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 29, 2018
Volume 15, Issue 11
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. INDEPENDENCE: Community Integration
G. INTERNATIONAL: Topics Outside the United States
H. POP CULTURE: News and Topics Vary
I. EVENTS AND FUNDING: Conferences, Calls for Proposals, Papers, and Presentations
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A. CIVIL RIGHTS
1. Advocacy Groups: Disability Rights Exist During Natural Disasters
During a recent hurricane, people with disabilities went to a shelter that could not provide the accommodations that they needed. People with disabilities can be made to go to nursing homes if other shelters cannot support them. However, it is not normal for any young people to be sent to a nursing home during a disaster. Why should people with disabilities need to be sent there?
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) released new guides that do not consider accessibility and disability rights. Disability rights groups have sued FEMA and other government agencies for not providing equal access to shelters. People with disabilities are affected more than other people during natural disasters. A FEMA spokesperson said that they would be looking over their guides with advisors soon.
Full Story: Courtney Perkes, Recent Natural Disasters Trigger Complaints from Disability Groups, Disability Scoop, Nov. 6, 2018, available at
2. St. Louis Aims to Make Voting Experience the Same for All
During the recent election, workers from St. Louis, Missouri, traveled around the city to check on equipment and accessibility problems. These workers had already traveled around in the past weeks to encourage people with disabilities to vote. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that there be one accessible machine per polling place. People with disabilities said that sometimes the machines are the problem, and sometimes they wish that polling staff knew how to help them better.
Officials in St. Louis are listening and trained their polling staff. They know that it can be a lot harder for people with disabilities to cast their votes. They want everyone to be able to vote. Even if the machines have accessibility features, voters rely on staff to help them use the features. There is still a long way to go. St. Louis is like many older cities that have issues because old buildings that serve as polling places are not accessible.
Full Story: Blythe Bernhard, Voting Poses Extra Challenges for People with Disabilities, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nov. 6, 2018, available at
1. Disability Organization Hopes to Help Leaders with Disabilities Enter Politics
The National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) aims to increase disability representation in office. Other marginalized groups, like women, people of color, and LGBT groups, track their representation in politics and work to support identifying candidates. Yet similar work remains absent in the disability community. NCIL hopes to change that. NCIL wants to make the voices of those with disabilities count in politics. To do that, NCIL's civic engagement efforts focus on five areas. They include registration, voter turnout, polling place access, election reform, and supporting candidates with disabilities.
Sarah Blahovec leads the project for NCIL. She plans to create trainings for candidates with disabilities. Blahovec envisions both web-based and regional trainings held at local centers for independent living. These workshops would address standard campaign questions like funding and hiring a campaign team. However, they would also focus on concerns like accessibility on the campaign trail. The project is not up and running yet. Blahovec wants input and feedback from those with disabilities. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Full Story: David Perry, How to Run for Office If You Have a Disability, Pacific Standard, Nov. 5, 2018, available at
2. Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies Fall Short of Mandate
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently evaluated follow through on the 2014 Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). WIOA aims to reduce placement in sheltered workshops. It does so by increasing the job readiness of students with disabilities. The law asks Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies to provide all students with disabilities pre-employment transition services. These include workplace readiness training, counseling, work-based learning experiences, and self-advocacy training
The GAO sought input from all 79 state VR agencies. Most reported serving more students since WIOA. However, many still struggle to reach goals set by the law. For example, WIOA mandates that VR agencies spend 15 percent of their budget on transition services. Only 21 states met this goal. Moreover, in 2016 VR agencies spent a total of only $357 million on transition services. WIOA reserves $465 million for such efforts. The low spending may be due in part to confusion over what qualifies as transition services. However, the GAO report worried that such low spending leaves students underserved.
Full Story: Michelle Diament, Voc Rehab Doubling Down on Transition-Age Youths, Disability Scoop, Nov. 8, 2018, available at
1. Colleges Work to Make Websites Accessible
The Department of Education continues to pressure colleges to make their websites accessible. The Department's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) receives thousands of complaints every year about inaccessible college websites. Such websites violate federal law. Thus, OCR works with colleges to help them become accessible and comply with the law.
