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Breaking News Ticker  |  Yahoo Full Coverage on disabilities

Parents protest satirical special ed skit
MONTGOMERY CO., MD, April 26, 2004 -- Disability advocates hold a press conference today in Montgomery Co., Maryland, angered by the "seven weeks of silence" from Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent and Board of Education in the face of continuing criticism of senior attorney for special education Zvi Greismann, whose satirical skit at a national lawyer's conference demeaned children with disabilities and inclusive education, say organizers.

In her March 31 story. Washington Post Reporter Linda Perlstein ("Parents See No Humor In Skit on Special-Ed") wrote that Greismann had come under fire for performing a satirical skit at last years's National Institute on Legal Issues of Educating Children With Disabilities, a conference in San Francisco attended mostly by lawyers who represent school systems. Parents told Perlstein that " there is no place for public humor about special education, particularly not from someone who handles their children's cases." (Read Perlstein's story and a link to the offending skit on the NDSS website.)

Today's press conference, march, and rally will "call for an end to the disrespectful treatment of children with disabilities and their families and affirm the rights of disabled children to receive fair treatment and a free and appropriate public education in Montgomery County, Maryland," says rally organizer Marcie Roth.

"Leaders of seven influential education advocacy organizations in Montgomery County have come together to form Parents' Coalition. Parents and teachers of ALL children -- those who are gifted and talented, those with physical, mental and cognitive disabilities, African- American, Asian-American, and all others -- are fed up with a school system that is unresponsive, entrenched, and endlessly bureaucratic", said Barbara Fichman, Chair of the Coalition. "Why does MCPS need to do any further investigation than simply viewing the Zvi Greismann tape to find out what kind of derogatory attitude towards special needs children pervades the upper echelons of MCPS? Parents know. Teachers know. And we are marching together on Monday with a purpose. We are marching to crack the monolith."

Idaho Advocates File Suit Over UI Access Issues
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

MOSCOW, ID, April 23, 2004 -- Tired of empty promises from University of Idaho officials, an advocacy group is suing the school to force it to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Comprehensive Advocacy Inc. (Co-Ad), the state's Protection and Advocacy Services office, filed the federal suit because the university has failed to mark its building entrances as accessible or inaccessible for people with disabilities.

Mary Jo Butler, legal director of Co-Ad, told the Associated Press that a trained advocate informed the agency of the university's alleged violations two years ago.

"We have talked to the UI and written them letters," she said. "We got a letter from the university in 2003 that $15,000 had been allocated to post the signs at building entrances and that it was expected to be done very soon."

Butler said that recent inspections showed that none of the signs had been posted on the campus.

"We hope this won't have to go to court," Butler said. "We just want it to be settled very fast."

Butler explained that Co-Ad set a goal this year to push all state and local government agencies in Idaho to comply with ADA accessibility guidelines for public buildings.

"Most of the time we just wrote a letter and the people fixed the problems. They'd have a consultant come out and tell them what needed to be done, and that was it," she said. "That's why we were so disappointed when the University of Idaho would not do anything. They admitted there was a problem that needed to be fixed."

A UI spokeswoman declined to comment, saying the university had not received notification of the lawsuit.

Related: Comprehensive Advocacy Inc.

Holocaust Museum Unveils New Eugenics Exhibit
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

WASHINGTON, DC, April 22, 2004 -- Years before Nazi Germany began its program of systematically exterminating European Jews, it practiced on hundreds of thousands of children and adults -- mostly of "Aryan" descent -- with disabilities or other "defects".

In an exhibit that opened Thursday and will run through October 16, 2005, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum presents artifacts, images, footage, and audio clips which show the stages leading up to the forced sterilizations of 400,000 men and women and the murder, or so-called "mercy death", of 5,000 children considered "life not worthy of living".

"Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race" details how social engineers in Germany took extreme ideas on racial "purity" and turned them into laws and practices to rid the Third Reich of all of those considered "feebleminded, schizophrenics, manic-depressives, the deaf, blind and epileptic, the severely deformed and chronic alcoholics".

