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News Alerts from Bazelon.org

Illinois groups sue state over institutions

CHICAGO, JULY 28, 2005 --Disability groups filed a class-action suit today against the state of Illinois, saying that the state has continued to segregate people with disabilities in large institutions, ignoring the six-year-old Olmstead Supreme Court decision, which said that unnecessary institutionalization is discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The lawsuit filing comes just two days after the 15th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. "As President George H.W. Bush said upon the signing of the ADA, it is time for 'the shameful wall of exclusion' to 'finally come tumbling down," said Marca Bristo, head of Access Living, one of the groups filing the suit. "Segregation in large institutions not only denies people with disabilities these opportunities, but also stigmatizes them and reinforces the false notion that they are not worthy or able to participate in society."

Four groups -- Access Living, Equip for Equality (Illinois's Protection and Advocacy agency), the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia -- brought the suit on behalf of people who are still in Illinois institutions and who want to get out.

The suit is being filed on behalf of nine named plaintiffs from various parts of the state, and asks the court to order Illinois officials "to make community settings readily available to people who want and need them." "Federal law mandates that the state develop a plan that effectively helps people with developmental disabilities move into and thrive in the community while receiving the support and services they are entitled to. Despite the fact that Illinois is the 10th wealthiest state in the union, the state ranks at the very bottom in terms of its efforts towards providing community-based services for individuals with developmental disabilities," according to a press release issued by Equip for Equality.

Press release from Equip for Equality.
Press release from American Civil Liberties Union.
"Advocates for disabled say Illinois breaks law," Chicago Tribune.

Disability Pride Parade speakers stress hope in unity theme

CHICAGO, JULY 26, 2005 --The second annual national Disability Pride Parade of 2005 took place in Chicago's West Loop on Saturday, July 23rd with the theme "Unity Builds Community." Read story.

Renters with disabilities face more discrimination than other groups, says study

CHICAGO, JULY 26, 2005 --Renters who have disabilities face far more discrimination than blacks or Latinos, says a new study from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Many of those with disabilities working as testers in the study never got past an initial phone call. "Hearing-impaired people were discriminated against approximately 50 percent of the time when using a telephone-operator relay to search for rentals," said HUD. "Mobility impaired people using wheelchairs faced discrimination about a third of the time when they visited rental properties."

The study was conducted in Chicago, not because it was thought to be any different than anywhere else in the nation in terms of discriminatory practices, but because of the presence of a strong group of disabled people who could carry out the testing.

Deaf people using the TTY system to inquire about advertised rental units were refused service in one out of four calls. When leasing agents accepted TTY calls, users received significantly less information, than comparable hearing customers, about the application process, said the study.

The study also found that renters needing to make access modifications were told they couldn't, even though the Fair Housing Act requires this. Nearly 20 percent of housing providers with on-site parking refused to allow a designated parking space for a wheelchair user. A third of the advertised rental properties in the Chicago area were found to be inaccessible to wheelchair users as well.

Floyd May, of HUD's Fair Housing office, said he wasn't surprised by the results. In 2004, nearly 4 out of every 10 housing discrimination complaints nationwide involved people with physical or mental disabilities.

The Chicago Tribune reported on one of the survey's test cases. When a woman in a wheelchair came to the door of a rental unit, the landlady "very abruptly stated, `No wheelchairs here. You can't come in.'"

The disabled tester continued. "She asked me twice, 'Can you walk?' I told her no. She said, `No wheelchairs here. No way in. Apartment's too small.'"

"Later that day, a non-disabled tester visited the property, took an elevator up to see three apartments and left with information about rents, security deposits and fees," the Tribune reported, citing the study's findings.

Bruce Reynolds and Tania O'Neil told the Chicago Tribune their landlord had tried to force them out repeatedly. "One day the owner came up to change a light bulb and batteries for our smoke alarm," Reynolds told the Tribune. "Then he went downstairs and said to the manager, `Why are you renting to crippled people? They belong in a nursing home.'

"They didn't want to work to accommodate people with physical disabilities. And they didn't believe that we could care for ourselves."

