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
April 4, 2016
Volume 13, Issue 3
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. NFB and Amazon Working Together to Improve Accessible Reading Experiences
The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and Amazon have announced they will be working together to increase selection, enhance accessibility, and improve reading experiences for students who are blind or have other visual impairments. The two will be working to improve Amazon's education content and applications. Amazon Education includes a variety of services ranging from curriculum resources for students and teachers to resource portals for maximizing the aspects of a digital education. As part of the collaboration, NFB and Amazon will periodically meet to discuss progress and pitch ideas.
Rohit Agarwal, the general manager for Amazon's K-12 Education, says the collaboration is a great opportunity to improve accessibility of materials for students who are blind or visually impaired. Mark A. Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind, believes this joint effort demonstrates that access for the blind goes hand in hand with continued innovation in technology.
Full Story: Press Release, National Federation of the Blind and Amazon Join Forces to Improve Accessible Reading Experiences for Blind and Low-Vision Students, PR Newswire, Mar. 2, 2016, available at
2. Voters with Disabilities Could Have a Major Impact on the Upcoming Election
Issues such as unemployment, education, and Medicare coverage gaps have not been getting their deserved attention during this year's election coverage. This is especially the feeling for many individuals with disabilities, to whom these issues are very important. Individuals with disabilities make up the largest minority group in the country. Disability Rights activist Alice Wong, began the #CripTheVote hashtag on the social media site Twitter to engage and empower voters with disabilities. According to Wong, the only attention to disability has been negative in the context of mental illness and gun rights. Donald Trump was even seen mocking an individual with a disability at one of his rallies.
With one in five people having some form of disability, the lack of coverage of any disability related issues is frustrating to many. According to Wong, the movement would be a success if just one time a debate moderator asked a question about disability rights. Many individuals with disabilities feel ignored, which keeps them from voting at all. Even those who decide to vote are often met with barriers at the polls, which make them unable to exercise one of their fundamental rights. In fact, only around 30% of polling facilities nationally are accessible for people with disabilities. Voters with disabilities also encounter issues with transportation to and from those facilities and photo ID laws.
If more individuals with disabilities voted, the potential impact could be significant. Roughly 20% of the US population has identified with some degree of disability according to the US Census. This population spans across race, gender, age, and class. Surprisingly, voters with disabilities do not receive more media attention. A savvy 2016 election candidate could tap this large population of voters. A candidate who successfully courts voters with disabilities could benefit greatly in both the primaries and the general election.
Full Story: Alex Zielinski, Disabled Voters Feeling Ignored by Candidates Take Election into Own Hands, ThinkProgress, Mar. 1, 2016, available at
See Also: SE Smith, The Guardian, How the Disability Voting Bloc Could Swing the 2016 Election, Feb. 15, 2016, available at
3. New York Reaches Settlement with Major Mall Management Company
Pyramid Management Group has agreed to pay $160,000 to the state of New York and to fix accessibility issues at twelve malls. Included in these malls is Destiny USA in Syracuse, the sixth largest shopping center in the United States. After receiving a number of complaints, the New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman conducted surveys that revealed a number of barriers across Pyramid's establishments. These issues included improperly sized parking spaces, steep slopes and cross slopes at curb ramps, inadequate signage, movable objects in the path of travel, and other issues in the public hallways and restrooms at various malls. Since 2014, Schneiderman has entered deals requiring over 50 shopping centers to comply with accessibility standards.
Full Story: Rick Moriarty, Pyramid Agrees to Fix Accessibility Problems at Destiny USA, Other Malls, Syracuse.com, Feb. 25, 2016, available at
1. Richmond Virginia Police Department Sued Over Disability Discrimination
Earlier in March, the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Justice Department filed a suit against Richmond Virginia City Sheriff's Office for disability discrimination. They are accused of violating the ADA by failing to reassign a deputy to a vacant position she was otherwise qualified for. The Deputy was an employee with the department for ten years when she requested a new position after being diagnosed with a heart condition.
The Richmond City Sheriff's Office denies that it was required to reassign her under 4th Circuit case law. The Department of Justice, however, contends this was a violation of Title I of the ADA.
Full Story: Megan Woo, Richmond Sheriff's Office Faces "Disability Discrimination" Lawsuit, nbc12.com, Mar.13, 2016, available at
2. Federal Agencies May Soon be Required to Meet Hiring Quotas
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has proposed a new regulation that will require federal agencies to meet a hiring quota for people with disabilities. The rule would require federal agencies to hire more people with disabilities and at least 2% people with targeted or severe disabilities. This means agencies need to hire enough new employees with disabilities so that 12% of the workforce consists of people with disabilities. Moreover, the rule calls for government agencies to provide personal assistance to employees with disabilities who need help with eating, using the restroom, and other daily living activities while at work.