Government-sanctioned doctors used such patients to try to develop efficient, inexpensive methods of mass sterilization. Thousands of "useless eaters", those who were not productive in the eyes of the state, were taken into newly built gas chambers to be murdered. When the gas chambers became unpopular with the public, thousands of people with disabilities were "euthanized" through secret programs in mental institutions and children's hospitals throughout Nazi-controlled Europe. Many were simply starved to death or given lethal doses of medication.

From 1939 to 1945, an estimated 200,000 people were killed through the various euthanasia programs.

The exhibit also examines the role that nations outside the Third Reich played in eugenics -- the false science of improving society through selective breeding. In North America alone, more than 60,000 men, women and children are documented to have been sterilized under laws passed in 30 states and 2 Canadian provinces. Most of those sterilized were housed in state-run institutions. The legalized sterilizations continued up through the 1970s in many states.

The exhibit also cautions visitors that, while eugenics may be in the past, the science of genetics may make possible what eugenicists only dreamed about.

"The history of using science as a vehicle for expressing hatred has not expired," said Paul A. Lombardo of the University of Virginia, a legal historian and expert on eugenics.

A 1927 U.S. Supreme Court decision, which allowed Carrie Buck to be sterilized because, as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes put it, "three generations of imbeciles is enough", has never been overturned.

The museum's website has a section devoted to the new exhibit. Some parts of the website are still under construction.

Related: Online Exhibit "Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race" (U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum)
"The science of evil" (Baltimore Sun)
"The Eugenics Apologies" by Dave Reynolds (Ragged Edge Magazine)

Judge turns down disability groups' bid to receive Holocaust settlement funds
NEW YORK, April 21, 2004 -- A federal judge has turned down the applications of disability groups who sought to participate in the residual settlement fund of the Swiss Bank Holocaust litigation. Disablity Rights Advocates' Sid Wolinsky calls the decision made by U. S. District Court Judge Edward R. Korman "morally wrong, historically inaccurate and legally deficient," adding that it constitutes "an unnecessary rejection of entire communities of people who to this day still suffer isolation and marginalization in societies around the world."

A public hearing is set for April 29 at 10:00 a.m. at the Federal Court building in Brooklyn.

The disability proposal was jointly developed and submitted on behalf of an international coalition of 17 disability organizations, as well as individual disabled Holocaust survivors in the Holocaust reparations cases. It called for establishment of a "modest disability foundation, to be directed by disability leaders," to be paid out of the 1.25 billion dollar settlement fund for Holocaust victims.

The settlement designated five categories of participants in the fund, including those persecuted because they were Jewish, disabled, Romani, homosexual or Jehovah's Witnesses. "Almost no disabled or gay or lesbian victims participated in the first stage of the fund's distribution, which required individual claims. In part, this was because the survivors' heirs were allowed to make claims and victim groups of disabled and homosexual were largely without heirs," says Wolinsky.

"One of Hitler's first moves was to initiate a forcible sterilization program, which resulted in the compulsory and systemic sterilization of over 400,000 people with disabilities."

Disabled people never received notice of the settlement, he adds. "Although millions of dollars were spent targeting Jewish, Romani, and Jehovah's Witnesses organizations, publishing notices in Jewish and Romani newsletters and meeting with Jewish and Romani survivors on an individual basis, not a single dollar was specifically allocated for notice to people with disabilities, not a single notice was placed in a disability-oriented publication, not a single disability organization was contacted, and not a single alternate format was used (such as Braille, large print format, TTYs or audio format).

"When DRA called this to the attention of the court, nothing was done to correct these deficiencies."

The proposal that Judge Korman rejected "asked that one percent of the total settlement funds be allocated to disability causes. The proposal was supported not only by the 17 organizations, but by the EDF, the disability arm of the European Union, as well as Simon Wiesenthal and Congressman Tom Lantos, among other prominent Jewish Holocaust survivors.

"Nazi records show that over 275,000 men, women and children with disabilities were systematically exterminated in Germany alone under Hitler's disability 'euthanasia' program of lethal injections and gassing for disabled citizens. Untold hundreds of thousands more died in concentration camps or were worked to death in slave-enforced labor camps to enrich German industry and the Swiss banks. These forgotten crimes have never been compensated or recognized. To now deny any meaningful recognition of their suffering severely undermines the goals of this historic litigation and would perpetuate a historical injustice."

