2nd state pulls out of anti-rights Supreme Court Case

Jan. 20 -- After meeting with disability activists from ADAPT, Delaware Attorney General Jane Brady has agreed to withdraw Delaware support of the Supreme Court case opposing integration for people with disabilities.

This is the second state to withdraw from the controversial lawsuit after lobbying by activists. The lawsuit, Olmstead v. L.C., asks the Court to rule that putting disabled people in institutions is not discrimination. Disability activists say that forcing people into institutions, rather than making states use that same money to pay for help in their homes, violates the integration mandate of the ADA. (See next story, below.)

Maryland withdraws from anti-rights Supreme Court Case

Jan. 14. -- A push by disability advocates has gotten Maryland to decide that it will not file a supporting brief in a case currently before the Supreme Court, Olmstead v. L.C. and F.W (see story directly below). The case, brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act on behalf of two people with mental retardation, will determine whether states must let people in institutions use that state money to live in the community. "We are grateful that Attorney General Joseph Curran, with the strong support of Governor Parris Glendening, has taken this action that underlines the importance of our civil rights," says a spokesperson from TASH, an advocacy group for persons with severe disabilities.

Activists hope to have similar successes in the other states who have signed onto the amicus brief. See story below.

Supreme Court case worries disability activists

The Supreme Court agreed Dec. 14 to hear a case that disability activists say could seriously jeopardize the right of folks with disabilities to live in the community.

The case concerns two Georgia citizens -- identified in court records only as L.C. and E.W. -- who had been placed in a state psychiatric hospital. They sued to be allowed to live in the community, arguing that their placement in an institution was illegal based on the Americans with Disabilities Act. They won their lawsuit -- twice, but the state has appealed.

The reason the Supreme Court has taken up the case, says Mike Auberger of American Disabled for Attendant Programs Today, is because the governors of 22 states signed onto a friend-of-the-court brief supporting Georgia, in effect putting pressure on the Court to hear the case. The brief filed by the governors asks the Court to decide "the fundamental issue of whether Congress intended for institutional care to constitute discrimination."

The ADA says that a "public entity" -- in this case the state of Georgia -- must administer services, programs, and activities in the "most integrated setting appropriate." Disability activists call this the ADA's "integration mandate."

Disability rights attorney Steve Gold says the case will be "a defining moment" for the ADA. "If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Georgia, allowing states to continue to keep people in institutions against their will, "the ADA will become a mere shell of what it is intended to be." Gold fears the Court might "strip away its major civil rights provision -- integration."

"Each and every governor who signed onto the brief ought to be ashamed," said Auberger. Besides Florida, which prepared the brief, governors of Alabama, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming signed it.

Accessible gingerbread house draws news

Dubbed by the Wall Street Journal "the first-ever handicapped-accessible gingerbread house," a creation by the Rochester NY Center for Disability Rights has won widespread attention including a mention in the Nov. 17 Wall St. Journal as the first-ever "accessible gingerbread house." . The confection is one of 35 gingerbread houses entered this year in the city's annual gingerbread art display. It sports not only a ramp, but a bathroom with a marzipan sink and commode and a candy grab bar.

Disability advocate Bruce Darling, who helped craft the house, says that many of the thousands touring the display pause to read the architectural guidelines for a "visitable" homes, which are posted in macaroni letters on a sign beside the house. "The idea is to let the public know that homes can welcome disabled visitors. It really gets people thinking," said Darling.

See photos of the house

Austin, Texas becomes second city in the nation to require basic access in single-family homes

Newly-constructed single family homes, duplexes and triplexes which receive financial assistance from the City of Austin, Texas, must now provide basic access, thanks to a new "visitability" ordinance passed by the Austin City Council Oct. 7 to take effect Nov. 1.

The ordinance requires:

1. One no-step entrance at the front, back, side or through the garage

2. Doors (including bathroom) at least 32 inches wide

3. Passageways (halls, small rooms) at least 36 inches wide

4. Reinforcements in bathroom walls around the toilet and bathtub/shower to permit installing grab bars when needed 5. Light switches and other environmental controls between 15 and 48 inches from the floor.

Austin is the second city in the U.S, after Atlanta, to pass a "visitability" ordinance. (Legislation requiring new 1- and 2-bedroom homes be "visitable" passed the British Parliament in March, making the UK the first nation in the world to mandate basic access in single-family homes.

See "Visitability now law in UK," D.R. Nation, July/August)

Austin ADAPT organizer Cathy Cranston says the law "leads to the day when renting a house, growing older in one†s own home, becoming temporarily disabled or having a child with a disability will be that much easier because more and more homes will have this basic -- visitability -- level of access."

Austin ADAPT used Atlanta's law as a model and were helped by the activists of Atlanta-basedConcrete Change. Concrete Change first developed the idea of "visitability" a number of years ago.

"wheelchair accessible housing is both inexpensive to construct and practical in almost 95% of all new homes built," contractor Paul Locascio of Decatur, Georgia says. For the Atlanta ordinance effort, Locascio figured average cost for making a new home visitable at $265.

Austin ADAPT worked with city staff to hold public hearings, conducted a focus group for builders, developers, realtors and spent several months working out details before the ordinance was introduced.

Multi-family housing of four or more units built after 1991 must already meet a somewhat stronger degree of accessibility, often referred to as adaptability, under the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988. Housing with five or more units that received any federal financial assistance must meet more stringent access requirements of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as outlined in the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards, UFAS.

