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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Mental-health needs should be high-priority for VA and U.S. Lawmakers

 - The Washington Times | Nov 19, 2014

Lawmakers talked Wednesday about the challenges facing the VA in treating mental-health issues, including not enough money, not enough doctors, and not enough time left in the legislative year.
But Valerie Pallotta, testifying to those lawmakers at the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said she faces the challenges that come with suicide in a different way: getting out of bed in the morning, making a meal for herself and her husband, and thinking back to the night two police officers knocked on her door at 3 a.m. saying that her 25-year-old son was dead.
Joshua Pallotta, who served with the Vermont National Guard, killed himself just six weeks ago after a 2010 deployment to Afghanistan where he saw several close friends die in combat.
“We struggle to get through a shower without breaking down,” Ms. Pallotta told the Senate committee. “We just go through the motions.”
As Congress grapples with trying to cure the VA of a bureaucracy that created secret wait lists to deny veterans care without seeming to do so, and that put the department over the interests of patients, senators said Ms. Pallotta’s struggle underscored how urgent some of the problems are.
“There is a benefit to telling these stories because the reminder is that, while we hear this stuff about the bureaucracy at the VA, the consequences are something that we’re not so readily aware of that we’ve heard from you today,” said Sen. Jerry Moran, Kansas Republican. “There can be no excuse.”
The average wait time for a mental-health appointment at the VA is 36 days — unchanged from June 9, despite an influx of money that came when Congress passed the Veterans Choice Act over the summer.
Dr. Harold Kudler, chief consultant for mental health services at the VA, said the wait times don’t account for same-day appointments when a veteran calls with an urgent mental health problem. They are seen immediately — the goal for every veteran with an emergency, he said.
He also said the few months of increased funding and awareness hasn’t been enough to hire enough new staff.
“Getting more people onboard does take time and that’s a slow process,” he said.
To try to avoid these long wait times, lawmakers included a Choice Card in this summer’s reform bill, which will allow veterans who experience long waits or live too far from a facility to seek help in their community. Dr. Kudler, however, said private mental health doctors may not be prepared or qualified to help veterans. Private doctors often don’t even ask if someone served in the military when taking down a medical history, he said.
Dr. Kudler said that even though Congress dedicated $5 billion to hire new providers, it remains to be seen how much would go to mental health staff. Sen. Jon Tester, Montana Democrat, said it’s up to the VA to make sure the money goes there, even if it’s not spelled out in the law.
“The injuries coming out of these wars have a lot to do with unseen problems,” Mr. Tester said. “$5 billion is a lot of dough and you guys should use that to help take care of this mental health problem we have in the VA.”
The VA touted statistics that showed middle-aged veterans who got mental healthcare at the VA had lower rates of suicide. But Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, questioned why the youngest veterans, even those who get care at the VA, are committing suicide at such a high rate.
The VA promised to do more outreach, but Mr. Blumenthal said that’s not a solution, since veterans are already aware of the services the VA offers.
“They’re in your door, they use your services and they’re committing suicide at a higher rate,” he said. “People are dying at a higher rate who use your services.”
The VA was unable to provide an exact rate of suicide for this population, but said they were aware of the problem.
“We are trying to understand why they are doing this,” said Caitlin Thompson, the deputy director of suicide prevention at the VA.
Susan Selke, the mother of a Marine who committed suicide, said her son’s unit lost 20 Marines in 2008 while deployed in combat. Since coming home, the unit has lost another 20 to suicide as of earlier this week, she said.
Ms. Selke told reporters ahead of the hearing that VA Secretary Bob McDonald promised his support of the suicide prevention bill named after her son, Clay Hunt.
http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/nov/19/senate-mental-health-needs-should-top-priority-va/?page=all#pagebreak

