The Disability Law & Policy e-Newsletter
An electronic publication of
The Law, Health Policy & Disability Center at the University of Iowa College of Law
The Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University
February 1, 2019
Volume 16, 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. 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. December 3 Marked the 26th International Day of Persons with Disabilities
Monday, December 3, marked the annual event known as International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD). This day was set up in 1992 by the United Nations to promote the welfare of people with disabilities and raise awareness of issues they face. About 15 percent of the world population have some sort of disability. Still, only half of all people with disabilities can afford health care.
This year's theme was "empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality." This is part of an Agenda for Sustainable Development 2030. The 2030 pledge is to leave no one behind. The 2030 pledge is a plan of action for the international community toward a peaceful and prosperous world. This will promote the dignity of an individual person and equality among all. The 2030 pledge also is consistent with the three pillars of the UN's work: Development, Human Rights, and Peace and Security.
On the morning of IDPD there was a commemoration ceremony at the UN and the launch of the first UN Flagship Report on Disability. CNN highlighted a human-interest series focusing on Americans with Disabilities.
Full Story: Ben Burnstein, Join the World on Monday in Recognizing the Strengths and Struggles of People with Disabilities, CNN, Nov. 30, 2018 available at
International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), Dec. 3, 2018, United Nations, available at
2. Doctors' Visits a Barrier for Those with Disabilities
People with disabilities have very few rights at the doctor's office. The ADA only applies to fixed structures and does not address "furnishings" in and unattached to buildings. This means scales, tables, X-ray machines and other diagnostic equipment are not covered under the law. Mismanaged healthcare visits can lead to poor treatment. A professor at Harvard Medical School and wheelchair user reports not having been weighed properly for over 20 years. Her treatment plans and prescriptions were based on educated guesses. Many offices do not have accessible furnishings.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was going to update standards for accessible medical treatment that is laid out in the American with Disabilities Act. The Justice Department enforces this but the Trump administration stopped this change last year as part of efforts to roll back regulations across the federal government. This has reinforced disparities in how people with disabilities are treated. The lack of equipment also matches the lack of physician training and sensitivity to disabilities and issues around them. A man from Colorado has been a wheelchair user for 30 years and complains about having to spend a lot of time during appointments explaining his medical care to doctors who do not understand how his bladder works or what his circulation problems are. Other systematic issues around supporting people with disabilities include the cost of items or space to accommodate equipment. While the Veterans Administration and some states have taken steps beyond the current standards, the new regulations are federal requirements.
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
1. Teens with Autism Need a Workforce
Rates of people born with Autism are rising. 500,000 teens with autism will enter adulthood in the next ten years. One national advocacy group reports that 90 percent of people with autism are unemployed or underemployed. Many reasons for this include depression, financial dependence on parents, government or community organizations, and systematic problems with hiring. Houston and other places around the nation are working with employers to change that. A Houston nonprofit organization highlights that those with autism have untapped potential. Those with autism generally are more reliable, loyal, and focused.
One approach used is called T3. T3 stands for transition, training, and taxpaying. This program pairs a job coach with a person with autism. As time goes on the coach backs away and stays in touch just in case they are needed. T3 targets certain skills such as light manufacturing, retail, and customer service. Workers either get internships or permanent employment at the location where they train. While these measures target the person with autism, businesses also make accommodations such as shorter or fewer shifts. Businesses generally worry about cost of employing people with disabilities, but the practice may reduce costs due to less turnover and government incentives.
Full Story: Suzanne Garofalo, 500,000 Teens with Autism Will Become Adults in Next 10 Years. Where Will They Work?, Houston Chronicle, Oct. 30, 2018, available at
2. Individuals with Disabilities Can Solve Talent Crisis
There are nearly 56 million people with disabilities across the United States, but they are not represented equally in the work force. This may be because of a high rate of invisible disabilities, but unemployment among people with disabilities is high. Studies show that while companies state they do not discriminate against individuals with disabilities, some people still have unconscious biases about disability. There are other systematic barriers related to the hiring process, such as the format and methods of evaluation.