See Holocaust Museum Unveils New Eugenics Exhibit, above
Demonstrators Want State To Restore In-Home Services, Meds
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

MEDFORD, OR, April 21, 2004 -- About 100 protesters marched downtown to the Disabled Services Office Tuesday, to demand that state officials restore in-home services and medicines to about 1,700 people in the area who lost them in February of last year.

The demonstrators were also drawing attention to the fact that services are now being reduced for more people because new guidelines are making it more difficult to qualify for supports.

Many are afraid that budget cuts will mean that they no longer would have state support to purchase life-saving medications.

The state has cut 90,000 Oregonians from the Oregon Health Plan to cut costs. Since then, there have been a number of news reports of people that have died because they could not afford the medications they needed.

Organizers of Tuesday's rally presented Don Bruland, director of Senior and Disability Services for the Rogue Valley Council of Governments, with a list of 10 "basic demands". The petition seeks restoration of services to levels that existed before the cuts of 2003, along with restoration of Oregon Health Plan benefits for thousands of people who lost those services during the past two years, the Mail Tribune reported.

Bruland said he would let send the protesters' request for a meeting to Department of Human Services officials in Salem.

Related: "Marchers protest service cuts to disabled" (Mail Tribune)

AL Discriminates Against Blind Parents, Says Group
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

AUBURN, AL, April 20, 2004 -- Alabama's Department of Human Resources is discriminating against blind parents by taking their children away or requiring extraordinary measures for them to be around their children, an advocacy group claims.

It's a charge DHR officials flatly deny.

A recent Associated Press story quotes Michael Jones, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Alabama, saying that he has seen six cases over the last four years in which he believed parents were accused of child abuse or neglect simply because they were blind.

"What the hell did they do? The only thing they did was what they were, which was blind," Jones said.

The most recent case was that of a blind Talladega couple who lost custody of their newborn daughter April 8 -- just two days after she was born.

"It's unfair," said Pyanne Jordan, the girl's 20-year-old mother. "It shouldn't have happened. And I feel that it happened because we're visually impaired."

Because the couple's home was considered unsafe, they will have to find a new home before their daughter can live with them. The Jordans said this request was reasonable, in part because of a hole in the floor.

What is less reasonable, they said, is the requirement that they have a sighted adult supervise the family 24-hours a day.

DHR officials said that the agency's social workers do not focus on disability when deciding whether to take a child from its parents. Rather, it is the parents' behavior that makes the difference.

Jones, however, has seen enough to convince him otherwise. He is working with the state Legislature on a bill that would prohibit the courts from ruling that a disability alone was reason enough to constitute abuse or neglect. He is also urging DHR officials to train social workers to understand that parents with disabilities use different methods to supervise their children.

Related: "Blind Parents Accuse Alabama of Discrimination" (Associated Press via Fox News)

State Campuses Don't Provide Voter Applications, Feds Claim
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

SYRACUSE, April 16, 2004 -- The state of New York is violating federal law by failing to provide voter registration applications at offices for students with disabilities in state-funded college campuses, the U.S. Department of Justice claims.

In a suit filed Thursday in federal court at Syracuse, the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division accused the state of not complying with the 1993 National Voter Registration Act.

The federal law requires all state-funded offices that primarily serve people with disabilities to provide applicants with voter registration forms, declination forms, along with assistance in completing the forms and forwarding completed applications to the appropriate state officials.

The suit names Governor George Pataki, City University of New York, State University of New York, the Board of Elections and other state agencies. It joins a similar suit, filed in 2000 against the state on behalf of New York members of the National Coalition for Students with Disabilities.

A SUNY spokesperson told the Associated Press Friday that the campus is in full compliance with the federal law.

National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (U.S. Department of Justice)
National Coalition for Students with Disabilities

Movie Theaters Must Guarantee Seats For Wheelchair Users' Companions, Appeals Court Rules
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

SAN FRANCISCO, April 14, 2004 -- Robin and Felicia Fortyune won a legal victory when a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that movie theaters must guarantee seating for companions of wheelchair users.