Hasbro Helps Kids With Disabilities Learn To Play

Mr. Potato Head arrives at the world premiere of Toy Story 3 on Sunday June 13, 2010 at The El Capitan Theater in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Katy Winn) | ASSOCIATED PRESS
 | By Jennifer McDermott | Nov 19, 2014
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- Toymakers at Hasbro don't want Mr. Potato Head to end up at the bottom of toy boxes, simply because children with developmental disabilities don't know how to play with him.
Hasbro Inc. has partnered with The Autism Project, a group of parents and professionals that help people with autism to create instructional videos and tools to help children with developmental disabilities learn how to play with their toys.
The Pawtucket, Rhode Island-based toy company will launch the "ToyBox Tools" initiative on Wednesday in Columbus, Ohio at a national conference on autism and disabilities, OCALICON 2014.
Parents and caregivers can access the tools for eight of Hasbro's classic toys for free online at the ToyBox Tools website. The series of Mr. Potato Head videos introduce children to the toy, explain how to assemble him in creative ways and show how to play with him with other children.
Karen Davis, the senior vice president of global philanthropy and social impact at Hasbro, said that knowing how to play with these toys may not be intuitive for children with developmental disabilities, including autism. Three engineers at the company thought of the idea, she said, so every child can "experience the joy of play."
About 15 percent of children in the United States have a developmental disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"To be able to help this group of kids means an awful lot to us," Davis said Tuesday. "We're really looking forward to seeing where this goes."
Joanne Quinn, executive director of The Autism Project, said ToyBox Tools will have a "huge impact" because parents will feel more empowered to play with their children, and children will learn how to play at their own pace and learn important life skills.
Parents and teachers sometimes write out instructional materials for toys or show videos of other kids playing, but no one has collected everything in one place for everyone to use, she added.
"Hasbro has given us such a platform to help so many families, it's fantastic," Quinn said.
Davis said Hasbro hopes to get suggestions from the experts at the conference to improve the online resources. Hasbro may develop similar videos and printed instructions for more toys in the future, she added.
video

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Easter Seals Mentorship Program for Young Women with Disabilities available for Digital Audiences

as shared by Easter Seals | Nov 2014

"Thrive" program facilitates personal growth and empowerment for young women during life transitions
Easter Seals is bringing young women with disabilities together through the national expansion of the Thrive program.  Women across the country will now have digital access to the Massachusetts-based program, Easter Seals announced today.

Thrive empowers young women to achieve their goals and independence through one-on-one mentoring. In 2012, a group of women created the program to address a growing need for support of youth with disabilities as they transition into adulthood—a time when they are expected to gain more independence. Thrive provides young women with personalized support as they navigate through these life changes. Each member of Thrive is paired with an older, adult mentor based on a variety of factors including location, availability, life experiences, interests and disability.
"Thrive challenges my idea of what successes are possible," said Sandy Ho, Thrive Program Coordinator. "As a young woman with a disability I continuously find myself trying to measure up to my peers, colleagues, or family members—very few of whom are women with disabilities. Thrive helped me realize that my own life experiences were not necessarily unique, but a lifestyle that had patterns many other women with disabilities were familiar with. Thrive is empowering a community from those life experiences!"
The national launch of Thrive's digital community gives millions of women an opportunity to utilize life experiences and advocacy from one another. Digital mentor interaction is coordinated through email, video-chat and phone. In addition to mentoring, Thrive is encouraging young women to interact with one another through their active social media community, book club and a series of Google Hangout chats. Thrive continues to operate their on-site mentorship program at Easter Seals Massachusetts. Easter Seals affiliates will begin adapting Thrive's on-site services in the coming years.
"We are pleased to announce the expansion of Thrive, a program that has been instrumental in helping young women reach their full potential," said Jim Williams, Easter Seals president. "Easter Seals is proud to support youth of all abilities as they enter a new chapter in life. The Thrive digital community will help millions of women realize they're not alone in whatever challenges they may face." 
"Working as part of a team at Easter Seals to develop Thrive has been a rewarding experience not only as a professional, but also personally as a woman with a disability," said Colleen Flanagan, Easter Seals Massachusetts Youth Services Coordinator. "I still remember the struggles of being an adolescent girl growing up with a disability. I hoped to find a community to share my fears and frustrations of being a teenage girl with a disability. I wanted to meet mentors and peers who had disabilities like mine, and who also like me, had the ability to thrive.  I am proud to contribute to the work Easter Seals is doing to empower the next generation of young women with disabilities."
About Easter Seals:
Easter Seals is the leading non-profit provider of services for individuals with autism, developmental disabilities, physical disabilities and other special needs.  For more nearly 100 years, we have been offering help, hope, and answers to children and adults living with disabilities, and to the families who love them. Through therapy, training, education and support services, Easter Seals creates life-changing solutions so that people with disabilities can live, learn, work and play in their communities.  For more information visit www.easterseals.com.
About Thrive:
The Easter Seals Thrive program facilitates personal growth and empowerment for women with disabilities during life transitions. Thrive's mission is to provide young women with disabilities support to achieve their goals and independence. Thrive was established at Easter Seals Massachusetts by a group of women to meet a need for support of youth with disabilities as they transition into adulthood. For more information visit www.easterseals.com/thrive/