The U.S. Department of Labor has found that employers who embrace disability as a part of their work force strategy report a 90 percent increase in being able to keep valued employees, a 72 percent increase in employee productivity, and a better bottom line. Many employers are afraid of the costs of accommodations. Yet fewer than 40 percent of people with disabilities need accommodations at work. Most often, those tools cost less than $500 and increase productivity for everyone.
Full Story: Nancy Geenen, Employing Individuals with Disabilities May Solve Your Talent Crisis, Entrepreneur, Nov. 2, 2018 available at
1. Restraint and Seclusion in School to Be Lessened by Lawmakers
Lawmakers have never imposed oversight on seclusion and restraint in schools. Democrats in Congress have proposed a bill called the "Keeping All Students Safe Act." The legislation would bar seclusion at any school that gets federal funding and limits the use of restraint to situations where safety of teachers or students is at risk.
The Department of Education shared that 122,000 students were subject to restraint or seclusion in the 2015-2016 school year alone. Students with disabilities account for 71 percent of children restrained and 66 percent of students secluded. A 2010 legislation similar to this was proposed and passed in the House but did not clear the Senate. The legislation would also require training for school staff members who restrain students so that restraint will not be a common practice. Schools would also need to alert the parents if a school restrains their child.
Full Story: Michelle Diament, Lawmakers Revive Plan to Curb Restraint, Seclusion in Schools, Disability Scoop, Nov. 15, 2018 available at
2. Education Department Reviews Changes Recently Made to Grievance Process
The U.S. Department of Education is reversing its decision on how it will handle disability discrimination complaints. It had made changes that would allow the department to dismiss claims. This was to weed out mass-filers. Mass-filers are advocates who submit thousands of claims. However, multiple civil rights organizations sued the Department over the dismissal of claims. As a result, the Department is reversing the change.
Even with the reversal, activists are still not happy with the process. Under the current administration, investigators are told to look into problems of broad discrimination instead of systematic discrimination. Advocates warn that the current process does not go far enough to prevent discrimination.
Full Story: Christina Samuels and Alyson Klein, DeVos Team Tempering Its Changes to Process of Civil Rights Complaints, Education Week, Dec. 11, 2018, available at
1. Recent Survey Suggests Autism Rate 1 in 40
A national survey shows that the number of people diagnosed with autism in the U.S. may be 1 in 40. Estimates show that there are 1.5 million children diagnosed between the ages 3 to 17. The findings were published in the journal Pediatrics with data that comes from the 2016 National Survey of Children's Health. This is compared to another study in April by the Center for Disease Control, suggesting a rate of 1 in 59 children.
The research is based on a survey from the government, completed by parents of more than 50,000 children across the nation. Part of the survey asked if a doctor or other health care provider ever told them their child had autism and/or if they currently have autism. The reports varied by state, with Florida at the highest and the lowest in Texas. These differences could be attributed to changes in the format of the survey and other factors. One limitation of the study is that it is based on parents' responses, which are not always reliable.
Full Story: Blythe Bernhard, New Government Report Suggests 1 in 40 Kids Have Autism, Disability Scoop, Nov. 26, 2018 available at
Michelle Diament, Second Study Corroborates 1 In 40 Autism Rate, Disability Scoop, Dec. 4, 2018 available at
2. Higher Employment Is Linked to Medicaid Expansion
New research published in the American Journal of Public Health found that in states that Medicaid has expanded fewer people are reporting that they are not working due to disability. This was not found in the states that did not expand Medicaid. The research links healthcare with a better ability to work.
States could choose to expand Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act. Research from the University of Kansas found that originally 41.3 percent of people with disabilities in Medicaid expansion states were employed or self-employed. In 2017 the percentage went up to 47 percent. People who reported not working because of their disability went down from 32 to 27 percent.
