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 27, 2009
Volume 6, Issue 1
The Disability Law & Policy Newsletter is a bi-weekly 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: Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Sections
504 & 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, and state civil rights law
B. EDUCATION: Special education & youth transition to successful postsecondary outcomes
C. TECHNOLOGY / TELECOMMUNICATIONS: Assistive, information, and communication technologies
D. HEALTHCARE / BENEFITS: Social Security Income / Social Security Disability Income / Medicaid & Medicare
E. WORKFORCE: Workforce Investment Act (WIA), Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act (TWWIIA), & Vocational Rehabilitation
F. INDEPENDENCE: News for and about the Independent Living Movement
G. EMERGENCY RESPONSE / PREPAREDNESS: Disaster mitigation and preparedness news
H. INTERNATIONAL: News for and about disability topics outside the U.S.
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A. CIVIL RIGHTS
1. False Confessions from People with Intellectual Disabilities
Journalist and advocate Robert Perske assembled a list of 53 cases where people with intellectual disabilities confessed to committing crimes, for which they have since been exonerated, often by DNA evidence. Though Mr. Perske's list consists of only 53 cases, he believes the list actually could be quite longer. Mr. Perske believes the list is indicative of the need to educate police officers that the nature of a person with an intellectual disability typically is to be agreeable with authority figures, thus creating a greater need for legal council during the interrogation process.
Robert Perske, False Confessions from 53 Persons with Intellectual Disabilities: The List Keeps Going, Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, vol. 46(6), pp. 468-79, December 2008, available at
2. Milwaukee Public Schools Do Not Meet IDEA Requirements
Jamie King, one of the many plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit against Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), is a second year freshman at a Milwaukee charter school, who reads and writes at an elementary level. Jamie and other plaintiffs contend MPS has insufficiently served its special education students. In Jamie's case, her mother first requested the school evaluate Jaime when she began her schooling; however, Jaime did not receive an evaluation until after she failed the first grade for the third time.
Disability Rights Wisconsin, the organization representing the class, argues MPS has taken few steps to correct its flawed system since September 2007, when a court found MPS failed to meet the federal special education requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Jamie and the other plaintiffs are seeking services such as tutoring, speech therapy, and internships, as opposed to monetary relief.
Dani McClain, Lawsuit against MPS Aims to Help Special Education Student, Journal Sentinel, December 4, 2008, available at
1. Balancing Inclusive Education for Students with and without Disabilities
Inclusive education, now considered a basic civil right, allows students with learning disabilities to rise to the level of students receiving a "regular education." Studies show the inclusion model has improved services for all students, including those without learning differences. However, critics of inclusive education argue teachers do not receive adequate training for the challenges of having children with learning disabilities in the classroom. Additionally, these critics believe an inclusive education does not challenge students without disabilities the way the typical non-inclusive educational setting challenges these students. Proponents of inclusive education agree the key to a successful inclusive program is two-fold: (1) ensure the appropriate students are included in the mainstream environment; and (2) ensure teachers receive the appropriate training with ongoing professional development.
Robert Bardwell, School 'Inclusion' Aids Disabled Students, The Republican, January 7, 2009, available at
2. Meditation Helps Students with ADHD in Washington, D.C., Area
A pilot study in Washington, D.C., suggests children diagnosed with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can improve their attention and reduce stress, anxiety and impulsive behavior through the twice-daily practice of transcendental meditation. Transcendental meditation effectively turns the mind inward making meditation easier for children via a unique technique where the practitioner repeats a single sound as a means to quiet the mind. Although part of the definition of ADHD includes difficulty concentrating, students who participated in the study mastered the practice of transcendental meditation easily. At the end of the study, both the students and the teachers reported reduced levels of stress, anxiety and ADHD symptoms.
Melissa Healy, Study Shows Transcendental Meditation's Promise for Kids with ADHD, Los Angeles Times, January 6, 2009, available at
3. Federal Government's Failed Promise Proves Challenging for School Districts
The 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires all public schools to provide special education services to every student needing the services. To offset the costs, the federal government promised to fund 40 percent of States' excess cost. To date, however, the federal government has only paid half of the 40 percent difference, forcing districts to rely on state and local tax funds. In fact, the highest assistance from the federal government came in 2005, at 18.5 percent. In the face of budget deficits, the rising cost of education and a lack of funding from the federal government is a challenge for school districts nationwide.
