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

Saturday, December 31, 2016

State of Illinois Held 'Auction' of Residents with Disabilities When Closing State Institutions

Illinois - Associated Press - Dec. 30, 2016 - The rush to close a large institution for adults with developmental disabilities during former Gov. Pat Quinn's (failed) administration led to extraordinary strategies to move residents quickly and hide problems with an underfunded group home system, according to a newspaper investigation.

The Chicago Tribune (article) says state officials required group home operators to sign a pledge not to undermine the state's plans to close Jacksonville Developmental Center - or risk getting no referrals from the facility to fill empty beds.

What's more, the Department of Human Services held what amounted to an auction in April 2012 where a state official read aloud the medical histories of the Jacksonville facility's residents. Group home officials raised their hands to indicate which residents they would be willing to take.

"We were appalled by the auction," said Art Dykstra, executive director of Trinity Services, the state's largest group home provider.

State records show at least 67 businesses signed the loyalty pledge - promising to "not do anything to inhibit, diminish, or undermine" the state's closure plans - to avoid being shut out of the auction and referrals, the Tribune reported.

Jerry Stermer, a former senior adviser to Democrat Quinn, said the auction system was changed to a paper process when group home operators complained. It had been designed to match residents with group homes that could meet their needs, Stermer said.

Motivated by a federal consent decree, Quinn had wanted to close several developmental centers but succeeded with only Jacksonville.

The Tribune's story is part of an investigation that earlier found at least 42 deaths linked to abuse and neglect in group homes or their day programs over the last seven years. The newspaper's investigation prompted Human Services Secretary James Dimas to order widespread reforms to improve public accountability and streamline investigations.

The Tribune's investigation found that adequate funding hasn't followed when residents are moved from large institutions to smaller group homes, which in theory give adults with disabilities greater opportunities to live and work in the larger community.

Illinois group homes have gone nearly nine years without an increase in reimbursement rates for staff wages.
"We've said all along the community system is grossly underfunded," said Zena Naiditch of the disability rights group Equip for Equality. "It's been grossly underfunded for decades."
Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration plans no institutional closures this fiscal year, which ends in June. About 1,650 residents still live in seven developmental centers statewide. A nonprofit advocacy group, the Arc of Illinois, continues to lobby for closing at least six of them.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Disability Bias Against Disabled Applicants Lawsuit filed against Chick-Fil-A

An autistic man claims he was dissuaded from applying for a job at an Illinois Chick-fil-A after the restaurant’s manager told him that people with disabilities would not be able to succeed there.

published from the Courthouse News Service, article by DIONNE CORDELL-WHITNEY | Dec. 27, 2016      
James Kwon sued Chick-fil-A Inc. and Chick-fil-A of Orland Park FSU in Chicago federal court on Friday, claiming he was blocked from applying for a job at the Orland Park location due to his autism.

The restaurant’s branch manager refused to consider him for any job and explicitly cited his disability as the reason, according to the complaint (below).

As part of a work-study program, the 25-year-old worked at a Bakers Square restaurant in the fall and winter of 2013. He says some of his job responsibilities included cleaning menus, taking out the garbage and vacuuming.

According to Kwon, his supervisor at Bakers Square said he performed his work diligently. After his work-study program came to an end, Kwon says he worked with a job coach with the goal of landing a full-time job.

In 2014, Kwon and his job coach visited the Orland Park Chil-fil-A in hopes of applying for a job similar to the one he held at Bakers Square, according to the lawsuit.

The branch manager was unavailable the first time, but Kwon says his job coach went back at a later date and was able to speak with the manager.

According to the complaint, the job coach explained the type of work Kwon did at Bakers Square but the Chick-fil-A manager said the restaurant was not interested in hiring people with disabilities.

“When the job coach reiterated that she thought James would do a good job, the branch manager stated that people with disabilities would not be able to succeed at Chick-fil-A,” the complaint states. “Because of the branch manager’s statements, James did not complete a formal employment application to work at Chick-fil-A.”

A Chick-fil-A representative said Tuesday the company is working with its legal department in response to a request for comment from Courthouse News.

Kwon accuses Chick-fil-A of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by saying it would not hire any person with a disability, not making an individualized assessment of his ability to perform the work, and failing to examine whether any accommodation would address concerns about his ability.

