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Breaking News Ticker  |  Yahoo Full Coverage on disabilities

Blind businessman sues LAX over shuttle service
LOS ANGELES, NOV. 24, 2003 -- A blind Californian who travels through the Los Angeles International Airport frequently on business is suing AirportBus for what he says is a consistent pattern of failures to pick him up along with other passengers. Alex Valdez's lawsuit charges the bus service with violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and California civil rights laws. Valdez, a corporate trainer and speaker, says that on ove a dozen occasions, he has had to wait hours for a pickup by AirportBus, even though he is at the scheduled pickup point where buses stop hourly. "The drivers are not complying with the company's own policies of calling out to passengers and, as a result, I'm left stranded with no way home, sometimes late at night. It's really frustrating and frightening," says Valdez.

"Mr. Valdez has even made it a practice of describing himself to the bus dispatchers so the drivers will know to watch for him, to no avail," says the Western Law Center for Disability Rights, who is representing him. "Buses continue to pass him by without letting him know they have arrived. Even when the buses did stop for him, they mistreated him because of his disability. On one occasion, a driver at first refused to let Mr. Valdez on the bus with his service animal, then required him to sit only at the back of the bus. When Mr. Valdez insisted on speaking to a supervisor about this illegal demand, the driver relented, but still required Mr. Valdez to muzzle his dog, even though the dog had not misbehaved."

"Mr. Valdez' case is a classic example of how a simple fix could make a service fully accessible," said Paula Pearlman, Litigation Director of the Western Law Center, "but the company stubbornly refuses to make the fix. This is not just an oversight. Mr. Valdez offered to train AirportBus personnel for free and they turned him down. We explained the law to AirportBus and they thumbed their noses at it." The lawsuit seeks an order requiring the AirportBus to adopt appropriate policies and train its drivers to comply with their ADA obligations, as well as compensation for Mr. Valdez' repeated negative experiences.

Man Dies Eight Months After Medication Money Ran Out
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

PORTLAND, OR, NOV. 24, 2003 -- Douglas K. Schmidt, 37, died last week in a Portland hospital, two days after he was removed from a ventilator at the request of a court-appointed guardian.

Schmidt had been in a coma since March 1, when he collapsed during a massive epileptic seizure after his state-paid anti-seizure medication ran out.

He was among thousands of Oregonians who had lost state-paid coverage for medications in February.

Schmidt's ventilator was turned off Sunday under a Multnomah County Circuit Court order following the recommendation by Nancy Doty. The judge had appointed Doty as guardian in September when Schmidt's sister, Stephanie Wight, and his partner, Werth Sargent, disagreed with the rest of the family's decision to take Schmidt off of life support.

Wight and Sargent went to court Monday seeking a restraining order to force doctors to place Schmidt back on the ventilator. Judge Katherine Tennyson rejected their request.

"I see no reason to change the decision that has been made," Judge Tennyson said.

Schmidt ran out of Lamictal, an anti-seizure medication about a week prior to his seizure. A state program had paid $13 a day for the medication until it was cut from the Oregon state budget.

"If God makes the decision, that's one thing," Sargent told the Oregonian. "This wasn't God."

Related article: "Man dies after being taken off of life support" (The Oregonian)

Woman loses suit against fertility clinic
DENVER, NOV. 21, 2003 -- Kijuana Chambers put her head in her hands when she heard the decision handed down in the Denver courtroom of U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn. She had lost her case against the fertility clinic (see earlier story, below.) Chambers had sued the Rocky Mountain Women's Health Care Center for stopping her fertility treatments in 1999 because doctors believed that as a blind woman she would not be able to care for her infant.

Chambers' attorney, Scott LeBarre, told reporters that many disability lawsuits are unsuccessful because juries "don't get it.". "We're not there as a society yet." He said he was considering an appeal.

LeBarre argued that the only information doctors had on which to base their refusal were medical records and reports that indicated Chambers was blind. Doctors only expressed concerns about Chambers' mental condition, her hygiene and her ability to childproof her home to justify their discrimination, he said.

Read more about the case at the website of the Colorado Cross Disability Coalition.

AARP & Tennessee Disability Coalition File Briefs Over ADA Court Access
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

WASHINGTON, DC, NOV. 20, 2003 -- The AARP and the Tennessee Disability Coalition will be filing briefs supporting the two Tennesseeans whose case is being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court Jan. 13. This is yet another case which promises to pit the rights of people with disabilities against "state's rights".