The hiring goals would apply to all levels of federal employment, the EEOC said. If agencies fail to achieve the stated minimums, the rule would require them to take various steps to increase their hiring and retention of people with disabilities. The rule is up for public comment until April 25, 2016.
Full Story: Shaun Heasley, Federal Proposal Calls for Disability Hiring Quota, disabilityscoop.com, Feb.25, 2016, available at
1. Obama Administration Proposes Rule to Address Minority Students in Special Ed
The Obama Administration believes that minority students are being singled out for special education. This is a perception shared by many, and he is asking states to address the issue. The Department of Education says that recent data shows disparities in public schools in the number of minority students who are identified as having a learning disability.
The Department's proposed rule has two main parts. First, it would ask the state to adopt a uniform way to measure if there is an overrepresentation of minority students in special education in their districts. Second, if overrepresentation is identified, then states would be given more flexibility to spend federal funds allocated to the state under IDEA. Currently, when a district has evidence of overrepresentation, it must use 15 percent of its IDEA funds to provide early intervention services beginning in kindergarten. The proposed rule would broaden that rule to include services for students beginning in preschool.
Full Story: Jennifer C. Kerr, Proposed Rule to Help Minority Students in Special Education, PBS Newshour, Feb. 23, 2016, available at
2. Parents, Teachers, and Administrators See a Problem with Paperwork Requirements
Since 2004, the Department of Education has known about the excess paperwork required to be completed by special education professionals. As a response, it gave states the option to enter pilot programs that would hopefully reduce the amount of necessary paperwork. However, no state has entered these programs. Ultimately states feel these programs may actually require more paperwork. There is also a fear that lawsuits may result from any major change and they would only realize limited effects because of additional state requirements.
The General Accountability Office (GAO) released a report in which they discuss the feelings of parents, teachers, office staffers, and administrators about the vast paperwork that is present in special education. Many administrators and teachers believe the amount of paper work they must complete is burdensome and can impact the other daily tasks they must perform. Parents feel that IEPs can be helpful in facilitating conversations with staff but are difficult to understand. Some parents also think teachers and administrators use the complexity of IEPs to justify a course of action rather than make a plan that would better serve their children. Usually the GAO gives recommendations when publishing reports; however on this topic they had none.
Full Story: Christina Samuels, Is Special Education Paperwork Really a Problem?, EdWeek, Feb. 10, 2016, available at
1. Desperate Shortage of Home Healthcare Workers in Minnesota
Minnesota is experiencing an extreme a shortage of individuals in the home health care field. This lack of workers is forcing families into difficult positions to be able to care for loved ones. As hiring accelerates in a tightening job market, thousands of openings for $10-an-hour caregiving jobs are going unfilled. The vacancy rate for personal care aides in rural Minnesota recently hit 14 percent - its highest in at least 15 years, according to state workforce data. This lack of resources have forced people to get help from family and friends who are often untrained and sometimes go uncompensated.
The Minnesota Department of Human Services, which regulates home care, estimates that Minnesota will need to fill almost 60,000 direct-care and support positions by 2020, particularly as the state shifts funding toward care in the community rather than in nursing facilities. Government programs are partly to blame. Home care agencies that participate in the state-funded personal care assistance program are reimbursed $17.01 for every hour of care. This reflects a 5 percent increase from 2014 but still places a low ceiling on the amount wage agencies can pay their workers.
Full Story: Chris Serres, Shortage Of Caregivers Leaves Families Scrambling, Disability Scoop, Mar. 4, 2016, available at
2. Controversial Growth-Attenuation Therapy Gains Popularity
Parents of some children with severe mental and physical disabilities are sometimes opting for a controversial therapy which represses the growth of the children for life. This therapy is intended to keep the children at a manageable weight and size so the parents are able to care for them at home for their entire lives. This therapy takes two forms. First, children may be administered large amounts of estrogen estradiol, which limits growth but in boys may cause the growth of breasts. Another treatment, only available to females includes a hysterectomy to avoid menses and removal of breasts. Careful monitoring of calories is also required for this "growth-attenuation therapy."
The therapy is controversial. Groups like Feminist Response in Disability Activism have picketed outside the American medical Associations Office "targeting" doctors who perform the procedures. Alternatively, parents have described the nightmare of having to place their children in the care of professionals because they are no longer physically able to lift, bath or dress them. The process is gaining popularity but doctors are still careful to receive approval from medical ethical boards before starting treatment.