Responses seem largely positive. However, colleges working toward web accessibility say that it is a big job. Web accessibility requires change on several fronts. For example, colleges must make sure all videos have captions. They also must ensure that all pictures have descriptions readable by a screen reader. Other similar shifts in layout are often required. Websites need these changes across the thousands of different web pages that make them up. Thus, making an inaccessible website accessible requires a great deal of work. Some argue that the scope of the project makes complete accessibility impossible. However, groups like the National Federation of the Blind claim accessibility is possible. It just requires a shift in culture.
Full Story: Lindsay McKenzie, Feds Prod Universities to Address Website Accessibility Complaints, Inside Higher Ed, Nov. 6, 2018, available at
2. High School Students Create Accessible Toys
Engineering students at Wenatchee High School are learning by building accessible toys for local kids. With funding from a GoBabyGo grant, students customize battery powered toy cars to meet the needs of kids with disabilities. The GoBabyGo program funds projects aimed at helping kids with disabilities become more mobile.
Each motorized toy gets retrofitted to accommodate a specific child. For example, students used their engineering skills to remove the gas pedal in one toy car. They replaced it with a start button on the steering wheel. This change allowed a child with spina bifida to race around in his new toy car. According to teacher Doug Merrill, the project allows students to develop both engineering skills and empathy.
Full Story: Chris Hansen, Wenatchee High School Students Engineering Assistance for Disabled Children, iFIBERONE, Nov. 6, 2018, available at
1. Steps Taken to Accommodate Disabled People in Medical Settings
Even though there are laws in place to help people with disabilities, they do not often help them at the doctor's office. Laws require ramps and wider doors to be available at the offices, but many offices do not have scales to weigh wheelchair users or adjustable exam tables. This sends a bad message to some people with disabilities.
New laws have promised change, but the government has not delivered. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) directed the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board to help meet the needs of people with disabilities in medical settings, but the Department of Justice chose not to support these measures. This was designed to take steps to close the gap by publishing standards for determining what medical equipment could be believed to be "accessible." But scales and exam tables are only one aspect of what needs to change. Doctors need to make patients with disabilities feel welcome in other ways, too. For now, some states and government offices are adopting the changes, but they do not apply to everyone as the ACA intended.
Full Story: Rachel Bluth, For the Disabled, a Doctor's Visit Can Be Literally an Obstacle Course – and the Laws Can't Help, Washington Post, Oct. 28, 2018, available at
2. Music Therapy for Children with Autism
A new study shows that singing and other music-based activities can impact children with autism. This study shows that music therapy will boost social communication and the family's quality of life.
Parents filled out surveys after the therapy, and some participants had MRIs to see how the brain reacted. This is the first research to show that music can improve communication and brain connectivity. However, to determine the real-world applicability of the intervention, multiple therapists will need to replicate the results.
Full Story: Michelle Diament, Music Therapy Yields Gains for Children with Autism, Disability Scoop, Nov. 6, 2018, available at
1. Accessibility Apps May Change How You View Your Town
New apps allow people to work together in mapping out their towns in a disability friendly way. Anyone who is using the app may visit restaurants, shops, and other places of business, and edit the app to include if the place is accessible. Someone may write about anything from enough space and things being in reach in the bathroom, to having a wheelchair ramp, or even no scent on the soap.
These apps are growing quickly, with more users and more apps available. However, these apps are only as good as the people who are using them. Someone may just ask if a place is accessible and input yes or no, without taking measurements or testing the location themselves. For example, someone who walks may not measure space for a wheelchair before saying the area is accessible.
Full Story: Aimi Hamraie, A Smart City Is an Accessible City, The Atlantic, Nov. 6, 2018, available at
2. Stimulating the Brain: A Solution for Chronic Pain?
Researchers and doctors in North Carolina are hoping that stimulating the brain can help chronic pain. A new study suggests that doctors may be able to pick parts of the brain and treat them through stimulation on the outside of the head, instead of more invasive procedures. This treatment would treat chronic pain, which is the leading cause of disability in the world.
