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
March 9, 2021
Volume 18, Issue 2
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. T&T Agrees to Settle $125,000 EEOC Disability Discrimination Lawsuit
An employee of T&T Subsea, LLC, who worked as a commercial driver brought suit against the company alleging discrimination. This employee, who was diagnosed with cancer, continued to work through his chemotherapy and radiation but stopped working for surgery. After the employee told T&T he was ready to return to work full-time, he was fired. T&T stated that the employee was disqualified from working because the commercial guidelines excluded employees diagnosed with cancer within the last five years.
T&T violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by discriminating against an employee based on a disability. Federal law requires companies to engage in an individualized interactive process with their employees to determine whether they return to work. T&T agreed to settle the charges for $125,000, remove unlawful disqualification language from its employee guidelines, revise existing anti-discrimination policy, and report all adverse action taken against employers based on their disability, all complaints of disability discrimination, and all reasonable accommodation requests.
Press Release: U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission. T&T Subsea Will Pay $125,000 to Settle EEOC Disability Discrimination Suit, (Feb. 9, 2021), available at
2. EEOC Files Charges Against Saint Clare's Health for Disability Discrimination
The EEOC has brought suit against Saint Clare's Health on behalf of a new employee hired to work as an EMS dispatcher. The employee, who shortly before her first day of work was hospitalized and diagnosed with preeclampsia, alleges that Saint Clare's Health refused to accommodate her needs. The employee states that she informed Saint Clare's about her diagnosis and induced labor, and Saint Clare's, in response, withdrew her offer of employment instead of providing a reasonable accommodation.
The EEOC alleges that Saint Clare's failed to partake in an interactive process to accommodate their employee. Further,they say that Saint Clare's behavior violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which aims to prohibit employers from taking adverse action against qualified employees based on their disabilities.
Press Release: U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission. EEOC Sues Saint Clare's Health for Disability Discrimination, (Feb. 8, 2021), available at
1. Washington State to Allow Persons with Criminal Past to Work in Health Care
Washington state lawmakers are deciding on a bill that would benefit people with certain criminal convictions. The bill would allow those people to work in health and home care. This includes jobs working with people with disabilities. The bill is a result of the shortage of such workers and would help level the playing field for hiring people with past convictions. Presently, people who have criminal convictions can be nurses. However, they could not work in a place with especially vulnerable populations like a nursing home.
Disability rights activists are raising concerns. While most of them believe in the bill, they also fear for the patients. Persons with disabilities are more likely to suffer from abuse. They argue that the bill should consider the needs of patients as well and add safeguards. They believe that while those with relatively minor criminal convictions should be allowed to have their rights restored, disabiled clients should also be provided adequate information.
Full Story: Maya Leshikar, Washington State Considers Allowing People with Criminal Convictions to Have Health Care Jobs, The Seattle Times (Feb. 14, 2021), available at
2. European Space Agency Seeks 'Parastronaut'
The European Space Agency (ESA) is working to add more astronauts to its roster. After a decade of not hiring, the agency has opened applications, and even more unique is their focus on hiring people with physical disabilities. This is of note as people with disabilities are often overlooked because of the high standards of being an astronaut. Astronauts must be physically fit, have great vision, and be able to handle pressure.
ESA plans to make strides toward hiring candidates of other diverse backgrounds. They are presently working with their partners to create adaptations to allow astronauts with a disability to meet the requirements successfully and to navigate their living spaces. While there are minimum requirements, such as a master's degree and the ability to undergo physical training, this is a step toward a more inclusive workforce for people with physical disabilities.
Full Story: Andre Parsonson,"Parastronaut" Sought as ESA Recruits its First New Astronauts in More Than a Decade, Space News (Feb. 16, 2021), available at
1. Special Education Vouchers in Georgia to Be Widened
A Georgia Senate committee is seeking to advance a bill that will assist people with disabilities. The bill seeks to broaden eligibility for special education students to attend private schools. Presently, grants are given to students on individualized education plans. However, this bill will include more students. The bill would add section 504 students, those students who are performing at their grade level but need assistance. The bill would also include students with specific disabilities.
Supporters believe this bill is crucial because it allows families to pick the school that works best for them. Private school can often be cost prohibitive, so if a public school is not fulfilling a student's needs, parents have no choice but to let their child remain underserved. However, Disability Rights Advocates have criticized the Bill, claiming that rural students and low-income families would not benefit from the bill as written. Lawmakers are said to be working to fix the issues brought up by these advocates.
Full Story: Jeff Amy, Georgia Senate Panel Seeks Wider Special Education Vouchers, U.S. News & World Report (Feb. 22, 2021), available at
2. Education Officials in UK Provide Tablets for Learning Disabilities
The U.K. government is providing a bit of help to people with learning disabilities. Named the "Digital Lifeline Fund," the program will provide tablets and support for those students who could not otherwise afford them. This effort is to improve access for getting online for school, as well as feelings of social isolation because of the pandemic. This program targeting the needs of people with disabilities is especially important as the pandemic has had an immense effect on disabled people, with one study reporting that three in four disabled people felt they were negatively affected by the pandemic.