The ruling could have broad implications for stadium, theater, movie and sports fans who use wheelchairs.

In its decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling which said that American Multi-Cinema Inc. violated the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act by refusing to remove people without disabilities from seats set aside for companions of patrons who use wheelchairs.

Robin Fortyune, who is described in the case as "a C-5 quadriplegic", arrived with his wife 20 minutes early at their local Torrance, California AMC movie theater to see the movie "Chicken Run" on June 25, 2000.

When the Fortyunes got to the wheelchair accessible section, they found a man and his son in two seats which had been designated for companions of wheelchair users. A sign on the back of the seats read: "NOTICE -- This seat is designated as COMPANION SEATING for our disabled guests, per ADA guidelines. It may be necessary to ask non-disabled patrons to move."

After the man refused to move to other vacant seats, the Fortyunes went to the theater manager to get his help. The manager then asked the man and his son to move. When the request was refused again, the manager told the Fortyunes AMC policy said companions of wheelchair users "will be exposed to the same risk of less desirable seating" during sold-out shows.

Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw, who wrote the decision for the appeals court, said the ADA "requires that AMC take steps to remove from a companion seat any person who is not the companion of a wheelchair-bound patron and who refuses to vacate that seat despite being asked to do so."

"As a public accommodation, AMC is responsible -- on a daily basis -- for ensuring that its patrons act reasonably and responsibly with regard to an array of company, state, and federal law or policies," Wardlaw wrote.

A District Court judge in 2002 found that Fortyune was entitled to sue AMC, and ordered the theater chain to change its policy to make sure that a companion of a wheelchair user be "given priority in the use of companion seats".

AMC appealed that decision, arguing that Fortyune did not have any legal standing to sue because his experience was an isolated incident. Lawyers for AMC added that requiring theaters to remove customers without disabilities was "draconian", and constituted "preferential treatment".

The appellate court disagreed, pointing out that Fortyune was a frequent movie-goer, and that the written policy made it likely he would be in the same situation again. It also noted that movie theaters have no problem ejecting customers who use cell phones or are disruptive.

"It really affirms a legal principal that says you can't just build your facility in compliance with access codes and then wash your hands of the ADA," Fortyune's lawyer, Russell C. Handy of the Center for Disability Access, told the Associated Press. "The court said that is not enough, you have to look at how the facility is being used."

Attorneys for AMC could not be reached for comment.

Fortyune v. American Multi-Cinema (U.S. Court of Appeals For the 9th Circuit) [PDF format, requires Adobe Acrobat Reader]

Women Accuse Buffet Of Turning Them And Service Dogs Away
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

JACKSONVILLE, FL, April 12, 2004 -- Four women who use service dogs claim that a Jacksonville restaurant broke the law recently by not allowing them near the buffet line, WJXT-TV reported Friday.

The women accused workers at the East Buffet of telling them they could not come into the restaurant because of their dogs.

Restaurants are required to allow service dogs under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.

"We were forced to leave," explained Rockey Hackler, whose daughter, Renee, uses a service dog to help her walk. "I was so shocked. I didn't know what to do at first."

After the women called police, they were allowed to enter the restaurant. When they tried to go to the buffet line, however, restaurant staff told them they were not allowed because of safety concerns, the women claim.

"Unlike some of them, Renee cannot walk up to that counter without her dog, so the dog has to go with her," she said. "She cannot be deprived of that little piece of her independence."

An East Buffet representative said the allegations are not true, that the workers are innocent of the allegations.

See also Another Civil Right Now Limited

And "Commonly asked questions about service animals in places of business" (U.S. Department of Justice)

Advocates Worried About "Freak Show" Exhibit
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

CROYDON, ENGLAND, April 8, 2004 -- Local disability groups are concerned that an exhibition featuring circus "freak shows" might glamorize the practice of exploiting people with disabilities and other differences for entertainment's sake, the South London Press reported.

"Pleasurelands", an historic exhibit of fairground history, is scheduled to run from April 24 through September 5 at the Croydon Clocktower. Organizers said that the section displaying photographs on freak shows is just one small part of the exhibit.

