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Breaking News Ticker  |  Yahoo Full Coverage on disabilities

NH Cracks Down On Illegal Parkers
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

CONCORD, NH, Jan. 23, 2003 -- While it may be true that a picture paints a thousand words, in New Hampshire a picture could cost you $250.

According to a brief item in the Concord Monitor, a new state law allows people with disabilities to snap pictures of cars that have parked illegally in designated accessible parking spaces -- then submit the photos with sworn statements to police.

Police will track down the drivers and issue tickets for the violations.

While individual cities have passed similar laws allowing people with disabilities to assist in catching parking violators, New Hampshire is believed to be the first state to enact such a measure.

"I'm going to spread the idea across the countryside," said Mike Dugan, president of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, who was visiting New Hampshire this week. "I think it's worth emulation."

Another new law will fine drivers $50 for parking in the buffer area between accessible spaces, which is usually marked with yellow crosshatches. The old laws had not made it clear that the buffer zone was off-limits.

Legal Dispute Over Muscatatuck Moves Finally Settled
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

BUTLERVILLE, IN, Jan. 22, 2003 -- A legal dispute between the State of Indiana and families of residents of Muscatatuck State Development Center ended Wednesday as a judge accepted a settlement agreed to by both sides.

The ruling by Jackson Circuit Judge William Vance means that the institution housing people with developmental disabilities will close in June of 2005, after homes in the community have been found for its 121 residents.

"We always agreed that no one should leave Muscatatuck until there is an appropriate place for them to go where they will be well-cared for," Cindy Collier, director of Policy, Planning and Communications for the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, told the Indianapolis Star. "That's how it was, that's how it is, and that's how it always will be."

Parents of Muscatatuck residents appeared resigned to the fact that the institution -- which once housed 2,300 people -- will finally close.

"I think it means we probably better get on with the process and attempt to get a place for our profoundly retarded and medically at-risk kids down there," said Frank Migliano, whose son has lived there for more than 40 years.

The facility had been operating under a court injunction since April of 2002. The parents requested the injunction after the late Governor Frank O'Bannon announced in April 2001 that the aging facility would close by the end of 2003.

O'Bannon's decision came, in part, because federal investigators had found repeated incidents of abuse, neglect and exploitation of Muscatatuck residents -- incidents which caused the federal government to cut payments to the state. Indiana lawmakers had told O'Bannon that the state could not afford to expand community-based supports while continuing to fund the 85-year-old former Indiana Farm Colony for Feeble Minded Youth.

In their request for an injunction to halt the moves, the parents association accused the state of putting Muscatatuck's then-279 residents at risk of harm by closing the facility and moving them into the community.

An appeals court said the lower court was not specific enough when it ruled that the state could not pressure parents or guardians to transfer their family members from the institution, and that it could not keep the state from reducing staff levels. It did, however, uphold the lower court's ruling that certain standards must be met before residents can be moved.

The parents group, along with members of the state employees union, had lobbied lawmakers to delay closure until at least 2005.

Related: "Trouble with Indiana's Institutions" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)

Civil Disobedience Gave Activists New Energy And Focus
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

PITTSBURGH, Jan. 21, 2003 -- On January 8, Donald Stancile made national headlines when he was arrested for taking a Port Authority bus hostage.

Stancile had parked his motorized wheelchair in front of the 86B Frankstown bus and refused to move after the bus driver refused to manually operate a hydraulic lift that would not open automatically.

The 53-year-old spent a night in jail for his act of civil disobedience.

Stancile is president of the local office of the national group ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now). His act has given ACORN new energy in addressing the bus problems in the area, along with other issues facing people with disabilities and low incomes.

"I think civil disobedience is justified when it brings change," Stancile told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

He said that the event has given him a clearer picture of what his life is about.

"For 22 years of my life, I was in the drug scene," Stancile explained.

"My past isn't pretty, but I know what it takes to be an activist," he said.

Related: "Donald Stancile / Taking a bus hostage gives new meaning to his life" (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

MA Court Access Case Settled
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

TAUNTON, MA, Jan. 20, 2003 -- Bristol County court buildings will be made accessible to people with disabilities under last week's settlement of a federal lawsuit filed by two attorneys who use wheelchairs.