The case involves George Lane and Beverly Jones, two Tennesseans that use wheelchairs who sued the state of Tennessee for violating their rights to equal access under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.

Lane, who had lost a leg in an auto accident, crawled up two flights of stairs for an arraignment on misdemeanor traffic charges at the Polk County Courthouse because there was no elevator or other accommodations. When a pretrial hearing was scheduled, Lane made his way to the ground floor of the courthouse. Once there, he refused to again crawl up the two flights of stairs. Even though Lane sent word to the judge that he was downstairs, officials arrested and jailed Lane for "failure to appear" in court.

Lane decided to sue the state for failing to follow the federal anti-discrimination law.

The other plaintiff, Beverly Jones, is a court reporter. She claims that the state's failure to make county courthouses accessible to her wheelchair has presented a hardship for her. Jones contends that she was unable to even enter four county courthouses where lawyers had hired her to record court proceedings. She listed another 19 Tennessee counties that have inaccessible courthouses.

After lower courts ruled for Lane and Jones, Tennessee's Attorney General Paul Summers appealed the case all the way to the Supreme Court.

Summers is arguing that people cannot sue states under the ADA because the states have "sovereign immunity". That argument worked two years ago in the case of Alabama v. Garrett when the high court ruled that a state employee with a disability could not sue her employer.

The Tennessee case, however, has to do with Title II of the ADA which requires "public services, programs or activities" to be made accessible to people with disabilities. The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled earlier that states can be sued if they violate citizens rights of due process -- which is a function of the courts.

A number of states, disability groups and legal associations have filed briefs in support of Lane and Jones.

Activists push to get Tennessee Gov. to drop Supreme Court ADA case

High Court's First Ruling Is Against Worker With Disabilities
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

WASHINGTON, DC, NOV. 13, 2003 -- In its first decision of the new term, the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the federal government does not have to pay disability benefits to people who are only able to do jobs that no longer exist.

The case involved Pauline Thomas who operated an old, manual elevator in a county building in Jersey City, New Jersey, until the elevator was replaced by an automatic model in 1995.

Thomas applied for Social Security Administration disability benefits claiming that her heart and back problems prevented her from doing any other job.

The federal government denied Thomas' benefits because she was able to do her previous job -- even though that job no longer existed. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later ruled in her favor, but the Supreme Court overturned the Appeals Court's decision.

In Wednesday's unanimous ruling, Justice Antonin Scalia noted that the SSA's guidelines allow the federal agency to penalize workers who find jobs in a declining industry if the job later disappears.

The SSA is obligated to determine whether or not the person is unable to do their previous job because of a disability, regardless of whether the job is obsolete.

"Court limits disability claims for workers in obsolete jobs" (San Francisco Chronicle)
Barnhart v. Thomas, 02-863 (U.S. Supreme Court) PDF file only | PDF-text translation site

Arrested -- for walking while disabled
LEXINGTON, KY, NOV. 13, 2003 -- In late October, Rebecca Sturgill was arrested for walking while disabled. She was trying to get to the public library.

Sturgill, who has both hearing and vision loss from meningitis, often appears -- to police, anyway -- as if she's drunk. A story in the Nov. 2 Lexington (KY) Herald Leader which reported on Sturgill's arrest noted that police have picked her up at least seven times in the past. "I can't help it," she told reporter Barbara Issacs. "It's from my eyes and my hearing loss."

The two arresting officers, Robbie Parks and Brian Allen, said the fact that the woman they were arresting might have a physical disability "didn't cross their minds."

Sturgill says at first she was frightened, then she cried. She was held for over 4 hours; there was no interpreter at the police station nor a TTY machine.

Sturgill's sister, Linda Smith, was furious. "Sissy walks to town, and has been walking to town, for years," she told Issacs. "She's not been hit by a car, by a train on the train tracks, a coal truck or anything else ... . They've got her afraid to walk to town. ... She is entitled to do what she wants to. Just because she's deaf, she's no different from us."

Various disability agencies interviewed had little to offer.

Blind woman sues fertility clinic for discrimination
DENVER, NOV. 10, 2003 -- Trial begins today in Denver in the case of Kijuana Chambers vs. the Rocky Mountain Woman's Health Care Center.

Kijuana Chambers wanted nothing more than to bear a child. In May 1999, she began fertility treatments at the Rocky Mountain Women's Health Care Center in Englewood, Colo. But after she underwent three rounds of artificial insemination, the Center halted Chambers' treatments. They claimed she would pose a "direct threat" to the health and safety of a baby because she was blind.

