Disability News Service, Resources, Diversity, Americans with Disabilities Act; Local and National.

Monday, March 27, 2017

All-Wheelchair Production of Chicago Raises Disability Awareness in United Kingdom


A college’s musical theatre department will put on a unique version of Chicago in order to raise awareness of disability in the arts. Samantha King reports


article by Samantha Lauren King for FE WEEK | March 25, 2017             
United Kingdom           
Inspired by Kieron Hoult, a 17-year-old musical theatre student and wheelchair user, staff and students at Stratford-upon-Avon College wanted to give the classic musical a twist by putting the whole cast in wheelchairs.

Dubbed Chaircago, the department hopes the performance will show youngsters with mobility issues that they can still pursue a career in musical theatre.

Kieron is the first ever wheelchair user to enrol on the college’s musical theatre course – after being turned away by a number of other institutions – and this is the first time wheelchairs have been incorporated into one of its productions.

Alex Dengate, a lecturer in musical theatre, said: “Kieron originally auditioned at other colleges in the area and was simply turned away. He’s got a great singing voice and he can act; his only restriction is his mobility. We thought we had to give him a crack at this.”

Kieron has also taken on the job of movement director during rehearsals, teaching fellow performers how to turn, stop quickly and perform tricks like wheelies.

“A few years ago, I was told that I was unable to study GCSE drama when I was at school, so it’s really important to me to prove that this can be done and show that there is a key role for people with disabilities in the arts,” he said.

“The rehearsal period has been challenging and we’ve had a few on-stage collisions, as the other performers are still getting used to moving in wheelchairs.”

The production has received sponsorship from the Red Cross, which is lending the college 22 wheelchairs for performers to use, and representatives from the charity were in attendance at the show’s opening night.

Nadia Jambawai, mobility aid coordinator at the charity, said: “Until people experience an injury that affects their mobility, they just don’t realise how challenging it can be. The students should be applauded for their wish to raise awareness in such a positive way.

Mr Dengate is keen that other people with mobility issues are not deterred from studying musical theatre at the college in the future. 

“I hope other wheelchair users in our catchment and community area see this and think we can do this, other than thinking their options are restricted,” he said.

“It was really heartwarming to see Kieron engage. Normally he’s used to being the only guy in the room in a wheelchair, but now when he comes to college you don’t even spot him, because everyone’s in a wheelchair.”

The show ran for two days, on March 22 and 23, 2017.
http://feweek.co.uk/2017/03/25/feature-college-puts-on-all-wheelchair-production-of-chicago-to-raise-disability-awareness/

Kentucky Lawyer Pleads Guilty in Massive Social Security Disability Scheme, 100's Face Loss of Monthly Checks

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - A flamboyant Kentucky lawyer who billed himself as "Mr. Social Security" pleaded guilty Friday for his role in what prosecutors portrayed as a long-running scheme to defraud the government of nearly $600 million in federal disability payments.

By BRUCE SCHREINER for the Associated Press | March 24, 2017
Eric C. Conn pleaded guilty in federal court in Lexington to stealing from the Social Security Administration and bribing a federal judge. The man who lived in a palatial eastern Kentucky home and was a frequent world traveler faces up to 12 years in prison at his July 14 sentencing.

"I'm stunned," said Ned Pillersdorf, an attorney who is representing hundreds of Conn's former clients who have sued in seeking damages from Conn.

Federal prosecutors claimed Conn raked in millions of dollars by paying a doctor and a judge to rubber-stamp false disability claims using phony medical evidence.

Conn, 56, pleaded guilty to one count of theft of government money and one count of payment of gratuities. His legal team did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment.

Conn opened his law practice in a trailer in 1993 in his hometown of Stanville, Kentucky, building it into one of the nation's most lucrative disability firms. He became a local celebrity for his over-the-top advertising campaigns. He dispatched crews of "Conn Hotties" to events and had a 19-foot replica of the Lincoln Memorial erected in the parking lot of his office.

He faced 18 counts in an indictment last year that also named a Social Security administrative law judge and a clinical psychologist.

According to the plea, Conn participated in a more than decade-long scheme involving the submission of thousands of falsified medical documents to the Social Security Administration. Those fraudulent submissions resulted in payment of more than $550 million in benefits, it said.

Conn also admitted to paying the judge about $10,000 a month over more than six years to award disability benefits in more than 1,700 cases, according to documents filed with the guilty plea. Those payments were based on falsified medical documents, the documents said.

Conn admitted that he received more than $5.7 million in representative fees from the SSA based on those fraudulent claims, the documents said.

Until his arrest, Conn had faced no legal consequences for years, even after the SSA had cut off disability payments to hundreds of his clients in the impoverished coalfields of eastern Kentucky and West Virginia.

