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 19, 2009
Volume 6, Issue 2
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. Pentagon Decides Not to Award Purple Heart for PTSD
The Pentagon's November 3, 2008, decision not to award the Purple Heart to soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) became available to the public. The Purple Heart award recognizes individuals wounded to a degree requiring medical treatment, "in action[s] with the enemy or as the result of enemy action where the intended effect ... is to kill or injure the service member." After months of review, the Pentagon concluded PTSD is a secondary effect of conflict rather than an intentionally inflicted wound, but left the issue open to potential reassessment later. A spokesperson for The American Legion expressed approval of the decision, noting the organization feels awarding the honor distinguishes between illness and actual injury. John Fortunato, chief of a PTSD treatment center, expressed gratitude that the Pentagon gave the issue such attention despite their ultimate decision.
William H. McMichael, Pentagon: PTSD Does Not Warrant Purple Heart, Army Times, January 18, 2009, available at
2. Equal Pay Legislation Bill Signed into Law
President Obama signed his first bill into law on January 29, 2009, with implications for everyone in the workforce, including people with disabilities. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in effect extends the statute of limitations, or the time during which an employee may bring a lawsuit for discrimination. Toward the end of her 19-year career at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company (Goodyear), plaintiff Lily Ledbetter discovered her employer paid her less than they paid her male coworkers, and because of this treatment, she filed a discrimination suit against Goodyear. When the case went before the Supreme Court, the Court dismissed the case for her failure to file the suit "within 180 days of the date that Goodyear first paid her less than her peers."
In response to this decision, Congress passed the Lilly Ledbetter Act, creating a new incident of discrimination every time a person receives a reduced benefit because of a discriminatory act. Thus, under the new law Ms. Ledbetter would have a new claim every time she received her paycheck as her paycheck was reduced based on a discriminatory evaluation.
Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Obama Signs Equal-Pay Legislation, New York Times, January 30, 2009, available at
3. Woman Seeks to Bring Gettysburg into ADA Compliance
Marilynn Phillips filed complaints in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania against three Gettysburg establishments, claiming the shops lack accessible wheelchair entrances, thereby violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Phillips, who uses a wheelchair because of post-polio syndrome and osteoporosis, has in the past filed many complaints with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC); however, she feels the lengthy process does not effectively resolve her complaints, and the businesses do not take her concerns seriously. Phillips has filed PHRC complaints against the borough of Gettysburg, citing its inaccessible streets and sidewalks. The PHRC is a state agency that can compel compliance, but cannot award damages to the complainant. Thus by filing in District Court, Phillips hopes to expedite the compliance process and possibly recover attorney's fees.
Erin James, Disability Activist Files Gettysburg Cases in Federal Court, The Evening Sun, January 22, 2009, available at
1. Restraining and Secluding Students with Disability
The National Disability Rights Network, a congressionally mandated advocacy group, has published a report addressing the restraint and seclusion of students with disabilities. Despite gains made against the use of restraints in mental health institutions, the issue has been largely ignored in school settings. The report documents an unsettling list of cases of restraint and seclusion, some of which end in injury or death. About 40 percent of the states do not have laws regulating restraining and secluding students with disabilities, and fewer than half of the states require schools to notify parents when their child is restrained or secluded. The Network is pushing the Obama administration to track incidents of restraint and seclusion in order to determine whether these are isolated incidents, and ultimately hopes to see increased regulation and training in positive behavior supports. Currently, while IDEA emphasizes the use of positive behavior supports, it does not specifically prohibit using restraints or other aversive behavioral interventions.
Christina Jewett, Report on Lack of Regs for Restraint of Disabled Children, Pro Publica, January 13, 2009, available at
National Disability Rights Network, School Is Not Supposed to Hurt: Investigative Report on Abusive Restraint and Seclusion in Schools, January 2009, available at
2. Directory of Federally Funded Transition Services
The Federal Interagency Partners in Transition Workgroup has developed a directory of federally funded projects and centers focusing on youth transition. The directory includes fifteen descriptions, detailing the name of the project or center, the funding agency, and the target audience. The directory also contains a brief description of each center's purpose, the services they provide, and links to center websites and publications. It is important to note that the document is not exhaustive of all transition services extended through federal, state, or local entities.
Strengthening Transition Partnerships: Building Federal TA Center Capacity, September 8, 2008, available at
3. College Scholarship Opportunities for Children of Parents with Disability
Through the Looking Glass, a nationally recognized center providing research, training, and services for persons with disability, has announced that in association with its National Center for Parents with Disabilities and their Families new scholarships are available for college students as well as high school seniors. There are two separate scholarship awards, each with its own set of eligibility requirements. The criteria for selection include academic performance, community activities and service, letters of recommendation, as well as an essay describing the experience of growing up with a parent who has disability. The scholarships are also part of a research study concerning adolescents who have parents with a disability. All application materials must be completed and postmarked by March 16th of this year.