The Center refused to resume the treatments unless Chambers, a single woman who was born blind, hired an occupational therapist to evaluate the safety of her home and provide the Center with a written report.

"I was just stunned," Chambers, 33, said. "I'm still stunned, and it's been four years now. I knew in my gut that I was supposed to have a daughter, and they turned my desire for a child into a job application. And they said that because I was blind I couldn't have the job. That just isn't right. This is what happens to blind people at every turn during their entire lives."

Chambers sued, saying the clinic discriminated against her because of her disability, which is illegal under both the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The suit notes that the Center never requires an evaluation from an occupational therapist for sighted patients.

Chambers later was able to conceive a child with the help of fertility treatments from another health clinic. Her daughter, Laurina, was born on New Year's Day 2001.

More about the case and the trial can be found online at the website of the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition.

Trial coverage from CBS4 in Denver.

Gov. Bush Asks Court To Throw Out Challenge To "Terri's Law"; Judge Greer Allows Parents To Sue For Guardianship Change
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

TAMPA, NOV. 7, 2003 -- An attorney representing Governor Jeb Bush has asked a state court to dismiss a lawsuit challenging "Terri's Law", the measure passed last month that gave Bush authority to order a feeding tube reinserted into Terri Schiavo.

Ken Connor told Florida's 6th District Court Wednesday that the suit filed against the governor by Terri's husband and guardian, Michael Schiavo, and the American Civil Liberties Union, should have been filed in Leon County, where the state capital is located rather than Pinellas County. Connor also said the governor was not properly served notice of the suit, thereby making the suit invalid.

The suit filed last week claimed that the governor and the legislature overstepped their constitutional bounds when they passed the law giving Bush authority to have Terri's feeding tube replaced on October 21, six days after it had been removed by a court order.

"This is about safeguarding the fundamental right to live for every Floridian, particularly those with disabilities," Bush said in a statement. "Both the U.S. and Florida constitutions secure this right, and elected officials in our state are required to protect it."

Judge Douglas Baird has yet to rule on the matter.

Also on Wednesday, Pinellas County Circuit Court Judge George W. Greer ruled against Mr. Schiavo's request to throw out a suit from Terri's parents seeking to have him removed as her guardian. Judge Greer, who has rejected such efforts three times in the past, had consistently sided with Mr. Schiavo for several years.

Terri collapsed and her brain was without oxygen for several minutes in February 1990 when she was 26. Several doctors have testified that she has since been in a "persistent vegetative state" in which she feels nothing and from which she will never recover. Her husband claims that Terri told him before her collapse that she would not have wanted to live "by artificial means". Based on this testimony, Florida courts have consistently sided with Mr. Schiavo's efforts to have the gastronomy tube removed that provides Terri with food and water.

Terri's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, have argued for years that Terri is alert, responsive, and that she tries to speak. They have gathered testimony from medical professionals who claim that Terri is not "vegetative" and that she might benefit from rehabilitation. Videos of Terri from last year show her apparently smiling, interacting with family members, and watching a balloon cross her room.

In their suit, the Schindlers claim that Mr. Schiavo has neglected and abused Terri since winning a $1.2 million insurance settlement two years after her brain injury.

"Schiavo has at every turn attempted to increase her incapacity through the denial of basic health and rehabilitative services such as range of motion therapy, other physical therapy, orthopedic evaluations and treatment, speech therapy, standard diagnostic tests and procedures, gynecological care, dental care, rehabilitation evaluations and cognitive therapy," the petition stated.

Of the $700,000 that was held in a fund for Terri's life-long care in 1998, only $50,000 remains. The Schindlers allege Mr. Schiavo has exploited Terri by "wasting, embezzlement, or other mismanagement" much of the money by spending it on attorneys' fees in his efforts to starve her to death.

The Schindlers also say their daughter deserves a divorce from her husband, who for the past six years has been living with another woman -- whom he refers to as his fiancée and with whom he has fathered two children.

"Fidelity is a key component of the respect and dignity that our society expects one spouse to afford the other; yet, this guardian believes that Terri's disability releases him of his legal and moral responsibility."

The suit further suggests that Mr. Schiavo may have been responsible for Terri's initial collapse.

The Schindlers want Judge Greer to appoint her brother or sister as guardian.