"In all, wheelchair users in the study were denied opportunities to inspect apartments 30 percent of the time," reported the Tribune.

More about the study from HUD

Read Chicago Tribune story

'No Legs, No Ride' says Busch Gardens
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express International Disability Rights News Service.

TAMPA, FL, JULY 26, 2005 --Eight-year-old Jessica Rogers got a surprise last Monday when she tried to get on the Riffle Rapids, a water ride with just 6-inches of water designed for young children at Busch Gardens Amusement Park in Tampa Bay.

Theme park workers stopped her, because she does not have any legs.

The same thing happened at the Stanley Falls Log Flume, the Congo River Rapids, and the amusement park's train -- which includes a section for wheelchair users.

"Everybody else got to ride, but I couldn't just because I don't have legs," Jessica later told the St. Petersburg Times. "I couldn't even get on a kiddie ride."

Jessica's mother was irate.

"You got to be kidding," said Phyllis Rogers. "This kid jumps off diving boards."

Jessica was in Tampa to compete in the National Junior Disability Championships. Earlier that day she had competed in the 25-meter breast stroke in an Olympic-sized pool.

Jessica was born with lumbosacral agenesis, a rare condition that stunted the growth of her spinal cord and her legs, which were later amputated. She left her prosthetic legs home in Virginia.

She returned to the Championships the next day, but this time sporting a sign urging other athletes to boycott Busch Gardens.

The amusement park refunded the cost of the family's tickets.

A Busch Gardens spokesperson said Jessica was banned from the rides for safety reasons, based on recommendations of the individual attractions' manufacturers.

The Tampa Tribune reported that safety guidelines vary from one amusement park to the next.

"There are no uniform standards for guests with disabilities," explained Kathy Fackler, a consumer safety advocate with Saferparks.

The Tribune noted that the U.S. Department of Justice and the amusement and recreational industry are negotiating over access standards under the Americans with Disabilities Act. While the federal anti-discrimination law sets general standards for access to rides, it does not deal with more specific issues such as loading and unloading ride vehicles and who can access certain rides.

"Disabled girl barred from theme park rides" (St. Petersburg Times)
"Amputee Ride Policy Up To Parks" (Tampa Tribune)

San Francisco Urged To Scrap Giant Nursing Home
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express International Disability Rights News Service.

SAN FRANCISCO, JULY 26, 2005 --The San Francisco Controller's Office recommended Thursday that the city reconsider its plan to rebuild a 1,200 bed skilled nursing facility to replace the aging Laguna Honda Hospital, and to choose other, smaller options, including in-home and community-based services.

In his 106-page report to Mayor Gavin Newsom, the Board of Supervisors, and San Francisco Health Commission, Controller Ed Harrington said that the city can better meet the needs of its citizens -- while saving millions of dollars -- by scrapping plans to rebuild the huge facility and instead provide "a mix of long term, skilled nursing, in-home and community-based services."

Harrington wrote that, with a population of about 775,000, San Francisco institutionalizes approximately one out of every 700 residents in Laguna Honda.

"The City has effectively institutionalized more of its population, across a wider spectrum of needs, than anywhere in the country. By DPH's (Department of Public Health's) own assessments, a significant fraction of the Laguna Honda population does not need hospital-based long term care and could be effectively treated in another setting -- at home or in the community."

The report noted that the U.S. Department of Justice has ordered San Francisco to change how it provides long-term care or risk losing federal Medicaid money. The Department found last year that the state is violating the ADA by failing to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court's 1999 Olmstead ruling. That decision found that it is illegal to unnecessarily place and keep people with disabilities in nursing homes and other institutions.

Among other things, Harrington recommended that the city build three smaller nursing homes, with less than 200 beds in each, on the current Laguna Honda site.

"With the changes outlined in this report, we estimate that the City could, at minimum, avoid a $3 to $5 million expense to build skilled nursing beds at General Hospital, and, at an absolute minimum, reallocate $14 million annually by getting patients out of hospitals and into the right level of either skilled nursing or community based care."

Mayor Newsome refused to take a position on the report when asked by the San Francisco Examiner.

