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Breaking News Ticker  |  Yahoo Full Coverage on disabilities

British Groups Join Forces To Combat "Disabilism"
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

MILTON KEYNES, ENGLAND, May 25, 2004 ---In what many would consider an unlikely alliance, the cerebral palsy charity Scope has joined the international human rights network Disability Awareness in Action to launch the "Time To Get Equal" campaign. Leaders from both groups said that the joint effort is needed in order to best affect the attitudes and actions toward people with disabilities.

The groups, which have been at odds with each other in the past, have enlisted the support of the independent think-tank Demos. The groups have also received support for the awareness and advocacy campaign from British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela, and various members of Parliament.

The campaign was announced Wednesday with the release of a report entitled, "Disabilism: How to Tackle the Last Prejudice". The report noted a number of areas in which people with disabilities continue to face discrimination, in spite of legislation designed to protect their rights.

According to the report, one area in which "institutional disabilism" is most apparent is the workplace, where just 49 percent of all working age persons with disabilities are employed, compared to 81 percent of people that do not have disabilities. The report added that society will not adapt to the needs and aspirations of people with disabilities until they are "properly represented in employment."

"Many more disabled people who want to work would be able to work with changes in employment practices and a proactive -- but not expensive -- approach to adaptations within the workplace," said the report. "However whilst this would move things on a great deal, we are arguing that a more radical approach is needed so that many more disabled people are fully included in the workplace, and their talent unleashed."

The 82-page report defines the word "disabilism" as "discriminatory, oppressive or abusive behaviour arising from the belief that disabled people are inferior to others."

The entire report can be downloaded in PDF format from the Demos website noted below.

"Big guns back disability equality" by BBC News Online disability affairs reporter Geoff Adams-Spink (BBC News)
"Bridging the gap" (The Guardian)
'Time To Get Equal' Campaign
"Disabilism" (Demos)

Washington Post Series Slams Virginia's Assisted Living Facilities
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

RICHMOND, VA, May 26, 2004 --The Washington Post this week published "A Dangerous Place: Assisted Living In Virginia", a special report based on its 18-month investigation into conditions at the state's assisted living facilities.

The multi-part series revealed what it called "a troubled and worsening record of care at the homes, including avoidable injuries and deaths, and a system of state oversight that often failed to identify or correct problems."

The Post noted that 34,000 Virginians with disabilities are housed in 627 assisted living homes licensed by the state. These typically are people who are not considered "sick enough" to require a nursing home.

"In 51 deaths over the past eight years, records raise questions about the quality of care or show that the homes bore some responsibility for the death," the paper read in its introduction. "In more than 135 other cases, residents suffered sexual assaults, physical abuse or serious injuries, including head wounds, broken bones, burns and life-threatening medication errors. About 4,400 residents have been victims of abuse, neglect or exploitation since 1995, records show."

Read series from Washington Post (registration required - free)

Supreme Court: States must obey Disabilities Act
WASHINGTON, DC, May 17, 2004 --In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that states are not immune from requirements to make their courthouses accessible under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, giving a victory to George Lane, who had to crawl up a Tennessee courthouse steps to participate in his own trial. (The case is Tennessee v. Lane, 02-1667.) Ruling today on the 50th anniversary of the historic Brown v. Board of Education anti-segregation decision, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that "the unequal treatment of disabled persons in the administration of judicial services has a long history" as well.

"The vision and intent of the ADA clearly was for the States to honor the rights of people with disabilities -- and for money damages to be available when those rights are violated," said ADAWatch's Jim Ward in commenting on the decision, adding that the ruling would "motivate states who are still not in compliance with the ADA to change their policies towards people with disabilities."