DOT rules Intercity Buses must have lifts

Washington, D.C., Sept. 24 Fulfilling a key element of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, U.S. DOT published rules on ADA requirements for over-the-road buses like Greyhound, who had been balking for years at complying with the ADA. The rule is a victory for disability activists, says ADAPT, who has fought Greyhound's segregationist policies for years.

Under the new rule, large, fixed-route carriers like Greyhound, whose service is the backbone of the intercity bus system, will have to make sure that all new buses they obtain are accessible, with wheelchair lifts and tie-downs that allow passengers to ride in their own wheelchairs. The rule requires fleets to be completely accessible by 2012.

Charter and tour companies will have to provide service in an accessible bus on 48 hours† advance notice. Fixed-route companies must also provide this kind of service on an interim basis until their fleets are completely accessible. The rule makes carriers accountable for providing this advance notice service by requiring them to compensate passengers when they fail to provide the required service on time.

read the rules from DOT

Activist pushes for legal access to historic ship

July 22 -- Longtime disability activist Robert Reuter has gotten the Maryland Commission on Human Relations to file a discrimination suit against the group involved in restoring the 1850s battleship Constellation. The arguments are the typical ones: they say it's historic and can't be made accessible without damaging the integrity. Reuter says "if you denied entry to historic buildings" to everyone, then "why should you care if they survive" in the first place?

more on this story from The Baltimore Sun

NOD survey shows little gain despite ADA

Washington, July 23 -- Eight years after passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, only 29 percent of disabled persons of working age are working -- compared to 79 percent of the non-disabled population, according to a new poll by Louis Harris & Associates released today by the National Organization on Disability. This is a figure unchanged in decades. The survey also reported findings about disabled people's perceptions as to how life has improved since the ADA.

More on this story from NOD

Doctors' offices must be accessible, says court

All physicians' and dentists' offices must be accessible to people with physical disabilities, or the doctors and dentists will be terminated from Pennsylvania's new HMO Medical Assistance program, says Stephen F. Gold, one of the attorneys for plaintiffs in this class-action suit against the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, which was settled June 29.

In addition to physical access, the settlement agreement requires all HMO directories and handbooks be available in formats usable by clients with visual disabilities.

"Under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act," says Gold, when the state begins a new program, as this is, "states must only enroll health care providers who have accessible offices." Gold predicts that "with this settlement agreement, 5,300 doctors' and dentists' offices" in Pennsylvania will not become accessible.

Not Dead Yet testifies before Congressional Subcommittee

July 14 -- Pointing out that "policymakers have completely ignored the ADA violation inherent in assisted suicide laws," Not Dead Yet founder Diane Coleman testified today before the Constitution Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee in support of a bill that would preclude Oregon physicians from prescribing lethal overdoses under the Oregon assisted suicide law.

The bill would overturn a recent Department of Justice ruling on the issue. Coleman's testimony will focus on discrimination based on disability and race in the health care system.

"I wish that this civil rights violation were as obvious to everyone as it would be if assisted suicide were legalized based on gender or race," Coleman told the Committee. "Neither the civil nor criminal justice systems will draw the line and protect our lives," she added.

Not Dead Yet is a national disability rights group which opposes the legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia, claiming that any potential benefit to a few is far outweighed by the lethal danger to this nation's largest minority group, people with disabilities.

Bill seeks to exempt prisons from ADA

Washington, DC July 7 -- Warning that prisoners would "file an endless number of lawsuits demanding special privileges" if the law weren't changed, Sen. Strom Thurmond (R. SC) introduced a bill to amend the Americans with Disabilities Act (and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973) to exempt state and local agencies operating prisons. The U. S. Supreme Court ruled last month that prisons were indeed covered by the ADA; now prison officials are working to wiggle out of what Thurmond calls "an undue burden" by Congressional means. Thurmond insisted that the ADA had had "unintended consequences." He said that managing prisons was " an activity traditionally reserved to the states." The bill, S 2266, was referred to the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources.

NationsBank agrees to accept IDs

MEMPHIS, June 25 -- Responding to Memphis activists' charges of unequal treatment, NationsBank has agreed to accept State ID cards as identification equal to drivers' licenses. The Memphis Center for Independent Living had used the Americans with Disabilities Act to argue that the NationsBank practice failed to accommodate individuals with disabilities that did not drive, yet held a valid State non-driver ID.

More on this story

FDR gets Memorial wheelchair

WASHINGTON, July 2 -- Bowing to pressure from disability rights activists, the FDR Memorial Commission has agreed to add a statue to the FDR Memorial with the president in his wheelchair. The move is a victory for activists who insisted that history must reflect accurately on the president who "never walked a step."

More on this story

Supreme Court confirms ADA in AIDS case

June 25 -- The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday affirmed that the Americans with Disabilities Act covers people with AIDS. Court watchers say that the ruling appears to mean that people with disabilities such as epilepsy and cancer are covered under the law (a point some lower courts have questioned.)

More on this story

Shell Oil agrees to access

June 18 -- Shell Oil Co. settled a class-action lawsuit, agreeing to upgrade as many as 3,840 gas stations to comply with federal disability standards. Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, Inc., (DREDF) a national policy group that advocates civil rights for people with disabilities, announced the settlement with Shell Oil and Equilon Enterprises LLC, a refining joint venture between Shell and Texaco Inc.

More on this story

Other DREDF lawsuits

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