Conn's clients have been fighting the federal government to keep their disability checks. Pillersdorf said that Conn's guilty plea is unlikely to have an impact on those cases

But Pillersdorf said the plea should help speed up consideration of the lawsuit in which hundreds of those former clients are seeking damages from Conn.

"I've got to get these people money quick," Pillersdorf said. "I've got 800 people going without, and it's a real humanitarian crisis. His guilty plea should expedite that process."

As part of the fallout from Conn's downfall, the Social Security Administration identified about 1,500 beneficiaries, mostly in eastern Kentucky, who could receive hearings to determine if their benefits should be reinstated, he said. The agency decided not to cut off those payments during that process after Republican U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers interceded.

Now, those hearings are nearly complete, and so far about 800 have lost their benefits, Pillersdorf said.
___

Associated Press Writer Beth Campbell in Louisville contributed to this report.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
# # # 


100s Face Loss of Social Security Disability Checks Due To Fraud Probe

Donna Dye saw the coal truck come barreling over the horizon and her head started spinning with that familiar, desperate urge to end it all.

Associated Press - Dec. 27, 2016 - MINNIE, Ky         
(Repost with update below of this informative article)                   
She thought of the disconnect notices, the engagement ring she pawned to keep the lights on, the house she loved and would probably lose. Life insurance was the only bill that was up to date; this way, she thought, it might look like an accident.

Months had passed since the letter arrived from the Social Security Administration. "We are suspending your disability benefits," it had said.

She thought of her husband, a proud man with a body broken from 26 years mining coal, and the fights over money they never had — until now. "Fraud," the agency had written, and the humiliation consumed them.

She thought about veering across the yellow line and slamming head-on into that truck.

For more than a year, Dye's family and hundreds of others in the coalfields of Kentucky and West Virginia have been fighting the federal government to keep their Social Security Disability checks. They have one thing in common: They hired attorney Eric C. Conn, a flamboyant master marketer who billed himself "Mr. Social Security." For years he clogged the highways with neon yellow billboards promising to help people get what they deserved from the government.

Dye thought they could trust him.

Now federal officials allege he funneled $600 million in fraudulent claims to this impoverished pocket of Appalachia, and the government has turned off the spigot. It suspended disability payments to hundreds of Conn's former clients, propelling them into an unprecedented, year-long battle with the federal government. They must prove once again that they deserved disability years ago.

If they lose, their checks stop and they are billed for tens of thousands of dollars they received over the years, money the government now believes they never deserved.

The government has good reason to ferret out disability fraud. Critics call it a secret welfare program that morphed over the decades from serving the truly disabled to aiding the unemployable: the uneducated, the frail, the unfortunates who live in places where a rotting economy relies on back-breaking labor. Burgeoning claims — in Floyd County, Kentucky, 15 percent are on disability — have pushed the disability fund to the brink of insolvency.

The government has squeezed other programs for the poor, leaving many in these crumbling corners of blue-collar America with few good options. The mass suspensions laid bare their absolute dependence on disability.

Three people have killed themselves. Others caught themselves in quiet moments wondering whether they'd be better off dead.

Donna Dye didn't crash her car into the coal truck. Instead, she pulled over to the shoulder of the road and sat for an hour, her temples pulsing with panic, her thoughts racing. Disability had been her family's safety net; now, she thought, there was nothing to save them from flailing toward impact.

"It's like sitting in a tub of water, floating, nothing's wrong," she said. "And then somebody pulls the cork, you get sucked out and everything's gone."

___

Eric C. Conn opened his law practice 23 years ago in a trailer in his hometown of Stanville, Kentucky, population 500. There, he built the third most lucrative disability firm in the nation.

When the Dyes went looking for a lawyer in 2008, Conn was everywhere.

He paid young women he called "Conn's hotties" to attend events across the region with his 1-800 number printed across their tank tops. He erected a 19-foot replica of the Lincoln Memorial in the parking lot of his law complex at a cost, he claimed, of a half-million dollars. He commissioned life-sized Conn effigies to sit atop billboards on the highways; in an online ad, he bragged that he had sent a local boy with terminal cancer to Disney World, and closed with a preacher's benediction giving thanks to God for Conn's kindness.

Tim Dye hurt his back in the mines years ago and a car wreck in 2008 aggravated his injuries. He had surgery for ruptured discs and disintegrating cartilage. He resisted applying for disability, his wife said, until it got to where he couldn't push in the clutch in his truck or bend over to tie his shoes.

His application was denied.

About three-quarters of applicants' initial claims are rejected, and many turn to lawyers to help them appeal. That means big money for attorneys doing disability claims in bulk. If they win on appeal, applicants are entitled to payments dating back to when they became unable to work and lawyers get a chunk of that money, paid directly by the agency.

Conn racked in more than $20 million in fees.

