different suspects for abusing people with disabilities in Snellville, Georgia. People with both mental and physical disabilities were being held in unlicensed care facilities without access to sufficient food and no basic care or supervision. Police raided 12 different homes, sometimes finding locks on the refrigerator doors. In other homes they also found evidence of insufficient food for the number of people living in the homes.
Detectives have learned that all the victims are recipients of government aid, in the forms of Social Security Income (SSI) and Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT). It is believed that the victims were forced to forfeit their payments as a form of rent payment. Investigators report that the residents lived in these unsafe and unsupervised homes for months. The residents believed they were going to a legitimate personal care home.
Full Story: Fox 5, Operation Mercury Nets Arrests in Disabled and Elderly Abuse Investigation, Fox5 News, Dec. 2, 2015, available at
3. Marriott to Open Hotel Staffed by People with Disabilities
The Courtyard Marriott and the State of Indiana are teaming up to open a hotel school geared toward employing workers who have disabilities. The school will take place inside a fully functioning Marriott, and people with disabilities will work in areas such as front desk service, housekeeping, and restaurant management, while learning more about those careers. This Marriott is the first of its kind to be structured this way.
The training center was expected to open in Indiana on January 11, 2016. The hotel and training center hope to encourage people with intellectual and physical disabilities to pursue successful careers and maintain their independence.
Full Story: Marriott Opens Hotel School for People with Disabilities, Yahoo! Travel, Dec. 21, P2015, available at
4. Texas Restructuring Care for Adults with Disabilities
Texas is one of five states currently taking part in a federal program geared toward community living for people with disabilities. The program--Community First Choice--enables people with intellectual disabilities to live independently while being supported in the areas they need. The program emerged in response to Texas parents calling for different living options for their children with disabilities.
Currently, Texas operates more institutions for people with disabilities than any other state, and spends $166,643 per person each year to house people with disabilities in institutions. In contrast, funding people to live in the community would cost the state only $39,947 each year. The parents who started the program cite these figures to challenge the longstanding history of institutionalization in the state, and advocate for a more independent living situation for their children through the program.
Full Story: Kristen Taketa, Texas Taking Part in Obamacare Program to Help Disabled Adults Live Outside Institutions, The Dallas Morning News, Nov. 30, 2015, available at
1. Bangladesh Conference Calls for Improved Risk Training for People with Disabilities
The Dhaka Conference on Disability and Disaster Risk Management took place on December 14, 2015, in Bangladesh. Participants called for increased training on how to assist people with disabilities in case of a disaster. Conference leaders called for stronger representation of people with disabilities on training planning committees by the end of 2017, as people with disabilities have higher rates of mortality in the case of disasters.
An assessment done by the United Nations Internal Strategy for Disaster Relief Committee noted that over 85 percent of people with disabilities had not participated in community-based disaster and risk training, although more than half said they were keen to participate. Disability advocate Carlos Kaiser notes, "It is encouraging that governments are taking a leadership role on the issue of disaster risk reduction and disabilities."
Full Story: Bangladesh: Dhaka Call for Inclusion in DRR, Prevention Web, Dec. 14, 2015, available at
2. Disability Activists Advocate for Better Sex Education for LGBT Youth with Disabilities
In Melbourne, Australia, a recent forum brought together LGBT community members to discuss the intersection of disability and sexuality. The conference cited a recent study by Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria, which found that 23 percent of LGBT people in Australia have a disability and many reported high levels of distress and anxiety.
Disability rights activist Jax Brown advocated for sex and disability positivity and better sex education for youth with disabilities. Fellow disability activist Jarrond Marrinon commented on the lack of appropriate education for LGBT youth with disabilities, saying, "They were teaching able-bodied sex to people with disabilities and obviously never considered we'd be anything but heterosexual ... that narrative needs to change in schools."
Full Story: Matthew Wade, Sex Education a Major Issue for LGBTU People Living with a Disability, Star Observer, Dec. 3, 2015, available at
I. POP CULTURE
1. Ableism in the Media -- Kylie Jenner's Photoshoot
The Kardashian/Jenner family are not known for keeping a low profile in the media. Kylie Jenner, 18-year-old daughter of Bruce and Kris Jenner, has caused a stir in the disability advocate community for her most recent magazine cover in Interview. The photo depicts Jenner as an inanimate object posed in a wheelchair. Interview magazine released a statement saying the series of photos in the shoot were meant to explore the relationship between Jenner and the constant media scrutiny by putting her in different positions of power and control, not to offend anyone. Others have commented that the wheelchair prop was meant to symbolize how Jenner has been limited by the high profile life she leads and how she has not experienced a "normal" life.
Disability advocates and other members of the community had a strong response to the magazine cover. The criticism focuses on the belief that the photo shoot was insensitive and portrays people with disabilities in a poor light, as they are often already seen as powerless. The critics commented that the stereotype that a wheelchair is a limiting factor in life promotes ableism in the media, especially in the modeling culture where models with disabilities struggle to find work opportunities.
Some individuals who use wheelchairs have taken the opportunity to recreate the picture more realistically to show how inappropriate Jenner's photo shoot was. Erin Tatum, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, copied the photo in her own chair. She says, "Disabled people aren't sitting in wheelchairs because we think that they're cool or because we think we'll get attention, we're using them because they are a fundamental aspect of our daily lives and the key to maintaining our freedom and quality of life." Other members of the disability community have taken the same approach as Tatum and have done their own photo shoots.
Full Story: Taylor Pittman, Woman's 'Authentic' Take on Kylie Jenner's Wheelchair Shoot Proves an Important Point, The Huffington Post, Dec. 7, 2015, available at
See Also: Rossalyn Warren, A Woman in a Wheelchair Says Kylie Jenner's Cover Changed How She Shows Herself Online, BuzzFeed News, Dec, 21, 2015, available at
See Also: Kendall Fisher, Kylie Jenner Sparks Backlash for Wheelchair in Interview, Magazine Defends Against "Media Scrutiny," E! Online, Dec. 1, 2015, available at
See Also: Chris Wallace, Kylie Jenner, Interview Magazine, Dec. 1, 2015, available at
2. Former Football Coach Sues USC after Being Fired for Alcohol Disability
Former University of Southern California Trojans Football Coach Steve Sarkisian has filed a lawsuit against ex-employer USC for an alleged violation of state disability laws. Sarkisian claims the school fired him based on his alcoholism, which is a recognized disability in California and under the ADA. Sarkisian is reportedly asking for more than $30 million in damages.
Before his termination Sarkisian had been placed on an indefinite leave of absence by the USC Athletic Director Pat Haden. Haden stated that he believed Sarkisian was "not healthy." Sarkisian was subsequently fired by e-mail after he allegedly came to work inebriated. He was terminated in the midst of his second season at USC with three years remaining on his contract.
Full Article: Tom Fornelli, Steve Sarkisian Claims USC Fired Him for Alcohol Disability in $30M Lawsuit, CBS Sports, December 07, 2015, available at
J. EVENTS AND FUNDING
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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.; and Associate Editors Philip Ross, Tesla Goodrich, and Kate Battoe.
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