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Breaking News Ticker  |  Yahoo Full Coverage on disabilities

News Alerts from Bazelon.org

Homearama under fire for lack of access

ROCHESTER, NY, JUNE 27, 2005-- "Homearamas" are a tradition in many communities -- a chance for local members of the Homebuilders Assocation to show off a new housing development with the latest in bells and whistles. But wheelchair access has never been a priority. The Rochester, NY Homerama opened last week with a promise of 7 homes with wheelchair access. But, as wheelchair user Sue Stahl told Rochester's Channel 10 TV news, the promise wasn't met by reality.

"They wanted to tip the wheelchair back and bump me up the steps," she told reporters. "They wanted to pick me and the whole wheelchair up. That's about 500 pounds."

At one home, says Stahl, the ramp was propped against the back of the house. To get to it she had to roll through the mud. "The next house I saw, the man not only said he couldn't get me inside the house [but] did not want to get me inside the house because I had mud on my wheels."

Rick Herman, executive vice president of the Rochester Homebuilders Association, insisted to Channel 10 that the Homearama was accessible. "It may not be totally accessible to one person's standards, but certainly it is accessible through many different venues."


Rochester's Center for Disability Rights is asking for answers from the Homebuilders' Association.

More from Rochester's Channel 10 News.

Radio Shack Settles Access Lawsuit

WASHINGTON, DC, JUNE 27, 2005-- The nation's 5,000 Radio Shack stores have agreed to improve access for wheelchair customers under the terms of a settllement last week in a 2003 lawsuit filed by Steve Rosen and the Disability Rights Council of Greater Washington. Rosen was unable to get into a Radio Shack store because of its step, and, the suit charged, employees ignored him as he sat outside.

Under the terms of the settlement, stores will be made accessible, including entrances; aisles will be widened to permit wheelchair passage -- and kept free of merchandise clogging the aisles. Interactive displays will be made accessible. And at least one register in every RadioShack store will have a credit and debit card reader that is accessible to customers who cannot reach the counter, according to news reports. More from the Associated Press.

U.S. Reps Urge Change in In-Home Restriction

WASHINGTON, DC, JUNE 27, 2005-- Over 60 members of Congress, led by Congressmen Jim Langevin (D-RI), have signed onto a letter sent to Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt on last week, urging him to modify Medicare's current "in the home restriction" -- which limits coverage of mobility devices to "only those that are necessary within the patients home." This is part of a continuing effort by disability groups who say the policy keeps people shut in their home or prevents them from using wheelchairs to go out into the community. Langevin is himself a wheelchair user. The letter was signed by 10 Republicans and 51 Democrats. More on this story from Justice For All.

Foley Introduces ADA Notification Act -- again

WASHINGTON, DC, JUNE 27, 2005-- Like a bad penny, the ADA Notification Act keeps returning. Once again, Reps. Mark Foley (R. - FL) and Clay Shaw (R. - FL) have re-introduced this bill, which would require a disabled person to give a business 90 days' advance notice before suing them for an access violation under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. No matter that they've already had 15 years' notice.

This is the bill that Clint Eastwood has campaigned for, and it keeps returning with regularity in the House. Once again, it's been assigned to the Committee on the Judiciary. The bill number is H. R. 2804 -- follow its progress at the Thomas website.

Judge OK's Amtrak $200 extra fee for wheelchair riders

PHILADELPHIA, JUNE 24, 2005-- Amtrak can charge wheelchair users extra to ride, if more than one wants to ride in the same cabin. The Americans with Disabilities Act, says a federal judge, requires Amtrak to have only one wheelchair space per per passenger coach. If several wheelchair riders want to be in the same coach, Amtrak is within legal rights to charge them for removing seats. Members of Disabled in Action of Pennsylvania sued Amtrak after it told them the wheelchair group could travel together on the Philadelphia-to-Washington train only if some of them paid $200 more than the usual ticket price to cover the cost of removing seats. More from the Justice for All News Archives.

TN activists encamp in Gov's office protesting nursing home move

NASHVILLE, JUNE 24, 2005-- Disability activists from across Tennessee converged on Gov. Phil Bredesen's office Monday to protest the Governor's stated plan to remove ventilator-using crips from the state's TennCare Medicaid program -- which is now providing services for them in their homes -- and put them into nursing homes. The activists spent the night and "will stay until real progress is met," says the Memphis Center for Independent Living's Randy Alexander. On Friday they were into their fifth day of the takeover of the governor's office. Check here for daily updates.