Media reports in 2011 questioned his relationship with government-employed Administrative Law Judge David Daugherty, who approved nearly all of Conn's clients for disability. In 2013, former U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma, led an investigation into abuse of the disability program. He entitled his report, "How Some Legal, Medical and Judicial Professionals Abused Social Security Disability Programs for the Country's Most Vulnerable: A Case Study of the Conn Law Firm."

For 161 pages, it described an elaborate system in which Conn paid doctors and Daugherty to rubber-stamp disability claims, using phony medical evidence.

Years passed. Conn was not criminally charged, and he remained in good standing with the Kentucky Bar Association. Donna Dye says she and her husband were unaware of any improprieties — the Social Security Administration has acknowledged there's no evidence Conn's clients were involved in the scheme. The Dyes' took him their records, went to the appointments he arranged and trusted he took care of the rest.

But in May 2015, 11 months before Conn was formally accused of any crime, the Social Security Administration contacted his clients. The letters said their lawyer was suspected of having colluded with a judge and their doctors to file claims using fraudulent medical evidence. It told them their benefits were suspended, and gave them 10 days to collect their medical records from years before and prove once again they had been disabled.

Local attorney Ned Pillersdorf's phone started ringing. He heard a hundred letters were sent out and panicked. Then he heard it was several hundred, then 900. Before the scope of the chaos settled into focus, a colleague made an ominous prediction.

"There will be suicides," he said.

Within weeks, three people took their own lives, including Melissa Jude, on disability for a decade for anxiety and depression. She was on her way to Pillersdorf's office when she pulled over to the side of the road and shot herself in the head.

The death toll startled Republican Congressman Hal Rogers, whose district includes the hardest-hit counties of eastern Kentucky. He convinced the Social Security Administration to allow Conn's clients to keep their checks as they struggled in a series of hearings to prove they deserved them all along. The Appalachian Research and Defense Fund, a legal aid organization in eastern Kentucky, grew so worried they recruited the largest network of volunteer attorneys since the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Now led by Pillersdorf, the band of 150 lawyers — some of the best disability attorneys in the nation — has become a sort grassroots suicide prevention network. "We are fighting for you," they tell people over and over. "You are not alone against the government."

Still, at least once a week, Pillersdorf fields a suicide threat. They plead publicly on Facebook that they want to die. They call his office. They call his home.

"Why live?" Kevin Robertson wrote him.

Robertson, a 41-year old with an anxiety disorder, a bad back and an eighth-grade education, lost his $1,035 monthly draw. He hadn't worked in a decade and says his anxiety is so crippling he can barely leave his bedroom. He lost his house and everything in it.

"I know some people killed theirselves," he wrote. "To be honest, Ned, I've had some crazy thoughts myself."

Another man told him he's now sleeping in his pick-up truck. A woman wrote that she and her children kept only their camping gear and went out to live in the woods.

The stress is beginning to wear on Pillersdorf now, too. His wife begged him to see a therapist. His colleagues worry he's coming undone.

"I want this nightmare to be over," he said, the fraying hems peeking from the leg of his trousers and the framed diplomas crooked on his office wall. "I don't remember what life was like before this started. And I don't know if we're at the end or the beginning."

___

Grocery stores in Floyd County, Kentucky, are overrun when the disability checks arrive the first week of the month. Traffic backs up on the main drag in downtown Prestonsburg, the county seat. Even the Papa John's doubles its number of delivery drivers.

The payments prop up an economy that struggled, then collapsed in recent years along with the coal industry.

One of every six working-aged adults here gets a check, more than three times the American average.

Coburn attributes that to a broken system abused by those who don't truly deserve it, yet grow dependent on government benefits. They should have known better than to hire a "shyster lawyer," he said, and those who didn't deserve benefits in the first place shouldn't draw another dime. Government dependency, he believes, is the first step toward tyranny.

"Do I feel sorry for them? Yes," he said. "Do they have hardships? Yes. But do they meet the qualifications for Social Security Disability? Absolutely not. Here's what the law says: if you can do any job in the economy you don't qualify for disability. Rules have to mean something, and life isn't fair."

The disability program was not designed to be welfare. It is an insurance program. Every American worker pays a premium out of their paycheck under an agreement with the government that a percentage of their salary will be paid to them if one day they become too disabled to work.

Tim Dye started working in the mines when he was 17. He thought when he hired Conn 26 years later, he was collecting what he was due.

His family grew entirely dependent on that check. His wife worked for the county government for nearly 18 years, until she was laid off in 2015. She didn't worry too much then about losing her job. Her husband's disability check came every month, around $2,200. It wasn't a lot for a couple with a son still in high school and two granddaughters living with them. But it was stable and they made do, and expected life to go on the way it always had in their yellow house on the edge of a mountain.

Earlier this year, her husband went to the Social Security office for his initial re-determination hearing, thinking that his inclusion on the suspension list must have been some sort of mistake. But a vocational expert told the judge Dye's back problems wouldn't prevent him from working a desk job. He was denied, and the checks stopped coming seven months ago.