Attorneys Joseph F. deMello and Miles Herman filed the class-action lawsuit in October 2001 against the Bristol County Commissioners, the administrative office of the Trial Court, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the state's Trial Court. The two men claimed that 6 out of 11 Bristol County courthouses and all three registries of deeds were not accessible to them under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.

Mr. DeMello, a Taunton city attorney and past Taunton Bar Association president that has multiple sclerosis, said that he has had to try cases in courthouse basements, janitors' rooms, boiler rooms, and parking lots because of the lack of ramps and elevators.

Mr. Herman claimed that he has not been able to practice law in most of Bristol County and has had to turn down clients because he can't get into the buildings or courtrooms.

Under the settlement, the county will make an estimated $6 million in improvements, including the installation of elevators, ramps and accessible restrooms. The Massachusetts Executive Office for Administration and Finance indicated the state would be able to provide the funds required under the settlement.

"It's a wonderful feeling," Herman said after the settlement was announced. "This lawsuit was for all the people who have been denied access and for the future. It was a question of equal opportunity."

"It truly is a historic victory," he added. "This is not about us. It's about opening the halls of justice for jurors, witnesses, plaintiffs, defendants and employees."

Neither man accepted monetary damages as part of the settlement, according to a statement they released.

Related article: "Disabled lawyers get cool reception" (The Enterprise)

FL Has Four Months To Ensure Accessible Voting, Judge Rules
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

JACKSONVILLE, FL, Jan. 15, 2003 -- The city of Jacksonville and the State of Florida have four months to certify voting equipment that is accessible to voters with disabilities and have it ready for the August primary, a federal judge ordered Wednesday.

Judge Wayne Alley of U.S. Federal Court of Central Florida said that Florida and the city of Jacksonville were violating the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act by not providing voting machines that people who are blind, do not read, or have limited mobility could use without assistance.

The decision directly affects Duval County, but could likely affect dozens of other Florida counties as well. According to the Associated Press, only 15 Florida counties have touchscreen voting systems, which contain an audio system to allow blind voters to cast a private ballot. Many counties purchased new systems -- mostly optical scan machines -- after the controversial 2000 presidential election recount. Optical scan machines, however, require voters to read the ballot and use a pencil or pen to fill in small ovals.

"Other counties in the exact same situation and same equipment would be silly to not go ahead and be accessible by August," said Jim Dickson, vice president of governmental affairs for the American Association for People with Disabilities, which pushed for the change.

"We'll sue them if they don't."

Alley gave parties on both sides 10 days to reply to his tentative ruling, but indicated he would make it permanent.

Dick Carlberg, Duval County's assistant elections supervisor, said his county plans to buy touchscreen machines manufactured by Diebold Election Systems once the state certifies them.

Federal law requires all precincts to have accessible voting methods by 2006.

Was Refusal To Seat In Booth Discrimination?
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

KITTRIDGE, CO, Jan. 15, 2003 -- A restaurant owner and a would-be customer are squaring off over a question of accommodation for people whose disabilities are not visible, the Evergreen Canyon Courier reported Thursday.

T.G. Spirit claims that he and a friend recently walked into the Country Road Cafe for breakfast and asked to sit in a booth. There was one booth left, but the waitress offered to seat the couple at a table instead. Spirit explained that he could not sit in a chair because of a back injury. The waitress explained that booths were reserved for parties of four or more, and again offered him a table. When Spirit noticed that two of the booths had just two people seated, he and his friend left.

Spirit later called the owner to inform him that, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, he was required to make reasonable accommodations to patrons with disabilities. According to Spirit, the owner got defensive and told him it was not his responsibility to make Spirit comfortable.

"A simple 'I'm sorry' would have settled it," said Spirit, who is filing a discrimination complaint against the cafe with the Department of Justice.

"It was a really rude thing to do to someone," he told the Courier.

Mark Finn, who owns the cafe with his wife, disputes Spirit's claim that the booths had less than four customers. According to Finn, Spirit did not mention his disability and did not say he could not sit at a table.