The show will feature photographs of such acts as conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, Lionel the 'Lion-faced Boy', and Joseph Merrick, who had Proteus syndrome and whose story was made famous by the 1980 film 'The Elephant Man'.

Freak shows were a common part of circus side shows in Britain until the 1960s when they lost favor with the public. Such exhibits still exist in some countries.

"It never was and never will be right to exploit a person's deformities," said Marc Peters, a former chairman of the Croydon Disability Forum. "This exhibition must be very careful that it does not glamorize the exploitations of the past."

Ralph Conde, vice-chairman of Disability Croydon, said: "Disabled people should not be held up to ridicule in any way."

"It won't occur to many visitors that they are taking the mickey out of real people's suffering," added Conde, who has cerebral palsy. "We too have feelings, the same as the rest of society."

The Croydon Council defended the exhibit.

"We are ensuring that the freak show element is put in balance and we are quite sure it won't cause offence," a spokesman said. "We feel people will find the experience a positive one."

Calls for Officer's Firing in Wake of Shooting
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

DENVER, April 5, 2004 -- Community members expressed outrage Friday over the Denver police chief's recommendation to impose a 20-day suspension without pay on Officer James Turney over the shooting last July of Paul Childs III.

The police union, however, argued that disciplinary action of any kind would be inappropriate for Turney, even though an internal police review found Turney did not follow proper procedure when he fired four shots into Childs. The 15-year-old Childs had mental retardation and epilepsy.

Denver Police Chief Gerry Whitman announced his recommendation Thursday. The final decision over Turney's discipline rests with Al LaCabe, the city's Manager of Safety. LaCabe has until April 16 to decide on a disciplinary response, which could range from firing Turney to a written reprimand or to no action at all.

On Friday, the Greater Denver Ministerial Alliance called on Mayor John Hickenlooper to push for a minimum one-year suspension. An editorial in Friday's Denver Post urged LaCabe to fire Turney, calling the officer "an embarrassment to his profession and a liability to the city."

A group of about 40 protesters gathered in front of a police station to also demand that Turney be fired for shooting Childs.

"A slap in the wallet for Turney, a slap in the face for the city," said one of the protesters.

On July 5, the Childs family called police in the hopes that they could help calm Paul after a series of outbursts in his home. Turney drew his firearm even though two other officers, who were on the scene before him, had non-lethal Tasers. Turney shot Childs when the teen failed to follow police instructions to drop a kitchen knife he was clutching to his chest.

A neurologist later suggested that Childs' behavior prior to the shooting may have been caused by the after-effects of a massive seizure he had experienced a few days earlier.

The incident has prompted legislators to consider "Paul's Law", a measure that would require all law enforcement officers and dispatchers in Colorado to undergo crisis-intervention training, along with specific training on dealing with suspects who have mental illness or developmental disabilities. It also has prompted the family to prepare a federal civil rights suit against the police department, led by famous attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr.

The Denver Post editorial based its suggestion that Turney be fired on his part in the 2002 shooting death of Gregory Smith, a partially deaf 18-year-old, along with the fact that he threatened to kill his former mother-in-law one day before Childs' shooting.

No criminal charges were filed against Turney for either shooting. A misdemeanor charge for the threat against his mother-in-law was later dropped.

The Rev. Michael Thompson, who was Paul Childs' uncle, said the family will not accept anything less than Turney's dismissal.

"This man doesn't need to be on the street with a gun," the Reverend Michael Thompson told the Rocky Mountain News. "Our goal is to get Turney off the force, that's the goal."

"Don't give him a gun and put him back on the streets," Thompson said.

"Cop's proposed suspension too lenient, protesters say" (Denver Post)
"The Death of Paul Childs III" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)

Parents Outraged Over "Box" For Son
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

CALGARY, ALBERTA, April 4, 2004 -- A Calgary couple are demanding that a substitute teacher and classroom aide formally apologize to their son for using a cardboard enclosure to box him in as a disciplinary measure.