They wonder who would want to hire an old coal miner for a sit-down job, with nothing more than a high school diploma, a crippled back and an eight-year gap on his resume.

"In a month or two, we won't have nothing," he said. "We're losing everything."

___

The volunteer lawyers representing Conn's former clients say the deck is stacked against them: The agency is assuming fraud without having to prove to any court that any of them committed it. The Office of the Inspector General identified applications that included Conn's suspect medical evidence. But the report is confidential, no one has seen the evidence the agency relied on to determine why this particular pile of claims was assumed to be fraudulent.

Citing a 1994 law, the agency is forbidding Conn's clients from using any medical evidence from the doctors alleged to have been involved in his scheme.

Pillersdorf said many of his clients were on disability for mental illness and cognitive disabilities. Now they are expected to recall the names of the other doctors they saw 10 years ago and pray they still have the records, Pillersdorf said.

They can't go back to original files they handed over to their lawyer. Conn is alleged to have destroyed millions of pages of documents. Coburn's investigation found that he shredded 26,000 pounds of paper when the senate started to investigate. His former employees testified he burned more in a bonfire behind his office that grew so big it smoldered for four days.

He was charged with 18 crimes, including mail fraud, wire fraud, destruction of records, money laundering, making false statements and conspiracy.

Conn's attorneys did not respond to calls requesting an interview. He was released on bond pending his trial scheduled for next summer. His bail was secured by his $1.5 million estate in Pikeville.

Of the hundreds of his clients initially suspended, about half have won their cases. The other half, including the Dyes, were cut off. Their cases are entangled now in a series of lawsuits in federal court.

At least one judge agreed that the procedure is unfair. U.S. District Judge Amul Thapar — on President-elect Donald Trump's short list for the U.S. Supreme Court — issued an opinion last month that found a number of Conn's clients were afforded fewer protections than suspected terrorists and ordered the Social Security Administration to reconsider its process. But another federal judge sided with the agency. The question will now likely be settled by a federal appeals court. The agency declined to talk about the process.

In the meantime, many of those who lost are living with no income.

The Dyes couldn't pay the water bill, so Donna Dye designed a system of hoses and barrels to collect run off from the hill that juts up behind her house, "the old-fashioned mountain way," she says.

Then a man came to switch off the lights. He gave her enough time to get to the pawn shop, cash in her engagement ring and pay the bill.

She signed up for food stamps. But her husband is too proud to spend them. To him, disability was earned; food stamps are welfare.

She had hoped to find a job that paid almost as much as she made with the county, $12.45 an hour. She's 49 years old, with only a GED. They live in rural Floyd County, 23 miles from the county seat, and just putting gas in their old truck to get to and from town eats up a couple hours of minimum wage work. But she gave up and put in 40 applications, from the Dollar Store to cleaning rooms at a cheap motel. She posted advertisements all over town offering babysitting or housecleaning for $10 an hour. She's had no takers.

They raised their kids in a hollow nearby in a rickety two-bedroom house with no heat. When Tim was still working, about 10 years ago, they bought this bigger place for $85,000 and thought it meant they'd made it to the middle class. She said it was one of the happiest days of her life, and she went out and got the big dining room table she always wanted, with eight chairs so she could have the whole family over for dinners.

The mortgage got behind by three months. The bank called to collect and she panicked. She put a sign in her yard. "Open house, everything must go." Her neighbors picked through her belongings. She sold her couch, her dishes and every television they owned. A woman offered her $20 each for five of her eight dining room chairs.

"This has been pure hell. Worry, just worry, that's all I do," she said and slumped into one of the three chairs she has left.

"I'm almost out of stuff to pawn."

___

Most people — even Conn's former clients — believe fraud is rampant in the disability system. They point to a distant relative or a man down the street, who seems healthy and able to work but still draws a check. Pillersdorf calls them "fakers," people knowingly gaming the system, and said he hasn't met one in his stack of Conn's former clients yet. The reality is much more complicated.

The very definition of disability is open for debate. Mental illness is hard to measure. Pain is impossible to see.

"There is no medical condition called disability," said David Autor, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "You can't go to a doctor and have them say, 'I've got bad news for you, son, you've got a disability.' Disability is a social construct; it's how much we want you to be suffering before you shouldn't have to work."

The nature of disability has evolved since its inception in the 1950s, when it was designed to support people with severe physical limitations — blindness, paralysis, heart disease. The program rapidly expanded in the 1970s and the federal government clamped down and kicked nearly a half-million people off the rolls. But it backfired: The public was incensed at the thought of suffering people cut off. Congress in 1984 responded by writing a more generous definition of disability which required that the agency consider pain, mental illness and combinations of less serious ailments in awarding disability.