"He literally turned around and walked out," said Finn, who added that he was surprised at the accusations, especially considering that he spent $10,000 putting in a ramp and handrails for his patrons with disabilities.

"I truly don't think I did anything wrong, and if I did, I want to know about it," Finn explained.

Julie Reiskin, the director of the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, discussed some of the aspects of the ADA that might apply in this case.

Related article: "Restaurant seating situation prompts ADA clarification" (Canyon Courier)

OR To Check Courthouse Access
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

EUGENE, OR, Jan. 14, 2003 -- Oregon's Judicial Department will soon begin a statewide survey to find out how accessible the state's 37 courthouses are to citizens with disabilities.

Well, it's about time, considering Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act back in 1990 -- which was when the last such survey was done.

Debra Maryanov, the department's statewide ADA coordinator for compliance, told the Eugene Register-Guard that nobody really knows how accessible the courthouses are.

She is certain, however, that none of Oregon's courthouses are faced with a lawsuit over access similar to the one that now faces the U.S. Supreme Court.

Entire article: "Oregon officials to undertake courthouse accessibility survey" (Eugene Register-Guard)
Related: "State of Tennessee v. George Lane and Beverly Jones" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)

Justices Hear Tennessee Court Accessibility Case
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

WASHINGTON, DC, Jan. 14, 2003 --

People in wheelchairs filled the aisles at the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday, while demonstrators outside chanted "Justice for all! We won't crawl!"

They were at the high court to let the nine Justices know how important the Americans with Disabilities Act is to them and more than 50 million other people with disabilities.

The Justices heard arguments in the case of Tennessee v. Lane and Jones, which will be decided in a few months. To be answered is the question of whether Congress had the power to allow individuals to sue a state for damages when the state fails to follow the 1990 anti-discrimination law's accessibility provisions.

More from Inclusion Daily.

Related: "Crawling up stairs at a courthouse near you" (Slate.com)
"Can disabled woman sue state?" (Knight Ridder News via Bradenton Herald)
"Tennessee v. Lane: The Legal Issues and the Implications for People with Disabilities" (NCD Policy Briefing Paper)
"Tennessee v. Lane and Jones" (Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law)
"State of Tennessee v. George Lane and Beverly Jones" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)

Woman Charged With Driving Wheelchair While Drunk
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

SPRING HILL, FL, Jan. 13, 2003 -- A woman appeared in Hernando County Court last Wednesday charged with driving under the influence of alcohol. This wouldn't have been unusual except for the fact that Cynthia Christensen, 45, was not driving a car or SUV -- she was driving her wheelchair.

On September 21, 2003, Christensen was talking with her fiancée in her driveway when, she claims, her battery-operated Hoveround got stuck in some loose sand. Christensen tried to use her joystick to maneuver the wheelchair onto solid ground, but it hopped the curb and entered the roadway, she said.

The incident would have gone unnoticed if she hadn't collided with a 1992 Ford van that was traveling about 30 mph on the road.

When emergency medical personnel took Christensen to the hospital for stitches on her toe, nurses took routine blood samples. Several weeks later, toxicology reports showed that she had a blood alcohol level of 0.12, which exceeded the legal limit of 0.08.

"This is ridiculous," Christensen told the St. Petersburg Times. She said she drank four beers that evening but does not remember taking her prescribed dosage of Percoset earlier in the day.

Under Florida law, a motor vehicle is defined as any self-propelled vehicle, including a bicycle, motorized scooter or assistive mobility device that runs at 3 mph. This may include a wheelchair like Christensen's.

"At first blush, it appears to meet the definition in the statute," said Assistant State Attorney Pete Magrino, whose office is handling the case.

Christensen is scheduled to return to court for her arraignment on February 2.

Related article with photo of Christensen and crash site: "Wheelchair DUI case fought" (St. Petersburg Times)

PA Activist Jailed After Taking Bus Hostage
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

PITTSBURGH, Jan. 9, 2003 -- Beware of Donald Stancile: He takes hostages. To date -- by his own admission -- Stancile has held three Port Authority buses hostage. Wednesday night, he was arrested and jailed for his latest crime.