HUD SETTLES CLAIMS ALLEGING DEKALB, ILLINOIS APARTMENT COMPLEX DISCRIMINATED AGAINST PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES

PRESS RELEASE | Nov 3, 2014
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced today that it has entered into a Voluntary Compliance Agreement (VCA) with University Village, the owner and operator of a 500-unit HUD-subsidized apartment complex in DeKalb, Illinois. As part of the agreement, University Village has agreed to pay $255,000 to settle allegations that it violated fair housing laws when it failed to meet the needs of persons with disabilities and retaliated against a resident with disabilities for requesting a reasonable accommodation.
The VCA is the result of complaints that were filed by HOPE Fair Housing Center, the RAMP Center for Independent Living and two residents with disabilities, which alleged that University Village made housing unavailable when it assigned a mobility impaired resident to a third-floor unit in a building with no elevator, and threatened her with eviction for having her adult daughter, who was serving as her caregiver, in the unit, even though she had documentation verifying her disability and need for the accommodation. University Village receives federal financial assistance from HUD in the form of project-based vouchers.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in the sale or rental of a dwelling because of disability, including refusing to make reasonable accommodations in policies or practices when a person with a disability requires such an accommodation. In addition, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires that programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance be readily accessible to persons with disabilities and that they be granted the reasonable accommodations they need, including being allowed to have a live-in caregiver in a unit when it is necessary.
"No one with a disability should be denied the accommodations they need to fully enjoy their home," said Gustavo Velasquez, HUD's Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. "This agreement reflects HUD's commitment to working with housing providers, including owners of HUD funded housing, to meet their obligation to comply with the nation's fair housing laws."
Under the terms of the agreement, University Village will pay $255,000, which includes attorney fees, to the two individuals who filed complaints and work with HOPE Fair Housing Center to develop a new reasonable accommodation policy. The complex will also conduct a needs assessment of current tenants and applicants who require assessable units to determine if their needs are being met and ensure that five percent of its units are fully accessible, either by constructing new units or converting existing units.
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HUD's mission is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all.
HUD is working to
 strengthen the housing market to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the
need for quality affordable rental homes: utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; build
inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination; and transform the way HUD does business.
More information about HUD and its programs is available on the Internet at
 www.hud.gov and
http://espanol.hud.gov
. You can also follow HUD on twitter @HUDGov, on facebook at
www.facebook.com/HUD, or sign up for news alerts on HUD's Email List.

Disability Rights Activists Demand Closure Of Troubled Chicago Nursing Home (VIDEO) & article

wanted to share this article, which demonstrate what activism for a good reason is about..