Steph Kukuljan, Federal Government Backs Down From Spending Promise for Special Education, Missourian, January 3, 2009, available at
C. TECHNOLOGY / TELECOMMUNICATIONS
1. Google Employee Improves Cell Phone Technology for the Blind
T.V. Raman, a 43-year-old man who lost his eyesight at a young age to glaucoma, now works for Google designing technology to increase accessibility for individuals with visual impairments. Mr. Raman worked on developing a form of Google accessible to users who are blind and would like to create a touch-screen phone for users who are blind. Moving toward this goal, Mr. Raman started working on his own phone by adding software that acts as a screen reader for the phone and by creating a keypad based on relative positions. He hopes someday to have phones recognize signs in pictures taken by the user and believes even people without visual impairments will benefit from these new technologies.
Miguel Helft, For the Blind, Technology Does What a Guide Dog Can't, New York Times, January 3, 2009, available at
2. Fish Make Music for the Blind to "See"
To help individuals with blindness experience something fun, scientists at Georgia Tech created software that can use color and shape, such as that of a fish, to create music. The software tracks the fish's movement using its speed and depth in the tank to vary the music in pitch and tempo. The scientists hope zoos and aquariums all over the country will use the invention and have already begun to discuss this with the Tennessee Aquarium. They also hope to bring the technology to the Georgia Aquarium, the largest aquarium in the world.
Greg Bluestein, Scientists Try to Let the Blind `See' Fish, Google News, December 17, 2008, available at
3. W3C Creates WCAG 2.0 to Assist for Years to Come
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) created a new standard, known as Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0), in an effort to make all parts of the Web more accessible. Through the Web Accessibility Initiative, W3C created the WCAG 2.0 standard to help elderly people and people with disabilities via input assistance, easier navigation, compatibility with assistive technology, the ability to read captions with audio, and color contrast. WCAG 2.0 has wide international support across disability organizations, government, and industry.
Ian Jacobs, Marie-Claire Forgue, and Fumihiro Kato, W3C Web Standard Defines Accessibility for Next Generation Web, W3C Press Release, available at
D. HEALTHCARE / BENEFITS
1. Government Report Acknowledges Gulf War Syndrome
On November 17, 2008, the government's Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses released a report concluding that almost 200,000 soldiers have Gulf War Syndrome. This is the first federal report to acknowledge Gulf War Syndrome is valid and widespread, possibly affecting as many as twenty-five percent of Gulf War veterans. The study found the exposure to pesticides and the drug pyridostigmine bromide, used to protect soldiers against nerve gas, as the main cause. However, exposure to nerve agents, smoke from oil well fires, and vaccines further contribute to Gulf War Syndrome. Previously, veterans with symptoms such as memory and concentration problems, headaches, fatigue, pain, skin rashes, digestive problems, and respiratory problems often received a diagnosis of mental illness and were denied medical care and disability claims.
Chicago Tribune, Gulf War Illness Is Real, Government Says, November 20, 2008, available at
2. Court Will Not Set Disability Benefit Deadlines
United States District Judge Reggie Walton refused to issue an injunction in a dispute over delays in disability benefits by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Judge Walton stated Congress, not the courts, should address whether the VA is handling claims in a timely fashion. Military groups wanted the court to impose deadlines to process and settle medical claims as a way of providing immediate assistance to veterans in need. The national VA backlog is approaching one million claims.
Paul Courson, Judge Won't Intervene in Veteran Disability Dispute, CNN, December 17, 2008, available at
VVA & VMW Newsroom, The Lawsuit Update, December 17, 2008, available at
3. Programs for Seniors and Adults with Physical Disabilities Combined
New Jersey received approval to consolidate three Medicaid-supported service programs into a single program, Global Options (GO) for Long Term Care. The consolidation will improve access to a wider range of in-home, long-term support services for a greater number of seniors and adults with physical disabilities meeting the requirements established by Medicaid. Participants will have the option to hire and direct their own service providers, giving participants greater flexibility to modify their individual care plans as needs and preferences change over time.