"I'm going to continuously break the law," Stancile said late Thursday after he was released from jail. Stancile explained that he has encountered buses with malfunctioning lifts or ramps about 50 times since he began using a motorized wheelchair in 2001. "I don't feel like I'm the defendant," he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I'm the victim."

When Stancile tried boarding the 86B Frankstown bus Wednesday night, the hydraulic wheelchair ramp would not work. For some reason, the driver refused to get out and operate the ramp manually. Instead, by Stancile's account, she allowed the other passengers to angrily confront him.

Stancile moved his wheelchair to the front of the parked bus, then used his cell phone to call a fellow activist at ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, located just across the street. His colleague put together some make-shift protest signs and joined Stancile at the curb.

A swarm of police soon showed up. They arrested Stancile and charged him with obstructing traffic and disorderly conduct. A preliminary hearing has been scheduled for next Friday.

"Ninety-eight percent of the people who ride the bus can get on the bus. The other 2 percent are like me," he said. "Why can't we get on the bus? Why are we always the person at the bottom of the totem pole?"

In an editorial Jan. 15, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote that Stancile was no Rosa Parks, that his blocking the bus "wasn't right." Read editorial.

Related article: "Man blocks bus, is jailed" (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

VT Lawmakers Drop "Assisted Suicide" Bill
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

MONTPELIER, VT, Jan. 7, 2003 -- Vermont lawmakers announced Tuesday that they would not consider a bill designed to legalize physician-assisted suicide during the current session.

The bill, known as the "Death with Dignity Act", had 40 supporters in the House, but members of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee said they would not support it.

"I don't want to spend a lot of time on a bill that if it starts to move is going to draw rallies to the State House steps and cause an uproar, and then if it goes to the Senate is going to stand still," explained Rep. Thomas Koch, head of the House Health and Welfare Committee.

Vermont Governor James Douglas had also suggested that he would veto such a bill.

The decision to drop the proposal came after the Vermont Coalition for Disability Rights, which represents 26 disability rights groups from across the state, announced that it would appose the measure (see next story, below). The Vermont Medical Society, Vermont Right to Life Committee and Burlington's Catholic Diocese also opposed the bill.

"Many fear that creating an environment where a potential for encouraging someone to end their life -- a life some perceive as having less value -- would be creating a slippery slope," read a statement from the coalition, which suggested the debate should shift to improving people's lives rather than ending them.

The bill would have allowed terminally ill patients, with six months or less left to live, to ask doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of medication, which the patients would take themselves.

Supporters note that the proposal, similar to a law in Oregon, would have required a second doctor to confirm the diagnosis and order counseling if the patient appeared to be experiencing depression.

Disability rights groups have opposed attempts to legalize physician-assisted suicide because of the risk to people with certain disabilities whose lives are often considered "not worth living" in a culture that values productivity, mobility, and independence. People with disabilities are also often made to believe that they are a burden upon others, and that dying would be the loving thing to do.

Analyses of the several dozen people that physician-assisted suicide campaigner Dr. Jack Kevorkian "helped" to end their lives revealed that only a small percentage were actually in the final stages of terminal illnesses. Most had disabilities, feared having a disability, or said they did not want to "be a burden" on their family members.

Related: "Jack Kevorkian: Dr. Death" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)

VT Disability Groups Oppose Suicide Law
BURLINGTON, VT, JAN. 7, 2004. -- The Vermont Coalition for Disability Rights, made up of 26 Vermont disability rights groups including the Vermont Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired and the Center for Independent Living, has voted to oppose a state bill "that would give doctors the option of writing terminally ill patients a prescription to end their lives," reported the Associated Press.

"Many fear that creating an environment where a potential for encouraging someone to end their life -- a life some perceive as having less value -- would be creating a slippery slope," the coalition said in a statement.

A bill legalizing assisted suicide has 40 sponsors in the VT House currently.

Coalition Director Director Peter Youngbaer told reporters that the bill presents a risk to disabled people who "have received a non-stop drumbeat of messages from society that their life is not worth living. It would be possibly too easy for a person to say, 'Yes, I can't get better; I may as well stop being a burden'" -- and to families who "buy into the fact that their loved one won't get better, so they should die."