PROGRESS ILLINOIS | article by Ellyn Fortino | Nov 18, 2014

Activists protested Monday afternoon outside of a Rogers Park nursing home where numerous disabled children and young adults have died in recent years.
Toting signs reading "Kids need love not nursing homes," about 20 disability rights advocates with the group Access Living demanded that the troubled facility now called Alden Village North shut its doors for good. The activists, who staged a similar protest against the facility in September, also stressed the need for more community-based supports for people with disabilities. 
"We believe that no child with a disability should be in a nursing home, but if they have to exist, this is not one here that should" remain open, said Gary Arnold, public relations coordinator at Access Living (center for independent living in Chicago).
The Alden Village North facility, located at 7464 North Sheridan Road, cares for children and young adults with severe disabilities. Between 2000 and 2010, the state cited the nursing home, which has had different owners over the years, for the deaths of 13 children and young adults in cases involving neglect or other violations, according to a 2010 Chicago Tribune investigation. In a follow-up report this year, the newspaper found that the state cited Alden Village North for five more deaths between 2009 and 2013. Alden Village North belongs to the Alden nursing home chain, which acquired the facility in 2008.
Following the Tribune's 2010 investigation, state officials attempted to close the North Side facility in 2011, but they were unable to do so due to a legal technicality. 
"That state had an opportunity to shut down a nursing home that has this long record of abuse toward people with disabilities, specifically toward children with disabilities," Arnold said. "The state lost its opportunity, and ... we want to put the pressure back on both the nursing home, Alden Village North, as well as the state to take steps again to do the right thing and make sure this nursing home is closed."
Melaney Arnold, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health, issued the following statement on Tuesday to Progress Illinois:
The health and safety of residents at Alden Village North, as with all nursing homes, are a priority and the state will continue to closely monitor Alden Village North and conduct annual inspections and complaint investigations.  While the facility has been cited for violations over the past couple of years, the ultimate results of those violations did not rise to the level of license revocation.  Health and safety conditions currently found at the facility during its most recent inspections are improved compared to the facility's substantial failure to comply with state regulations in 2008 and 2009 and license revocation is not currently being sought.  However, if we do find the care, health and safety of residents is being compromised, the Department will consider the facility's past record when determining disciplinary action. 
Messages left with Alden Village North were not returned.
Activists, meanwhile, noted that people of all ages with all types of disabilities can live in the community with the right supports.
"A commitment has been made [by the state] to rebalance and move services away from institutions into the community, but more needs to be done," stressed Arnold, with Access Living. "There are hundreds of people in Chicago and thousands across the state who are still in institutions who very well could be in the community now." 
Tom Wilson, community development organizer for health care at Access Living, said "forcing children to be in an institution" like Alden Village North "where they don't get the love and care that would get in a family setting" is a "form of discrimination and oppression."
"I think that some people would definitely say (the nursing home has) improved, but no improvement is enough in this sense that they need to be with families and in real homes," he said. "And an institution is still an institution."
Here's more from Wilson and scenes from the protest:
"Kids don't deserve to be institutionalized," added Michael Grice, who previously lived in a nursing home and recently transitioned to community-based home care.
"They deserve to be in warm, loving homes with the supports that they need, as well as adults," he continued. "Too many kids have died here at Alden in the last 14 years, and they must put an end to this, because I know, and everybody here knows, that the kids here are not getting the proper care that they deserve."

http://www.progressillinois.com/quick-hits/content/2014/11/17/disability-rights-activists-demand-closure-troubled-rogers-park

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Pennsylvania teen with autism found duct-taped to goal post, receives apology (complete coverage)

this has been an ongoing story, will try and post from the beginning (first) and continued updates..
Austin Babinsack

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | Oct 8, 2014



The Highlands School District has suspended its soccer coach and two of the team’s players after a teenager with autism was found duct-taped to a goal post over the weekend.
Harrison police said the incident happened Sunday night at the school’s soccer fields. The police department is investigating.
Austin Babinsack, 16, told police that he was left duct-taped to the post for about 15 minutes, while several students went back to the school to get another student.
An off-duty Pennsylvania state trooper found him.
“He was terrified, he could have died, he could have had a heart attack from being so stressed out. He was screaming at the top of his lungs,” Austin’s mother, Kristy Babinsack, told KDKA-TV.
Ms. Babinsack said Austin has autism.
The school district said coach Jim Turner, who it said was not present during the incident, and two of the players, both 17, have been suspended for at least five days.
The district released the following statement about the incident: “Highlands School District does not take matters such as hazing and bullying lightly. The district issues strict disciplinary action on students who think these actions are appropriate and harmless.”
Ms. Babinsack said she’s satisfied by the district’s response so far but hopes the coach will be fired and the other players expelled.
Associated Press contributed.
http://www.post-gazette.com/local/north/2014/10/08/Highlands-teen-with-autism-found-duct-taped-to-goal-post/stories/201410080209


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Coach, players investigated after boy with autism found taped to goal post

Published on Oct 8, 2014
PITTSBURGH, Pa. (KDKA) – Police are investigating a high school coach and several players after they allegedly duct taped a boy to a goal post.