The oldest nursing facility in California, Laguna Honda was built in 1867 as San Francisco's Alms House. At 1,200 beds, it is the largest publicly-owned nursing home in the country.

In 1999, San Francisco voters approved a bond to help pay for a new $401 million facility to replace Laguna Honda.

In October 2001, approximately 600 activists from the disability rights group ADAPT and other groups from around the nation gathered in San Francisco to protest the plans to rebuild the aging facility.

Report by Health Management Associates - PDF file (Office of the Controller)
"Report calls for dividing new hospital into three" (San Francisco Examiner)
"Laguna Honda Hospital -- Largest Nursing Home In US" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)

Civil Rights Group to Demonstrate In Support of TennCare Protesters

NASHVILLE, JULY 25, 2005-- The Southern Christian Leadership Conference's Memphis Chapter plans to lead what it calls a "Nonviolent Direct Action Demonstration" to show opposition to TN Gov. Phil Bredesen's refusal to allow TennCare protesters to have food or beverages brought to them. The group is in the 36th day of its sit-in.

"This rule is unjust and inhumane," said the SCLC in a prepared statement. "State employees in the Governor's Office and other offices in the State Capitol Building are allowed to have food and beverages in their work-place areas." The SCLC chapter and area clergy plan a demonstration the Capitol Building in Nashville on Tuesday at noon, carrying food and beverages to the protestors outside of the Governor's office.

The SCLC called the date of their protest "signifcant -- in that Tuesday, July 26, 2005 will be the 15th Anniversary of the signing of The American's With Disabilities Act of 1990."

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, led for a time by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., is known for its historic role in the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

Daily updates on the sit-in protest from MCIL.

Follow all emerging news of the sit-in via this Google News link.

'Paranoid' MO Gov Bars Activists From Open Meeting, Speech

JEFFERSON CITY, MO, JULY 25, 2005-- Ten people, some using wheelchairs, were blocked from entering a public meeting of the Missouri Governor's Council on Disability last Wednesday in Jefferson City, MO where Gov. Matt Blunt was delivering a speech on the Americans with Disabilities Act. The activists who were barred from the speech -- members of the Show Me ADAPT group, who have participated in several protests critical of the governor's Medicaid cuts -- say they are planning legal action, contending that Blunt violated both the state's "Sunshine Law" and the Americans with Disabilities Act. MORE.

From "Persistent Vegetative State" To Self-Determined Life
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express International Disability Rights News Service.

BETHLEHEM, PA, JULY 22, 2005 --Renzo Viscardi, 21, plays a guitar, writes poetry, attends classes at a community college, and works part-time.

And it looks like he will soon be achieving his goal of living independently in a home -- which he will own.

Not bad for a fellow who seven years ago was diagnosed by doctors as being in a "persistent vegetative state", with no brain activity.

A recent edition of The Morning Call featured a story about Renzo, and told how his parents refused to accept the diagnosis, how they pushed for rehabilitative therapies, and how -- with a little help from his friends -- they helped him to develop a plan for a self-determined life in the community.

"At the beginning doctors told us what was impossible," explained Renzo's mother, Cheryl Dougan. "This is about looking ahead at what is possible."

Renzo said of his plan: "I want to be free."

Related: "Bethlehem man came back from 'vegetative state'" (The Morning Call)

Police: T-Ball Coach Offered Player $25 To Injure Boy
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express International Disability Rights News Service.

NORTH UNION TOWNSHIP, PA, JULY 18, 2005 --A youth T-ball coach has been charged with allegedly offering to pay $25 to a 7-year-old player to injure an 8-year-old who has autism so the older boy wouldn't be able to play.

Police said Mark Reed Downs Jr. was charged with two counts of criminal solicitation to commit aggravated assault, corruption of minors, criminal conspiracy to commit simple assault, and reckless endangerment. He is scheduled for a July 28 preliminary hearing.

The unnamed 7-year-old told police that Downs pulled him aside just before a June 27 game and said he would pay the boy to hit the 8-year-old in the face with a baseball. According to the criminal complaint, the younger boy told police the coach said he didn't want the older boy to play "because he wanted to win."