National disability activists were alerted to the meltdown in Tennessee late last week, when a widely-distributed email message told that Bredesen planned to put ventilator-users now living in their homes into nursing homes. According to Alexander's message, "there are around one hundred individuals who use ventilators" now receving services in their homes. "When asked directly by Randy Alexander what his plans were in relation to these specific cuts, Gov. Bredesen replied, 'I'm not going to cut their services, I'm just going to put them in the nursing home.'"

News coverage of the protest -- and the legal fight that is shaping up -- has not seemed too clear on the specific focus of the activist's anger being directed at the nursing home move, noting only that the protesters were "against the cuts." News media reported that AARP may be joining a legal battle over the TennCare cuts.

Follow daily updates of the protesters at the Memphis CIL website.

Related: Update from TN (Dimenet)
TennCare protesters use governor's office for vigil, give staff 2 demands (The Nashville Tennessean)
AARP to join battle over TennCare (The Nashville Tennessean)
Tennessee Health Care Campaign (protest news and updates)

Boy's Playground Ban Heard In State High Court
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express International Disability Rights News Service.

AUGUSTA, ME, JUNE 15, 2005-- The case of a home-schooled boy with Asperger syndrome, who was banned from the neighborhood school playground nearly two years ago, has made it to the state's highest court. The Maine Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in the suit that the parents of Jan Rankowski filed against Falmouth Public Schools after Plummer-Motz School officials prohibited the boy from playing with students on the playground during recess.

The district said the fourth-grader had broken playground rules by pushing a younger child too hard on a swing, then cursing at teachers and the school principal, and failing to follow their instructions.

Jan's parents claim that his behavior is a symptom of his disability, considered a form of autism, and that the school's ban amounts to discrimination.

Last fall, a Superior Court judge ruled that the school's decision to keep Rankowski off the playground was not discriminatory because they boy posed a "significant risk" to the health and safety of other children and adults.

His mother, Gayle Fitzpatrick, told the Press Herald that the family is pushing the case in order to correct what she considers an injustice.

"I pay taxes in Falmouth," she explained. "My son has been banned from Falmouth facilities for no other reason than the manifestations of his disability."

"Disabled boy's access to playground argued" (Portland Press Herald)
"School Can Ban Boy From Playground, Judge Says" -- September 4, 2004 (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)

Colorado gov nixes 'visitability

DENVER, JUNE 13, 2005-- Visitability advocates' efforts to get Colorado to adopt the design concept in new homes built with public money has met defeat at the hands of Gov. Bill Owens The governor's message contains a number of serious misconceptions about visitability. MORE.

Court Rejects DuPont's Appeal Of $1 Million Discrimination Award
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express International Disability Rights News Service.

NEW ORLEANS, JUNE 13, 2005-- The US. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana has rejected E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co.'s appeal of a $1.29 million discrimination award ordered last year to a former employee with disabilities.

Last October, a jury ordered the international chemical giant to pay Laura Barrios $1 million in punitive damages, $200,000 in front pay, and $91,000 in back pay for discriminating against her in violation of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. DuPont challenged that decision.

According to a June 9 statement from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, District Judge Sarah S. Vance has ruled that "there is ample evidence from which the jury could have concluded that DuPont discriminated against Barrios with both malice and reckless indifference to her rights under the ADA . . . there was sufficient evidence for the jury to conclude that DuPont engaged in a pattern of intentionally discriminatory and malicious conduct."

Referring to the punitive damage award, Vance wrote, "The jury may have concluded from this evidence that DuPont wished to force out an individual with a disability whether she could work or not - a reprehensible view with respect to individuals with disabilities."

Barrios worked for DuPont in several positions, the most recent as a member of the secretarial staff, from 1981 to 1999. She was able to perform all of the essential functions of her job, despite having severe scoliosis of the lumbar spine, lumbar disc disease with sciatica, lumbar spinal stenosis with compression neuropathy, neurogenic bladder, cervical spondylosis, previous cervical disc disease with surgical fusion, and reactive depression. Barrios experiences severe and chronic pain, walks slowly with a distinct limp, and has trouble lifting things.

