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Breaking News Ticker  |  Yahoo Full Coverage on disabilities

DC paratransit riders file class action suit against MetroAccess
WASHINGTON, DC, March 25, 2004 -- DC paratransit users filed a class-action suit today against the District of Columbia's paratransit service,  MetroAccess, saying that it is impossible to rely on the service to get to work, medical appointments or any other engagement on time. "The telephone reservation service is staffed by rude operators who do not answer calls, place calls on hold for long periods or hang up, the complaint says. Managers do not give accurate information about the location of assigned vehicles and do not respond to complaints, it says. Some drivers do not know how to secure wheelchairs and scooters inside MetroAccess vans, operate dangerously and falsely accuse passengers of not showing up for trips, a transgression that can cause a rider to be suspended from the service." Read more from The Washington Post.

Disability activists get Administration to retract wheelchair turndown policy
WASHINGTON, DC, March 19, 2004 -- The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services has retracted its controversial guideline issued in December, 2003, refusing to pay for power wheelchairs for any individual "able to walk any number of steps, without regard for function or safety," as a coalition of activists and wheelchair manufacturers put it.

"CMS has decided to retract the December 9, 2003 Durable Medical Equipment Regional Carrier (DMERC) Article which was intended to reiterate our coverage policy on power wheelchairs," said Carleen Talley, Director of CMS' Congressional Affairs Group, in a memo. Noting that the policy would revert to what is has been since the 1980s, she added that CMS was "taking this action in response to concerns voiced by the power wheelchair community."

A number of coalitions of disability policy activists and wheelchair manufacturers, one calling itself ITEM and another calling itself RAMP, have been pressing to get CMS to rescind the policy, writing letters to HHS Sec. Tommy Thompson.

(Disability Rights Advocates, the Oakland, CA law firm, is investigating complaints by Medicare beneficiaries who have tried to obtain wheelchairs and scooters. Contact general@dralegal.org -- put "Medicare (DME)" in subject line.)

Read the memo at the JFA email archives.

ADAPT, In DC, Wants Hearings
WASHINGTON, DC, March 20, 2004 -- Determined to be heard on removing the nationıs institutional bias in Medicaid funded long term care services, hundreds ADAPT activists are converging on Washington, D.C.this week to press for legislative hearings scheduled on the Medicaid Community Attendant Services and Supports Act, or MiCASSA, which has been stalled in Congress. A march to the White House at sundown on Sunday, March 21 kicked off the event, with marchers carrying signs reading"No More Stolen Lives: End the Institutional Bias" and "No More Waiting for Home and Community Services."

ADAPT wants Senate Finance Committee Chair Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Ranking Democrat Max Baucus (D-MT) to hold hearings on removing the institutional bias in Medicaid, the nationıs major funder of long term care services and supports. "There are several bills with bi-partisan support now in Congress which would allow disabled and older Americans to choose to receive their long term care in their own homes instead of being forced into nursing homes as is now the case," says ADAPT. "At least two of the bills (S.1394, Money Follows the Person Act, and S.1971, MiCASSA, the Medicaid Home and Community-based Services and supports Act) remain buried in the Senate Finance Committee. ADAPT and the 700 other organizations supporting these bills want Grassley and Baucus to hold hearings and move the bills to the Senate floor."

Medicaid, a state-federal partnership, requires states to pay for nursing homes, but not for the same services in oneıs own home. In 1999, in L.C. and E.W. v.s. Olmstead, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that this practice amounts to illegal forced segregation when the person could be adequately served in the community.

Follow ADAPT in DC at the ADAPT Action Report.

Alaskan Students Sue State Over Graduation Exam
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

JUNEAU, ALASKA, March 17, 2004 -- A group of five high school students with disabilities has filed a class-action lawsuit against the Alaska Board of Education, claiming the state's new high school exit exam discriminates against them by making it more difficult for them to graduate and get a diploma.

The suit, filed Tuesday, claims that the new exam will mean that more than two-thirds of students with disabilities in the state will not be able to graduate this June.

Federal law requires students with disabilities to be given accommodations on school tests -- to have the questions read to them, or to use calculators, for instance. While schools do allow accommodations on most tests, the suit accuses Alaska of not allowing such accommodations on the exit exam.

Sid Wolinsky, an attorney with the legal firm Disability Rights Advocates, which is representing the students, said that students are flunking the test at a 3-to-1 ratio.

"We're not seeking to stop the whole test, we're not seeking to set aside standards, we're not seeking damages," Wolinsky told the Associated Press. "We're seeking that the safeguards required by both federal and Alaska law be implemented."

