Disability Rights Nation
©1999 The Disability News Service, Inc.
"Is Mickey a mouse or a rat?" asks Thomas Russo of Boca Raton, Florida. Five years ago his Disney dream vacation turned into a nightmare when he, his wife and their three-year-old disabled daughter visited the Magic Kingdom in Florida.
When Russo, an amputee, arrived at the theme park, an electric scooter was not at the entrance gate as he had been led to believe it would be, he said. Instead, the Vietnam veteran was forced to walk over 350 yards to pick up the scooter. As a result of the long walk, Russo developed a water blister on his leg from his prosthesis rubbing against it.
After touring the park in the scooter, Russo asked if he could ride the scooter to the tram that would take him back to his hotel. Personnel at the scooter rental store refused, he says, even after Russo showed them his injured leg. Instead, he was offered a manual chair. Russo, who was recovering from open-heart surgery and lacked the ability to push the manual chair, was left with no choice but to walk to the trolley car on his injured leg. This time, the friction from the prosthesis caused the blister to bleed.
When the family returned home 12 hours later, Russo was admitted to the hospital. During the next 12 months, he had four surgeries to heal the wound in his leg.
When Disney refused to move the scooter stand, Russo filed a lawsuit against Lake Bueno Vista, Inc., which encompasses the Magic Kingdom, Epcot and the other Disney-owned attractions near Orlando, Florida. Lake Bueno Vista operates like any other local entity--setting its own rules and operating its own public safety departments--except Lake Bueno Vista is owned, operated and governed by the Walt Disney Corporation, not government officials who are elected by local residents.
Russo says his lawyer was frustrated because none of Lake Bueno Vista's regulations were in writing. Initially, he says, a judge offered Russo $6,000 to settle his "nuisance suit." But Russo says he was not looking for money and refused the settlement. "I was looking for satisfaction," he says, noting he simply wanted Disney to move the scooter pick-up point from Magic Kingdom's front gate to its main gate where people purchase tickets.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, though, didn't see things Russo's way. Disney personnel could act as good Samaritans, said the court, but the corporation was not obligated to help anyone injured in its facilities.
"I took it as far as I could--you can't beat these big corporations," says Russo.
The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research will invest $19 million in six new Rehabilitation Research and Training Centers to investigate the intractable employment problems faced by disabled people.
The initiative calls for the new centers to "test both disincentives and incentives to employment; increase insight into the importance of public policy; improve employment opportunities for people with disabilities who currently receive services in segregated environments and for those who receive federally funded disability payments or welfare by providing financial and programmatic incentives for workforce entry or re-entry; develop clear standards for employment outcomes; increase and expand available programs and resources; increase the importance of individual employment needs; increase the number of disabled people who gain and retain career opportunities; produce improvements in training and support provided by employers and human service personnel; improve postsecondary education options for people with disabilities; and increase the number of students who complete post-secondary programs and begin careers."
The six centers will be at Cornell University, Community Options, Inc., in Washington, D.C.; Children's Hospital in Boston; The University of Wisconsin-Stout; Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Hawaii.
Don't expect an immediate decrease in the unemployment rate for disabled people as a result of this massive funding project. A spokesperson from the National Center for the Dissemination of Disability Research says that although the centers are required to make yearly reports, the research will not be completed until 2003.
NIDRR funds approximately 300 other research and training projects; its budget for the 1999 fiscal year is $81 million.
©1999 The Disability News Service, Inc.
in Congress again
Sen. Strom Thurmond (R. - S.C.) has once again introduced his bill to amend Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act to exclude prisoners. "The ADA presents a perfect opportunity for prisoners to try to beat the system, and use the courts to do it," said Thurmond in remarks introducing S 33, The State and Local Prison Relief Act. The bill was referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. Thurmond paints a dire picture for fans of punishment in this post-ADA era: "every prison would have to be able to accommodate every disability. That could mean every prison having, for example, mental health treatment centers, services for hearing-impaired inmates, and dialysis treatment. The cost is potentially enormous," he said.