The EEOC, which is responsible for enforcing employment provisions in the ADA, filed the lawsuit against DuPont in June of 2003. The suit alleged that DuPont violated Barrios' rights by requiring her to take a functional capacity exam that had nothing to do with her job. The exam tested her performance on a number of strenuous physical tasks such as climbing, standing for hours on end, lifting more than 20 pounds, doing straight leg lifts, and working overhead. Barrios passed the test, even though it caused her both physical and emotional harm.

The company used the results of the test, however, to say she presented a danger in the workplace because she could not evacuate the building safely in an emergency. DuPont first put Barrios on short-term disability leave and then on total permanent disability retirement, which effectively ended her employment.

Related: "Judge upholds jury verdict against DuPont for $591,000 in disability bias suit by EEOC" (EEOC)

California Assisted Suicide Measure Defeated, For Now
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express International Disability Rights News Service.

SACRAMENTO, CA, JUNE 7, 2005-- Disability and other groups opposing a physician-assisted suicide law in California have declared at least a temporary victory. The measure failed to collect enough votes to pass the 80-member state Assembly.

As a result, Assembly Bill 654, dubbed the "California Compassionate Choices Act", is essentially dead.

"At the end of the day proponents couldn't find 20 votes to publicly support this bill," said Laura Remson Mitchell of the California Disability Alliance in a press statement.

"When legislators realized this bill was not about the right to die, but was in fact about undermining our healthcare system and doctors assisting in their patients' suicide, support evaporated, as it always has."

However, the bill's sponsors said they would add the contents of AB 654 to unrelated legislation that has already passed the Assembly, but is waiting for votes in the state Senate. Supporters of the measure said this tactic would give them more time to debate the issue and gather the necessary votes after the Senate considers it.

A recent poll showed that 70 percent of Californians surveyed support a state law making assisted suicide legal.

Mitchell dismissed the move as little more than a publicity stunt.

"They will have even less support in the Senate than in the Assembly," she said. "This battle is over."

The bill was modeled after Oregon's voter-approved "Death with Dignity Act". As written, it would allow people considered to be "mentally competent" and in the final months of a terminal illness to request a prescription for a lethal dose of a drug that they would take on their own.

Many disability rights groups have successfully opposed efforts in several states to legalize assisted suicide. They argue such laws would make people with severe disabilities more vulnerable, especially at a time when funding for such things as in-home services, health care and pain relief is low.

"We don't like that the very first service that's fully funded is suicide," Cheryl Bergan, a public policy analyst with the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers, told the Eureka Times-Standard.

"California Disability Alliance Hails Defeat of Doctor-Assisted Suicide" (Justice For All)
"Bill on assisted suicide suspended; efforts move to Senate" (Lake County Record-Bee)
"Disability groups outline opposition" (Times-Standard)

Lee County To Require Access In Affordable Housing
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express International Disability Rights News Service.

FORT MEYERS, FL, JUNE 7, 2005-- It just makes sense. That's what Gloria Sajgo, principal planner with Lee County's Department of Community Development, said about a rule that requires all new affordable housing to be accessible to people with disabilities.

"We want our houses to be livable by anybody. And if a disabled person qualifies, they should be able to live there," Sajgo told the News-Press, adding that the costs to make a home accessible when it is built would save residents money over having to build-in accessibility features in the future.

That sentiment was echoed by Wight Greger, senior technical adviser for the Florida Housing Coalition.

"It makes a lot of sense," Greger said. "We have an aging population, and that up-front investment could further the amount of time people stay in their home."

Under the new rules all county applications for affordable housing money must include designs with no-step entries; doors and hallways wide enough for wheelchairs; levers for door and faucet handles; thermostats, light switches and electrical outlets at wheelchair level; and reinforced walls so grab bars can be installed in bathrooms.

"The ability to walk can be stripped away in seconds," explained Scott Straub, an outreach specialist for the Center for Independent Living of Southwest Florida. "People have never walked a day in our shoes -- or rolled a day in our shoes. If they had, they would look at things in a totally different way."

Related: "Building policy changes" (South Florida News-Press)

Supremes nix medical marijuana, but Rehnquist sees benefit

WASHINGTON, DC, JUNE 6, 2005-- The federal government may prosecute people who use marijuana for medical reasons, even in states with laws allowing medicinal use of the drug, the Supreme Court ruled today. In a 6-3 decision, the court sided with the administration, saying the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) trumps state laws. MORE.