He seeks compensatory, punitive damages and back pay, and is represented by Jin-Ho Chung with Equip for Equality in Chicago.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Santa's Christmas Eve Tracker 2016 NORAD Tracker

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) is a United States and Canada bi-national organization charged with the mission of aerospace warning, aerospace control and maritime warning in the defense of North America.

They also track Santa Claus every December 24 through our NORAD Tracks Santa program. Ability Chicago Info share in the spirit of the season.

Since 1955, NORAD has used satellites, high-powered radar, jet fighters and special Santa cameras to track Santa Claus as he makes his journey around the world.

Besides Santa's visit around the world being tracked on Dec. 24th, there are many activities at  NORAD Tracks Santa program: http://www.noradsanta.org/

Friday, December 23, 2016

State of Illinois Not Making Payments for Special Education, School Buses

Illinois - Dec. 23 - Schools statewide are getting ready for another budget hit after the new year.
Districts say they are getting word that their last two state payments for requirements such as special education and school buses likely aren’t coming.
Jennifer Hamm, assistant superintendent for finance at Galesburg schools, said she’s heard it before.
The Illinois State Board of Education, Hamm said, is quietly letting schools know that the last two mandated categorical payments likely aren’t coming. Hamm says the state expects a “budgetary issue” after the new year.
“For Galesburg, that’s approximately $950,000. So, we’re looking at nearly a million dollars worth of revenue not coming in,” Hamm said.
A State Board of Education representative would only say “ISBE has processed and issued to the Illinois comptroller’s office the voucher payments for mandated categorical reimbursements to school districts, in accordance with statute.”
But that doesn’t answer the question about whether schools will receive their final two payments.
This is the eighth year, according to Hamm, the state of Illinois has shortchanged her district.
Canceling the last two payments not only leaves districts on the hook for hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in costs. Hamm said local schools also are now responsible for almost all of the special education and transportation needs in their communities.
“These are services that are required by federal law,” Hamm explained. “These are services that we don’t have the option of providing. We can’t say ‘Well, we didn’t receive our reimbursement this year. So we’re not going to provide 50 percent of special-education services.”
Hamm said her district budgeted for a full reimbursement last spring. It’s too late now to move money around.

'Please Offer Me A Seat' badges for people with 'invisible' disabilities introduced by London public transport

ABC News - Dec. 22, 2016 - Badges for people with invisible disabilities or conditions will be introduced permanently on London's public transport network, following a successful trial.

The blue badge, which reads "Please offer me a seat", and accompanying card were trialled for six weeks earlier this year.

In a statement, Transport for London (TFL) said the trial was in response to feedback from passengers and research.

"[The research] found that those with hidden disabilities and conditions, or those undergoing treatments, can often find it difficult to get a seat when they need one," the statement said.

The new badges were tested by more than 1,200 people, with the majority reporting easier journeys and feeling more confident asking for a seat.

James McNaught, who took part in the trial and had earlier created his own "cancer on board" badge, said getting a seat on transport could be difficult because it was not obvious to others why he needed one.

"When I was undergoing radiotherapy for throat cancer, it meant I couldn't talk to ask for a seat and the morphine I was taking made me appear drunk," he said.
"It was a real struggle to get people to understand why I needed to sit down.
"A badge and card will help make a real difference to the lives of people undergoing drug treatment or with longer term conditions or disabilities."

3 Illinois group home residents for disabilities found, 3 remain missing

CHICAGO (AP)  - Dec. 23 - Three of six people with developmental disabilities have been found after they went missing when their network of group homes in Illinois lost its license due to safety concerns.

One person was found Dec. 16, and another was discovered wandering Chicago in the cold Wednesday night, the Chicago Tribune (http://trib.in/2ikIjgm ) reported. Another was found outside his old group home Thursday.

Three people from Disability Services of Illinois remain missing. Attorneys for the Illinois Department of Human Services said the network of homes' CEO Reuben Goodwin Sr. (photo) was obstructing the search.

Michael Kelly, Goodwin's attorney, said the allegations are false and that Goodwin has been cooperative.

Attorneys for the Department of Human Services said the man found wandering told a witness Goodwin offered to find him a job if he didn't move to another group home and that he feared Disability Services would punish him for cooperating with caseworkers looking for missing residents.