The alleged hazing took place Sunday night at Highlands High School’s soccer fields.

“I was really shaken. I thought I was gonna be stuck there for a long time,” said Austin Babinsack.

Austin, 16, says he was duct taped to the goal for approximately 15 minutes, while the group of kids went back to the school to get another student.

An off-duty trooper found him and helped free him.

“He was terrified. He could have died, he could have had a heart attack from being so stressed out. He was screaming at the top of his lungs,” said Kristy Babinsack, Austin’s mother.

Babinsack says Austin is autistic and believed the kids who taped him to the goal post were his friends.

“They duct taped my hands, my legs, all the way up to my waist. And then they attempted to try to take a picture of it,” said Austin.

The Highlands School District has suspended coach Jim Turner and two players for at least five days.

“I feel the coach knew. He wasn’t there, but he knew it was happening. He knows that it’s been going on. He’s the adult, these kids, let’s face it, they’re 17. We have to hold the adults accountable first before we can hold the kids accountable,” Babinsack said.

The district released the following statement on the incident:

“Highlands School District does not take matters such as hazing and bullying lightly. The district issues strict disciplinary action on students who think these actions are appropriate and harmless.
------



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Lawyer: Student with autism still being bullied after duct-taping


The family of 16-year-old Austin Babinsack says the Highlands High School student was taped to a soccer goalpost and left there, and now people are posting comments online.
as reported by Amber Nicotra, for WTAE News in Pittsburgh | Oct 10, 2014


video


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Oct 20, 2014
By Mary Niederberger / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


Austin Babinsack was a victim of bullies when two teammates duct-taped the autistic Highlands High School soccer player to a goal post and abandoned him for 20 minutes earlier this month.
When those teammates were suspended from school and the team, Austin, 16, was again the target of bullies who took to the Internet to condemn him and support the boys who were suspended.
Now, school officials and his family are working to make sure the bullying ends on all fronts.
On Monday, Austin’s parents and attorney Phil DiLucente met with Highlands superintendent Michael Bjalobok and special education director Debra Lehew to discuss how to prevent future bullying and move the district past the incident.
The superintendent said the suspended teammates soon will return to classes. They initially were given five-day out-of-school suspensions, but the district later added in-school suspension days, the superintendent said. Austin has been back at school since several days after the Oct. 5 incident.
At the Monday meeting district officials made it clear they will not tolerate online bullying or harassment and will use the discipline code to punish those who post items to social media, even outside of school, that could be considered bullying or disruptive to the school day.
“There’s not going to be any further bullying permitted of Austin in school or any third-party bullying through social media,” Mr. DiLucente said.
Mr. Bjalobok said the district is simply reinforcing its existing policy to discipline students for social media posts that affect school life. “That is our policy, and we stand by it,” he said.
He said negative posts on social media targeted Austin and the school district.
Highlands has an enrollment of about 2,500 students and serves the communities of Brackenridge and Tarentum boroughs and Fawn and Harrison townships.
Harrison police, who are investigating the incident, have not said if they will file criminal charges and could not be reached for comment.
Mr. DiLucente said the Babinsack family is not pushing for criminal charges but prefer to have a meeting between Austin and the two teammates in which the boys would apologize to Austin “with contingencies of awareness education and community service.”
http://.post-gazette.com/local/north/2014/10/20/Parents-of-bullyingwww-victim-meet-with-Highlands-superintendent/stories/201410200191
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article By Madasyn Czebiniak / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette / Nov 15, 2014
The two Highlands School District soccer players who duct-taped a teenager with autism to a goal post in October and left him there, apologized to him between classes on Friday afternoon.
Phil DiLucente, the lawyer representing Austin Babinsack, 16, and his family, said the two boys apologized to Austin and also wrote him letters, which he left at school.
Austin was very excited to receive the apologies and called his mother from school Friday to tell her the news, Mr. DiLucente said.
“[He] said ’I am very happy and am glad to put this behind me and things can get back to normal,’” Mr. DiLucente said.
The Babinsack family declined to comment through Mr. DiLucente on Friday.
The apologies came after Mr. DiLucente wrote a letter to the Harrison police chief Wednesday, saying if an apology was not received by the end of next week, then the family would press charges.
No charges have been filed, according to Harrison police. Instead the boys will participate in autism awareness classes; Austin’s family would also like to see an all-encompassing autism awareness program at the high school.
“That’s the last missing piece of the puzzle,” Mr. DiLucente said. “We’re a tad anxious and we’d like things to transpire in the very near future. Actions speak louder than words.”
The boys who duct-taped Austin, both 17, were suspended from school and also faced in-school suspension, and soccer coach Jim Turner, who is said not to have been present at the time of the incident, was also suspended.
An email to the acting superintendent of the school district, Michael Bjalobok, requesting comment Friday was not returned.
http://www.post-gazette.com/local/east/2014/11/15/Highlands-students-apologize-for-incident/stories/201411150098

