Disability Rights Nation

Sept. 7-25
From Ragged Edge's
D. R. Nation department Sept./Oct., 1998

Employers, not disabled, win 92% of ADA suits

Medicaid folks in DC say states must obey the ADA

Louisiana increases in-home services

Little-noticed Education amendment may give deaf kids interpreters


Follow-up to 1994 research
Nearly half of us don't know about the ADA,
says new Harris poll
Only 54 percent of of adults with disabilities s In the U.S. have heard of the Americans with Disabilities Act. That's the sobering news from a new study by Louis Harris & Associates for the National Organization on Disability . Figures are up from a previous Harris poll asking the same question though; in 1994, the number was 40 percent. It's no surprise the survey showed only a third of the respondents thinking that the ADA has made life better.

Another major finding: only 29% of disabled persons of working age have jobs, compared to 79% of the non-disabled population, a gap of 50 percentage points.

The study was released in late July to coincide with the anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but received little national media attention.

Of the disabled people polled who were not working, 72% say that they would prefer to work. Traditionally sources have showed two-thirds of disabled people not working; this new study paints an even grimmer picture.

"At a time when the U.S. unemployment rate is at an historic low and there is a crying need for workers, it is astounding to learn that the employment gap remains so wide," said NOD President Alan Reich, who in a press release called it "unconscionable."

Findings came from polling a random sample of 1,000 adults with disabilities from the general U.S. population. The survey repeated many of the questions asked in a similar poll by Harris for the NOD in 1994.

Not surprisingly, the poll found folks with disabilities less optimistic about their quality of life in the near future, with fewer than half (46%, marginally down from the 48% in 1994) believing that their quality of life will improve over the next four years.

"Among those aware of the ADA, most think that it has not had a significant impact on their life," said the NOD. No surprise there.

Nor is it surprising that Harris found that only about one in three adults with disabilities is very satisfied with life in general, compared to fully six out of ten (61%) non-disabled adults. "For disability advocates, these findings are disturbing" said NOD.

Slightly more than a fourth of respondents said they "strongly identified" with other people with disabilities, a finding that was up from 1994," said NOD Community Affairs Director Jim Dickson. More than half said they "somewhat identified" with others with disabilities, up 10 percentage points from 1994.

"Although adults with disabilities are, on average, more than a decade older than other adults, there is no evidence to indicate that the apparent increase in severity has been caused by an increase in the average age of the disabled population since 1986," says the study.

People with disabilities describe themselves as more severely disabled, more in need of assistance from another person, and less able to work because of their disability or health problem today compared to 1994 and 1986. Lack of money is still considered the biggest problem by far that they face. Two out of three (67%) adults with disabilities feel that their disability has prevented them from reaching their full abilities as a person, a considerably larger proportion than in 1986 (57%).

Yet when asked about a variety of specifics, including access to public facilities, public attitudes toward people with disabilities, how the media portray people with disabilities, access to public transportation, people with disabilities in advertising, a majority of respondents told pollsters they thought these things had all gotten better for people with disabilities over the past four years. The proportion who think that each of these things has gotten better has remained remarkably constant since 1994 -- meaning perhaps, that at least some subgroup of disabled people want to be optimistic about these things.

Aside from a small article done by The Washington Post, there was no news coverage of this important report anywhere in the mass media.

The full 175-page report, including tables and survey questionnaire, costs $60 for disability organizations. An electronic version will be available for researchers, says NOD's Jim Dickson. For more information, contact NOD at (202) 293-5960, TDD (202) 293-5968.

More on this story; read the survey


Employers, not disabled, win 92% of ADA suits
Though this summer's Harris poll doesn't tell us why disabled people aren't in jobs, here are some sobering statistics: A study earlier this year conducted by the ABA's Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law looking at the more than 1,200 cases filed since 1992 under Title I of the ADA found that employers won in 92 percent of the cases.



HCFA, DOJ and the ADA
"Freedom is within our reach" say ADAPT activists

Both the Department of Justice and the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) recently issued letters insisting states' Medicaid programs comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Recent ADA lawsuits have showed this means funds must be used to let people live in their homes rather than nursing homes.