The number of Americans in the program has skyrocketed since, from 1.8 million people in 1970 to more than 10 million today, only some of which can be attributed to aging baby boomers and more women in the workforce. Nationwide, 4.7 percent of Americans rely on Social Security Disability. But in some pockets, that number is far higher. Autor calls it the "disability belt," a swath across the South and Appalachia, where levels of education are among the lowest in the nation and jobs in mining or manufacturing have disappeared.

Dan Black, an economist at University of Chicago, studied how the rate of disability shot up when the coal industry declined. He pointed to a system tied more to economics than to physical impairments. But he doesn't believe that translates to fraud.

"I'm not sure what we mean by fraud," he said. "Obviously it's fraud if I have no health problems that prevent me from working. But there are big gray areas in between. If I have significant pain in my back, is that enough to keep me from working? Maybe. But maybe not. It is a very, very difficult line to draw."

Black has a colleague who uses a wheelchair. If he were a coalminer, he would be disabled. But he has advanced degrees and works as an economist at a university. The very definition of disability is inherently tied to education and skill and the labor market.

Americans have tasked administrative law judges employed by the Social Security Administration with choosing who deserves disability and who does not.

The stakes are high. A tiny fraction of those who enter the disability program ever leave it for a job, said David Stapleton, who runs the Mathematica Center for Studying Disability Policy. The government spends an average of $300,000 in lifetime benefits for each person in the system. The disability fund is going broke. Congress routed money last year from the retirement fund into the disability fund, a move he likened to "robbing Peter to pay Paul when Peter's already in trouble."

But the solution, he said, is to work with people on the front end to keep them in the workforce, not kick them off after they've been out of the labor market for too many years to be reasonably expected to return to it.

"Just throwing them off the rolls without considering what that means for them," he said, "seems pretty irresponsible."

___

Donna Dye looked in the mirror not long ago and was stunned by the bags under her eyes, the frayed edges of her long curly ponytail.

Just a year ago, she would have never left the house without fixing her hair and putting on lipstick.

Somewhere along the way, she thought, she had run out of pride. She doesn't know exactly when it happened. Maybe it was on one of the trips to the pawn shop. Or maybe when her mother gave her all she could — four piggy banks, labeled "quarters," ''dimes," ''nickels," ''pennies" — and she took them.

She told herself to accept it, resign to a life of poverty, and move back to that rickety old house in the hollow with no heat because she couldn't stand the stress of caring anymore.

She fixates now on the dents in the drywall, the peeling paint, the cracks in the concrete porch. She trained herself to hate this house she had loved so much. She will not weep when the bank comes to take it away.

UPDATE March 2017: 

Kentucky Lawyer Pleads Guilty in Massive Social Security Disability Scheme, 100's Face Loss of Monthly Checks

Friday, March 24, 2017

Special Olympics ambassador, Arnold Schwarzenegger Destroys TROLL Degrading Special Olympians

Special Olympics ambassador, Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold Schwarzenegger has inspired many of us. Whether through his meteoric rise as a an Austrian bodybuilder who became an international movie star or his pursuit of public office, he’s been one of those who managed to rise from difficult circumstances to the highest heights the world has to offer.

wonderful article by Jesse Reed for Sportsnaut | March 24, 2017                     
So when Schwarzenegger is inspired by others, you know those people are truly amazing. The former Governor or California shared a post on Facebook celebrating the Special Winter Olympians who won gold, making it clear they are an inspiration to him.

“So inspired by the athletes I’m meeting at Special Olympics World Games 2017 in Austria,” Schwarzenegger wrote on his Facebook page.

Of course, as we find everywhere on the Internet, at least one troll attacked these awesome athletes and people. But Schwarzenegger wasn’t having any of it.

Schwarzenegger not only slapped down this troll but challenged him to “take their path — you could learn from them, and try to challenge yoursle, to give back, to add something from the world.”

This was just the embodiment of class and tremendous response to someone who clearly doesn’t understand just how amazing the people are who compete in the Special Olympics. Well done, Arnold Schwarzenegger. We salute you.


The National Resource Directory Offers Resources Catered To Caregivers

Caregivers impact lives, too, making a difference for their veteran or wounded, injured, or ill spouse or family member.


The National Resource Directory has nearly 250 pages of resources catered to caregivers that can provide assistance. These resources can be national programs or service-specific, ranging from counseling and support groups tofamily recreation, or education programs to employment. Find the resources that will help you.

U.S. Access Board Webinar (April 6): Vehicles Final Rule


laptop with Access Board sealThe next webinar in the U.S. Access Board's free monthly series will take place April 6 from 2:30 – 4:00 (ET) and cover the Board's recent update of provisions for buses and vans in its ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Transportation Vehicles. These guidelines address boarding access, fare devices, interior circulation, seating and securement, signs, lighting, and announcement systems.