Medical News Today, It's A GO! New Jersey State Combines Medicaid Waivers For Seniors & Adults With Physical Disabilities, January 5, 2009, available at
1. Creating Competition for Women with Disabilities in the Workforce
When compared to men with and without disabilities, women with disabilities have the highest unemployment rates and tend to experience poorer employment outcomes. However, women are working in greater numbers today than ever before, with the expectations that the numbers will continue to increase. To continue this trend, increased opportunities for supported employment and customized employment are crucial. Supported employment is competitive employment in community businesses with individualized assistance from a job coach, and customized placement strategies are negotiated relationships between employer and employee focused on meeting the needs of both. Successful examples of supported and customized employment include creating new jobs or job duties, redistributing job duties from one position to another, and self-employment. Also important to positive employment outcomes for women with disabilities is the presence of an influential person or role model in their lives.
Wendy Parent, Thinking Outside the Box: Competitive Employment for Women with Severe Disabilities, Impact, Summer/Fall 2008, available at
2. Nonprofit Abilities! Helping Individual with Disabilities Obtain Employment
In 1952, five individuals with disabilities founded the nonprofit organization, Abilities! dedicated to empowering people with disabilities. Abilities! is the umbrella organization for the Henry Viscardi School (HVS) and Abilities Inc., an accredited school serving children with severe disabilities and/or rare illnesses in grades pre-kindergarten through 12. The school has been very successful, with seventy percent of their graduates moving on to pursue higher education. Abilities Inc. is also dedicated to increasing the employment of workers with disabilities by providing training and placement services to over 2,000 people per year. Services include career assessments, skills training, and job placement. Abilities! looks to partner with other businesses in Long Island in the near future and further demonstrating people with disabilities make great employees.
Kenneth Cerini, Getting to Know Abilities!, Long Island Business News, January 2, 2009, available at
1. Adaptive Cycling Center Adapts Bikes for Any Disability
The Bike House, an adaptive bike shop in San Francisco, allows virtually any would-be rider to drop in and use custom adaptive bikes. Greg Milano, director of cycling at the Bay Area Outreach & Recreation Program Bike House, has been able to adapt bikes to a wide variety of bodies and abilities including adapting a bike for a woman born without arms. The Bike House allows anyone to come in and use a bike for the day without organized group activities. Milano has been able to create a bike for almost everyone and hopes to develop a bike based on push-pull motion.
Scott Ostler, Berkeley Shop Adapts Bikes for Any Disability, San Francisco Chronicle, November 27, 2008, available at
2. Therapy or Service Animals?
A debate is emerging over the legal status of some unorthodox service animals. Traditionally, dogs have served as guides for individuals with blindness; however, today, the list includes miniature horses for persons with blindness, a chimpanzee for a person with diabetes, and a wide range of psychiatric service animals, including ducks, birds, and monkeys. The law distinguishes between therapy and service animals. Therapy animals interact with humans to provide therapeutic support. Service animals, however, receive specific training to perform tasks their human is unable to perform because of disability and have legal protection under the ADA (with an exception for animals that pose a risk to public health). To address concerns that allowing such an expanded range of service animals could increase chances for fraud, the Department of Justice has submitted a proposal limiting service animal species.
Rebecca Skloot, Creature Comforts, The New York Times, December 31, 2008, available at
G. EMERGENCY RESPONSE / PREPAREDNESS
1. Using Transit to Assist Individuals with Disabilities Evacuate
Transit systems could play a significant role in transporting individuals with disabilities in times of emergency. Transit generally includes public bus and rail systems, commuter rail, ferries, para-transit and demand responsive transit. Evacuating people with disabilities by transit requires advance planning, and working with nonprofit organizations and social service agencies to identify groups needing assistance. Effective use of transit also requires a targeted public information campaign, a sheltering strategy and possibly mutual-aid agreements with other transit providers to meet surge demands. For an effective evacuation, transit systems must be part of the emergency management planning process and command structure and should have real-time communications capability with local emergency managers, other transit providers, their customers, and an ability to participate in annual exercises.