"Today's decision is a welcome reversal of the Rehnquist Court's onslaught on disability rights, but this fight is not over," said Andrew J. Imparato, President of the American Association of People with Disabilities. "Four justices still do not understand the connection between Brown v. Board of Education, the Constitution's protection of individual rights, and the right to be present at your own trial if you use a wheelchair." The Harris Poll, in a survey on the issue in February, found 93 percent of American adults felt "states should be required to make court and other public buildings accessible to people with disabilities." 94 percent agreed with the statement, "Any system which forces someone to leave his or her wheelchair and crawl up stairs to get to a courthouse is totally unacceptable." Read news coverage from Associated Press. | Read more from the Nat'l Assn. of Protection and Advocacy Systems | PDF file of the decision

Senate Passes IDEA Bill; Disability Advocates Satisfied
WASHINGTON, DC, May 13, 2004 --The Senate passed a new Individuals with Disabilities Education Act on Thursday, and advocates who worked on the bill expressed satisfaction. " All attempts to cap parents' attorneys' fees were thwarted," and the bill "conforms the IDEA to other civil rights laws," said the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, one of the groups which worked with the bill. DREDF's Patrisha Wright called it a "truly bipartisan bill." Only 3 Senators voted against the bill -- Sens. Jim Jeffords and Patrick Leahy of Vermont both opposed the bill because it failed to provide a mechanism for mandatory full funding. MORE.
Fort Lewis Families Say Base Housing Discriminates
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

TACOMA, WA, May 11, 2004 --Four legal firms have joined seven Fort Lewis families in a federal suit accusing an on-base housing provider of discriminating against them because they have family members with disabilities.

The families are seeking class action status in the suit filed in U.S. District Court Monday against Equity, a corporation that was granted the contract with the U.S. Army in 2000 to replace, repair and manage base housing at Fort Lewis. The case could have wide-ranging implications because Equity and its partners, the largest owners and managers of residential properties in the country, provide rental housing at more than 20 other military bases and sites.

The plaintiffs claim that Equity violated the Fair Housing Act, the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and other federal and state anti-discrimination laws. The suit seeks unspecified damages but demands immediate changes be made to the company's policies and procedures.

According to a statement by Disability Rights Advocates, a California-based non-profit law firm representing the families, Equity failed to make reasonable accommodations to housing units as requested, asked unlawful questions about individuals' disabilities, refused to rent to families with members that have disabilities, and harassed and intimidated individuals with disabilities.

"What they're asking for is something any tenant would regard as a very modest request and ought to be allowed," said Sid Wolinsky, an attorney with Disability Rights Advocates.

The suit also accuses Equity of retaliating against families for requesting accommodations, including several instances where the company allegedly complained to a soldier's chain of command, thereby threatening the soldier's position and career in the Army.

"It is outrageous that Equity is discriminating against military families with disabled family members at a time when so many of them have sent soldiers to risk their lives fighting in Iraq," said Victoria Ni, a staff attorney with Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, a Washington, DC national public interest law firm involved in the case.

The Army reports that 13 percent of military families at Fort Lewis -- or about 3000 people -- have at least one member with a disability, the second highest of any Army base.

A company spokesman denied the claims, saying Equity is proud of its record of accommodating people with disabilities at Fort Lewis and its other properties.

"Fort Lewis families sue over housing" (Seattle Times)
Disability Rights Advocates

Riverside County, Voters Sue State Over Touch-Screen Ban
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

RIVERSIDE, CA, May 7, 2004 --Secretary of State Kevin Shelley violated state and federal accessibility laws when he decertified Diebold touch-screen voting systems, a group of voters with disabilities claimed in a lawsuit filed Thursday.

The voters joined Riverside County election officials in the suit, alleging that Shelley's order violated the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, the 2002 Help America Vote Act, along with state election laws.

Shelley banned the electronic voting systems in Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Orange counties after errors were found in the March 2 election.

Shelley's April 30 decision banned one-third of California's newly-acquired electronic voting systems. Shelley also asked the state's attorney general to investigate Diebold Election Systems Inc. for fraud, accusing the company of lying to officials about its AcuVote-TSx Voting System.

Touch-screen systems have been favored by many voters with disabilities that affect mobility, reading, hearing and vision because the systems have features that allow them to independently cast a private ballot. Federal law requires polling sites to have accessible voting systems in place by 2006.

The systems have been criticized in the past, however, for not creating a paper record of each vote -- making recounts impossible-- and for not being tamper-proof, thus allowing computer hackers to change election results.

"The Secretary's decertification orders will deny voters with disabilities the right to vote independently, in secret and without third party assistance, impose new unfunded costs on counties and create chaos and inequality in the November, 2004 election by requiring counties with electronic voting systems to go back to inferior paper based voting machines with higher rates of error, nullified votes and votes not recorded," the lawsuit states.

