Advocates condemn House Bill #620 aka ‘ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017’

Numerous disability rights advocates are livid over proposed congressional legislation aiming to change enforcement timelines for ADA compliance. The bill is titled “H.R. 620 – ADA Education and Reform Act 2017” and sponsored by Texas Representative Ted Poe. The House Judiciary Committee approved the amended version of the bill earlier this month. The legislation currently has 108 bipartisan co-sponsors and is predicted to come to a vote in the House of Representatives this week.

In October 2017 Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth wrote an opinion column for the Chicago Tribune condemning H.R. 620. She accused the retail and hospitality industries of shifting the burden of ADA compliance to individuals with disabilities.

Members of the Judiciary Committee who dissented from the majority opinion stated, “Both individually and cumulatively, H.R. 620’s notice and cure provisions will have the effect of inappropriately shifting the burden of enforcing compliance with a federal civil rights statute from the alleged wrongdoer onto the discrimination victim. Moreover, it would undermine the carefully calibrated voluntary compliance regime that is one of the hallmarks of the ADA, a regime formed through negotiations between the disability rights community and the business community when the ADA was drafted 28 years ago.”

Disability rights activist S.E. Smith also wrote a column for Teen Vogue outlining the key points of the legislation’s proposed changes to ADA and why they are unnecessary. Smith argues that the businesses concerned about “bogus lawsuits” are underestimating how expensive legal action is for the complainant.

2018Jan30_House Judiciary Cmtee Report on HR 620

NPR investigates ‘epidemic of sexual assault’ against people with intellectual disabilities

Starting January 8th National Public Radio (NPR) began broadcasting a multi-part investigative series about an “epidemic of sexual assault” experienced by people with intellectual disabilities. Titled “Abused and Betrayed” (#AbusedandBetrayed), the investigation examines over 150 cases of assault and relies on previously unpublished data collected by the Justice Department. NPR’s team of reporters, led by Joe Shapiro, discovered the rate of assault is seven times higher than for people without disabilities. Each chapter in the 5-part series features a print story, photographs and a radio broadcast. Below is an excerpt from the first story in the excellent report.

“NPR reviewed hundreds of cases of sexual assault against people with intellectual disabilities. We looked at state and federal data, including those new numbers we obtained from the Justice Department. We read court records. We followed media accounts and put together a database of 150 assaults so serious that they garnered rare local and national media attention. We talked to victims, their guardians, family, staff and friends.

We found that there is an epidemic of sexual abuse against people with intellectual disabilities. These crimes go mostly unrecognized, unprosecuted and unpunished. A frequent result was that the abuser was free to abuse again. The survivor is often re-victimized multiple times.”

‘Doomed by Delay’: NCDJ co-winner Callahan has new story on Krabbe disease

If a hospital fails to identify symptoms of a debilitating disease in infants it could spell disaster for patients as they grow up. In her story “Doomed by Delay,” Chicago Tribune investigative journalist Patricia Callahan describes the struggles of parents of children with Krabbe disease who weren’t properly diagnosed until it was too late to salvage their motor functions. Callahan is the 1st place co-winner, along with Michael J. Berens, of the NCDJ’s 2017 Katherine Schneider Award for Disability Journalism.

In a related report, Chicago Tribune photographer Brian Cassella interviews the mother and caretaker of a 6-year-old living with Krabbe disease.

Pittsburgh helping businesses remove step at entryways to improve accessibility

A step at the front door of a business can send the signal to customers with disabilities that the inside is also not accessible. In a story for Public Source online magazine journalist Stephen J. Caruso reports how the city of Pittsburgh is helping local business owners prevent this barrier to customer access and reconcile the problematic irregularities between state and city ADA compliance codes.

“One complaint we got from developers and architects was that most expensive part of the process was coming down to the city offices and paying for parking and waiting in line,” Meritzer said. By making a one-size-fits-all application, they could send in an application with a single email.

Op-Ed by Alice Wong about importance of Net Neutrality

Acclaimed national journalist Alice Wong penned an enlightening commentary for The Center for Media Justice about the importance of Net Neutrality to disability rights communicators like herself. The controversy around Net Neutrality gained traction this week after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai proposed deregulating internet service providers (ISPs). Pai’s announcement says deregulating ISPs will “Restore Internet Freedom And Eliminate Heavy-Handed Internet Regulations” but advocates of Net Neutrality fear deregulation could empower ISPs to become gatekeepers of content by controlling the price of how information flows across the Internet.

Mom of daughter with Down Syndrome and heart defect fights transplant discrimination

Jackie Ward is the mother of a three-year-old daughter with Down Syndrome and a heart defect. She recently became an advocate for disability rights after experiencing discrimination from doctors while applying for a heart transplant for her daughter. Ward is now teaming up with Ohio state legislators to pass laws that will give applicants with disabilities more leverage. Check out this article and video interview with Jackie Ward from the Columbus Dispatch.

“A 2008 survey by researchers at Stanford University found that 85 percent of pediatric transplant centers consider neuro-developmental status in the eligibility process at least some of the time, Hansen said. And in the same study, 62 percent of the centers said eligibility decisions based on disability tended to be made informally, making discrimination difficult to show.”


Elderly at risk for asset seizure by government “guardians”

An investigative report by Rachel Aviv in The New Yorker reveals how elderly citizens can become involuntary victims of private government contractors hired to manage their financial assets. The ambiguous mental health of some elderly patients exacerbates their ability to defend their possessions and right to autonomy.

SCOTUS Tightens Rules on Intellectual Disability, Death Penalty

The Supreme Court rules that the state of Texas cannot rely on a dated definition of intellectual disability in deciding who receives the death penalty. In the opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote, “Adjudications of intellectual disability should be ‘informed by the views of medical experts.” Read more