A number of discouraged students have already dropped out of school, the suit claims.

Disability Rights Advocates, based in Oakland, California, has already sued the states of Oregon and California, in 2000 and 2001 respectively, over their use of standardized tests as a graduation requirement. The issues brought up in the California case have not yet been resolved.

Keith Gayler, associate director of the Center on Education Policy, told the New York Times that 20 states require exit exams for graduates this year, and that four more states will soon be adding them.

Related: Disability Rights Advocates

Sidewalk Access Suit Filed Against Vacaville
VACAVILLE, CA, March 15, 2004 -- A class action lawsuit has been filed against Vacaville, CA, for failing to install curb cuts "and maintain accessible paths of travel along pedestrian rights of way throughout the city," according to papers filed in the suit by Disability Rights Advocates in Oakland, CA.

DRA filed a similar suit against the City of Sacramento in 1999. After Sacramento lost the case in the Ninth Circuit, the parties entered into a settlement agreement and a comprehensive plan to make Sacramento accessible.

Disabled Vacaville residents say they have talked to city officials for nearly a year about the lack of curb cuts and inaccessible sidewalks, but he have seen little change.

"There are some intersections along the most major throughways in Vacaville where I can't cross the street because there are no curb cuts," said plaintiff Gary Nystrom. "This forces me to search for a driveway so that I can enter the street. Cars honk at me all the time and come dangerously close, but I have no other option because the sidewalk and curb are inaccessible."

"The total lack of curb cuts, steep cross slopes, and bulges in the pavement at locations where sidewalks and streets meet, create a dangerous obstacle course for persons with disabilities," said DRA Attorney Kevin Knestrick. "These barriers not only jeopardize the safety of persons with disabilities, they also exclude an entire group of citizens from the opportunity to participate fully and equally in their community."

Doctors Violated Man's Right For Life, Euro Court Rules
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

STRASBOURG, FRANCE, March 12, 2004 -- The European Court of Human Rights ruled Tuesday that doctors violated the rights of an 18-year-old British man and his mother when they overrode her objections and gave him medication to speed up his death.

The court said that doctors at St. Mary's Hospital, Portsmouth, did not respect David Glass's right for private life in violation of Article Eight of the European Convention on Human Rights. It then ordered the doctors to pay David and Carol Glass £7,000 ($12,600 US) in damages and £10,500 ($19,000 US) in legal costs.

"The court considered that the decision to impose treatment on David in defiance of his mother's objections gave rise to an interference with his right to respect for his private life, and in particular his right to physical integrity," the seven judges said.

On two separate occasions in 1998, when David was 12, he was hospitalized for respiratory problems. Both times, doctors reported to David's mother that he was dying, and that pain medication should be used to "alleviate his distress". The medication they planned to use would also suppress his breathing.

In both cases, Carol insisted that her son was not dying, and that doctors were to do everything they could to keep him alive if his breathing or heart stopped.

Doctors rejected Carol's position and a "do not resuscitate" (DNR) order was put into David's chart against his mother's wishes and without her knowledge.

When Carol suggested taking her son home to die -- if he was, in fact, dying -- doctors called police to tell her that if she were to do so, she would be arrested.

Doctors gave diamorphine to David as his condition continued to deteriorate. When his family demanded that the medication be stopped, one doctor told them it was only possible if they agreed not to resuscitate him.

A scuffle broke out when family members tried to revive David. While the fighting was going on, Carol successfully resuscitated her son.

Several doctors and police officers were injured during the fight. Three family members were later jailed for violent disorder and causing bodily harm.

David's condition did improve and he was later released from the hospital.

His mother took her case to the European court after losing the case in Britain's high court and court of appeal.

Hawaii "Death With Dignity" Bill Loses - Again
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

HONOLULU, March 10, 2004 -- For the second time in three months, a state physician-assisted suicide measure has been held up in committee and not allowed to come to a full legislative vote.

Democrats in Hawaii's House of Representatives sent House Bill 862 back to its Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, ending any possibility for it to be considered by the Senate and governor during the current session.

"People were a little uncomfortable about taking this up in an election year," said House Judiciary Vice Chairman Blake Oshiro, who noted that House members were divided on the issue and Democrats believed it would be better bring it up later.

The "death with dignity" bill faced heavy opposition in the state Senate. Governor Linda Lingle had also spoken out against physician-assisted suicide, calling it a "slippery slope" that could lead to euthanasia.