The rule updating the bus and van guidelines, which the Board published in December, enhances accessibility and is responsive to industry trends and advancements in vehicle design and technology. It includes provisions that improve ramp and communication access, address level boarding systems, and incorporate updated standards for wheelchair securement systems. In addition, presenters will discuss research on bus accessibility that is currently underway by the Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access.
Visit www.accessibilityonline.org for more information or to register. Archived copies of previous Board webinars are available on the site. The webinar series is made available in cooperation with the ADA National Network.
SOURCE: Press Release 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

In 2017 U.S. Supreme Court Rules In Favor Of A Special Education Student

March 22, 2017 - School districts must give students with disabilities the chance to make meaningful, "appropriately ambitious" progress, the Supreme Court said Wednesday in an 8-0 ruling.

The decision in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District could have far-reaching implications for the 6.5 million students with disabilities in the United States.

The case centered on a child with autism and attention deficit disorder whose parents removed him from public school in fifth grade. He went on to make better progress in a private school. His parents argued that the individualized education plan provided by the public school was inadequate, and they sued to compel the school district to pay his private school tuition.

The Supreme Court today sided with the family, overturning a lower court ruling in the school district's favor.

The federal Individuals With Disabilities Education Act guarantees a "free appropriate public education" to all students with disabilities. Today's opinion held that "appropriate" goes further than what the lower courts had held.
"It cannot be right that the IDEA generally contemplates grade-level advancement for children with disabilities who are fully integrated in the regular classroom, but is satisfied with barely more than de minimis progress for children who are not," read the opinion, signed by Chief Justice John Roberts.
The case drew a dozen friend of the court briefs from advocates for students with disabilities who argued that it is time to increase rigor, expectations and accommodations for all.

"A standard more meaningful than just above trivial is the norm today," wrote the National Association of State Directors of Special Education.

The ruling seems likely to increase pressure from families and advocates in that direction.

Significantly, Judge Neil Gorsuch, currently in confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court's vacant ninth seat, has repeatedly ruled the other way on similar cases.

Gorsuch's opinions in eight out of 10 cases involving students of disabilities all tended toward limiting the responsibilities of school districts — for example, if they leave school of their own accord out of frustration. IDEA's standard of a "free appropriate public education," reads Gorsuch's opinion in one of these cases, "is not an onerous one."

When questioned on his record, in light of this new ruling, during his hearing today by Texas Sen. John Cornyn, he said "I was wrong, senator, because I was bound by circuit precedent, and I'm sorry."

Article by:               
http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2017/03/22/521094752/the-supreme-court-rules-in-favor-of-a-special-education-student?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=20170322

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

'Sesame Street' is welcoming Julia, a Muppet with Autism

Folks on Sesame Street have a way of making everyone feel accepted.


By The Associated Press | March 20, 2017                    That certainly goes for Julia, a Muppet youngster with blazing red hair, bright green eyes -- and autism. Rather than being treated like an outsider, which too often is the plight of kids on the spectrum, Julia is one of the gang.

Look: On this friendliest of streets (actually Studio J at New York's Kaufman Astoria Studios, where "Sesame Street" lives) Julia is about to play a game with Oscar, Abby and Grover. In this scene being taped for airing next season, these Muppet chums have been challenged to spot objects shaped like squares or circles or triangles.

"You're lucky," says Abby to Grover. "You have Julia on your team, and she is really good at finding shapes!"

With that, they skedaddle, an exit that calls for the six Muppeteers squatted out of sight below them to scramble accordingly. Joining her pals, Julia (performed by Stacey Gordon) takes off hunting.

For more than a year, Julia has existed in print and digital illustrations as the centerpiece of a multifaceted initiative by Sesame Workshop called "Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children."

She has been the subject of a storybook released along with videos, e-books, an app and website. The goal is to promote a better understanding of what the Autism Speaks advocacy group describes as "a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences."

But now Julia has been brought to life in fine Muppet fettle. She makes her TV debut on "Sesame Street" in the "Meet Julia" episode airing April 10 on both PBS and HBO. Additional videos featuring Julia will be available online.

Developing Julia and all the other components of this campaign has required years of consultation with organizations, experts and families within the autism community, according to Jeanette Betancourt, Sesame Workshop's senior vice president of U.S. Social Impact.

"In the U.S., one in 68 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder," she says. "We wanted to promote a better understanding and reduce the stigma often found around these children. We're modeling the way both children and adults can look at autism from a strength-based perspective: finding things that all children share."

Julia is at the heart of this effort. But while she represents the full range of children on the spectrum, she isn't meant to typify each one of them: "Just as we look at all children as being unique, we should do the same thing when we're looking at children with autism," Betancourt says.

It was with keen interest that Stacey Gordon first learned of Julia more than a year ago. "I said, 'If she's ever a puppet, I want to BE Julia!'"

No wonder. Gordon is a Phoenix-based puppeteer who performs, conducts classes and workshops, and creates whimsical puppets for sale to the public.