During pre-game warm-ups, the younger boy hit the other on the left ear and the groin area with a ball. Downs later told the boy with autism to "take the night off."

Police said the younger boy would not face charges.

The youth baseball league told the Associated Press that Downs would be banned from coaching next year if it is found that he committed a crime.

Related: "Coach charged with intentionally injuring autistic player" (Herald Standard)

CA State Parks Settle Suit, Will Remove Barriers
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express International Disability Rights News Service.

SACRAMENTO, JULY 18, 2005 --Because of the efforts of two individuals with disabilities and two disability rights organizations, California's 278 State Parks will soon have fewer barriers to accessibility.

The Oakland-based law firm Disability Rights Advocates and the California Department of Parks and Recreation announced Tuesday that they reached an agreement to settle two separate class action lawsuits filed on behalf of Bonnie Tucker, a blind resident from Arizona, and Peter Mendoza, a Californian with cerebral palsy, along with the California Council of the Blind and Californians for Disability Rights.

The suits accused the state of violating the rights of people with disabilities by continuing to allow physical barriers to access, especially a lack of wheelchair ramps and paths, and for not providing important park information in formats for people who are blind or have disabilities that affect their reading.

Under the agreement, the state has agreed to spend around $100 million over the next 11 years to make the park system's beaches, historic monuments, reserves, and recreational areas more accessible. The changes will include such things as renovating restrooms, offering closed-captioning for film exhibits, and providing beaches with wheelchairs that have special balloon tires.

The state has established a list of 37 parks that are the highest priority for changes.

"With this settlement, California is on its way to having the most accessible park system in the country," Laurence Paradis, Executive Director of Disability Rights Advocates, said in a media statement.

Peter Mendoza said: "Although many take 'a walk in the park' for granted, people with disabilities have historically been excluded from inaccessible areas of natural beauty. This settlement will guarantee to people with disabilities the equal opportunity to enjoy the wonderful resources our state parks have to offer."

The plaintiffs did not ask for compensation in the settlement. Disability Rights Advocates has requested nearly $700,000 to cover expenses the firm has incurred since the first suit was filed in 1998.

"The changes were the goal, not the money," attorney Stephen Tollafield told the Union-Tribune.

"State ready to improve park access for disabled" (San Diego Union-Tribune)
"Tucker v. California Department of Parks and Recreation" (Disability Rights Advocates)

NJ Civil Rights Agency Finds Half of Surveyed Poll Sites Still Inaccessible
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express International Disability Rights News Service.

TRENTON, NJ, JULY 18, 2005 ---- Two studies released last week show that polling places and shopping malls in New Jersey have much yet to do to become accessible to the state's nearly one million citizens with disabilities.

In the broadest investigation the state's Civil Rights Division has ever conducted, investigators visited about 800 polling sites in 140 towns during the three major elections last year. The agency ended up sending more than 400 notices to towns informing them that their voting stations didn't comply with state and federal accessibility requirements.

The Star-Ledger reported that the most common problems included a lack of accessible parking, and little or no signage to direct people into polling places. Other problems included sites that could only be reached by stairs, tables that were too high, ramps that were too steep, and voting machines that were not usable by people with mobility problems.

"It's saying you don't matter," said Jim Dickson, vice president for government affairs of the American Association of People with Disabilities. "It's saying we think you are less than a full citizen."

For the second study, agents from the Civil Rights Division and the Division of Disability Services visited 28 of the state's largest shopping malls to see whether automatic doors were installed at main entrances and whether there was adequate signage for customers with disabilities. About one-fourth of the malls were "found to be lacking" when it came access, the report said.

Related: "State wants polling places, malls more accessible for disabled" (Star-Ledger)

Business Group Sues Over Access Guidelines -- Crip Group Not Happy, Either

WASHINGTON, DC, JULY 18, 2005-- As predictable as clockwork, the anti-regulation National Federation of Independent Businesses has sued the. U. S. Access Board, charging that proposed new Access Guidelines to implement the Americans with Disabilities Act are "burdensome." Disability activists, on the other hand, say the Guidelines are too wimpy. An "advance comment period" on the proposed Guidelines ended May 31.