Through the Looking Glass, 2009 Through the Look Glass Scholarship Announcement and Application Procedures, January 22, 2009, available at
C. TECHNOLOGY / TELECOMMUNICATIONS
1. Coalition Lobbies Delay Transition to Digital Television
The Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology (COAT), currently the largest coalition of organizations addressing accessible technology, lobbied Congress to delay the upcoming transition to digital television. The group also expressed concern that the February deadline would have left individuals with disabilities without access to televised news, information, and entertainment. In addition to postponing the deadline, COAT recommended creating a team of experts to address the identified concerns.
Congress voted on February 4th to postpone the deadline to transition to digital television to June 12th, expressing concern that many consumers were unprepared for the change. The delay is good news to many people with disabilities, as the transition process has already revealed a number of technical problems, including issues with closed captioning, narrated video description, and the hook-up of digital equipment.
The decision to delay still allows broadcasters to move forward with the transition at this time, if they can demonstrate that, "consumers in their viewing areas will not be left in the dark." The FCC announced that, of the nearly 500 stations intending to transition to digital broadcasts on February 17th, 123 would not be allowed to make the switch, because of concerns that consumers would be left without access to public safety information and news.
COAT Calls for Delay in Digital TV Transition, American Association for People with Disabilities, January 16, 2009, available at
Kim Hart, FCC Targets TV Stations Ending Analog, Washington Post, February 13, 2009, available at
2. Center Allows Users to Try Before Buying Assistive Devices
The Bluegrass Technology Center in Lexington, Kentucky, promotes accessibility to a wide array of assistive technologies. The center can adapt virtually any object to any need, and lends assistive devices to individuals considering buying them. If a customer decides to buy the device, the Center can assist with locating the device at the lowest price, obtaining funding, and troubleshooting. The Center also boasts an impressive Toy Library, where parents can borrow adaptive toys at no cost. Future projects of the Bluegrass Technology Center include refurbishing 200 computers to lend to customers and recording up to 1,000 books for children with visual impairments.
Marlene Davis, Where Technology Helps Beat Disability: Center Adapts Everyday Objects for Use by Those Who Need Assist, Lexington Herald-Leader, January 13, 2009, available at
3. Minnesota Will Honor Achievements in Assistive Technology
Minnesota's System of Technology to Achieve Results (STAR) has put forth a call for nominations to recognize achievement in assistive technology. Nominations are available for both individuals and organizations with exceptional contributions to the use, promotion, support, research and development of assistive technologies. Winners will be honored at an April 14th award ceremony at the Capitol Rotunda in St. Paul.
For more information on nominations:
Assistive Technology Award Nominations Sought, Saint Paul Legal Ledger, February 5, 2009, available at
D. HEALTHCARE / BENEFITS
1. First Nationwide Study Finds Inmates Do Not Receive Proper Healthcare
Researchers at Cambridge Health Alliance and Harvard Medical School conducted the first nationwide study of inmate healthcare and published their findings in the American Journal of Public Health. The researchers found 40% of the total population of inmates, over 800,000, reported a chronic medical condition. Furthermore, over 20% of inmates in state prisons, 68.4% of inmates in jail, and 13.9% of inmates in federal prisons had not seen a medical practitioner since their incarceration. Inmates in state prisons are 31% more likely to have asthma than other Americans and 55% more likely to have diabetes. Inmates with medical problems requiring drug treatment, such as diabetes, often stop receiving their medications after incarceration. The study's co-author, Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, noted that the United States incarcerates more people per capita than any other nation, and treatment of mental illnesses before arrest may prevent criminal behavior in the first place.
EMaxHealth, U.S. Inmates Suffer from Poor Access to Health Care, January 19, 2009, available at
2. Budget Cuts Threaten Virginia's Mental Health Clinic for Children
With a $3 billion budget gap to close, Virginia Governor Timothy M. Kaine (D) ordered the closing of the Commonwealth Center of Children and Adolescents, a state-run health center for children who have serious psychiatric problems. Many children with such serious health issues either do not have health insurance or are refused treatment at private hospitals because of their violent behavior. The Commonwealth Center specializes in treating these children and has been called a "safety net" for them. Mental health experts, advocates and lawmakers have protested the center's closing, arguing that no other place is willing to treat the children.
Officials who support closing the center argue private hospitals with psychiatric wards for children can offer the same services the Commonwealth Center provides, and the state will still spend around $2.1 million on hospital care for children without health insurance. However, advocates against the closing counter that many private hospitals do not admit or treat seriously troubled children, and worry the amount of money allocated for children without insurance will not be enough to cover the cost of their health care. Currently, running the center costs about $7.6 million annually.
