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Breaking News Ticker  |  Yahoo Full Coverage on disabilities

San Diego TV Stations Face Fines Over Captioning Failures During Wildfires
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

WASHINGTON, DC, FEB. 28, 2005--In an important case for advocates of accessible television, the Federal Communication Commission has proposed fines totaling $65,000 for three San Diego television stations for failing to provide timely captions or graphics for deaf or hard-of-hearing viewers during the October 2003 wildfires.

FCC Chairman Michael Powell said in a statement last week that it was the first time the agency has pushed for fines against broadcasters for violating emergency closed-captioning rules.

"People with hearing disabilities have a right to the same timely emergency information as stations provide to their hearing audiences," Powell said.

During emergencies, broadcasters are required to present information in the form of closed-captions or graphics, such as a news "crawl" at the bottom of a screen or maps, "simultaneously or nearly simultaneously" as auditory information.

The FCC alleges that KUSI, KGTV, and KFMB together violated the regulations a total of 45 times on October 26 and 27 during the fires which claimed 24 lives and 3,600 homes in Southern California. The agency could have imposed $27,500 for each violation.

The stations have 30 days to appeal or pay the fines.

Related: Closed captioning found lacking during wildfires

Supremes To Take Suicide Law
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

WASHINGTON, DC, FEB. 22, 2005--The U.S. Supreme Court announced Tuesday that it would hear the federal government's challenge to Oregon's physician-assisted suicide law.

The court will hear arguments in its next term, which begins in October, over former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft's attempt to block the state's voter-approved "Death with Dignity" law.

In a November 2001 memo to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, Ashcroft interpreted the U.S. Controlled Substances Act as banning doctors from prescribing lethal doses of controlled drugs -- in this case barbiturates -- to patients wanting help to take their own lives. Ashcroft said that doctors are supposed to give medications to treat their illnesses, and that prescribing a drug with dying as the goal is not a legitimate use of that drug.

A U.S. District Judge ruled in Oregon's favor in April 2002. That ruling was upheld last May by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

At issue is whether the federal government has the authority to exercise control over an area of the law -- such as medical treatment and doctors' licensing -- that is traditionally reserved for the states. The state has argued that the Attorney General misinterpreted the Controlled Substances Act, which deals with drug abuse and prevention; and that any limit imposed on states regarding the practice of medicine should have come from the Department of Health and Human Services, not Ashcroft's Justice Department.

A dozen disability groups had filed a brief supporting Ashcroft's position in the appeal. Advocates have opposed assisted suicide laws, noting that a number of people who have been "assisted" in dying were not in the terminal stages of illness, but had disabilities or mentioned a fear of becoming dependent on others as a reason for committing suicide. Some also have pointed out that Oregon's law was approved about the same time the state began limiting health coverage.

"People with disabilities are already in daily contact with a callous health care system that is all too ready to deny necessary health services to save money," Diane Coleman, JD, president of the disability rights group Not Dead Yet, wrote in response to the appeals court's ruling last May. "Those national disability groups who filed with Not Dead Yet in this case have the shared and first hand experience of a system with almost no accountability that is all too often pressuring people with disabilities to get out of the way."

"Our position is that it violates the ADA civil rights and equal protection principles, and should be overturned," Coleman said of Oregon's law.

Since the law was enacted in 1998, at least 171 people have committed suicide under its guidelines. Disability rights advocates have been part of the movement to successfully block attempts to pass similar legislation in other states, including Hawaii, Vermont and, most recently, in California.

FL AG Demands Airline Tell Why It Refused Quad
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

TAMPA, FEB. 18, 2005--Last Saturday, Phil Barrett was on board a US Airways flight ready to fly from Tampa to Cleveland for surgery when airline personnel suddenly removed him.

Even though Barrett, who uses a ventilator to breathe and a wheelchair, had been on nearly two dozen flights with US Airways in the past, airline officials decided this time that his ventilator was a life-support device and that he now presented a medical risk.

"I was discriminated against, embarrassed," said Barrett, 33, whose spinal cord was injured 13 years ago in a diving accident.

The airline provided Barrett with a taxi ride home and a full refund of his ticket, but did not arrange another way for him to get to Cleveland.

Fortunately for Barrett, an area business owner arranged for him to be flown on his company's private jet to Cleveland. There Barrett is expected to undergo surgery to implant electrodes into his diaphragm so he will have less need for a ventilator.

Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist learned about Barrett's ordeal on a local TV newscast.

On Tuesday, Crist wrote a letter to Bruce Lakefield, CEO and President of US Airways, demanding an explanation and remedies for Barrett.