Last week, former residents told caseworkers that employees of Disability Services instructed them to turn out the lights and hide when caseworkers came to the door of their group home, and also spirited them away to a hotel in Indiana. The former residents said they were told by the Disability Services employees that people were trying to kidnap them.

Cook County Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Pantle ordered Disability Services to give state officials the money from Social Security disability benefit checks for all of its former residents that it received this month. The benefit checks are used at group homes as income to offset some of the costs of providing services while setting aside $50 monthly for each resident.

The judge said the December federal payments belonged to the residents and could not be used to offset whatever amount the group home provider feels the state still owes.

"You can't hold their Social Security checks hostage," Pantle said.

Prior to the resident found outside the group home, Goodwin said each of his former residents had left with their families for the holidays and were not out on the streets.

In November, Disability Services was spotlighted in an investigation by the newspaper that revealed the inspector general's office mishandled a 2012 investigation into neglect allegations at Goodwin's business.

The investigation found at least 42 deaths linked to abuse and neglect in group homes or their day programs over the last seven years. Residents have been humiliated and lost freedom, state records show.

The probe also identified 1,311 cases of documented harm since July 2011 — hundreds more cases of documented harm than publicly reported by the Illinois Department of Human Services.
Information from: Chicago Tribune, http://www.chicagotribune.com

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Kaylee Rodgers 10-year-old Girl with Autism, and Classmates Sings A Heavenly Rendition Of ‘Hallelujah’

Kaylee Rodgers a10-year-old girl who has Autism, and ADHD and is often too shy to speak up in class is now having her voice heard around the world after delivering a spellbinding performance of "Hallelujah".

Kaylee Rogers, a student at Killard House Special School in Ireland, led the school choir in singing the Leonard Cohen classic.
After being posted online earlier this week, it has been viewed over one million times. It' a privilege to share a video of this wonderful young girl and her classmates performance.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Justice Dept Reaches Agreement with Princeton University to Resolve Americans with Disabilities Act Compliance Review

Dec. 19, 2016 - The Justice Department announced today that it reached an agreement with Princeton University to resolve a compliance review initiated in May 2014 regarding Princeton’s treatment of students with mental health disabilities and its policies and practices related to requests for reasonable modifications, withdrawals and leaves of absences. 
The agreement details specific steps Princeton will take to strengthen its policies, practices and training to benefit all current and future Princeton students with disabilities.  Under the agreement, Princeton will:
  • revise its policies to explicitly describe the types of accommodations students with disabilities may request, including modifications to university policies, rules and regulations; where students may submit each type of accommodation request; and how Princeton will evaluate those requests;
  • revise the websites for its Office of Disability Services and its Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students to direct students to relevant policies and procedures related to requesting reasonable accommodations;  
  • revise its leave policy and practices, consistent with regulations implementing Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); and
  • provide annual training, including references to updated policies, on Title III of the ADA, with a focus on mental health disability discrimination, to all faculty and staff responsible for evaluating and/or deciding requests from students for reasonable accommodations.
“This agreement reflects the critical role that colleges and universities play in fulfilling the ADA’s promise of equal opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division.  “By working directly with students with disabilities to determine appropriate accommodations, colleges and universities can meet their obligations under the ADA.”
“The ADA, which is one of this country's most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation, prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life,” said U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman of the District of New Jersey.  “Through this agreement, students with disabilities move closer to achieving full equality and integration into places of higher education.” 
For more information please visit the department’s website www.ada.gov.  Those interested in finding out more about the ADA may also call the Justice Department’s toll-free ADA information Line at 800-514-0301 or 800-514-0383 (TDD).
The compliance review was conducted jointly by the Civil Rights Division’s Disability Rights Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the District of New Jersey.  Additional information about the Civil Rights Division is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt.  Additional information about the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the District of New Jersey is available on its website at www.justice.gov/usao/nj.
Agreement Princeton University
SOURCE: Press Release Dept. of Justice

Cheesecake Factory Sued by EEOC for Disability Discrimination, Denied Deaf Employee Appropriate Training