Peapod enters Settlement Agreement 'Website Accessible to Individuals with Disabilities' with Justice Dept.


Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, November 17, 2014
Justice Department Enters into a Settlement Agreement with Peapod to Ensure that Peapod Grocery Delivery Website is Accessible to Individuals with Disabilities
The Justice Department announced today that it has entered into a settlement agreement with Ahold U.S.A. Inc. and Peapod LLC, the owners and operators of www.peapod.com[external link], to remedy alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Peapod is America’s leading Internet grocer, delivering more than 23 million orders in 12 Midwest and East Coast states and the District of Columbia.  The agreement resolves the department’s allegations that www.peapod.com[external link] is not accessible to some individuals with disabilities, including individuals who are blind or have low vision, individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, and individuals who have physical disabilities affecting manual dexterity.       
Many individuals with disabilities use computers and other electronic devices to access the Internet with the help of assistive technologies, including text-to-speech “screen reader” software programs, refreshable Braille displays, keyboard navigation and captioning.  Such technologies have been readily available and widely used for decades; however, websites must include programming for the assistive technologies to function properly for users with disabilities.  Inaccessible websites and mobile applications persist even while there are well-established industry guidelines – the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 – for making web content accessible.
Under the agreement, Peapod is required to adopt measures to ensure that users with disabilities are able to fully and equally enjoy the various goods, services, facilities and accommodations provided through www.peapod.com[external link] including:
  • designate an employee as web accessibility coordinator for www.peapod.com, who will report directly to a Peapod, LLC executive
  • retain an independent website accessibility consultant, who will annually evaluate the accessibility of the website and  its mobile applications;
  • adopt a formal web accessibility policy;
  • provide a notice on www.peapod.com[external link] soliciting feedback from visitors on how website accessibility can be improved;
  • provide automated accessibility testing and accessibility testing by individuals with a variety of disabilities of www.peapod.com and its mobile applications;
  • provide mandatory annual training on website accessibility for Peapod’s website content personnel
“This agreement ensures that people with disabilities will have an equal opportunity to independently and conveniently shop online for groceries,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta for the Civil Rights Division.  “We applaud Peapod for working cooperatively with the department and for its commitment to customers with disabilities.”
Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by public accommodations in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages and accommodations of places of public accommodations.  Title III of the ADA also requires public accommodations to take necessary steps to ensure individuals with disabilities are not excluded, denied services, segregated, or otherwise treated differently because of the absence of auxiliary aids and services, such as accessible electronic information.  The Justice Department has long considered Title III and its implementing regulation to apply to the online services and communications of public accommodations.
To find out more about federal disability rights laws, call the Justice Department’s toll-free ADA information line at 800-514-0301 or 800-514-0383 (TDD), or access its ADA website at www.ada.gov

Monday, November 17, 2014

Illinois ranks 49th for how Court System serving Poor, Disabled and Disadvantaged, Where Does Your State Rank?