Activists to Crawl up Supreme Court Steps Jan. 13
WASHINGTON, DC, JAN. 6, 2003 -- Disability rights activists are planning to crawl up the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court at 9 a.m. next Tuesday morning, Jan. 13, the day oral arguments are scheduled to take place in the case Tennessee v. Lane.

"The event is intended to illustrate the humiliation George Lane and others have been forced to endure," says ADAWatch, which announced the event yesterday. Lane, one of the plaintiffs, had to crawl up the stairs to a Tennessee courtroom because the courthouse, like many in Tennessee, was not accessible, in violation of Title 2 of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

More about the case and activism.

Student Dies While Restrained; Family Sues School
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

KALAMAZOO, Jan. 5, 2003 -- Last week, the family of Michael Renner-Lewis III filed a $25 million "wrongful death" lawsuit against officials and employees of the school where he died this summer.

According to local media reports, the suit is against the Parchment School District, Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency and several employees, including the principal. Family lawyers allege that the 15-year-old, who had autism, died because he could not breathe while staff members had him pinned to the ground on his stomach.

When Michael became "agitated" in the early afternoon of the first day of school, August 25, at least four staff members "tried to quiet" him by holding him face-down on the floor. A family caregiver who arrived at the school to take Michael home found him unconscious. She started giving Michael CPR, but was too late to revive him.

An initial autopsy report showed "no obvious anatomical causes" of death. His death was ruled an accident, and no criminal charges were filed.

The final autopsy report listed the cause of his death as "prolonged physical restraint in prone position associated with extreme mental and motor agitation." Dr. Richard Tooker, Kalamazoo County chief medical examiner, said a contributing factor in Michael's death was an "underlying heart abnormality."

"A combination of the restraint and the underlying heart ailment was, unfortunately, a fatal combination," Tooker said.

The suit claims that the 6-foot, 165-pound teen had fainted and that school officials did not know how to handle the situation so they forced him to the ground on his stomach for at least one hour.

"I think it's clear that this is what happened in this case," said family attorney Paul Broschay. "Michael didn't just sit on the floor and die. He was held down to the floor by several people. If that's not a homicide, I don't know what is."

"You don't keep someone face down on their gut with a knee in their back for an hour," Broschay added. "Animals are treated better than that."

Broschay is with the law firm headed by Geoffrey Fieger, the personal-injury attorney that represented "assisted suicide" promoter Dr. Jack Kevorkian.

Related: "The Death of Michael Renner-Lewis III" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)

CA AG Gets Tough on Access Scofflaws
SACRAMENTO, JAN. 2, 2003 -- The same Calif attorney general who once fought the ADA is now hot to enforce state access laws. CA AG Bill Lockyer has started to sue cities and counties that fail to force local businesses to obey California's access laws. The laws, which have been on the books since the late 1970s, are rarely enforced, says an article in the Jan. 1. San Jose Mercury News.

Lockyer's new push to sue offenders -- plus a new state law that took effect Jan. 1 -- will ensure many more buildings become accessible. Last year at this time, Lockyer was fighting the Americans with Disabilties Act, arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court that states shouldn't be bound by the law (Medical Board of CA v. Hason). Activists' pressure on Lockyer got the state to withdraw the case. Now Lockyer is promoting disability rights.

Under the new law (SB 262) "city and county officials can fine owners of inaccessible buildings $2,500 per violation per day under the state's health and safety code, with the money going into local government coffers," reported the Mercury News. "Previously, the law only allowed authorities to get court orders requiring buildings to be fixed, with prosecutors at best recouping their legal costs.

In addition to offering new financial incentives to local governments, Lockyer is getting tough on officials who he believes haven't done enough to help the disabled.

He is investigating a number of communities, he said, and recently sued Marin County and the city of Del Mar, winning agreements from officials in those places to beef up their enforcement of building-access laws under the supervision of Lockyer-appointed monitors.

Business owners, naturally, are outraged. But disability advocates are thrilled that officials seem finally to be taking access seriously.

Read "Law boosts enforcement of access for disabled" ( Jan. 1, 2004 Mercury News)

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