Disability rights groups have been closely watching the Schiavo case for several years. Last month they joined right-to-life groups to flood the governor's office with tens of thousands of messages urging him to support Terri's right to live. The week after Terri's feeding tube was removed by court order, Gov. Bush championed the passage of "Terri's law" in the state legislature, allowing him to have it reinstalled.

"Who's going to debate whether my life is worth living?" asked Angel Watson, who 15 years ago was declared in a "persistent vegetative state". Watson is now the accessibility coordinator with the Caring and Sharing Center for Independent Living in Largo.

"What are you going to do to us next? Put us on an island? Blow us up?" she asked the Tampa Tribune.

Links from Findlaw:

Petitioner's Brief (Schiavo v. Bush)
PDF format at http://news.findlaw.com/hdocs/docs/schiavo/schbush102903pbrf.pdf
Adobe PDF to HTML conversion site

Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush's Executive Order (html version)

Read The Florida Bill That Was Signed Into Law
PDF format at http://news.findlaw.com/hdocs/docs/schiavo/flsb35e102103.pdf
Adobe PDF to HTML conversion site

Learn More About The Attorney Representing Terry Schiavo's Husband


"The Guardian: Terri Schiavo's first guardian ad litem report 1998" by Wesley J. Smith (Weekly Standard)

"Many In Disability Groups Want Protection For Schiavo" (Tampa Tribune)

"Court to hear petition to remove husband as guardian" (World Net Daily)

Extended coverage: "Terri Schiavo's Right To Live" (Inclusion Daily Express)

Terri Schindler-Schiavo Foundation

No surprise: polling sites still not accessible
BRIGHTON, NY, NOV. 5, 2003 --Disability activists with the Regional Center for Independent Living in Rochester, NY surveyed area 50 polling place on Election Day. The overall grade? "D" -- or less.

It's all about integration," RCIL Director Todd Eggert told reporters. The group encountered locked doors -- often at the tops of ramps. "How symbolic is that?" he said. "You're part of the system, but you're locked out." Other problems included inaccessible voting machines and no signs to indicate an accessible entrance.

New York got $70 million to improve accessibility for voters with disabilities," the Center for Disability Rights' Chris Hilderbrant told reporters. "It got hung up in red tape."

Read Access at polls poor, say activists from the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

Web access required by ADA, say national groups
MIAMI, NOV. 4, 2003 -- Are websites required under the Americans with Disabilities Act to be accessible? Disability rights advocates say "yes."

Ten national disability rights groups are filing a friend-of-the-court brief today in Miami, Fl. urging the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit to ensure that the World Wide Web is accessible to persons with disabilities.

Last October U.S. District Court Judge Patricia Seitz in Miami, Florida ruled that the Americans with Disabilities Act does not apply to the on-line services of Southwest Airlines. "To expand the ADA to cover 'virtual' spaces would be to create new rights without well-defined standards," wrote Judge Seitz in her ruling.

The groups filing the brief are asking the three-judge appellate panel to overrule the Seitz ruling. Websites can be made accessible with very little expense and without compromising creative design, say the groups in their brief. "Making the Web accessible to people with disabilities is not difficult, and includes such things as designing and generating web pages so that information is available to a wide range of people, including those who may be unable to hear audible content; who may be unable to use a mouse because of a physical impairment; or who access the Web using software that reads the content of a web page out loud to persons who cannot see the screen content."

The case, Access Now v. Southwest Airlines., will be argued in the Court of Appeals on November 6 in Miami.

Read the brief online

ACLU Disregards Disability Rights Protections, Says NDY
NOV. 1, 2003 -- The American Civil Liberties Union is ignoring the Americans with Disabilities Act's nondiscrimination protections for people with disabilities, said Not Dead Yet in a statement released yesterday. On Wednesday, the ACLU went to court with Michael Schiavo to argue that the law passed by the FL legislature designed to allow his wife, Terri Schindler Schiavo, to remain on a feeding tube is an unconsitutional invasion of privacy. "The ACLU, an organization that claims to enforce the Bill of Rights, has set aside Terri Schiavo's due process rights in favor of a guardian who wants to starve her to death because of her disabilities," said NDY.

"Treating people differently based on health or disability status violates the rights of people with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Absent proof that it is truly the person's decision, withholding medical care based on the belief that he or she would rationally want to die because of a disability is discriminatory," said the statement released Monday by over 20 national disability groups including ADA Watch, the National Coalition for Disability Rights, the National Coalition on Self-Determination and the National Council on Independent Living.