HB 262 would have allowed "mentally competent", terminally-ill patients to receive a lethal dose of medication for ending their own lives. Doctors would not have been allowed to administer the lethal dose, but would have determined the patients' competency. Under the proposed law, patients would have had to make both an oral and a written request to their physicians and would have to ask again at least 15 days after their initial oral request.

Vermont lawmakers shelved a similar measure in the first week of January, when state senators said they would not support it.

In a related note, a study by Oregon's Department of Human Services on that state's physician-assisted suicide law found that last year 42 Oregonians used the law by taking a lethal dose of drugs after consulting doctors. That reflects an increase from 38 people in the year 2002.

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', especially in a culture that values productivity, mobility, and independence. People with severe disabilities are also often made to believe that they are a burden upon others, and that dying would be the 'loving thing to do'.

"Number of Oregonians choosing assisted suicide up slightly" (Associated Press)
"Sixth Annual Report on Oregon's Death with Dignity Act" (Oregon Department of Human Services)

Court Says Man Can Move Out Of Nursing Home
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

CHICAGO, March 9, 2004 -- Yes, Bradley Tinder does have a developmental disability. And, yes, he is eligible for community-based services under Illinois rules.

That was the decision recently handed down by the state's Appellate Court of the Third District.

Tinder, 30, has had cerebral palsy since birth. He has been living in a nursing home since 1999, but requested to move into a Community Integrated Living Arrangement (CILA) where he could be more independent.

The Illinois Department of Human Services denied Tinder's CILA placement claiming he did not have a developmental disability. The department said that CILA provides "active treatment" for people with developmental disabilities, and since Tinder did not have mental retardation, he would not benefit from such treatment.

Tinder, represented by Equip for Equality, the state's federally-mandated Protection and Advocacy System, appealed the decision to the Illinois Department of Public Aid (DPA).

The DPA sided with the Department of Human Services. After a trial court later affirmed the original administrative decision, Tinder and Equip for Equality filed for the appeal.

The state argued during the appeal that Mr. Tinder had to have a mental disability to qualify for CILA services. The Appellate Court rejected the state's argument in favor of Tinder's position that state law clearly includes cerebral palsy in the definition of a developmental disability.

"We are pleased that after nearly five years our client will finally be able to move from a nursing home into the community," Janet Cartwright, Senior Attorney for Equip for Equality, said in a press statement. "The Appellate Court correctly recognized that the State's denial of disability community services was unjustified under the statutory language."

The decision is significant because it could affect many others in Illinois that have cerebral palsy and other developmental disabilities, according to Laura J. Miller, managing attorney for Equip for Equality.

"The Illinois Department of Human Services has been routinely denying community living to people who are entitled to those opportunities, and this ruling sends a clear message that the State's position is contrary to the law," Miller said in the statement. "We call upon the State to cease these illegal practices immediately."

No. 3-02-0826, Tinder v. Illinois Department of Public Aid (Appellate Court of the Third District)
Illinois Protection and Advocacy: Equip For Equality

NY Groups Audit Polling Places For Access
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

ROCHESTER, NY, March 8, 2004 -- A disability rights group visited polling places during last Tuesday's Democratic primary and found some new and some old barriers to voters with disabilities.

According to a brief story in Friday's Democrat and Chronicle newspaper, board members and staff members of the Regional Center for Independent Living (RCIL) visited eight election sites that had problems with access last November. They found barriers at five of those locations.

One polling site had a wheelchair lift, but it didn't work. This was an improvement from November because at that time election inspectors weren't even able to locate the key to find out that it didn't work.

Another site had an elevator to take a voter in a wheelchair up to the polling place. Once there, however, he could not reach the voting machines.

"For an American citizen, this is unacceptable," said Jim Leary, a board member for RCIL, who added that disability rights advocates will continue to monitor voting sites.

"We'll be there for the presidential race," he said.

"Advocates for disabled fault 5 polling locales" (Democrat & Chronicle)

Disabled voters sue CA officials over vote access
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

LOS ANGELES, March 8, 2004 -- Three disability advocacy groups and eleven voters with disabilities filed a lawsuit Monday against California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley and four separate counties for violating their right to cast a secret ballot.

The American Association of People with Disabilities, the California Council of the Blind Inc., and the California Foundation for Independent Living Center filed the suit claiming that the counties of Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Francisco and Santa Barbara did not provide electronic touchscreen voting systems in the March 2 primary election.

According to the lawsuit, Shelley directed all California counties last November to have voting machines that produce paper printouts in place by July 2005. The plaintiffs claim that their rights were violated because the existing machines used by voters with disabilities do not produce a paper trail. The groups want to make sure accessible voting methods are in place by the November general election.