Terry and Betty Shawchuck claim that two cardboard tri-folds were pulled together to surround their 16-year-old son, Adam, who has Down syndrome and is deaf, in his St. Helena Junior High classroom. The "box" made it impossible for him to see out or to use sign language to let others know he needed to use the restroom, the parents said.

A teacher's aide told them that Adam was being disciplined for "uncooperative behavior".

The parents demanded an apology for the incident they said occurred on March 1.

They did receive an apology from the principal, and from the regular teacher, who was not present that day.

What they really want is for the substitute teacher and teacher's aide to apologize directly to their son.

"We believe that some day, somehow . . . these people are going to walk into a room and say sorry to our son," explained Mr. Shawchuck.

According to the Shawchucks, the school has arranged for the apology they requested, but with just one catch: Adam's parents would not be allowed to be there at the time.

The couple have since pulled Adam from the school.

After an initial review of the situation, the Catholic School Board responded by saying said the cardboard partitions are called "focus centres", and are often used in special education classes to calm students or to keep them from becoming distracted.

"Time out might have a couple of different looks to it," said Judy MacKay, superintendent of instruction, who would not comment on the specifics of the Shawchuck case.

Related articles:
'It could have been settled in one day' (Calgary Herald)
"School board responds to complaint about boy in box" (CBC News)

Senate To Hold Hearings On Institutional Bias
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

WASHINGTON, DC, April 1, 2004 -- Advocates for community-based supports have scored a victory this week in the battle against the institutional bias in Medicaid funding.

After months of work by disability rights groups, staff from Senator Charles Grassley's office announced that the Senate Finance Committee will hold hearings next Wednesday, April 7, on S. 1394, the Money Follows the Person Act, and S. 971, otherwise known as MiCASSA, the Medicaid Community-Based Attendant Services and Supports Act.


The Money Follows the Person Act, which was introduced into the Senate last summer, would provide money to states to help transition people from institutions to community-based services. MiCASSA would give Medicaid recipients the choice of in-home supports over institutions.

Nearly 75 percent of all Medicaid long-term care funding is currently used by nursing homes and other institutions. Funding for such programs is mandated in some states, while in-home supports are not.

Grassley, who chairs the committee, said the hearing will bring together experts to describe how the proposal would work, and to look at the details from the perspectives of all involved.

Leaders with NCIL (National Council on Independent Living), ADAPT (Americans Disabled For Attendant Programs Today), and other groups are encouraging advocates to attend the hearing, which will be held at 10:00 am, in Room 215 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building. Those who cannot attend are encouraged to contact committee members or provide statements for the official record.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 1999 ruled that unnecessarily institutionalizing people with disabilities violates their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Presidents Clinton and Bush have ordered state Medicaid programs to develop plans to implement the so-called Olmstead decision.

Instructions on giving comments for official record (United States Senate Committee on Finance)
"Prepare for Money Follows Person Hearing" (Justice For All Action Alert)

Fire Ant Infestations A Problem In Southern Nursing Homes
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

NEW ORLEANS, April 1, 2004-- On August 20, 2000, Sheri Renee Herring, a resident of Albert P. Brewer Developmental Center in Mobile, Alabama was rushed to the hospital after, as one doctor described it, being bitten by fire ants "so many times that the bites were too numerous to count".

The 36-year-old Herring -- who has Rett syndrome and is not able to move her limbs, call for help, or even scream -- had been discovered in her bed covered from head to toe with the stinging, poisonous insects at about 5:30 a.m. Officials said she was okay when she was checked just a few hours earlier.

Department of Health investigators later found seven documented incidents of fire ant infestations in the three months prior to the attack on Herring. Staff members had reported finding fire ants on floors, walls, drinking fountains, and in residents' beds.

University of Mississippi researchers are now warning that non-native fire ants are becoming an increasing danger for residents of nursing homes and other institutions. During the past decade, scientists have documented at least six attacks by South American fire ants in nursing homes in Florida, Texas and Mississippi, along with Herring's attack in the neighboring Alabama institution.

At least 4 nursing home residents have died within a week of a fire ant attack, according to a story in Sunday's Associated Press.

"In a sense, this is a wake-up call for the future," said Robin Rockhold, a professor of toxicology and pharmacology at the University of Mississippi Medical School. "We need recognition of the potential for this problem."