This new treatment may help the chosen areas of the brain to work better and decrease chronic pain. It also would be cheaper and lessen the need for prescription opioid medications. Some patients studied even said this treatment left them feeling no pain at all after.
Full Story: University of North Carolina Health Care, Can Stimulating the Brain Treat Chronic Pain? Science Daily, Nov. 8, 2018, available at
1. Senators Want Web Accessibility to Be Addressed by the Justice Department
A group of senators is calling for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to weigh in on how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies online after growing litigation around this. Republican Senators wrote this in a letter to [former] Attorney General Jeff Sessions. It is unclear whether the ADA applies to websites, which leaves business and property owners unsure what standards govern their online services. They want Sessions to speak out on the guidelines. The DOJ said in 2010 that it planned to issue rules on website accessibility, but nothing happened and that proposal was withdrawn in December 2017.
There were more lawsuits filed in the first half of this year than all of last year in total. The senators said that the situation seems to only benefit the attorneys and private investment in technology, and other measures will improve conditions for those with disabilities if there is clarity in the law. The DOJ's Kelly Laco said the letter sent by the senators is under review.
Full Story: Michelle Diament, Justice Department Urged to Address Web Accessibility, Disability Scoop, Sept. 19, 2018 available at
2. Hurricane Michael Illuminates Lack of Inclusion of Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Emergency Situations
Many people who are Deaf and hard of hearing do not have full access to emergency warnings. With online usage growing and 35 million people who are Deaf or hard of hearing in the United States, this has caused trouble around emergency notifications. Notifications are used to alert the public when issues like tornadoes and even New York City subway delays happen. Much of this has to do with access around closed captioning or sign language interpreters. Many of the videos are not closed captioned, including those put on the Weather Channel's website. This is also true with public address announcements that do not reach those who are Deaf or hard of hearing. Many online clips also cut out sign language interpreters making a recorded announcement inaccessible unless a person is able to see it in real time.
This is a smaller bit of a bigger problem related to people with disabilities and emergency situations. There are physical or financial considerations as well. Many people with disabilities have low income and cannot afford transportation to go to a place to lodge during the storm. People with disabilities are particularly at risk.
Full Story: Gabriella Borter and Barbara Goldberg, Without Captions Warning About Hurricane Michael Failed to Reach Disabled, Oct. 13, 2018 available at
1. No National Strategy for Persons with Disabilities in Portugal
In Europe, the average amount of disability discrimination is currently 15%. However, the country of Portugal is experiencing discrimination at 65%. The Portuguese government introduced two important advances to improve the situation of individuals with disabilities. The advances focused on social benefits and independent living. Portugal is working on other areas of inclusion as well. These areas include working conditions, inclusive education, and other types of social inclusion.
Much of the work is carried out on a voluntary basis or with limited funds. There is a desperate need for additional funding for organizations that implement community initiatives. To date there is no national strategy.
Full Story: Press Release, Disabled World, Disability Discrimination in Portugal is High -- No National Strategy for Persons with Disabilities, Mar. 28, 2018, available at
2. Wake Up Call in Canada
In the last few months, the Canadian government passed the Accessible Canada Act (ACA). This act will improve equality, inclusion, and full participation in society for all Canadians. The ACA will remove physical barriers in the environment and improve accessibility for people of all abilities. One tool to help evaluate whether a place is accessible is called the Rick Hansen Evaluation. One proponent hopes that getting one of these evaluations will spark new conversations about diversity.
Canada is proud about the ways that it champions diversity, encourages participation, and cares for its people. Improving accessibility to individuals with disabilities is a positive step in the right direction. While some places are already very accessible, some have work to do.