"The point of this lawsuit is to remedy the violations of federal law that occurred on March 2 and make sure they don't happen again this November," attorney John McDermott said.

Touchscreen voting systems allow voters who are blind or visually impaired to cast a ballot privately and independently, using a headset voice prompter and touch keypad. Voters with limited mobility can tap the screen with a closed hand or a stylus.

The Help America Vote Act of 2002 set specific guidelines for states to make their election places and voting systems accessible to people with disabilities.

More from the Center for An Accessible Society

Did Landlord Try To Have 'Feisty' Tenant Institutionalized?
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

CHICAGO, March 4, 2004 -- One day in January, Rebecca Neely answered the door of her apartment to find two paramedics and her property manager there.

"They said we have orders to take you out of here and put you in a mental hospital," the 70-year-old told ABC7Chicago.

"It frightened me so bad."

When Neely refused to go with them, one of the paramedics called 911 to report "a disturbance with a female psych patient."

But Miss Neely had the wherewithal to call 911 herself and report an "unauthorized removal".

Police soon arrived and sent the paramedics away.

Now a grand jury is investigating to see if the landlord of the apartment complex tried to have Neely committed in retaliation for her 'feisty' attitude following several confrontations over poor workmanship.

"Even if I was a mental patient, I would have rights," she explained. "I'm in my own home not bothering nobody."

The complex's management is denying any involvement.

Related article with video clip: "Landlord allegedly tries to have tenant committed to mental institute" (ABC7Chicago.com)

Service Dog Case OKd by Judge
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

LAKE STEVENS, WA, March 1, 2004 -- In August 2002, Milo J. Kippen brought his service dogs into the Lake Shore Inn and Lounge. Kippen, who is paraplegic and uses a wheelchair, left the dogs at a table while he went to play pool.

The bar's owners told Kippen that he and his service dogs were not welcome, and then told them to leave.

Police officer Wayne Aukerman later arrived at Kippen's home to warn him that if he and his service dogs returned to the bar, he would be charged with criminal trespassing.

According to the Everett Daily Herald, Kippen has sued the former bar's owners, the city of Lake Stevens, the police department and the officer who issued the warning.

A federal judge recently threw out part of Kippen's suit against the city, but will allow other claims to go to trial. Specifically, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Lasnik ruled that Kippen cannot sue officer Wayne Aukerman individually. The judge did say, however, that Kippen can argue that Aukerman violated his civil rights by issuing the trespass warning.

While the owners of the bar, Jay and Mohammed Jaatar, did not dispute Kippen's claim that the dogs were service animals, they did question why the dogs should be allowed into the bar when they were not needed to help Kippen at the pool table.

Judge Lasnik said that the dogs pull Kippen's wheelchair and assist him in other ways. He also noted that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires businesses such as bars and restaurants to allow people to have their service animals wherever customers are generally allowed.

Sid Strong, an attorney representing the Jaatars, explained that his clients filed for bankruptcy and are protected from any lawsuit.

The case now is scheduled for a May 3 jury trial in Seattle.

Related resource: Commonly Asked Questions About Service Animals In Places of Business (U.S. Department of Justice)

Also read:
Another Civil Right Now Limited (Ragged Edge)

Burke Takes "Right To Life" Case To UK High Court
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

LANCASTER, ENGLAND, Mar. 1, 2004 -- Leslie Burke took his fight to England's High Court last week to be able to make decisions regarding his life after he will no longer be able to talk.

Burke, 44, has cerebellar ataxia, a condition that doctors say will get worse as he ages. Even though he is expected to lose his ability to move, talk, or eat on his own, he will still be able to see, hear, and understand everything that is going on around him.

Burke, a disability rights advocate who co-founded the Lancaster Disablement Information Support Center, wants the court to guarantee that doctors cannot decide that his "life is not worth living" and then withdraw food and water from him.

Guidelines passed in 2002 by the General Medical Council currently allow doctors to pull feeding tubes from patients whose continued treatment is considered "too burdensome in relation to the possible benefits".

Burke's attorney, Richard Gordon, told the court that the GMC's guidelines violate his client's "right to life" under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Ruth Evans, chair of the GMC's standards committee, told the court that the council welcomes the judicial review.

"This is an exceptionally difficult area of decision making, and one in which the law is still developing," she explained. "For this reason, we welcome the court case as an opportunity for further clarification."

"Patient disputes doctors' right to end his life" (Guardian)
"I am a human being. You need to ask me what I want. No one can know what quality of life I enjoy apart from me" (Telegraph)

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For disability movement news, visit the JFA Newsgroup


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