Restaurant Denied Deaf Employee Appropriate Training and Accommodation, Then Fired Him, Says Federal Agency
Dec. 20, 2016 - SEATTLE, Wash. - Restaurant giant The Cheesecake Factory, Inc., and its wholly owned subsidiary violated federal law when it failed to provide an effective accommodation for a newly hired employee and instead fired him for issues stemming from his disability, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleged in a lawsuit filed today.
According to EEOC's lawsuit, The Cheesecake Factory denied Oleg Ivanov's repeated requests for orientation training with either closed captioned video or American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation. Although his employer was aware that Ivanov was deaf prior to his hire as a part-time dishwasher at its downtown Seattle location, the company failed to respond to his requests for accommodation and unilaterally decided to rely on passing back and forth written notes to communicate with him at his June 2014 interview, post-hire orientation and significant meetings. EEOC found that Ivanov was provided inadequate training (also without accommodation for being deaf) on the company's online scheduling system and timekeeping process, leaving him at a disadvantage in tracking his constantly changing work hours. EEOC charges that in September 2014, The Cheesecake Factory fired Ivanov alleging attendance issues - after he reminded them that he was deaf and had not been provided with an ASL interpreter for his orientation training.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee or job applicant with a disability, unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense. It is also illegal to punish the employee with a disability for requesting a reasonable accommodation. After first attempting to reach a voluntary pre-litigation settlement through the agency's conciliation process, EEOC filed the lawsuit (EEOC v. The Cheesecake Factory, Inc. and The Cheesecake Factory Restaurants, Inc., 2:16-CV-1942.) in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, and seeks monetary damages on behalf of Ivanov, training on anti-discrimination laws, posting of notices at the work site, and other injunctive relief.
"Under the ADA, employers must interact with the employee who has a disability to find an accommodation that works for both of them," said Nancy Sienko, Director of EEOC's Seattle Field Office. "Mr. Ivanov clearly communicated that he needed an accommodation to ensure that he could succeed at the job he was hired to do, but instead The Cheesecake Factory chose to fire him."
"Congress passed the ADA to remove barriers that prevent individuals with disabilities from finding and keeping their jobs," said EEOC Senior Trial Attorney Damien Lee. "Mr. Ivanov was a loyal and motivated worker who needed a basic accommodation in order to succeed at his job."
The Cheesecake Factory, Inc. is based in Calabasas Hills, Calif., employs over 37,000 people in 37 states and had over $1.9 billion in revenue from its operations in 2014, the year in which Ivanov worked at the company's Seattle location.
EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov. Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to our email updates.
SOURCE:  Press Release EEOC

For kids with disabilities, Adaptive Toy Project makes life more fun

JACKSONVILLE, FLA. - AP - Dec. 19, 2016 - Because of her cerebral palsy, 4-year-old Scarlett Wilgis has trouble opening her hands and can’t get around without help. Her parents have scoured store shelves and websites for toys for her but have mostly been disappointed.

“Finding the toys at Walmart or Target, they’re pretty much non-existent,” said mom Dezaraye Wilgis, sitting with Scarlett in front of their twinkling Christmas tree in St. Augustine. “Or if you get them through a medical supplier they’re extremely expensive.”

While major toy-makers have changed with the times and sell dolls with wheelchairs and crutches, those designed to be used by children with severe disabilities are still difficult, if not impossible, to find. Because the toys have to be customized for each child, the cost can skyrocket.

This conundrum gave two University of North Florida professors an idea: mix engineering and physical therapy students in a lab with the goal of converting toys from store shelves into custom-made fun for disabled children. The Adaptive Toy Project is now in its third year and has drawn a five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health. It is helping families such as Scarlett’s while giving the students a dose of community service and real-world experience that will stick with them long after graduation.

Dr. Alison Cernich, a neuropsychologist and director at the NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said the agency funded the program because it forces students from different fields to collaborate and solve a problem in the community.

“This program is getting students in the early phases of their training thinking about ordinary objects, toys, and how to adapt those toys so that children with limitations can use and play with them like children without limitations,” she said.

On a recent day, the school’s small lab buzzed with the sound of tools and chatter as students customized cars for their new owners.

Chris Martin, an electrical engineering student, had removed the hood of Scarlett’s car, exposing its wires.

A large push button replaced the steering, and light sensors mounted underneath the car will allow it to follow a line of tape along the floor whenever Scarlett hits the button. Now, Scarlett’s parents can design routes for the car with tape or use a remote-control mode for family walks.

When Martin first met Scarlett’s mother, “she actually cried, and it just made me want to work harder,” Martin said. “I just want to make it as perfect as possible for her.”