Rockhold noted that the patients who were attacked by fire ants had physical or mental disabilities that kept them from moving away or shouting for help.

"Is seven attacks in 10 years a problem? Of course," said Jeff Smokler, spokesman for the American Health Care Association. "One attack is a problem. One is too many."

Experts say that the fast-moving insects -- which have been in the South since the 1930s -- are spreading to the north, east and west.

"Fire Ant Attacks Up in Nursing Homes" (Associated Press via South Florida Sun-Sentinel)
"Trouble in Alabama's Institutions: Albert P. Brewer Developmental Center" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)

Duval County Must Provide Accessible Voting Machines, Judge Orders
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

JACKSONVILLE, FL, April 1, 2004-- A federal judge ruled Friday that Duval County election officials are violating the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act by not providing accessible voting machines.

In a decision that was made public Monday, U.S. District Judge Wayne Alley ordered the county to equip 20 percent of its voting precincts with touch-screen machines in time for the August 2004 primary election.

Touch-screen machines allow voters with limited mobility to mark selections by touching large buttons. They are also equipped with voice instructions to help voters that are blind or cannot read. Optical scan systems, however, require voters to fill in small ovals on paper ballots.

Judge Alley pointed out that Jacksonville voters with disabilities have had an equal opportunity to vote, but not an independent one. By having to rely on others to make their selections, voters who are blind or cannot read have not been able to exercise their right to cast a secret ballot.

"To me, it's what I think our country's all about," Dan O'Connor, who has been legally blind for more than a decade, told WJXT-TV. "The major obstacle of the current system for me is that I have to rely on someone else."

County elections officials have until this Friday to decide whether they will appeal Alley's decision.

In various news reports, officials said that purchasing the estimated 60 touch-screen machines would cost between $180,000 and $250,000, which could present a hardship to the county. Another problem is that the state has not yet certified touch-screen machines that are compatible with the Diebold optical scan system the county currently uses. The new machines will not likely be certified until May at the earliest.

Alabama Medicaid Policy Blamed For Friend's Death
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

MOBILE, AL, April 1, 2004-- On the night of March 4, Chris Wiggins' ventilator tube became disconnected. Nobody in his home woke up to the alarms in time to save his life. By the time he was found and taken to the hospital, it was too late for him to recover.

Chris died five days later. He was 26 years old.

Chris had muscular dystrophy and was eligible for in-home supports through Medicaid until he turned 21. After that, he had the choice of staying in a nursing home or living with his parents -- but without 24-hour support.

Nick Dupree was Chris' life-long friend.

Three years ago, Dupree launched "Nick's Crusade", a public awareness campaign to get Alabama's Medicaid program to fund in-home services for people over the age of 21. On February 10, 2003, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson announced that the federal government would approve a limited program in Alabama that would continue Medicaid funded in-home services for Dupree and 29 other young people who were nearing their 21st birthday.

This meant little for Alabamans who had already turned 21, including Chris Wiggins.

"Chris was a person," Dupree wrote last week. "His death was totally preventable, and only the fault of the awful situation of near-total lack of services in Alabama." Dupree noted that Chris' death was the fifth one of its kind that he knows of in Mobile alone.

"We know that when care is not provided to people who need care to survive, they don't survive."

"I think it's fair to ask, what is being done to protect people from dying due to very preventable lack of care again and again in the future? What does it take to get some Olmstead litigation to force state Medicaids to move some of their institutional funding into community services? When will Congress even acknowledge this issue and hold hearings on MiCASSA? Does America care?"

"How many times will this have to happen?"

Dupree, who is now 22, said last year that he would dedicate the rest of his life to "make sure everyone can be safe and live in their community and not locked away in a faraway nursing home".

"I'll keep advocating for major changes, keep writing, keep speaking around the country, keep studying, and keep trying to fix my own care, so it's enabling me to live a full life instead of trapping and preventing life as it is now," he wrote last week. "I will continue to work on these issues."

"And I need all the help I can get."

"Medicaid policy causes another 21 cut-off death, close to home" open letter by Nick Dupree
Nick's Crusade

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