The NFIB's gripe, according to an article from the Washington Business Journal, is that "businesses would have to provide wheelchair access throughout their employee work areas even if none of their employees uses a wheelchair. In addition, handrails would be required on both sides of ramps and stairwells, light switches would have to be lowered, and flashing lights as well as sound would be mandatory for fire alarms."

"NFIB contends the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board should have analyzed the new rules' impact on small businesses."

Disability activists, on the other hand, are upset that the new proposed guidelines allow lifts in new hotel rooms, rather than full access -- lifts are unsafe, says the Coalition of Disability Access Professionals -- and that in restrooms with only one urinal, the urinal isnt' required to be accessible. In the new, proposed Guidelines, visual fire alarm systems are no longer required in new construction unless the alarm system itself is being upgraded; the Board has also cut back on requireing assistive listening systems in assembly areas, says the group. Read the full list of the group's concerns.

Husband Charged In Wife's 'Assisted Suicide'
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express International Disability Rights News Service.

SHERBROOKE, QUEBEC, JULY 12, 2005 --A Fleurimont, Quebec man has been charged with attempted murder in what is being called a failed assisted suicide.

André Bergeron, 46, called for an ambulance Thursday afternoon, saying he had just killed his wife, 44-year-old Marielle Houle. When emergency workers arrived, however, they found that Houle was alive, but was not conscious nor breathing.

By Friday afternoon, she was in serious but stable condition in a local hospital.

Bergeron's defense attorney, Jean Couture, told reporters his client's defense would be based on the attempted killing being a crime of compassion.

According to various news accounts, Houle has Friedreich ataxia, a rare, degenerative condition that affects the nervous system. The genetic illness affects about one in 50,000 Canadians.

While it is not illegal to commit suicide in Canada, assisting in a suicide currently carries up to a 14-year prison term.

CBC News reported that Bergeron was released until a court date in September. In the meantime he is allowed to see his wife, but not to be alone with her.

'No more food, water' to protesters, says TN Gov. as takeover enters 23rd day

NASHVILLE, JULY 12, 2005-- Gov. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee has told activists beginning their 23rd day of occupying the governor's office that he will allow no more food or water to be brought to them. They have remained in the govenor's office since June 20, protesting planned cuts to the state's Medicaid program. More from the MCIL Journal.

Retirement community sued for refusing to allow hiring of personal attendants

CHARLESTON, SC, JULY 12, 2005-- An 80-year-old resident of a South Carolina retirement community has filed suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act over retirement community policies that forbid her to hire her own personal attendant in her own apartment. READ STORY.

Medicare To Drop Entire Class Of Anxiety, Seizure Meds
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express International Disability Rights News Service.

WASHINGTON, DC, JULY 11, 2005-- Beginning the first of next year, nearly two million low-income seniors and people with disabilities who receive federal Medicare benefits will be forced to pay more for a class of medications used to treat anxiety disorders and epileptic seizures.

According to the Associated Press, Medicare Part D will stop covering the cost of benzodiazepines, including Xanax, Valium, and Ativan, on January 1. While many people on Medicare, a federal health care program, also have Medicaid, which is a joint federal and state program, the states are not required to cover benzodiazepines. In some states, Medicare enrollees who don't qualify for Medicaid would have to pay for the drugs on their own, find a replacement that would be part of the new Medicare benefit, or pay higher premiums for additional prescription coverage.

Last year, more than 75 million prescriptions were written for benzodiazepines nationwide.

The Medicare Rights Center is asking Congress to change the law to provide coverage for the drugs, saying that it could be dangerous for some patients to stop the medication.

"The benzodiazapine exclusion raises serious concerns that people with Medicare who sign up for Part D plans will receive inappropriate care for conditions that are common in older and disabled adults," the group said.

"Federal benefit won't cover anxiety drugs" (Associated Press via CNN)
Medicare Rights Center

Fernald Parents Accuse MA A.G. Of Abandoning Duty
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express International Disability Rights News Service.