Full Story: A Wake Up Call on the Urgent Need to Remove Barriers, Global Accessibility News, Nov. 9, 2018, available at
3. First Ever Technical Workshop in Eastern Africa
There are currently efforts to increase the voices of persons with psychosocial disabilities in Eastern Africa. A workshop in Kampala, Uganda, will help strengthen the voices of self-advocates and leaders of the movement toward inclusion. This workshop is the first of its kind there.
The workshop focuses on an increased awareness of the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD) and its sustainable development goals in regard to people with psychosocial disabilities. Groups from around the world are presenting. People from urban and rural areas, youth, and women with disabilities are taking part. By supporting these discussions, this workshop will enable participation in programs and policies to ensure inclusion within the cross-disability movement.
Full Story: Technical Workshop to Amplify Voices of Persons with Psychosocial Disabilities in East Africa, International Disability Alliance, Nov. 12, 2018, available at
H. POP CULTURE
1. Blind Users Get Commitment from Hulu for Accessibility
The American Council of the Blind and Bay State Council of the Blind have reached a settlement with Hulu. Hulu will make its online video platform available to users who are blind or who have low vision. Hulu has over 20 million subscribers in America but none of its content has audio descriptions.
Hulu will make its website and apps accessible to screen readers and will provide audio description on all content where possible. Hulu joins Netflix and other streaming services that are now prioritizing accessibility features and making video streaming more accessible for people with disabilities. Hulu will meet these standard accessibility guidelines by January 2020.
Press Release: Disability Rights Advocates, Hulu Becomes Latest Streaming Service to Commit to Accessibility for Blind Users, Disability Rights Advocates, Oct. 17, 2018 available at
2. Video Games Are Becoming More Accessible Thanks to Deaf Gamers
Susan, a game reviewer who is Deaf, created a video game review site that specifically rates game on their accessibility for people who are Deaf and hard of hearing . Susan started this after buying a video game where an early level required users to hear enemies in a dark area. She was upset that she could not be successful in this early level. She works with another reviewer to rate games on how accessible they are.
The only standard access feature available in games is subtitles of voices. Even then, the captions are not always easy to use. Captioning that includes writing out any sound is also very important because many games use sound as part of the playable experience. Studios need to bring in testers who are Deaf or have disabilities. While some game companies are working to make more accessible games, most of the game industry does not think about accessibility. That does not mean no games are accessible. A Spiderman game had many accessibility features, and its mass popularity may help the industry take notice. The most important actions studios or creators can do is start listening, start researching, and start trying.
Full Story: Anthony McGlynn, The Deaf Gamers Making Gaming More Accessible, Digital Trends, Oct. 14, 2018 available at
3. Netflix CEO Defends Use of "Retarded" During Comedy Special
Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, is defending Tom Segura and his comedy special that debuted on Netflix earlier in the year. Segura presented a bit about using the word "retarded." One professor called out to Hastings to do something about the special, stating they could not remember seeing anything more hateful or painful than the stigma Segura has used in the name of comedy.
Hastings responded by saying that Segura's work falls under freedom of expression. Hastings did indicate that Netflix reached out to Special Olympics and other groups to build a dialog around their concerns, also noting that despite their appeal and Mr. Segura's expression of support, there has been a refusal to remove it. Special Olympics notes that it values freedom of speech but does not condone speech that degrades and dehumanizes people with intellectual disabilities. Segura's special is still on Netflix as of this time.
Full Story: Michelle Diament, Netflix Defends Use of "Retarded," Disability Scoop, Sept. 24, 2018 available at
I. EVENTS AND FUNDING
Call for Papers
Resistance and Hope: Essays by Disabled People edited by Alice Wong considers "resistance, hope, self care, disability rights and justice, and the politics of Trump in a series of provocative, challenging essays. They bring the power of intersectional cross-platform organizing and the strength found through mutual accountability to words that will help you define the resistance you want to fight for, not just the harm you want to react against."
The Disability Law & Policy e-Newsletter is supported by the following sources:
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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 Angel Baker; Lead Editor Eddie Zaremba; and Associate Editors Lauren Galloway, Jason Harris, Sarah Knickerbocker, and Bayley Axelrod.
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