Attorney John E. McDermott, who represents Riverside County and the voters in the suit, told the Associated Press that he expects other counties will join the lawsuit.

Related: Help America Vote Act of 2002 (Federal Election Commission)

Judge Rules "Terri's Law" Unconstitutional
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

TAMPA, May 6, 2004 -- A local judge ruled Thursday that the law passed last October to keep Terri Schiavo alive, violates her right to privacy along with the state Constitution.

In his decision, Pinellas Circuit Court Judge W. Douglas Baird wrote that "Terri's Law" improperly gave Governor Jeb Bush authority to have Terri's feeding tube reinserted after it had been removed under a separate court order. Baird added that the measure "unjustifiably authorizes the governor to summarily deprive Florida citizens of their constitutional right to privacy."

"By substituting the personal judgment of the governor for that of the patient, the act deprives every individual who is subject to its terms of his or her constitutionally guaranteed right to the privacy of his or her own medical decisions," Baird concluded.

The governor's office immediately filed an appeal. It is likely the case will eventually work its way to the Florida Supreme Court.

Disability rights advocates have been watching the legal battle over Terri's life for several years. Terri, 40, breathes on her own, but is given food and water through a tube installed through the wall of her stomach.

Michael Schiavo, who is her husband and guardian, and several doctors claim that she has been in a "persistent vegetative state" since she collapsed and her brain was without oxygen for several minutes in February 1990. The courts have consistently supported Mr. Schiavo's claims that Terri cannot recover from her brain injury, that she does not feel pain, and that she would not have wanted to live "by artificial means".

Terri's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, believe that she is alert and responsive and that she could improve through therapies which Mr. Schiavo has denied her for at least the past 10 years. They have claimed that Terri's husband wants her to die so that he can marry a woman with whom he has fathered two children. The Schindlers want him removed as Terri's guardian and have pushed for an investigation into their allegations that he has abused, neglected and financially exploited her. They also suspect that Michael may have caused Terri's initial collapse.

The Schindlers and advocates have defended Terri's right to live, noting that allowing her to die by starvation would reinforce the message that the lives of people with certain disabilities are not worth living. Under pressure from disability rights and right-to-life advocates, Governor Bush championed the measure rapidly through the Legislature, giving him permission to order Terri's feeding tube reinserted six days after it had been removed.

Mr. Schiavo, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, immediately filed the suit which Judge Baird ruled on Thursday.

Pat Anderson, who represents the Schindlers, said Thursday, "It is not surprising, but it is saddening, especially since Terri's parents have not been allowed to see her since March 29. This puts a particularly tragic aspect to all of this."

"The show is not over yet."

"Terri Schiavo's Right To Live" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)
The Terri Schindler-Schiavo Foundation

All taxis should be accessible, says NY Daily News
NEW YORK, May 5, 2004 -- New York City Councilman John Liu (D-Queens), who heads the Council's Transportation Committee, says he will propose legislation that will require all new New York City taxis be accessible to people who use wheelchairs. (Read story in New York Daily News.)

An editorial in Monday's Daily News calls upon New York's Taxi and Limousine Commission to require that all new cabs be wheelchair accessible. "Of the 12,187 yellow cabs on the road, three can accommodate wheelchairs. Repeat: Only three of the city's 12,187 cabs are wheelchair-accessible," says the editorial. "That means the odds of hailing such a vehicle are longer than 4,000 to 1. Interested passengers might as well play Lotto and invest their winnings in a chauffeured limo." The editorial writer uses today's taxi fare hike in the city as an occasion to point out the deplorable state of service for wheelchair users in the city who need transportation:

"The Taxi and Limousine Commission requires all livery and black car companies to dispatch accessible vehicles when called, but of the city's 38,000 such vehicles, all of 13 are wheelchair-accessible.

"This is just plain wrong, and there's no reason New York could not go all the way to requiring that new yellow taxis must be wheelchair-accessible - just like all of London's cabs."

Read more about this issue from the Gotham Gazette.

Read "Make taxis accessible for all" from the May 3 New York Daily News.