WALTHAM, MA, JULY 7, 2005-- Pro-institution supporters in Massachusetts have called on state Attorney General Thomas Reilly to stop supporting Governor Mitt Romney's plan to close the aging Fernald Developmental Center.

According to the Boston Globe and Boston Herald, members of the Fernald League for the Retarded sent a letter to Reilly on June 24, telling him he has "a duty to defend the most dependent people under state care, not a state administration which seems to care less."

Reilly's office said, however, that the Attorney General's job is, in fact, to defend the policies of state agencies and the current administration.

The letter also urged Reilly to visit the institution which houses about 250 people with developmental disabilities. A spokesperson said Reilly did not know whether he would do so.

Last December, Governor Romney made a surprise visit to the facility after a similar invitation. State officials later said the unannounced tour actually reinforced the governor's decision -- made two years earlier -- that Fernald must be shut down.

Romney announced in February of 2003 that the institution would closed by October 2004 and its then-302 residents moved to other state-run facilities or into homes in the community. He hinted that closing Fernald was his first step in de-institutionalizing the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Since then, Fernald employees and parents of institution residents have effectively stalled the moves.

The Fernald Developmental Center was originally founded as the "Massachusetts School for the Feeble Minded" by social reformer Samuel Gridley Howe in 1848. It was later renamed for a former superintendent of the facility.

It is the oldest institution housing people with developmental disabilities in the Western Hemisphere.

"Reilly urged to visit Fernald Center" (Boston Globe)
"Fernald Developmental Center -- Oldest Institution In the Americas" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)

Blind Voters Sue FL County Over Anti-Access Decision

TALLAHASSEE, JULY 5, 2005-- Blind voters, joined by the National Federation of the Blind, have filed suit against Volusia County's election supervisor Tuesday, following the County Council's decision last month not to buy accessible voting machines, because some council members worried about the lack of a paper trail.

"The fact of the matter is accessibility is required by law," the National Federation of the Blind's James Gashel told reporters. "Paper trail isn't required by law." Gashel addded that at some point voting machines would likely have the technology to be accessible to blind people and provide a paper trail, "but right now, we're not going to back up an inch as far as accessibility is concerned."

More from the Associated Press.

TN Gov Continues To Resist Advocates; Occupation Of Office Nears Third Week
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express International Disability Rights News Service.

NASHVILLE, JULY 5, 2005-- At the end of last week, as state staffs were preparing to close down the governor's office for the Independence Day weekend, protesters were preparing for Day 13 of their organized, continuous occupation of the building.

Members of disability, senior and civil rights groups have been holding a peaceful sit-in of Governor Phil Bredesen's office since the morning of June 20. The demonstrators, who at times number in the dozens, are demanding the governor restore funding cuts he has made to TennCare, the state's Medicaid program. Those cuts amount to ending health care for 323,000 low-income citizens, many of which have disabilities, the protesters claim.

Disability rights advocates from ADAPT and the Memphis Center for Independent Living are particularly angered over the proposal which would cause about 100 ventilator users to be moved into nursing homes from their homes in the community.

"We want people to come down here and spend some time in the governor's office," said protester Don DeVaul. "We want people to fill up this hall, to show Bredesen that killing his own citizens will look poor on his political résumé."

Medicaid is a health-care program funded jointly by the federal government and state governments. Bredesen's plan scales back Tennessee's participation, leaving only the federal minimum requirements.

The protesters have also been calling for a public meeting with Bredesen. But the governor's office has only agreed to private meetings.

For some of the time, especially the first weekend, the protesters spent the nights sleeping on the floor, unable to get food, water, blankets or cell phones from supporters. State police escorted those who left to use the restroom. Any who left the area overnight were not allowed back inside.

Crowds of between 30 and 40 advocates have assembled for overnight vigils every night outside the governor's office building, the Memphis Center for Independent Living reported on its website.

On Monday, members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference demonstrated their support of the protesters, while on Tuesday, medical professionals with Healthcare for the Homeless showed their solidarity with the activists.