"If this situation related to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and the rights of African-Americans or non-disabled women were threatened, the ACLU would jump in on the side of saving, not ending, life," said ADA Watch's Jim Ward. "It's frightening that the opinions and desires of a person with a disability are so devalued that Terri Schiavo's life could be ended on the basis of hearsay from a husband who may have conflict of interest."

"This is not the first time that the ACLU has gone to court to argue for a discriminatory so-called 'right' for a disabled woman to be starved to death in the absence of any terminal condition," said NDY President Diane Coleman. "In California, they brought the infamous 'right to die' case involving Elizabeth Bouvia, a woman with cerebral palsy. Because of her disability, the ACLU viewed this depressed 26-year-old woman as the equivalent of someone who was imminently dying.  Fortunately, by the time they won the case, Ms. Bouvia had recovered from her suicidal crisis and did not choose to die.  But in Terri Schiavo's case, there's no credible evidence that this is her choice."

See also: National Disability Groups say Terri Shindler Schiavo being denied protection of laws
New Dollywood Policy: No More Free Rides
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

PIGEON FORGE, TN, NOV. 3, 2003 -- Responding to a claim that its admission policy discriminates against people with certain disabilities, Dollywood will no longer give free admission to people with any kind of disability beginning January 2004.

According to the company's website, Tennessee's most popular tourist attraction made the decision after a local woman filed an anti-discrimination lawsuit against the Smoky Mountain theme park. The woman claimed that Dollywood's current discounts for visitors with "total and permanent vision or hearing loss, and/or who have a medical or physical condition which made them permanently dependent on a wheelchair" violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"From a legal standpoint, our staff is not qualified to make decisions on who should or should not be given free admission to the park based on their level of disability," reads a statement about the new policy on the Dollywood.com website. "For those reasons we regret to inform you that individuals who have been admitted under our previous disability policy will no longer be allowed to enter free of charge."

A regular daily pass to Dolly Parton's theme park is around $40. The park estimates that about 45,000 of its 2.2 million annual visitors have disabilities.

Beginning with the 2004 season, the park will make donations to area disability groups equal to the cost of this year's free disability admissions.

Related: Dollywood Disability Information

Court Throws Out Discrimination Suit Against Girl Scouts
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

ATKINSON, NH, NOV. 3, 2003 -- New Hampshire's highest court this week threw out a discrimination lawsuit filed against the Girl Scouts of America because the suit had not been filed quickly enough.

Linda Steir filed the suit in February 2000 on behalf of her teenage daughter, Marika, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair.

Marika left Girl Scout Troop 467 in June 1999 after the troop refused to hold meetings at places that were accessible to her. According to court records, when Linda tried to register Marika with another troop, the troop leader told Linda she "would not be comfortable having a child with a disability in her troop."

Steir sued, claiming that the organization had violated Marika's rights under the New Hampshire Law Against Discrimination.

The high court ruled against Steir this week noting that the law requires victims to file suit within 6 months of the alleged act of discrimination, and that Steir's suit was filed two months too late.

"It's very unfortunate that the courts found that the claim wasn't filed in time," said Steir. "This case has dragged on for years and to have that ruling come just because of timing is unfortunate."

Steir told the Rockingham News that she isn't giving up.

"There are still a lot of issues pending in federal court; one of them deals with these discrimination laws," said Steir. "This case has dragged out for a long time. Who knows when those issues will be dealt with."

KS State Fair Not Accessible, Says Appeals Court
DENVER, NOV. 3, 2003 -- There are over 25 buildings, and 22 restrooms, that are not acessible -- therefore the Kansas State Fair discriminates against disabled fairgoers, and the Fair violates the Americans with Disabilties Act, said the 10th Circuit Court of Appeal in an opinion issued in late October. The suit had originally been filed by three wheelchair users -- Mandy Chaffin, Tiffany Nickel and Cecil Stinbrink -- in 2001, noting general lack of access and particular problems with the grandstand.

The ruling noted that the "handicapped section" in the grandstand did not represent "meaningful access" because patrons there are "effectively trapped," unable to leave for food or to use restrooms or view the stage; other fairgoers must climb over them to get to seats. The court's opinion also noted that disabled Kansans had not been sufficiently involved in planning the improvements that had been made over the years.

The case is Chaffin vs. Kansas State Fair Board, No. 02-3410

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