The cars retail between $250 and $500; the customization makes them worth well over $1,000. The families, about 18 so far, get the cars free.

Mary Lundy, a UNF professor of physical therapy who started the Adaptive Toy Project with an engineering colleague, said the students meet with families, and go to therapy appointments and schools.

“Engineering students teach the physical therapy students how to modify basic electronics ... and in the process engineers learn how to do people-centered designs, and how to look at their clients differently,” Lundy said.

For the kids, it’s also a way to continue important therapies through play.

Dr. Peter Rosenbaum, a professor of pediatrics at McMaster University in Canada, said his field is increasingly focusing on “augmented mobility,” to give kids a way to move around so they can be more independent.

“We can’t fix them,” Rosenbaum said. “What we can do instead is say, ‘What would a child at this age and stage of development be doing if they didn’t have their impairment? How can we give them those experiences?’ This changes the perspectives of everyone around her, and her perspective of herself.”

UNF’s program is one of 60 related toy car programs for disabled children internationally that are part of the Go Baby Go network, but is the only one that has enlisted students to customize the vehicles for free.

After weeks of work, Scarlett finally tested the car Martin and his colleagues built. They strapped her in and showed her how to hit the push button in the toy she would hopefully use for at least three years. The car drove forward, and Scarlett rocked back and forth. Her mother fought back tears, and her father walked alongside her.

“For her, she’s going to be able to get out more and not be trapped by a wheelchair ... and for us it’ll be nice to see her interact with other children. It’s amazing,” Dezaraye said.
© 2016 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Google Maps is Now Wheelchair-Friendly with Access Features

The wildly popular map app will now tell you whether locations are suitable for people with access needs - and it's thanks to a group of Googlers who worked on the feature in their "20% time."

wonderful article by ROB PRICE, for Business Insider | Dec. 15, 2016         
It's a famous policy of the Californian search giant: Employees can spend 20% of their time working on other projects unrelated to their main jobs. Gmail, AdSense, and Google News all started as 20% projects. These days, Google employees need to get permission from managers to get this time, and most don't do it. Google HR boss Lazlo Bock says it has "waxed and waned" over time. But some still do - and Rio Akasaka is one of them.

By day, Akasaka is a product manager on Google Drive, the cloud file-hosting service. But in his 20% time, the Boulder, Colorado resident is a product manager working on accessibility features for Google Maps.

For the last year, he has worked with a team of contributors (between five and 10 of them, all in all) on introducing accessibility guidelines to Google Maps. The map tool already displays some information about venues and locations, like busy-ness, opening times, reviews, and atmosphere. Alongside this, it will now display information about their suitability for people with access needs.

How does Google Maps know? It sources the answers from its "Local Guides" - Google Maps users who answer questions about the places they visit on everything from cost to quietness. Earlier this year, queries on accessibility were added to the questions asked to these users, and with millions of answers, Google now feels confident enough to start displaying the results on its listings.

It looks like a small change - but if you're in a wheelchair, it's a pretty important one.

"Accessibility at Google is a big deal," Akasaka told Business Insider. "But it's often facilitated by whether or not there's a legal requirement, or some sort of requirement we need to adhere to." (There are standardised guidelines on how text should be rendered on the web to ensure it's legible, for example - but frustratingly, they are not always adhered to.)

But there are no rules governing accessibility requirements for mapping software, forcing Akasaka and his team to be more proactive.

The feature won't just help people in wheelchairs, either. The product manager cites parents with prams, or people reliant on canes, as people who will benefit from more information about a building's facilities.

"Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful," the company boasts. Akasaka says he wants to make sure that "even those with access needs" benefit from this.

Here's how the new feature looks in action:
  via GIPHY

Arizona Attorney General’s Office Files motion To Dismiss 1,000 ADA Lawsuits

Dec 18, 2016 -- The Arizona Attorney General’s Office has filed a 20-page motion to dismiss more than 1,000 civil lawsuits filed by a foundation that accuses area businesses of widespread violations of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and a similar state law.

article by Jim Walsh, for the Ahwatukee Foothills News             
The controversial suits were filed against many area businesses, and allege mostly technical violations of the ADA, including that handicapped parking signs are too low or that international handicapped symbols are not displayed.