"The brave people who have occupied the governor's office are fighting for their human rights," said John Lozier of Healthcare for the Homeless. "They're fighting for their very lives. They're fighting for their neighbors, and that includes all of us."

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

Wal-Mart Discrimination Penalty Reduced By $4.7 Million
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express International Disability Rights News Service.

CENTEREACH, NY, JULY 5, 2005-- A federal judge has had to cut $4.7 million from a jury award that Wal-Mart was ordered to pay to a former employee for disability discrimination.

The New York Law Journal reported that on June 22, Eastern District of New York Magistrate Judge James Orenstein cut the $5 million in punitive damages to just $300,000 for Patrick S. Brady because of a federal limit on such damages in the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.

"There is no meaningful sense in which such an award can be considered punishment," Orenstein wrote in his opinion, pointing out that the retail giant racked up $300,000 in sales every 37 seconds last year.

"In essence then, most companies can be punished if they intentionally discriminate on the basis of disability . . . but the biggest companies that do so are effectively beyond the law's reach."

"The result," Orenstein concluded, "was that Brady was subjected to the kind of discrimination against the disabled that both the law and the prior consent decree was designed to prevent."

In February, a federal jury ordered Wal-Mart to pay the 20-year-old, who has cerebral palsy, $2.5 million in compensatory damages and the $5 million in punitive damages.

Brady claimed in his suit that the Centereach Mall Wal-Mart moved him out of the pharmacy on his second day of work in August 2002 to a job collecting shopping carts and picking up trash, even though he had two years experience as a pharmacy assistant.

Brady further alleged that he was reassigned despite the company's policy of giving employees a month to learn to do a new job. When he asked for a schedule, the pharmacist put him off, as did the personnel office. A store manager later told Brady the pharmacist determined he was not fit to do the work.

Brady also asserted that the store's actions violated an agreement Wal-Mart reached in 2001 with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to settle $6.8 million in disability-related claims.

Related: "Court Reluctantly Trims Wal-Mart Penalty" (New York Law Journal)

Plans growing for Chicago Disability Pride Parade

CHICAGO, JUNE 4, 2005-- Chicago-area disability activists are "taking it to the streets" again this year with their 2005 Disability Pride Parade slated for Saturday, July 23, in Chicago's West Loop neighborhood.

This year's parade will be led by Grand Marshal Steven Brown, Ph.D., co-founder, Institute on Disability Culture; Not Dead Yet founder Diane Coleman and Research Analyst Steve Drake will be honored "for their visible efforts in opposing the ruling on the Terry Schiavo case and the message of Clint Eastwood's movie, 'Million Dollar Baby,' " say organizers in a press release.

"It takes a lot for people with disabilities, particularly non-apparent disabilities, to get to a place where they openly and proudly identify themselves as disabled," says Disability Pride Parade Planning Committee Co-Chair Janice Stashwick. Co-chair Gary Arnold says that last year organizers figured they'd have 500 participants, but ended up with more than 1,500 -- and hopes are high for an even bigger crowd this year, which marks the 15th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

More information on the parade is online at disabledandproud.com/parade.htm -- including registration information and a way to donate funds to the effort. Organizers say that donations can also be made by check -- made payable to Progress Center for Independent Living (write "Disability Pride Parade" in the memo section) and mailed to Progress Center, c/o Laura Obara, 7521 W. Madison Street, Forest Park, IL 60130.

Woman with migraine gets chance to press her suit

RICHMOND, VA, July 1, 2005-- When George Mason University law student Carin Manders Constantine developed a migraine headache while taking her final for her Constitutional law class, she begged to get additional time to complete it. "No," said law school officials. Later she tried negotiating again, over her poor grade. Still the university wouldn't budge.

When she sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a lower court dismissed the suit.

Last month, however, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled she had a right to sue, saying she was a victim of disability discrimination and unconstitutional retaliation, and rejecting the university's claim that the lawsuit was barred by the 11th Amendment, which gives states some immunity from being sued in federal court. George Mason is a state university.

Constatine's attorney said the appeals court decision was an advance "for everybody that has a disability ... for everybody in the United States that's seeking an education that happens to have a disability."

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