She also has a son with autism, and, before she started her family, was a therapist to youngsters on the spectrum.

Although she figured her chances of landing the dream role of Julia were nil, her contacts in the puppet world paid off: Two friends who worked as Muppeteers on "Sesame Street" dropped her name to the producers. After submitting tapes, then coming to New York for an audition, she was hired.

In the introductory segment, Julia is having fun with Abby and Elmo when Big Bird walks up. He wants to be her new friend, but she doesn't speak to him. He thinks she doesn't like him.

"She does things just a little differently, in a Julia sort of way," Abby informs him.

Julia, chuckling, then displays a different-but-fun way of playing tag, and everyone joins in. But when a siren wails, she covers her ears and looks stricken.

"She needs to take a break," Big Bird's human friend Alan calmly explains. Soon, all is well and play resumes.

"The 'Meet Julia' episode is something that I wish my son's friends had been able to see when they were small," says Gordon. "I remember him having meltdowns and his classmates not understanding how to react."

Gordon says her son, now 13, isn't drawn to puppetry. "He's more interested in math and science, and plays the piano brilliantly," she says with pride.

But she's having a blast being part of the show that helped hook her, as a child, on puppeteering.

"It is so much fun to be on set with everyone, and get to play up all the positive things I've seen with the kids that I've worked with," Gordon says. "At the same time, I come at this with a reverence. I don't want to let the autism community down."

photo credit: (Zach Hyman/Sesame Workshop via AP) (Zach Hyman)

Texas Braces For Medicaid Cuts Under GOP Health Plan, American Seniors and Disabled To Be Hit Hard

Many in Texas are keeping a close eye on the Republican bid to replace the Affordable Care Act. One of the big changes is how it would affect low-income people, seniors, and people with disabilities who get help from Medicaid. And people on both sides of the political spectrum say the Lone Star State is not going to fare well.

March 17, 2017 | Heard on KUT 90.5 

 As the GOP bill, the American Health Care Act, works its way through Congress, Anne Dunkelberg with the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin says she's a little stumped.

"I have worked on Medicaid and uninsured and health care access issues in Texas for well over 20 years," she chuckles. She says this bill leaves the fate of some current funding streams unclear and there's one pot of money she's particularly concerned about. Texas has struck deals with the federal government to help reimburse hospitals for the cost of caring for people who don't have insurance. And Texas has more uninsured residents than any other state.

"About half of what Texas hospitals get from Medicaid today comes through payments that are outside from the regular Medicaid program," she says, which adds up to $4 billion in federal funds every year.

But even if Texas gets to keep all that money, there's another whammy — the GOP plan caps how much money states get for Medicaid from the federal government for every person they cover. It's called a per-capita cap, and the payments under that formula would start in 2020, but would be based on how much the state spends this year.

Adriana Kohler with Texans Care for Children, an advocacy group based in Austin, says Texas already leaves too many people without care.

"Last legislative session there were cuts to pediatric therapies for kids with disabilities enrolled in Medicaid," she says. The cuts caused some providers to shut their doors, which left some children without services, she says. "That's why these cuts coming down from the ACA repeal bill are very concerning to us."

She says in Texas, children, pregnant women, seniors, and people with disabilities will bear the brunt of any belt-tightening. These populations make up 96 percent of people on Medicaid in Texas. That's why Dunkelberg says the program as is should not be the baseline for years to come.

"They could lock Texas into a lot of historical decisions that were strictly driven by a desire to write the smallest budget possible," she says.

Some on the right agree Texas is getting a raw deal. Doctor Deane Waldman with the right-leaning Texas Public Policy Foundation says there are things he likes in the bill. But in general he says, "It's bad deal for Texas. It's a bad deal for the American people."

He says it was the right thing for Texas not to expand Medicaid, but this bill punishes Texas for it. Under the GOP bill, states that expanded Medicaid would get more money. And because the Republican bill leaves the door open for states to expand Medicaid before 2020, he thinks more states will do that to get in on the deal.

"It's going to be a huge rush — an inducement to drag in as many people as they can drag in, because the more they can drag in, the more federal dollars they can get," he says.

That, in turn, will make Medicaid spending skyrocket, he says. But if Texas still refuses to expand, it will have to share a pot of $10 billion over five years with other non-expansion states, per the GOP bill. And that would be just a drop in a bucket for a state as big as Texas.

This story is part of a reporting partnership with NPR, KUT and Kaiser Health News.
http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/03/17/520266060/texas-braces-for-medicaid-cuts-under-gop-health-plan

The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago is Now The Shirley Ryan "AbilityLab"

The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago will soon be a thing of the past. But that's not to say it's going away. It has a new name, a new location and a much larger, state-of-the-art facility that its executives say rivals any other physical rehabilitation center in the world. (from WTTW report)


YouTube published by AbilityRIC

Overview of The Shirley Ryan AbilityLab®

The unique design of the hospital is about creativity and inventing – processes, methods, experiences, even products that will affect real change in our patients and in their potential for full recovery.
We are leveraging the design of our new building to fully express our vision, embracing an iterative rather than linear process of clinical care and recovery medicine, and integrating the intellectual with the artistic.