Full Story: Sasha Rudenskey, Should Parents of Severely Disabled People Be Allowed To Stop Their Growth, New York Times, Mar. 22, 2016, available at
1. New Disney Mobile App Allows Better Access to Audio Description
Audio Description, which is an audio track that narrates film action to people who have visual impairments, has been around for a long time. People who have visual impairments often face challenges at the theater such as broken headsets or Audio Descriptions that do not match up which hinder their enjoyment of a movie.
Disney and Pixar have launched a new app, called Disney Movies Anywhere, to help viewers who are blind get more enjoyment out of Disney movies. The app is free and can be downloaded to iPhones right now, but with greater access to other smartphones to come soon.
The app "listens" to the movie as it is playing, and syncs automatically to provide a seamless experience - and no awkward moments where the track does not match what is happening. Users just find the Disney movie they are watching on the app, press the "sync and play audio" button, sit back, relax, and enjoy the movie.
Full Story: Every Pixar Film Is Now Accessible with Mobile Audio Description from Disney, LightHouse, Feb. 23, 2016, available at
2. 3D Printed Storybooks for Children with Vision Disabilities
It has long been known that reading to children supports cognitive development. Illustrations are a very large part of children's books, which children who have visual impairments do not get to enjoy.
The Tactile Picture Books Project, coming from the University of Colorado, Boulder, aims to study how tactile children's' books that are 3D printed can benefit children with vision impairments. The availability of such books is minimal right now, but if the technology can be streamlined it would allow children everywhere to enjoy classics such as "Goodnight Moon" by Margaret Wise Brown, and "Harold and the Purple Crayon" by Crockett Johnson. These two stories have been adapted, and a free 3D printable version is available for download to all users. The challenge and goal is to "make something useful and educational to a pair of hands" and not just visually pleasing to the eye.
Access to free 3D printing is increasing in the US, with many public libraries offering the service to members. Check your local library to find out if the technology is available.
Full Story: Diana Budds, Anyone Can 3-D Print These Beautiful Storybooks For Visually Impaired Kids, Co.Design, Feb. 11, 2016, available at
F. EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS
1. City of Phoenix Creates Evacuation Plan for People with Disabilities
The City of Phoenix is in the process of completing one of the most comprehensive emergency plans for people with disabilities in the nation. Individuals with disabilities in Phoenix and the surrounding county make up about 10% of the total population. The city was inspired after seeing what happened during disasters like Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy. The plan will support the access and functional needs of the community.
Phoenix Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Kevin Kalkbrenner, is in charge of drafting the plan. As part of his job he includes people with disabilities and their families and advocates in the planning process. The city has also contracted with a company called BCFS, a nonprofit emergency management organization. While individuals with disabilities and families from the community give the plan specific information about the needs of the community, BCFS is tasked with ensuring the city can handle mass care, transportation, evacuation, sheltering, and communication.
The city will continue to meet and refine the plan over the next 12 to 18 months, and Kevin Kalkbrenner hopes to adopt the plan by early 2017.
Full Article: Kathy Ritchie, City of Phoenix Makes Evacuation Plans for People with Disabilities, 91.5KJZZ, Feb. 15, 2016, available at
1. Families Start Community to Help Adults with Disabilities Live Independently
In California, families are starting Costanoa Commons, a community geared toward allowing adults with significant disabilities to live autonomous lives. The alliance of eleven families has purchased a seven-acre area that will soon contain a working farm and housing geared toward people with disabilities. The farm will contain accessible greenhouses and raised beds to make it easier for people who use wheelchairs to tend to. The group hopes to create a neighborhood where people with and without disabilities will live in an integrated setting.
The group was founded by author and former professor Kirby Wilkins, whose son has cerebral palsy. Wilkins wanted to create a sustainable independent living situation for his son, Jake, who is 23. The project would allow Jake to live in his own home and choose whether to work on the farm or seek employment elsewhere.
Full Story: Wallace Baine, Families Work to Create Integrated Housing Model, Disability Scoop, Mar. 7, 2016, available at
2. ASAN Files ADA Complaint Over School Communication Accommodations
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network recently filed an Americans with Disabilities Act complaint with the Department of Justice, seeking communication supports for five students with autism in Virginia. The students do not speak and instead communicate by pointing to letters on a board with help from a trained supporter. However, the Arlington Public Schools system has denied allowing this accommodation while the students are in general education classes, even after repeated requests by the students. Instead, the school placed the students in segregated rooms with an alternative education plan, which focuses more on behavior and rudimentary skills than advanced learning.
The five students advocate that every person has the right to an education, and they have presented at conferences and hearings about the issues they have faced trying to get accommodations. The students also raised the point that they have been segregated into separate classrooms away from mainstream students, although the ADA requires that students be educated in the least restrictive environment possible. If the Department of Justice believes that the law has been violated, it may suggest mediation or write an official findings letter finding that the school has violated the ADA.