But in an unusual move, Chief Justice Rehnquist dissented -- due to his thyroid cancer? Two other justices have also had cancer; they ruled with the majority. MORE.

What Next? (Ragged Edge News Analysis)

Supremes: Cruise lines must obey Disabilities Act

WASHINGTON, DC, JUNE 6, 2005-- Foreign cruise ships can be sued under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled today.

The court, in its 5-4 decision, overturned a lower-court ruling that foreign cruise ships are not covered by the ADA's Title 3, which bars discrimination in places of public accommodation. The cruise ships are covered by the ADA, said the court, so long as they are sailing in U.S. waters and docking at U.S. ports.

The case involved a lawsuit against Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd. over three cruises that originated in Houston . The cruise ships Norwegian Sea and Norwegian Star are from the Bahamas; Norwegian Cruise Line is owned by a Malaysian company and is the world's third largest cruise company.

The lawsuit was brought by three plaintiffs -- wheelchair users -- and their companions. They said that barriers on board prevented access to evacuation equipment, to public restrooms, restaurants, swimming pools, elevators and cabins with a balcony or a window. In addition, said the suit, the cruise lines charged extra for accessible cabins. The Court of Appeals in New Orleans had earlier ruled that the individuals could not sue these companies since they were not U.S.-owned ships.


Visit the plantiffs: Wheel Me On
Read the Court's decision [PDF file]

U.S. House may take up issue of evacuating disabled people

WASHINGTON, DC, JUNE 2, 2005-- Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), who uses a wheelchair, told reporters recently that "I only have one or two exits out of the House chamber" -- because of the lack of ramps.

A review of the policies of evacuating visitors and staff members with disabilities could be one of the issues reviewed by the House Administration Committee in a hearing tentatively set for June 9, according to a news report in the DC paper The Hill.

People with disabilities are commonly left out of evacuation preparedness and planning activities, said a National Council on Disability report released in April. Jeff Rosen, NCD's general counsel and director of policy, told reporters that although there may be a plan on paper, "the implementation is always poor."

People with disabilities told to wait at stairs in an evacuation (The Hill)
Saving Lives: Including People with Disabilities in Emergency Planning (National Council on Disability)

School Ordered To Pay Nearly Half A Million Over Discrimination
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express International Disability Rights News Service.

BOSTON, JUNE 2, 2005-- Two former schoolteachers have been awarded a total of more than $450,000 for disability-related claims against Boston Public Schools, the Boston Globe reports.

The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination ordered the district to pay more than $320,000, including payment for emotional distress and lost wages, to Diana Sabella, who teaches English as a second language.

Sabella, 55, experiences severe foot pain and cannot stand for more than 15 minutes. While working at Brighton High School, she was assigned to a part-time schedule in a classroom near an elevator, and was given an overhead projector so she would not have to stand at the blackboard. But when her job at that school was cut in 1996, Sabella was transferred to three other schools, where she struggled for part-time positions. In 2001, after the third school eliminated her part-time job, Sabella took a medical leave and did not return.

The panel also ordered the district to pay more than $130,000, including payment for emotional distress and reimbursement for sick leave, to Mary McTernan, 64, who uses a wheelchair and tires quickly because of the polio she contracted as a child. While working at an elementary school, McTernan's request for reasonable accommodations, such as rest breaks every 90 minutes, were denied. McTernan took a temporary leave, but returned to teach at a high school before finally retiring in 2001.

Both women accused district officials of discriminating against them to the point where they felt forced to leave their jobs.

The commission further ordered that the district pay $20,000 to the state for what it called ''egregious actions and repeated bad faith" in mishandling Sabella's and McTernan's cases.

Related: "2 disabled teachers awarded $450k" (Boston Globe)

Actors with Disabilities? 'Who Cares?' Says Survey
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express International Disability Rights News Service.

LONDON , JUNE 1, 2005-- Disability advocates in the United Kingdom have been reminded just how far society has to go to recognize their rights.

A poll conducted on behalf of the cerebral palsy charity Scope has found that 78 percent of people surveyed considered it "acceptable" for an actor without a disability to play a character with a disability. Just one-third of respondents said they felt there were not enough actors with disabilities in film, stage, and television.