"I am confident that US Airways would not condone discrimination against its physically disabled passengers and that you have policies in place to assist and protect such customers," Crist wrote. "Furthermore, as I am certain you are aware, federal regulations specifically prohibit air carriers from refusing transportation to an individual with disabilities, and federal and state civil rights laws provide protection for individuals from discrimination on domestic flights."

"No less than the United States Constitution affords the right of all Americans to interstate travel."

Related: "Crist Writes to US Airways President Over Disabilities Incident" (Office of the Attorney General of Florida)

Study: Disability Does Not Equal Misery
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

ANN ARBOR, FEB. 16, 2005--People with severe disabilities and medical conditions are not nearly as miserable as most would assume.

That's the conclusion of an important study done through the University of Michigan Health System, the results of which are published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

Researchers gave handheld PDAs (personal digital assistants) to 49 patients receiving dialysis for severe kidney failure and to 49 people without a serious medical condition or disability. Over a three month period, the PDAs prompted the participants every few hours to rate their mood.

The results showed that there was little difference over time in how the dialysis patients felt compared to how the "able-bodied" participants felt.

In fact, the data revealed that the dialysis patients were in a good mood most of the time.

The study's authors explained that the research could have serious policy implications.

"People who haven't experienced such adversity assume that it would destroy their happiness when in truth it probably would not," said senior author Peter Ubel, M.D., a U-M professor of internal medicine and psychology.

"People are more resilient than they think they can be, and can get through things that they probably would have never thought they could. The fact that people seem to be so poor at estimating the effect of illness on mood calls into question some of the ways we use such quality-of-life estimates in policy making and research."

The researchers also found that the patients actually felt much better than either they or the other participants predicted they would feel.

"Unbelievably happy?" (University of Michigan Health System)
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General

Woman Talks After 20 Year Silence
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

HUTCHISON, KS, FEB. 16, 2005--A Kansas woman who had been in what is described as a "near coma state" for more than 20 years began talking last month.

"Hi, Mom," Sarah Scantlin, 38, said to her mother over a speaker phone last week.

"Sarah, is that you?" Betsy Scantlin asked.

"Yes," said her daughter.

"How are you doing?"


"Do you need anything?" her mother asked her later.

"More makeup."

It was the first time Scantlin's mother had heard her daughter's voice since September 22, 1984, when the then 18-year-old college freshman was hit by a drunk driver.

According to the Associated Press, Scantlin started talking last month, but asked staff at the Golden Plains Healthcare Center not to tell her parents until Valentines' Day. She changed her mind earlier last week saying she couldn't wait any longer.

A speech therapist at the facility was working with several patients in January trying to get them to speak when Scantlin said, "OK. OK."

There were times prior to that when she would blink in response to questions, but nobody knew whether she understood the questions.

And while nobody knows why she suddenly began to talk, her doctor said that certain pathways in Scantlin's brain may have regenerated on their own.

During the time since her accident, Scantlin apparently knew some of what was going on around her. For example, when asked if she knew what a CD is, she said it had music on it.

During a gathering of relatives and friends on Saturday, Scantlin was asked if she is happy she can now talk.

"Yeah," she responded.

In the past few years, there have been several incidents of people with severe brain injuries considered to be in comas or "brain dead" who have suddenly recovered or started talking, baffling doctors and giving hope to the families of others who are in similar situations.

HI Assisted-Suicide Measure Again Defeated
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

HONOLULU, FEB. 14, 2005--

For the third time in six years a proposal to make physician-assisted suicide legal in Hawaii has come before state lawmakers, and for the third time in six years, the proposal was effectively shut down in a hearing earlier in the month

The measure under consideration would have allowed a doctor to prescribe a lethal dose of medication to adults with terminal illnesses which they then could take on their own.

After hearing six hours of heated testimony on Feb. 5, the House Health Committee voted to set aside the measure for this legislative session. While it could be brought up in the next session, the committee's chairman, Representative Dennis Arakaki, said there does not seem to be much interest among members to make it a priority.

"At this point, the sentiment is against it," Arakaki explained.

"Unless we're able to assure quality of life, I think there's going to be more and more pressure to look at this alternative."

According to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, nearly 500 people packed the Capitol auditorium where the hearing was held. More than 1,000 had submitted testimony on both sides of the issue.

"Legalizing physician-assisted suicide, the whole essence of society and the medical profession would change," said Chris Niemczyk, who has cerebral palsy. "It is ultimately the state making the decision on which groups can live or die, setting a dangerous precedent."