Studies have reported that the tablets can provide some help as they can reduce social isolation feelings and support mental health. To ensure the program's success, the U.K. government is working with charities like Good Things Foundation and AbilityNet. Both companies have experience assisting people with disabilities through technology. The organizations will help get them online, use the device, and address whatever difficulties they may have.
Full Story: Free Tablets to Improve Lives of Thousands of People with Learning Disabilities, FE News (Feb. 26, 2021), available at
1. People with Disabilities Face Bias from Medical Professionals
A recently published study by Dr. Lisa Iezzoni discusses the treatment of persons with disabilities by those practicing medicine. Iezzoni, who herself is disabled, has studied the trends surrounding health care for disabled people for more than 20 years. Her new study focuses on the attitude of treating doctors towards patients with disabilities, and the results are discouraging.
This study surveyed 714 doctors across different specialties who practice in the United States. The results found that 82.4% of doctors believe that people with disabilities have lesser quality of life than those without disabilities, while less than half (41%) of responding doctors felt confident in their ability to treat disabled persons. Even more concerning is that, even in this time of pandemic where disabled lives have been deprioritized, 18% of responding doctors strongly agreed that the American health care system treats patients with disabilities unfairly.
Full Story: Cara Murez, Too Many U.S. Doctors Biased Against Patients with Disabilities: Study, U.S. News & World Report (Feb. 2, 2021), available at
2. Disabled Californians Back to Priority Status on March 15
Disabled Californians will once again receive priority status for COVID-19 vaccination. After Governor Newsom's January decision to award vaccination availability based on age spurred disability rights activists into action, the state has decided to add to the priority list those at high risk for contracting severe cases of the coronavirus.
Those falling into the high risk category will now be eligible for vaccination on March 15. This revision to vaccination guidelines has left people with disabilities and disability rights activists statewide relieved. Activists also stress the importance of recognizing the risk of the virus to other vulnerable populations like people experiencing homelessness and incarcerated people.
Full Story: Sarah Ruiz-Grossman, California Puts People with Disabilities Back on COVID-19 Vaccine Priority List, HuffPost News (Feb. 12, 2021), available at
1. Facebook Regulates Posts Linking Vaccination to Autism
Facebook and Instagram are adopting stricter standards for the content that their users post. This new policy comes an an effort to counteract misinformation that surrounds vaccination during the pandemic.
The company has indicated that one-time posters will have their misinformed posts removed, while individual users, groups, and pages that repeatedly share misinformation will be removed entirely. Posts that qualify for removal are those that link autism to vaccination, as well as those that claim the COVID-19 vaccine is ineffective or that COVID-19 itself is man-made.
Full Story: Shaun Heasley, Facebook Cracking Down on Posts Linking Autism, Vaccines, Disability Scoop (Feb. 10, 2021), available at
2. COVID-19 Vaccine Websites Are Inaccessible
An investigation by Kaiser Health News reports that vaccination websites at all levels of government are inaccessible to people with vision impairments. These websites, which provide important vaccination information and through which people register for vaccine appointments, are in violation of disability rights laws.
Web accessibility organization WebAIM audited a total of 94 web pages collected from all 50 states. It found that nearly all of the 94 pages contained accessibility issues as of January 27, 2021. Blind residents in at least seven states have reported an inability to register for the vaccine on websites without assistance and that phone alternatives have brought their own accessibility issues. Further, even the Center for Disease Control's Vaccine Administration Management System used by some states is also inaccessible to blind users. These problems only serve to compound the disparate effect of the pandemic upon the disabled community.
Full Story: Lauren Weber & Hannah Recht, COVID-19 Vaccine Websites Violate Disability Laws, Create Inequity for the Blind, Los Angeles Times (Feb. 25, 2021), available at
1. Australian Government's New Website Offers Greater Choice to Disabled People
The Victorian government in Australia launched an important new website, My Allied Health Space. to give access and resources to people with disabilities. The website provides information, tools, and training resources so they can choose the services that would assist them in independence. The website also provides guidance to family and friends to support people with disabilities. Checklists are also included to plan and assess the care.
With an estimated 4.3 million Australians living with some sort of disability, this website is crucially important. Often, plans are not individualized so they do not provide the best support. As a result, people with disabilities do not have full independence. The government seeks to provide 500,000 people support over the next few years. This website allows Australians with disabilities to take charge of their own care.
Full Story: New Tool for Assisting People with a Disability Choose the Support They Need, Monash University (Feb. 19, 2021), available at
2. Texas Organization Offering Greater Independence in the Snow
Adaptive Sports Association (ASA) in Durango, Texas, is working to allow everyone the chance to play in the snow. ASA is trying to make the best of Texas's recent snowy weather, assisting 500 people with disabilities to enjoy skiing. ASA does so by offering lessons and adaptive technologies to allow people of all abilities and skill levels to successfully take on the slopes.