"Although there are many budding disabled actors out there looking for jobs, the opportunities are few, and the roles are frequently typecast as medical or tokenistic," said wheelchair user Luke Hamill, who plays a character with a spinal cord injury in the British television police drama "The Bill".

A Scope spokesperson said in a press statement: "The findings will come as a blow to disabled actors and should send a strong warning to film-makers and casting directors to be aware of deeply held prejudices."

The poll also revealed that 80 percent of the country's leisure venues, including cinemas and theaters, are not accessible to many patrons with disabilities.

"Public rejects need for disabled actors" (Scope)
Website: Time To Get Equal Campaign

Second Kansas Woman Talks After Years Of Silence
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express International Disability Rights News Service.

ARKANSAS CITY, KS, JUNE 1, 2005-- Tracy Gaskill started talking a few weeks ago.

The 30-year-old woman began speaking for the first time since her brain was damaged in a car accident nearly three years ago.

Family members and staff at the long-term care facility where she now lives are both amazed and hopeful of her further recovery. They attribute her improvement to continued therapies.

Gaskill likes to talk about food. Especially pizza.

The feeding tube that is installed through the wall of her stomach will soon be removed, the Associated Press reported.

In January of this year, another Kansas woman started talking after 20 years of silence. Sarah Scantlin, 38, of Hutchinson, spoke for the first time since a September 1984 auto accident left her in what her doctor described as a "near coma state".

"Families rejoice over amazing recoveries" (Associated Press via MSNBC)
"Woman Begins Talking After 20 Year Silence" February 14, 2005 (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)

Coroner: No Inquest Into 10 Ontario Institution Deaths
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express International Disability Rights News Service.

OAKVILLE, ONTARIO, JUNE 1, 2005-- Some families of the 10 people who have died while residents of Oaklands Regional Centre in the past few years expressed outrage and disappointment over a coroner's decision not to hold an inquest into those deaths, the Toronto Star reports.

Dr. Bonita Porter, Ontario's deputy chief coroner of inquests, says she believes an inquest would not be in the public interest.

"We felt we could make recommendations in a more timely manner," said Porter, whose office has conducted a six-month investigation into the deaths at the institution that houses 70 people with mental disabilities. The government is not legally required to follow any of those recommendations, which include such things as adding more staff training, reviewing how medications are administered, and improving documentation.

Gloria Mogridge, whose 46-year-old son Randy drowned last October in a creek a few blocks from the institution, said: "They keep it hidden. I really wanted an inquest because a lot of questions haven't been answered."

Cyndy Naylor, whose 22-year-old son Josef died in November 2003 after swallowing a Halloween ornament, commented: "What's disturbing for us is that we put ourselves in the public eye. It was difficult for us."

"To go through this, it seems like a waste of time," she said, calling the coroner's list of recommendations "silly and inadequate."

The investigation looked at the deaths of ten adult Oaklands residents that occurred between January 2000 and November 2004. Morgridge's drowning was listed at one of three accidental deaths, along with one who drowned in a bathtub and another who strangled after becoming trapped in an old bed frame. Three others, including Naylor, died from gastrointestinal perforations after eating non-edible items. The remaining four reportedly died from natural diseases.

While some officials are defending the facility, the government has not ruled out closing it, the Star noted.

"No inquest into deaths at Oaklands" (Toronto Star - reg. req'd.)
"No inquest into Oakville home deaths" (Toronto Star- reg. req'd.)

New Yorkers Keep Waiting For Medicaid Waiver
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express International Disability Rights News Service.

ALBANY, NY, JUNE 1, 2005-- Nearly a year ago, the New York Legislature passed a measure that would allow the state to use Medicaid money to help about 5,000 people with disabilities to stay in their own homes rather than be forced into nursing homes or other institutions over the next three years -- while cutting the cost of their services in half.

Governor George Pataki signed the bill into law last October. It was welcomed by county officials who blamed the high cost of Medicaid for their high tax rates.

Still, it is not likely anyone will be able to take advantage of the plan any time soon, because the state Health Department hasn't applied for permission from the federal government to implement the plan. That process likely won't happen until next March.

"The application is a complex issue and it requires us to get a good deal of input from the advocacy community," department spokesman, William VanSlyke told the Democrat & Chronicle. "It takes time, and we're not going to rush the process."

Related: "Delay frustrates patients waiting for at-home care" (Rochester Democrat and Chronicle)

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