An Oregon physician, Dr. William Petty, had flown to Honolulu to voice his opposition to the measure.

"Care and treatment can be expensive," Petty said. "Manipulation of patients is a real problem when physician-assisted suicide becomes an option."

In 2002, the Hawaii House passed a similar bill which was later defeated in the Senate. During the last session, the House Judiciary Committee approved another assisted-suicide bill, which the full house decided not to vote on.

Oregon is the only state that has made doctor-assisted suicide legal for people in specific circumstances. Some California lawmakers are considering a similar measure in that state. Efforts to get a "Death with Dignity" bill passed in Vermont have been repeatedly rejected.

Many disability rights advocates have protested against such laws, arguing that they make people with certain disabilities more vulnerable, especially at a time when health care costs are climbing. They have pointed out that many of those who have died under the laws in Oregon and in some European countries were not in the final stages of terminal illness, but instead feared acquiring a disability or becoming dependant on others.

Survey: Many Polling Site Changes Needed
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

RICHMOND, IN, FEB. 10, 2005--Results from last year's general and primary elections are still coming in . . . and they don't look good for voters with disabilities.

No, we're not talking about the results of who was elected and which issues were approved.

These are the results of surveys taken to find out which polling places were accessible to voters with disabilities as required under the Help America Vote Act of 2002, the Palladium-Item reported Sunday.

Every polling place in Indiana was reviewed for accessibility on those election days.

The bad news is that few passed the test. In Wayne County, for example, only five out of 58 polling places complied. Only one out of Fayette County's 25 voting sites was fully accessible.

The good news is that most of the fixes are easy and inexpensive, according to Mike Soddrill, project director for "Count Us IN," which did the survey.

Election officials have until January 1 of next year to make their voting sites accessible under HAVA.

Many counties are merging polling places so there are fewer to make accessible. A bill in the state Senate would also allow counties to designate an accessible voting site as far as five miles outside the county.

Comment now on proposed Air Carrier Access Act regulations
WASHINGTON, DC, Feb. 10, 2005--In November, the Department of Transportation proposed updated rules for the Air Carrier Access Act. The proposed update addresses nondiscrimination requirements of foreign air carriers, requires airline websites to be accessible to persons with impaired vision, and "generally updates and improves the organization of the existing regulation," according to DOT. (Read the proposed rule, in accessible text format).

DOT has now extended the comment period through March 4, 2005. Activists submitting comments say the proposed rules still do not require accessible restrooms on enough aircraft, still don't provide enough leg room for people with service animals; still discriminate against deaf travelers. If you need more room than provided by current seating, you must pay extra. The proposed rules would continue as well to exempt airports themselves from the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements; things that fall under the Air Carrier Access Act have fewer requirements than those under the ADA. And this is just a small sampling of problems. Others include inaccessible websites -- people thus prevented from buying cheaper online tickets are penalized. (Read these sample comments for a full list of concerns).

How to submit your comments electronically: First, read the proposed rule and figure out what you want to tell DOT. Read these sample comments as well. Next, write your comments in your word processing program and save them as a document. Then, go to http://dms.dot.gov/ and click on the button at the top that says "Comments/Submissions". The next page will ask if you are registered, but you don't need to be; you do not need a user ID or a password: just click on the "Continue" button (toward the bottom of the page). On this next page, you will need to enter the Docket ID: OST-2004-19482. Leave the Operating Administration field as "unknown". For Docket Existence, click the "Does Exist" button.

Fill in the Document Title: "Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in Air Travel". What you send in should not be confidential (click the "no" button). Next, click the button to attach a file. Fill in your personal information and then click on "Continue". Pick the format of your attachment (such as Microsoft Word), choose the file, and if you wish write a short abstract. Then click on "Submit".

Read more about problems with airlines ("Time for airlines to stop abusing our civil rights," by Frederick A. Shotz)
Watchdog: Sex Offenders In Nursing Homes A Real Threat
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

SAN JOSE, Feb. 2, 2005--Hundreds of sexual predators are living in nursing homes across the country and there are no special security measures being taken to protect other residents from them.

The San Jose Mercury News reported Monday that a study conducted last summer found 380 registered sex offenders living in 289 nursing and long-term care facilities in 37 states. In California, 89 registered sex offenders on parole from state prisons are currently living in nursing homes and care facilities.

Many nursing home administrators are not even told that they have sex offenders living on their wards.

Corrections officials say that the offenders are older and that their medical conditions require the kind of care that they can only get in a skilled nursing facility.