Full Story: ASAN Files ADA Complaint on Communication Access in Schools, ASAN, Mar. 9, 2016, available at
1. Canadian Advocate Calls for Awareness of Nonvisual Disabilities
A Canadian teen with epilepsy is requesting a signage change on bus transportation. Right now, all TransLink buses in Canada have the International Symbol of Access, which depicts a person using a wheelchair, located by their accessible seating. Tavia Marlatt of British Columbia is trying to have that changed into a marker that includes nonvisual disabilities as well.
Marlatt uses the accessible seating to protect her from falling to the floor in case she has a seizure. She started using the seating after having a seizure on a bus last year and waking up on the stairs of the bus. Marlatt hopes that by changing the depiction from a person using a wheelchair to the international medical symbol, people will become more aware that the seats are reserved for people with both visual and nonvisual disabilities.
Full Story: Kamil Karamali, TransLink User with Epilepsy Calls for Better Disability Signage, CBC News, Feb. 24, 2016, available at
2. Theft of Guide Dog in China Brings Attention to Country's Issues with Service Animals
The recent theft of a guide dog has drawn attention to underlying issues people with service animals face daily in China. A seven-year-old guide dog was recently stolen from a blind man in Hong Kong after it was his service animal for six years. This was only one of several dog thefts in the area; dogs are in high demand and can be resold as meat.
These thefts have drawn attention to the limited number of service dogs in China, which may be due to the stigma attached to having a service animal. Guide dogs are often unwelcome in public places, and people with service animals face discrimination in education and employment circumstances. Currently, there are only ten registered guide dogs in Beijing, a city of more than 20 million people. Even though the Chinese government enacted a law in 2012 to permit guide dogs in public places, enforcement has been inconsistent, and people who use service animals in China often still face discrimination.
Full Story: Austin Ramzy, Theft of Guide Dog Underlines China's Spotty Disability Record, NY Times, Feb. 23, 2016, available at
3. Singapore Allocates $30 Million to Employ People with Disabilities
In Singapore $30 million have been set aside to help people with disabilities find jobs in the workforce. Companies that want to hire people with disabilities can refer to a new set of online human resource guides created by the government. The first of four online human resource management guides for employees with disabilities was launched at the forum. It covers inclusive recruitment and hiring practices. The next three, to be released over the course of the year, will cover assistive and accessible technology, career advancement and employee retention, and creating accommodating jobs and workplaces. The guides will be available at a new disability employment portal, employment.sgenable.sg, also launched at the forum.
In addition, $5 million out of the existing $30 million has been set aside for transition-to-employment programs. Voluntary welfare organizations (VWOs) or other groups that are designing such programs to prepare people with disabilities for employment can apply for this grant. SG Enable and the Singapore Workforce Development Agency will work with VWOs, employers, and persons with disabilities to come up with a comprehensive plan to help them benefit from the national Skills Future movement for lifelong learning.
Full Story: Janice Heng, More Help for People with Disabilities to Enter Workforce, The Strait Times, Feb. 26, 2016, available at
4. Ontario Updates Disability Support Program Reevaluation Process
Lawmakers in Ontario have decided to update the disability support program medical review process for a much simpler and faster process. Almost one-third cases receiving Ontario Disability Support Program assistance have disabilities that are expected to improve, requiring medical reviews every two to five years. Provincial officials will work with antipoverty advocates to design a new, streamlined medical review process and form,
The new form will relieve stress for several parties. First, the people with disabilities that typically need to update this form are people with mental health disorders. Second, the health care providers are overburdened with these requests, and it takes essential resources away from the health care system needlessly rewriting the same information. Finally, the legal system has been bogged down with appeals on these cases.
Full Story: Rick Madonik, Ontario Simplifies Medical Reviews for People on Disability Support, thestar.com, Feb.18, 2016, available at
I. POP CULTURE
1. Tommy Hilfiger Debuts Adaptive Clothing Line
The popular clothes designer Tommy Hilfiger is launching a new line solely for children with disabilities. The clothing items appear exactly like other items the company sells in the TH Kids line, but with certain modifications. These include Velcro or magnetic closures for easy fastening. According to the clothing designer's website, the new children's line will help address the challenges children with disabilities face when getting dressed.
To develop the clothing line, Tommy Hilfiger worked with Runway of Dreams, a nonprofit group that works to increase the availability of popular clothing for children with disabilities. The goal is to give children more autonomy and more choice with their clothes. Runway of Dreams also develops adaptive clothing for adults.
Full Story: Michelle Diament, Tommy Hilfiger Is Now Offering Clothes for Kids with Disabilities, Huffington Post, Feb. 23, 2016, available at
J. EVENTS AND FUNDING
Call for Papers and Proposals
Webinars and Conferences
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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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