NY Crips Sue Bus Line, Transportation Dept.
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

NEW YORK, May 3, 2004 -- A group of bus riders with disabilities have filed a class action lawsuit against Green Bus Lines, along with the City of New York, for providing "grossly inadequate" service and violating state and federal anti-discrimination laws.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court last week by Martin J. Coleman, Esq., on behalf of a group of individual riders and the advocacy group Disabled In Action of Metropolitan New York.

In the suit, Green Bus Lines is accused of failing to follow the Americans with Disabilities Act, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law, according to Anthony Trocchia, President of Disabled In Action. The New York City Department of Transportation is also named in the suit because it is responsible for overseeing privately-run bus companies.

"The service is horrendous," Trocchia told Inclusion Daily Express in an email.

The private bus company is accused of having many buses with no wheelchair lifts or lifts that are broken; buses that can only accommodate one wheelchair user; and a lack of emergency evacuation procedures for wheelchair users. The plaintiffs also claim that bus drivers are disrespectful to riders with disabilities and that the company does not take seriously complaints made by those riders.

New York City Transit, the main transportation provider in the city, is scheduled to take over Green Bus Lines and the other 6 privately run bus companies on July 1.

"Their bus service is great," Trocchia said of NYCT. "However, it will take two years for NYCT to replace the junky buses of the seven companies."

"Disabled folks cannot be expected to put their lives on hold. Our transportation needs must be met."

Trocchia commented that the city has given the private bus lines millions of tax dollars in subsidies over the years, and that taxpayers' money has been wasted in the process.

Inclusion Daily Express readers learned about Anthony Trocchia last July, when he staged an impromptu "rush hour" protest in front of a Green Lines bus.

After Trocchia had waited through four Green Line buses without a working lift, he parked his electric wheelchair in front of the bus -- at one of the busiest intersections in Queens -- and refused to move.

Trocchia then pulled out his cell phone and called newspaper and television stations to report his own act of civil disobedience.

"Disgusted Bus Rider Stages Impromptu Protest" -- July 1, 2003 (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)
Disabled In Action of Metropolitan New York

Touch-Screen Voting Banned In CA For Now
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

SACRAMENTO, May 1, 2004 -- In a decision that could affect voters with disabilities around the world, California's Secretary of State has banned one-third of the state's newly-acquired electronic voting systems, and has accused the machines' manufacturer of criminal misconduct.

On Friday, Kevin Shelley asked California Attorney General Bill Lockyer to investigate Diebold Election Systems Inc. for fraud, claiming the company lied to state officials about its AcuVote-TSx Voting System.

The new touch-screen systems, such as those manufactured by Diebold, have been favored by voters with disabilities. The systems have accessibility features that allow many people with disabilities which affect mobility, reading, hearing and vision, to independently cast a private ballot. Federal law requires voting sites to have accessible voting systems in place by 2006.

The systems have been criticized in the past, however, for not creating a paper record of each vote -- making recounts impossible-- and for not being tamper-proof, thus allowing computer hackers to change election results.

Shelley's decision is based on recommendations from a state advisory panel which conducted hearings earlier in the month.

"I'm asking the attorney general to pursue criminal and civil actions against Diebold in this matter, based on finding of fraudulent action," Shelley said."They broke the law. Their conduct was absolutely reprehensible."

Shelley accused Diebold of using aggressive marketing to deceive the state into installing 14,000 of its touch-screen systems, by falsely stating that the machines had been approved by the federal government.

"We will not tolerate deceitful tactics engaged in by Diebold and we must send a clear and compelling message to the rest of the industry: Don't try to pull a fast one on the voters of California because there will be consequences," Shelley said.

Diebold immediately responded with a lengthy statement denying Shelley's accusations. Company officials also said they planned to work with the state to handle any problems.

A spokesperson for Lockyer said the attorney general's office would review Shelly's allegations.

The decision means that up to two million voters in four California counties will have to use optical scan voting systems, in which voters mark their choices in ovals on paper ballots, in the November general election.

"I anticipate his decision will have an immediate and widespread impact," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. "California is turning away from e-voting equipment, and other states are sure to follow."

Diebold provides electronic voting systems to counties around the world, including the world's largest democracy, India.

Key Documents On Electronic Voting Systems (California Secretary of State)
Press release: Moving Forward After California Secretary of State Action (Diebold Election Systems)
Help America Vote Act of 2002 (Federal Election Commission)

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