Chris L. Jenkins and Frederick Kunkle, Va. Proposal Puts Mental Health Safety Net for Children on Chopping Block, Washington Post, January 19, 2009, available at
1. Employer Attitudes Improving; Employment Outcomes Still Lag
In January 2009, the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy released a survey asking representatives of nearly 4,000 companies about attitudes and behaviors toward hiring people with disabilities. The survey found most large businesses are hiring people with disabilities, and once they do, businesses are likely to continue hiring people with disabilities. Furthermore, employers indicated accommodating people with disabilities costs roughly the same as accommodating employees without disabilities. Despite these findings, only 46% of Americans with disabilities between the ages 21 to 64 are employed; 38 percentage points less than people without disabilities who are in the same age group.
Michelle Diament, Disability Employment Low, But Employer Attitudes Improving, Disability Scoop, January 22, 2009, available at
Office of Disability Employment Policy, Survey of Employer Perspectives on the Employment of People with Disabilities,
2. Obama Administration Should Invest in EEOC to Improve Employment Outcomes
During his presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised his administration would make employment for people with disabilities a priority. The article suggests achieving these goals will require the administration to invest in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Since 2001, EEOC staff has dwindled by 25% and agency funding has increased only marginally, even though the EEOC is processing more claims than it ever has before. And the EEOC's caseload is expected to increase with the recent passage of civil rights legislation, such as the ADA Amendments Act and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. For the EEOC to function effectively, Obama must increase agency funding and staffing. Maintaining diversity programs and disseminating best practices in hiring and employment will also help the administration realize its campaign goals regarding employment of people with disabilities.
Melissa Turley, Hiring the Disabled, Human Resource Executive Online, January 21, 2009, available at
3. GAO Report Addresses Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program
A January 2009 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) assessed the Veterans Administration Vocational Rehabilitation and Education (VR&E) program. The report addressed the VR&E's Five-Track Employment Process, a service delivery model that distributes services over five different tracks to accommodate different employment needs. The report found the launching of the Five-Track Employment Process has "strengthened [VR&E's] focus on employment." However, program incentives have not changed to reflect this new emphasis. The program is still directing most incentives toward education and training.
Furthermore, VR&E improved its capacity to provide services by increasing collaboration with other organizations and hiring more staff. Despite this, VR&E continues to report staff and skill shortages. It has not addressed these problems with a strategic approach to workforce planning. Additionally, the report found the VA was not reporting program outcomes adequately, which could potentially lead to misinterpretation of the program's performance. The GAO recommends VR&E align its financial incentives with its employment mission, engage in a strategic workforce planning process, and improve transparency of reports on program performance.
U.S. Government Accountability Office, VA Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment: Better Incentives, Workforce Planning, and Performance Reporting Could Improve Program, January 26, 2009, available at
1. Project Helps Individuals with Disabilities Gain Independence Working in Agriculture
The Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES), an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, launched the AgrAbility Project to assist individuals with disabilities wanting to work in agriculture or live in a rural setting. The program matches up land-grant universities with private nonprofit disability service organizations to give practical education and assistance to individuals with disabilities, as well as teaching health, farm and government service providers about accommodating disabilities and preventing injuries. The goal of the program is to provide networking resources to individuals and organizations not involved in the AgrAbility project, and to provide farmers with disabilities technical assistance such as modifying agricultural operations, equipment or tools so as to continue farming successfully. Individuals with amputation, back injury, cancer, cognitive disability, mental illness, brain injury, and others are welcome to apply to the program.
Susan Weiss, Getting Back to the Garden, Albuquerque Disability Examiner, January 25, 2009, available at
2. disAbility Resource Center Launches Website to Aid Independent Living
The disAbility Resource Center, a nonprofit community-based program in North Carolina, has just launched its website. The site provides resources on disability-related topics, and in the future will post announcements of upcoming special events and workshops. The dRC's purpose is to provide services and information to consumers allowing them to make choices aiding their independence. Such services include information and referral to other disability resources, peer support, coaching in independent living skills, investigation into claims of consumer civil rights violations, conducting ADA trainings, and advocating for individuals at the local and state levels.
David Morrison, Disabilities: disAbility Resource Center Announces Website Launch, Star News Online, January 26, 2009, available at
For more information:
3. UConn Receives LEND Grant to Train Autism Specialists
The University of Connecticut's (UConn's) A.J. Pappanikou Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities won a federal Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) grant to train students to serve individuals with autism. LEND is a program dedicated to training professionals working in the health sector, with the intent to improve the health of young people with developmental disabilities, including autism. UConn's grant is for $1.5 million over the next three years, in addition to another $2.75 million five-year grant to the Center for Excellence from the Administration on Developmental Disabilities of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The UConn Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities provides programs in research, training, and technical assistance to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities and their families through inclusion, self-determination, and collaboration with other like-minded organizations.