Professional athlete Alana Nichols, a five-time Paralympian with six medals in alpine sit-skiing and wheelchair basketball is an ASA client. The organization assisted her after a snowboarding accident left her paralyzed below the waist. However, clients are not just professionals. ASA helps people with disabilities of all ages to find greater independence in pursuing activities they may otherwise not have the chance to enjoy.
Full Story: John Livingston, Livi on the Lift: Everyone Deserves a Chance to Play in the Snow (Feb. 12, 2021), available at
1. Death of Philippa Day Highlights Gross Mismanagement in the U.K.
The death of Philippa Day may have gone unnoticed. However, a new report from the coroner's office has renewed interest in her case. A 27-year-old single mother with a number of disabilities, Day overdosed in 2019. Day had a history of mental illness, self-harm attempts, and stays at a psychiatric hospital. As a result of her disabilities, she was receiving Disability Living Allowance and was seeking to claim Personal Independence Payment (PIP). The cause of Day's reported suicide can be remembered as the failure of the U.K. government. Leading up to her death, Day's benefits were stripped from £228 to £60. Also, when was unable to attend an in-person assessment because of her anxiety, the government rejected a request for an at-home assessment by Day's nurse and stopped her PIP. A short time later, Day was found dead with the letter announcing the stoppage next to her.
While Day often complained of her dealings with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), she is one of many who were met with indifference and incompetence in seeking benefits and whose complaints were not addressed. A report by the National Audit Office found at least 69 suicides could be linked with issues in receiving benefits from DWP and that the department failed to properly investigate many other cases. More concerning, data from the Office of National Statistics found that in 2018 750 DWP claimants of working age took their own lives. Day's story highlights a sad reality for people with disabilities seeking assistance across the U.K..
Full Story: Dennis Moore, UK: Government Report Describes Appalling Official Treatment of Seriously Disabled Philippa Day who Took Her Own Life, World Socialist Web Site (Feb. 3, 2021), available at
2. Classification Issues Leave Paralympic Athletes Waiting for Approval to Compete
With the Tokyo Paralympics only a few months away, the International Paralympic Committee has noticed a number of issues. Many athletes are still not classified to compete. The Committee stated that 10 of the 22 sports are affected by nonclassification issues and speculates that the delay is likely caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Classification is an important part of the Paralympic Movement as it determines which athletes are eligible to compete and how they are grouped together. While classification requirements are common in most major sporting events, many have been cancelled or waived the process because of the pandemic. The IPC refuses to adapt the Paralympic classification process. The Committee claims that waiving requirements would cause issues to events where those already classified will compete. Most notably, the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation is facing issues in getting athletes classified with 365 of 372 athletes submitted for classification in need of review to determine their eligibility. As the Games are set to open in August, there is now a race to ensure these athletes are able to compete.
Full Story: Geoff Berkeley, Athletes Facing Wait to Discover Classification Ahead of Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, Inside the Games (Feb. 22, 2021), available at
H. POP CULTURE
1. Dancer on the Spectrum Performs at the Super Bowl
Joshua Felder, a 23-year-old Tampa native, made a national appearance alongside The Weeknd at this year's Super Bowl Halftime Performance. Felder, who was one of 200 dancers in the performance, wore a red suit and a mask of bandages and danced on the field.
Felder was born with a photographic memory and identifies as having high-functioning autism. These traits, he believes, assist him in learning choreography. Felder is also a long-time participant in Best Buddies of Tampa Bay and is currently a Best Buddies ambassador. He credits his involvement with this organization with his performance at the Super Bowl. It was a Best Buddies director who introduced Felder to the person who scheduled his audition.
Full Story: Gabrielle Calise, How a Dancer on the Spectrum Landed a Spot in the Super Bowl Halftime Show, Tampa Bay Times (Feb. 12, 2021), available at
2. NBC Joins CBS in Commitment to Auditioning Disabled Actors
NBCUniversal has signed onto a pledge by the Ruderman Family Foundation, which calls on Hollywood players to audition actors with disabilities for every new series they launch. An NBCUniversal representative marked the occasion by highlighting the importance of accurately depicting our world--a world that includes the disabled experience. This representative also noted the importance of commitments like this pledge in promoting systemic change.
By signing this pledge, NBCUniversal joins CBS, which signed on in 2019, and a group of A-List celebrities. While this progress toward disability inclusion is encouraging, a 2021 report found that only 3.5% of regularly-appearing characters have disabilities, a record high. Further, only 22% of characters with disabilities are played by actors who have disabilities. Pledges like the Ruderman Family Foundation's counteract these disappointing figures and bring hope of a more disability positive and inclusive Hollywood.
Full Story: Shaun Heasley, NBCUniversal Commits to Audition Actors with Disabilities, (Feb. 9, 2021), available at
I. EVENTS AND FUNDING
Call for Papers
Meara Bartlett. (2020). Wedding Planning for Spoonies: Inspiration & Tips for Chronically Ill and Disabled Couples.
Carly Findlay, ed. (2020). Growing Up Disabled in Australia, 2nd ed. Black Inc.
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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; and Lead Editor Aidee Campa Escorza.
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