By Dave Collins
The Associated Press 

Posted Nov. 17, 2014 @ 2:38 pm

Illinois' court system had the third-worst score in the nation among state judiciaries in serving poor, disabled and other disadvantaged members of the public, according to new rankings.

Illinois' "Justice Index" score of 34.5 out of 100, determined by the nonprofit National Center for Access to Justice, is based on how states serve people with disabilities and limited English proficiency, how much free legal help is available and how states help increasing numbers of people representing themselves in court, among other issues.

Connecticut led all states with a score of 73.4 and was followed by Hawaii, Minnesota, New York and Delaware, respectively. Local courts in Washington, D.C., had the highest overall score at 80.9.

At the bottom was Oklahoma at 23.7, followed by Kentucky, Illinois, South Dakota and Indiana.

Several major law firms led the research with help from law students at the University of Pennsylvania and the Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in New York City, where the center is based.

"Across the country, there are millions of people who don't have legal representation and face other barriers in their abilities to protect their interests and enforce their rights," said David Udell, the center's executive director. "Our Justice Index is our online resource in identifying best practices ... ensuring that people do have access to the justice system."

The center released its first report card on the nation's court systems in February. It issued revised rankings Thursday and is finalizing the new numbers this week, Udell said.

Connecticut, Hawaii, Minnesota, Colorado, Tennessee and Maine had perfect 100 scores in serving people with disabilities, while Indiana, Georgia, Wyoming, Missouri and Idaho had the lowest scores.

Those rankings were based on issues such as whether interpretation services are offered free to the deaf and hearing-impaired and whether there are laws or rules allowing service animals in courthouses.

The index also reviewed how many civil legal aid lawyers were available to provide free legal help. Washington, D.C., had nearly nine civil legal aid lawyers per 10,000 people in poverty, the highest rate in the country. Texas had the lowest rate, 0.43 legal aid lawyers per 10,000 people in poverty.

Connecticut Chief Justice Chase Rogers said her top priority has been making the state's justice system accessible to the public.

"This recognition would not have been possible without the commitment and hard work of the members of the (state) Access to Justice Commission, lawyers who volunteer their time, the legal aid community, court staff and many others, who continue to work on a number of fronts to enhance access to our courts," Rogers said in a statement Monday.

A spokesman for Oklahoma courts did not return messages seeking comment about the state's low ranking Monday.
***
The nonprofit National Center for Access to Justice in New York City has released new rankings on how well state court systems serve poor and disabled people and other members of the public. Here are the new overall rankings on a scale of 0 to 100, in order from highest to lowest:
1. Washington, D.C. 80.9
2. Connecticut 73.4
3. Hawaii 69.9
4. Minnesota 69.4
5. New York 67.4
6. Delaware 66.7
7. Washington 65.6
8. Colorado 65.6
9. Wisconsin 65.2
10. Tennessee 64.0
11. Oregon 63.3
12. North Dakota 63.1
13. Massachusetts 61.9
14. Nebraska 60.7
15. Virginia 59.6
16. Montana 59.5
17. Texas 59.3
18. New Mexico 58.8
19. Utah 58.4
20. West Virginia 57.2
21. Maryland 56.4
22. Maine 54.8
23. North Carolina 54.4
24. Iowa 54.0
25. Arizona 52.7
26. Ohio 51.0
27. New Jersey 50.5
28. Michigan 50.4
29. Rhode Island 49.2
30. Nevada 48.7
31. California 47.7
32. Arkansas 46.3
33. Kansas 44.7
34. Alabama 44.1
35. Missouri 43.4
36. New Hampshire 42.8
37. Wyoming 42.5
38. Vermont 40.7
39. Louisiana 40.2
40. Idaho 40.1
41. Arizona 39.8
42. Mississippi 39.6
43. Georgia 38.8
44. Pennsylvania 38.5
45. Florida 38.1
46. South Carolina 37.2
47. Indiana 36.2
48. South Dakota 35.3
49. Illinois 34.5
50. Kentucky 33.4
51. Oklahoma 23.7

Source: National Center for Access to Justice. The full report is available online at http://www.justiceindex.org.