Carolyn Pennington, Pappanikou Center Receives Grant to Train Disability Specialists, University of Connecticut Advance, January 26, 2009, available at
G. EMERGENCY RESPONSE / PREPAREDNESS
1. Individuals with Disabilities Overestimate Severity of Color-Coded Threat Level System
Currently, the Department of Homeland Security uses a color-coded threat level system to communicate with officials and the public about the nation's safety. However, a UCLA study found some communities are getting the wrong message. The study shows individuals in specific communities, including individuals with physical disabilities, are likely to overestimate the color-coded system. In addition, both individuals with physical disabilities and minorities tend to harbor a higher fear of terrorism. David P. Eisenman, lead author of the study, believes the problem is more deeply rooted than the color-coded system. He believes because of the lack of response people with disabilities experienced with Hurricane Katrina, people with disabilities and people of color feel more vulnerable during a disaster. Specifically, individuals in these communities believe FEMA and Homeland Security's priorities are on individuals in upper-income neighborhoods.
Corina Knoll, UCLA Study Finds Problems in Terror Alert System, LA Times, January 22, 2009, available at
2. Los Angeles Sued for Inadequate Emergency Response Plan
The city of Los Angeles and Los Angeles County are the center of a class-action lawsuit brought by the nonprofit Disability Rights Advocates and Disability Rights Legal Center. The disability advocates argue the City and County overlook Los Angeles residents with special needs in the local disaster response plan. The advocates seek to have the City and County create a voluntary registry that would alert emergency workers about vital information concerning individuals with disabilities. Such information includes identification of individuals with disabilities who live alone, and instructions on where individuals with disabilities can find shelter in the event of a disaster.
Associated Press, LA Sued over Provisions for Disabled in Disasters, San Francisco Chronicle, January 15, 2009, available at
3. Emergency Drill to Help Prepare for Weather Disasters
The beginning of spring marks the onset of the severe weather season. In response, emergency officials in Columbia County, Georgia, are urging residents to learn how to protect themselves and their families. Thus, state and local agencies are participating in "Severe Weather Awareness Week 2009," which highlights various dangers associated with severe weather and focuses each day on a particular type of weather. Officials hope the tornado drill will provide residents with an opportunity to practice their emergency plans, and urge individuals, especially those with disabilities, to prepare for the drill.
For guidance on preparing for severe weather emergencies, the free publication "Are you Ready?," includes step-by-step guidelines and can be ordered or downloaded by visiting
Valerie Rowell, Tornado Drill to Test Preparedness, Columbia Country News-Times, February 1, 2009, available at
1. Groups in Sierra Leone Urge Government to Protect Rights of Disabled
Disability Rights activists in Sierra Leone are urging their government to enact legislation to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities. Kabban Franklyn Bangura, president of the Sierra Leone Union of the Disabled, expressed frustration over his government's failure to prioritize the discrimination against people with disabilities, and noted other countries in the region have been addressing the issue. Sierra Leone's Parliament currently includes Julius Cuffie, the first Member of Parliament with a disability, who has reportedly proposed a bill aimed at addressing disability rights.
Sierra Leone Disabled Union President Clamours for Disability Act, African Press Agency, February 2, 2009, available at
2. British Universities Move Toward Accessibility
Despite a failed government attempt to launch an e-university, other universities in Britain have taken their own initiatives toward options for remote education and have been developing the necessary technology. The Open University (OU) appeals to students requiring flexibility in time and location of learning, including people with disabilities who may be unable to get to typical university facilities. Among other means, OU students sometimes use avatars (or digital representations of themselves) to communicate and participate in the electronic classroom. Glyndwr University, already known for having the highest number students with disabilities, seeks to improve further access by expanding access to adaptive technologies.
Mary Novakovich, The Great Enabler, guardian.co.uk, January 19, 2009, available at
3. London Faces Cuts in Transportation for People with Disabilities
People with disabilities in London may soon face reduced access to transportation as Transport for London, the city's public transportation system, considers a funding cut for Capital Call, an organization that facilitates transportation for people with disabilities. Transport for London announced on January 28th its intent to cut funding in the following five weeks. Outrage from users and supporters alleging Transport for London failed to consult the local council, prompted Transport of London to delay the final decision until June. Nearly 300 people regularly use the service.
David Lindsell, Stay of Execution for Kingston Disability Taxi Service, Your Local Guardian, February 7, 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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