Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Top 10 U.S. disability events in 2010

From Day in Washington, a disability policy blog/podcast:

It’s that time of year again. As we move forward into 2011 and say goodbye to 2010, lets take a few moments to review the array of disability events, policies and changes that took place. Below is my Top 10 Disability Events of 2010.

Number 10. The loss of long-time disability scholars and advocates – Laura Hershey, Paul Longmore, and Paul Miller.

Laura Hershey, known as a writer and poet explored diverse topics in her work including body, community, activism, and social justice. She authored of Survival Strategies for Going Abroad: A Guide for People with Disabilities, published by Mobility International USA. Over 100 of her articles, essays, poems and art have been published in journals, anthologies, websites and magazines including the 2010 National Disability Employment Awareness Month poster for the U.S. Department of Labor. She also led or participated in campaigns to remove Social Security work disincentives, to challenge the negative images of the Jerry Lewis Telethon, to increase visibility of LGBTQ people with disabilities, to improve Medicaid home and community-based services, to promote the rights of home care workers.

Paul Longmore, professor of history and director of the Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University could be considered the nation’s leading scholar of disability history. He spoke and wrote about disability studies before there ever WAS a disability studies. The initial story of how he got national attention – burning his own book – has stuck with me. He wrote The Invention of George Washington. The book was published and he received royalties. However, federal law limits how much money a person with a disability can earn and still get personal assistance (which can be very very expensive). Paul needed that assistance to live, work and write his book. But because he made too much in royalties from his book, he’d lose the assistance that he needed to write the book in the first place!

Paul Miller, was Professor of Law at the University of Washington School of Law. He had been a Commissioner on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, had been an adviser to President Bill Clinton and (in the capacity that I knew him) was special assistant to President Barack Obama. He took very seriously his role to prepare and identify qualified young people with disabilities an give them the opportunity to serve.

Number 9. The Department of Justice and Department of Education issue a joint letter about equal access to educational technology.

In 2009, lawsuits were filed at universities that used the Kindle DX, an inaccessible, electronic book reader, in the classroom as part of a pilot study with Amazon.com, Inc as they did not offer equal access to blind and visually impaired students. The Department of Justice and Department of Education followed up in a letter to all colleges and universities stating that requiring use of an emerging technology in a classroom environment when the technology is inaccessible to an entire population of individuals with disabilities is discrimination prohibited by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504).

Number 8. Death of Seclusion and Restraint Legislation (Top doesn’t necessarily mean good)

In December 2009, Representatives George Miller and Cathy McMorris Rodgers introduced the Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act. However, action didn’t really begin until 2010. The bill easily passed the House in March. However, it was revised in the Senate (becoming S.3895, Keeping All Students Safe Act) and by November had lost all momentum. Part of the stall was due to a split among disability advocates due to a provision in the new version that allows restraint and seclusion when it is included in a student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP). You can follow the entire timeline of events on DisabilityScoop who did a great job of documenting events.

Number 7. Olmstead Settlement in Georgia and Prioritization of Community Living (also in Health Reform)

Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Thomas Perez declares that enforcement of Olmstead is a priority. In December, he announced that the DOJ had settled with the state of Georgia. Georgia will spend $77 million over the next two years to move thousands of people with disabilities from state hospitals to living in their communities. The DOJ has filed has filed lawsuits in Arkansas and Georgia, intervened in a case in New York, and filed amicus briefs in cases in Connecticut, Virginia, North Carolina, Illinois, Florida, New Jersey and California to do the same. As of this writing, I think the total is closer to 20 states that the DOJ has been moving actively towards Olmstead enforcement.

Number 6. President’s Executive Order on Hiring of People with Disabilities

In 2000, President Clinton signed Executive Order 13163, calling for an additional 100,000 individuals with disabilities to be employed by the Federal Government, but it didn’t happen. In 2010, President Obama put forward his own Executive Order to reinforce Clinton’s Executive Order 13163 and promote the Federal government as a model employer, decrease the stigma attached to hiring people with disabilities and increase the number of individuals with disabilities in the Federal workforce. And to do it in 5 years. Obama’s order is very specific in its demands and timeline, directing federal agencies to design model recruitment and hiring strategies to increase Federal hiring of people with disabilities, as well as mandatory training programs for both human resources personnel and hiring managers on the employment of individuals with disabilities.

Number 5. Rosa’s Law

In October, President Obama signed into law S. 2781, also known as Rosa’s Law. Rosa’s Law replicates a Maryland law. It changes references in Federal law from “mental retardation” to “intellectual disability”, and “mentally retarded individual” to “individual with an intellectual disability.” The family of Rosa Marcellino, a nine year-old girl with Down syndrome, worked with their state representative to pass the legislation in the Maryland General Assembly and then worked with Senator Mikulski to bring the legislation to the U.S. Senate. I wrote a short article on this issue when the bill was moving through the Senate for Disability.gov’s 100 Days of the ADA blog series.

Number 4. Telework Act (flexible work)

Although this bill did not get a lot of fanfare at the time of its signing, the Telework Enhancement Act could be considered a sign of things to come. This law requires every Federal agency to create a telework policy and give employees the option to telecommute. Considering the Federal government has over 1 million employees and that often the Federal government has used itself to “test-run” policies, it could be a sign of the future of labor. With a recession and many companies scrambling to control costs and keep the best talent, offering a flexible workplace and cutting down on overhead and real estate costs will start to look better and better. More than 10 years ago, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office began allowing telecommuting; they claim that they’ve had a 10% increase in productivity as a result. Pretty impressive, yes? This move towards greater flexibility can offer significant benefits for workers with disabilities should (as a result of Federal efforts) it become more prevalent in the private sector.

Number 3. Anniversary of the ADA 20th anniversary

So may events. So let me just put forward a few words from the President’s speech on the anniversary, “Equal access — to the classroom, the workplace, and the transportation required to get there. Equal opportunity — to live full and independent lives the way we choose. Not dependence — but independence. That’s what the ADA was all about. But while it was a historic milestone in the journey to equality, it wasn’t the end. There was, and is, more to do.”

Number 2. 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act

Technology is what moves our society today; it is in our homes, our workplaces, our public spaces. It connects us with entertainment, culture, people and at times, critical information for our health and safety. It has shaped the way we live our lives. This update to the Communications Act establishes new guidelines for disability access to ensure that people with disabilities are not left behind as technology changes and the United States migrates to the next generation of Internet-based and digital communication technologies. COAT has been the major player in ensuring passage of this legislation. Find out more about this coalition and accessible technology policy.

Number 1. Health Reform (pre-existing conditions, disparities, accessible equipment)

Obviously, there are a lot of things that impact people with disabilities in the several hundred page document that makes up the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Chief among those is: 1. not being denied coverage or charged higher premiums for having a pre-existing condition or having coverage rescinded upon gaining a disability; 2. the ability for state Medicaid plans to choose home and community-based services and supports as the rule, rather than an exception with a 6% increase in what the Federal government pays as an incentive to provide this versus institutional care; 3. the creation of standards for medical diagnostic equipment for people with disabilities to make it clearer (and reinforce the requirement) that examining tables, x-ray machines etc must be accessible; 4. the creation of the CLASS Act establishing a national voluntary, disability insurance program and 5. the collection of data to enable better understanding of the health of people with disabilities and provide recommendations to address health disparities.