Full Story: Alexa Lardieri, Medicaid Expansion Leads to Higher Employment, U.S. News and World Report, July 19, 2018 available at
1. Real-Time Captions and Translation Becomes Standard in PowerPoint
Microsoft PowerPoint is adding live captions of voice translation to millions of Office 365 subscribers. The feature launched in 2017 as an add-on. It is now standard. Microsoft partnered with the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at the Rochester Institute of Technology to pilot the automatic captioning program.
Microsoft has added 30 new accessibility features to Office 365 since launching a $25 million, five-year program to fund artificial intelligence-based tools for people with disabilities. The program began in May 2018. One of the goals for the Microsoft team was to make captioning more available for Deaf and hard of hearing members of the workforce. Technology can help make communication more accessible, but the article notes that increasing employment for Deaf and hard of hearing individuals also requires cultural change to reduce discrimination.
Full Story: James Thorne, Microsoft Makes Real-Time Captions and Translation Standard in Office 365 PowerPoint, GeekWire, Dec. 3, 2018, available at
2. The Inaccessibility of Voice Technology
We are living in an increasingly voice-first world thanks to technology like Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. This technology can be used to tell us the weather, make reservations, or play music. For some, this technology is for much more than convenience. The ability to turn on lights, lock doors, have search results read aloud, and send text messages gives independence. For the 39.5 million American adults with limited mobility and the 22.5 million American adults with limited vision it is important technology. While this technology has opened doors for some, it has left others out.
For those who struggle to vocalize their speech it is a barrier. One user struggles to get Alexa to understand her as she has cerebral palsy and a strained voice. She often has to repeat commands, which strains her voice even more. Many people who stutter or have other difficulty using their voice are often out of luck. This includes people who are aging.
Voice-enabled tech developers are struggling to meet these needs. The machine learning that is used in voice-activated tech uses massive amounts of data from younger users who do not have disabilities. Thus it makes it harder to make machine learning techniques to develop inclusive, voice-enabled technology to work consistently for those whose speech varies. Start-ups and large companies are still working on solutions. Some include processing nonstandard speech, while others focus on alternative interfaces.
Full Story: Moira Corcoran, When Alexa Can't Understand You, Slate, Oct. 16, 2018, available at
1. Community-Based Services Lacking Due to State Hurdles
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has done an audit of five states' Medicaid offerings. The GAO looked at home and community based (HCB) services in Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Montana, and Oregon. They found that states are having trouble meeting their obligations around HCB services for people with developmental disabilities. There are many factors to why these programs are struggling. They include difficulty recruiting and retaining direct care workers and trouble serving people with significant medical or behavioral issues. Other factors include lack of affordable housing and pressure from states to limit per-person spending on home and community-based services. Funding continues to be an issue for these states.
States have made efforts to raise workers' pay and allow family members to be paid caregivers. They are also looking for other funding sources and federal grants. The investigators found that more than half of Medicaid spending on long-term care is spent on HCB services. HCB spending is determined by states individually.
Full Story: Michelle Diament, States Cite Hurdles to Providing Community-Based Services, Disability Scoop, Nov. 2, 2018, available at
2. People with Disabilities Rarely Included in Bike-Sharing
While bike-sharing programs rise in popularity, there are few alternatives for users with disabilities. One organization claims that 35 million bike-share rides were taken in 2017, and studies show that users are mostly white and wealthy. New York and Chicago do not have adaptive alternatives, but Detroit does.
Citi Bike in New York announced a $100 million investment and they plan to explore adaptive options. Detroit modeled its program after one that started in Portland, Oregon. Detroit's MoGo offers hand-powered bicycles and tricycles which are steadier than other type of cycles. MoGo is analyzing adaptive cycle use, such as how people use the bikes and what are some challenges they face before they expand the program. Issues like understanding how to use the bikes as well as how people with physical disabilities can transfer on and off the bikes safely are concerns.