"These people have to live somewhere,'' said Margot Bach, spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections. "We have the legal obligation to place them in a level of care commensurate with what they had in prison. If they're in a nursing home or board and care home, they're pretty darn sick."

The director of A Perfect Cause, the nursing home watchdog group that conducted the survey, said that the parolees can still pose a danger to fellow residents.

"I could show you court documents and records from around the country about these guys," said Wes Bledsoe. "It's absolutely outrageous what is happening."

"There's no locked door between that violent offender and our loved one."

Related: "Sex offenders living in nursing homes a threat, group says" (Mercury News)

SD Senate OKs Ban On New Nursing Home Beds
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

PIERRE, SD, Feb. 2, 2005--South Dakota state senators on Monday overwhelmingly approved SB38, a measure which will prohibit new nursing home beds across the state.

The bill, which is supported by Governor Mike Rounds, would make permanent a temporary ban that was passed in 1988 and has been repeatedly extended, according to the Rapid City Journal.

Those supporting the bill pointed to the impact that the high cost of nursing home care has on the state's Medicaid budget, along with an increased emphasis on community alternatives in long-term care.

The vote was held up by a debate over whether South Dakota's nine Native American tribes should be allowed to build new nursing homes on their reservations. Opponents of the measure argued that many Lakota and Sioux simply refuse to move to nursing homes outside the reservations and away from their families.

While one senator said that, as sovereign nations, the tribes have the right to build their own nursing facilities, another noted that they cannot collect Medicaid money for nursing home beds that have not been licensed by the state.

The measure now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Related: "Ban on more nursing homes clears Senate" (Rapid City Journal)

Airline Tries To Duck Wheelchair Rule
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

FOREST HILLS, FL, Feb. 1, 2005--Advocates with the Paralyzed Veterans of America are challenging an airline's attempt to avoid setting aside space for wheelchairs as required by federal law, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel has reported.

JetBlue Airways is planning to purchase a hundred Embraer E-190 regional jetliners from Brazil to expand its fleet beginning this coming October.

But the planes, each of which holds one hundred passengers, do not have any space in the cabin to store an adult-sized wheelchair -- even if the airline were to block a row of seats. In order to store a wheelchair, the company would have to permanently remove two seats on each plane and potentially lose revenue from two passengers on each flight.

Amendments to the federal Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 require that all passenger planes with 100 or more passenger seats must have a priority space in the cabin designated for stowing at least one folding wheelchair.

JetBlue has asked the U.S. Department of Transportation for a waiver from the law, and offered to stow wheelchairs in the E-190's forward cargo section.

Maureen McCloskey, national advocacy director for PVA, told the Sun-Sentinel that is not an acceptable option because wheelchairs in cargo sections are often damaged and misplaced.

"The only way to absolutely make sure your wheelchair gets with you where you're going is to stow it onboard in the cabin," she said.

Ironically, if JetBlue does remove two seats from the planes, each would have only 98 seats and would no longer be covered under the 100-seat provision of the federal law.

Federal officials did not indicate when they would decide on JetBlue's request.

Related: Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in Air Travel (U.S. Department of Transportation)

Ms. Wheelchair Sues Businesses Over Access Barriers
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

FREEDOM, WI, Feb. 1, 2005--Her reign as Ms. Wheelchair Wisconsin 2004 was just completed last week, but Gina Hackel is not resting on her laurels.

The pageant winner has recently sued 25 local businesses for failing to comply with federal accessibility requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act. A handful of those suits have been filed in U.S. District Court in Green Bay.

According to Gene Zweben, a Florida attorney representing Hackel, there are more suits to come.

Zweben told WBAY-TV that Hackel had been to each of the businesses and found many barriers to accessibility. She listed 16 violations of the ADA in one floral shop alone.

"She's been attempting to contact businesses around town that she does go to and are not accessible, and has gotten little or no relief at all," he said.

Zweben, who said his law firm has represented hundreds of suits in several states, told the Post-Crescent that neither he nor Hackel notified the businesses ahead of time about the suits.

"My clients have in the past tried giving notice and working with the businesses, but they got little or no compliance at all from that," he explained.

The suits seek compliance with the federal law, which Zweben said is usually achieved through a court settlement.

"The main goal here is accessibility," said Zweben, who added that Hackel will not receive monetary damages, and that his firm is only seeking reimbursement of costs and attorney's fees.

"Former pageant winner accuses Valley businesses of ADA violations" (Post-Crescent)
"Business Named In ADA Lawsuit" (WLUK-TV)

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