The National Academies, Transit Systems Are Not Well Integrated into Local Emergency Plans; Evacuation Planning for Special Needs Populations Inadequate, July 22, 2008, available at
2. Assessment Evaluated Long-Term Impacts after Hurricane Ike
After Hurricane Ike, the Department of Homeland Security Incident Management Planning Team developed a mission assignment plan to support FEMA's long-term recovery initiative, including a plan ensuring people with disabilities are an integral part of the recovery process. An assessment presented to FEMA evaluated long-term impacts related to the restoration of government and non-government support services on which people with disabilities often rely. The Special Needs Populations Impact Assessment Source Document discusses the characteristics of people with disabilities in an impacted area, documents the impacts of the disaster on these populations, recommends ways to address the needs of people with disabilities during community recovery, and sets forth strategies to engage people with disabilities in the recovery process.
The Special Needs Population Impact Assessment Source Document is available at
Hurricane Ike Community Recovery Impact Assessment, Department of Homeland Security: Interagency Coordinating Council on Emergency Preparedness and Individuals with Disabilities Newsletter, December 2008, available at
1. Bus Company Violates Own Wheelchair Policy; Woman Denied Ride
In Whales, a bus driver denied a woman using a wheelchair entry to a bus because the driver feared the battery in the electric wheelchair could explode. Although a company-wide policy permits bus riders to bring aboard any wheelchair fitting safely into the designated space, the driver denied access to Elaine Powell and her 13-year-old son. Ms. Powell has used a wheelchair since having a stroke nine years ago, and since then has attempted to work with organizations to improve accessibility. She intends to pursue a legal remedy for the discrimination. The bus company notes its investments made for accessibility are ahead of government-mandated schedule and is investigating the incident involving Ms. Powell.
Full Story: Wheelchair Woman Denied Bus Entry, BBC News, January 6, 2009, available at
2. UK Government Urged to Ratify UN Disability Treaty
The UK's Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has written four UK government ministries, criticizing the government's failure by this time to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Ratification signifies a state's willingness to accept the legal obligations arising under a convention, and to enact any legislation necessary to meet the goals of the convention. The EHRC also alleges the government has failed to consult with disability organizations as it moves toward ratification. Furthermore, the government has proposed more "reservations" from the terms of the treaty than all ratifying countries combined. The UK government originally intended to ratify the treaty by the end of 2008, but the government maintains it is their policy not to ratify any treaty until it is able to comply fully with the terms of the treaty. One hundred thirty-seven countries have signed the treaty and forty-four have ratified the treaty.
Geoff Adams-Spink, UK 'Must Ratify' Disability Pact, BBC News, January 6, 2009, available at
3. Israel Launches First Accessible Nature Area
Access Israel, in cooperation with Coca-Cola Israel, has introduced the first accessible nature area in Israel. The accessible park and picnic area located at Afek National Park boasts wheelchair-accessible paths, accessible parking, "adaptations for people with visual and walking disabilities," and accessible tables and seating. Afek National Park is currently one of Israel's most popular picnic areas. A spokesperson for Coca-Cola Israel acknowledges the prevalence of the disability community in Israel and expressed excitement at being involved in a project allowing persons with disabilities equal enjoyment of public nature spaces. The company also is involved in raising awareness about the "accessibility of leisure sites." A spokesperson for Access Israel commended Coca-Cola Israel's participation in the project and called on other businesses to take a role in improving the accessibility of nature areas in Israel.
The First Accessible Nature Area in Israel, Access Israel News, January 2, 2009, available at
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Note to readers: News article links may require free registration for access, or may be active for a limited time before the respective news services archive them. Archived items may also be available for a fee. Products mentioned in this newsletter are for information only and do not constitute an endorsement.
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., Managing Editor Deepti Samant, M.S. (Rehab), M.S. (ECE); and Associate Editors Janelle Frias, B.A., Lauren Chanatry, B.A., Shawna Castells, B.S., Aaron Gottlieb, B.A., Carly Pavlick, Amanda Bernasconi, and Nicole Loring.
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