Full Story: Mihir Zaveri, Bike-Share Options Are Rarely Available for People with Disabilities, New York Times, Dec. 10, 2018, available at
1. UN Report on Disability and Development Highlights Discrimination
The UN Flagship Report on Disability and Development was published for the first time recently. The report was published by, for, and with persons with disabilities. The report hopes to foster a more accessible and inclusive society. It shows that people with disabilities are disadvantaged when it comes to most sustainable development goals.
Many people with disabilities are still disconnected and discriminated against. This has major effects on transportation, cultural life, and public access. On average, people with disabilities die 16 years sooner than those living without disabilities. The report begins by offering suggestions to improve urban environments. The United Nations pledges to fulfill the human rights of all persons. The United Nations also confirms a commitment to an inclusive, equitable, and sustainable world for all.
Full Story: First-Ever UN Report on Disability and Development, Illustrates Inclusion Gaps, UN News, Dec. 3, 2018, available at
2. Humanitarian Agencies Should Focus on People with Disabilities in the Migrant Caravan
Having a disability in Latin America is not simple. There is a lack of accessibility and supports around independent living. For a migrant with a disability this is amplified. Human Rights watch found 12 people with disabilities in the migrant caravan, but this is probably underestimated because people who had less visible disabilities were not identified. One researcher talked with these migrants to learn about their stories and the violence and discrimination they left behind.
Many migrants have traveled at least 3,000 miles to reach northern Mexico. Most people along the way have been supportive, although some attitudes toward their disabilities sometimes placed them at risk. Further, many shelters and facilities are not accessible. The researcher makes the case that these migrants need better support.
Full Story: Carlos Rios Espinosa, Life with a Disability in the Migrant Caravan, Human Rights Watch, Dec. 20, 2018, available at
H. POP CULTURE
1. Intelligent Lives Challenges Assumptions Around IQ
A documentary film from Dan Habib made its premier in September and has been shown over 100 times. The film focuses on three people with intellectual disabilities who are living their lives to the fullest, even though they are not supposed to because they have a low IQ. This film is meant to show that we have a narrow idea of what it is to be intelligent.
IQ has been used to justify and determine whether someone should be institutionalized, and even sterilized. People are still segregated systematically as well as being underestimated today. Forty-nine states rely on IQ scores. This film shows young adults, families, educators, and others the power of opportunity and high expectations for everyone.
Full Story: Shaun Heasley, New Documentary Questions IQ as a Measure of Intelligence, Disability Scoop, Sept. 18, 2018, available at
2. People with Disabilities Are Changing Hollywood
Out of over 300 shows on TV today not all people are represented equally. Around 20 percent of the population has some sort of disability, according to data collected by the U.S. Census. The Ruderman Family Foundation says that less than 2 percent of television characters have a disability. There are many challenges facing people with disabilities getting jobs in the media industry, but many agree the main one is having to overcome the negative perceptions.
"Lights! Camera! Access! 2.0" brings people with disabilities together with media industry professionals who might hire them. The program is a series of summit meetings. Events include guest speakers, resume reviews, speed-interviewing workshops, and networking opportunities. While stereotypes are still a problem, other barriers include physical access to television and film sets, access to sign language interpreters, and even having smaller social circles where employment opportunities are shared. Working toward improving networking and self-confidence are some of the important factors that Lights! Camera! Access 2.0 is working to improve for people with disabilities.
Full Story: Liz Raftery, How People with Disabilities Are Challenging the Hollywood Pipeline, TV Guide, Aug. 22, 2018, available at
I. EVENTS AND FUNDING
Call for Papers
Disability in South Asia Knowledge & Experience edited by Anita Ghai "presents a comprehensive approach to various aspects of disability in South Asia. A critical work on disability studies, this book explores the full complexity of disability in its multi-layered, interactional dynamics."
Gender Identity, Sexuality and Autism: Voices from Across the Spectrum by Eva A. Mendes & Meredith R. Maroney offers "a collection of narratives from those who are on the autism spectrum whilst also identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and/or asexual (LGBTQIA), this book explores the intersection of the two spectrums as well as the diverse experiences that come with it."
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 Jason Harris and Lauren Galloway.
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