A July 6 letter from DOJ Civil Rights Division Chief John Wodatch to ADAPT organizers Mike Auberger and Bob Kafka says a "fundamental requirement" of the ADA is that states "administer services...in the most integrated setting...." On Aug. 3, HCFA Director Sally K. Richardson issued a letter to state Medicaid directors reminding them of HCFA's "commitment to and responsibility for ensuring compliance with" the ADA, adding that "if necessary, HCFA will refer matters to the... Department of Justice for legal action." The letter's online at http://hcfa.gov/medicaid/smd8398.htm

Readers wanting specifics on using the documents' strong words to get folks out of nursing homes can call the Topeka Center for Independent Living for how-to information. The toll-free number is 1-800-443-2207.


Louisiana increases in-home services
In July, Louisiana moved up from its third from bottom position on ADAPT's "10 worst states" list when state Medicaid director Charles Castille announced plans for a waiver to get in-home services for 770 more people. Although it's a far cry from getting in-home services to everyone who wants it, it's a big move in the right direction, says Louisiana ADAPTer Troy Cole.

Little-noticed IDEA amendment may give kids interpreters

School officials must take account of and provide instruction "in the child's language and communication mode." This little-publicized amendment to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which took effect July 1, influenced a Florida state judge this past spring to grant for 12-year-old Brian Armstrong the right to a classroom interpreter, a right that had eluded Amy Rowley, whose case went all the way to the Supreme Court. But now the Rowley case has had an effect after all, says R.C. Smith, author of A Case About Amy.
by R.C. Smith

"My book (A Case about Amy, Temple University Press, 1996, see "Amy and the Supremes," May/June) had fallen into just the right hands.

I got a phone call from Linda Armstrong of Port Charlotte, FL, mother of 12-year-old Brian, who is deaf. Brian had been given an interpreter in school who couldn't communicate with him - she was only able to use American Sign Language - Brain had been brought up with Signed English, which his hearing parents used with him.

Mrs. Armstrong told me that she and her husband had taken strength from the story of Nancy and Clifford Rowley's long, losing fight in the early 1980s which ended with the U.S. Supreme Court overruling lower courts and Amy losing her interpreter. "It helped us see that we had to keep fighting as the Rowleys did, and hope for a better result," she said.

In a state administrative hearing, their attorney had won the family's suit for a more appropriate interpreter for Brian, Mrs. Armstrong told me. Then on a visit to Florida this spring, Amy Rowley (now an adult) and I learned that the Armstrongs had just won a preliminary injunction in federal district court to enforce the state decision. But unlike Amy Rowley's case, in this case the school board agreed to abide by the ruling and look for an interpreter to meet Brian Armstrong's needs.

What had happened was the IDEA amendment, scheduled to go into effect be-fore the school year. It distinctly increases the odds that deaf children will get genuine equal opportunity for learning. Had its language been in the original Act when the Rowleys were fighting their case, the Supreme Court might never had taken the Rowley case but let stand the lower court rulings, which had said Amy was entitled to an interpreter who could give her the same opportunity as the hearing children in her classroom - which was all the Rowleys had ever wanted.

But the Supreme Court had instead rejected "equal opportunity"; saying the Act provided only that children like Amy make "some progress."

The new amendment underscores the original intent in the 1974 law, now called IDEA, to provide equal opportunity.

I thought this had been the intent of the original legislation; the words "equal opportunity" had come off the lips of virtually every legislator when the bill was in Congress. Mark Weber, professor of law at DePaul University in Chicago, thought so too after an intensive study of the legislative history of the Act. "It was radical legislation and the Supreme Court tried to transform it into something less challenging," he wrote in an article in the UC Davis Law Review in 1990.

Yet with school just days away in Tampa, Brian's school has still not found an appropriate interpreter, and he's facing having to work with a "real-time" translator (like a court reporter) giving him a word-by-word computer readout of what's being said in class. "It's a stopgap," says Mrs. Armstrong. "If we don't get an interpreter soon, I worry that he'll lose his signing skills."

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