A revolution in rehabilitation medicine

Our new research hospital project will transform the entire structure of our organization and will exert strong influence on the field of rehabilitation to adopt translational methods, integrating science directly with clinical care to achieve never-before-possible outcomes for patients. We have the insight, expertise, and drive to envision a revolution in rehabilitation medicine, and to make it happen. And we hold the fundamental ambition and confidence that RIC will continue to improve lives and serve as a resource for the world, the center of excellence and promise.

Our commitment to education and training

The new facility will also extend RIC’s outreach in training and disseminating knowledge across the globe. Although we currently invest significant resources in education and training, we expect the new facility will allow us to better serve the field through conferences, colloquiums, and training seminars in order to share our emerging knowledge and know-how. RIC is compelled to use our knowledge to advance the field and to set new standards of care by which other organizations can improve the outcomes of patients.

Nuclei of Discovery: Five Innovation Centers 

Brain Injury Research and RecoverySpinal Cord Injury Research and RecoveryNeuro-Muskolskeletal Research and RecoveryPediatric RehabilitationCancer Rehabilitation
Brain
Innovation
Center
Spinal Cord Innovation
Center
Nerve, Muscle
& Bone
Innovation
Center
Pediatric
Rehabilitation Innovation
Center
Cancer
Rehabilitation Innovation
Center
Learn more about our five Innovation Centers and our Ability Labs
# # #
the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab at UIC
355 E Erie St, Chicago, IL 60611
1-844-355-ABLE | 312-238-1000
Website: https://www.sralab.org/

source: Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago

March 21, 2017 is the 12th World Down Syndrome Day

UNITED NATIONS - Down Syndrome is a naturally occurring chromosomal arrangement that has always been a part of the human condition, exists in all regions across the globe and commonly results in variable effects on learning styles, physical characteristics or health.

Adequate access to health care, to early intervention programmes and to inclusive education, as well as appropriate research, are vital to the growth and development of the individual.

In December 2011, the General Assembly declared 21 March as World Down Syndrome Day (A/RES/66/149). The General Assembly decided, with effect from 2012, to observe World Down Syndrome Day on 21 March each year, and Invites all Member States, relevant organizations of the United Nations system and other international organizations, as well as civil society, including non-governmental organizations and the private sector, to observe World Down Syndrome Day in an appropriate manner, in order to raise public awareness of Down Syndrome.

March 21, 2017 marks the 12th anniversary of World Down Syndrome Day. For WDSD 2017, Down Syndrome International will focus on:
#MyVoiceMyCommunity - Enabling people with Down syndrome to speak up, be heard and influence government policy and action, to be fully included in the community



   
 YouTube published by Down Syndrome International
Please share this preview which features a clip from 42 country videos! Then watch all 43!

For the "12th World Down Syndrome Day" website, visit:          https://worlddownsyndromeday.org/wdsd-2017

Monday, March 20, 2017

nTIDE Webinar Series April 7, 2017: March Disability Jobs Report

nTIDE Lunch & Learn Webinar Series

Season Two Episode 3 of the nTIDE Lunch & Learn Webinar Series, detailing findings of the latest Jobs Report release, announcements from the Disability Employment field, and a guest presentation by Rita Landgraf, Professor of Practice and Distinguished Health and Social Services Administrator in Residence, University of Delaware, College of Health Sciences, is now available online. We also welcomed AUCD's Denise M. Rozell as the new host of "Announcements from the field of Disability Employment."

The next nTIDE Lunch & Learn Webinar will take place on Friday, April 7, 2017 at 12 noon EST. Learn more about the March Jobs Report and how it fits into longer term employment trends, hear about programs and research across the country addressing employment and disability, and listen to experts in the field.
Register HERE for the nTIDE Lunch & Learn Webinar
Watch Webinar Recording
Download the March Agenda & Bios
Download the Audio-Only Recording
View the Powerpoint Presentation
Download the Transcript
Read the nTIDE Report

About the nTIDE Lunch & Learn Webinar
The Employment Policy & Measurement Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (EPM-RRTC) at the University of New Hampshire, in partnership with Kessler Foundation and the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) have launched a monthly webinar. On the first Friday of every month, corresponding with the Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs report, we will be offering a live broadcast via Zoom Webinar to share the results of the latest nTIDE findings. In addition, we will provide news and updates from the field of Disability Employment, as well as host an invited panelist who will discuss current disability related findings and events. Follow the conversation on Twitter at #nTIDElearn.
SOURCE: Press Release