The motion reprises similar pleadings by the Attorney General’s Office, which prompted a Maricopa County Superior Court judge to consolidate more than 1,000 suits into one test case to get them dismissed.

“Plaintiffs complaints must be dismissed for lack of standing. The complaints fail to meet Arizona’s rigorous standing requirement, because they do not allege a distinct and palpable injury and do not present cases involving true adversaries with ripe claims,” the motion reads.

“Plaintiffs never allege they patronized or attempted to patronize any of the businesses, encountered any barriers, and had disabilities incompatible with barriers,” the motion says. “Instead, plaintiffs allege merely that (David) Ritzenthaler and others with disabilities were ‘deterred’ in some vague way from visiting the consolidated defendant’s businesses.”

The suits have been largely based upon inspections of parking lots by the Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities Foundation. Pictures taken in the parking lots purport to show ADA violations and are used to persuade defendants to pay $7,000 or more to settle the case.

The foundation has argued that it is enforcing the ADA through civil suits because the Attorney General’s Office and other government agencies have failed to enforce the landmark civil rights law, first passed in 1991. It says lack of enforcement has created an air of complacency about the ADA.

Peter Strojnik, the attorney representing the foundation in the suits, also is under pressure from a federal judge to prove why the suits do not violate the Professional Code of Conduct that sets ethical standards for attorneys. The two court actions stem from the same group of cases but are not otherwise related.

“Plaintiffs have cried ‘deterrence’ against over a thousand businesses without ever bothering to patronize those businesses, notify those businesses of the alleged non-compliance, or allege that they intend or desire to patronize those businesses,” the motion reads.

Jack Wilenchik, an attorney for the foundation, said his client is filing a special action with the Arizona Court of Appeals, challenging a ruling by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge David Talamante that rejected a request to amend the complaint to add a specific injury.

It would be possible for the foundation to merely file new suits against the businesses, adding specific examples of how barriers prevented a disabled person from entering a business, to circumvent the Attorney General’s Office’s argument, Wilenchik said.

He said lawyers are fighting over complicated procedural issues, when the basic issue is a lack of adequate parking spaces to accommodate the disabled.

“A large percentage of these places haven’t done anything, and they won’t,” Wilenchik said.

A driver with disabilities should not have to file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office or in a court of law to find a place to park, Wilenchik said.

Wilenchik has previously sought a court order, technically called “an order of mandamus,” to force the Attorney General’s Office to enforce the law.

“The Office of the Attorney General has been required by law to conduct periodic inspections of these public accommodations for over two decades, but it has never done so,” Wilenchik wrote in a previous court filing.

Federal Legislatures Approves Landmark Mental Health Bill As Part Of 21st Century Cures Act

Dec 7, 2016 -- The Senate passed the first major mental health legislation in nearly a decade, sending the 21st Century Cures Act to President Barack Obama, who has promised to sign it.

published by Kaiser Health News, article by Liz Szabo           
The Senate voted 94-5 to approve the act, which sailed through the House of Representatives last week. Although the 21st Century Cures Act has been championed as a way to speed up drug development, it also includes provisions aimed at improving mental health care for millions of Americans and fighting the opioid epidemic. Mental health advocates have described it as the most significant piece of mental health legislation since the 2008 law requiring equal insurance coverage for mental and physical health.

The new legislation places a strong emphasis on science, pushing federal agencies to fund only programs that are backed by solid research and to collect data on whether patients are actually helped. The bill strengthens laws mandating parity for mental and physical health care and includes grants to increase the number of psychologists and psychiatrists, who are in short supply across the country.

The bill, which combines mental health proposals from several lawmakers, also pushes states to provide early intervention for psychosis, a treatment program that has been hailed as one of the most promising mental health developments in decades.

“It is time to fix our broken mental health care system,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., a physician whose mental health bill was folded into the 21st Century Cures Act.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who worked with Cassidy on the bill, said he hopes to alleviate the suffering of people with serious mental illness.

“I’d heard too many devastating stories of people struggling with serious mental illness and addiction whose lives were forever changed because they couldn’t get the care they need,” Murphy said. “I’d seen up close the heartbreak and frustration that families suffered trying to find care for a loved one — care that seemed impossible to find and even harder to pay for.”

But Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said he’s concerned that proposed Republican changes to the health care system could undercut any progress made by the bill. Millions of Americans with mental illness could lose coverage if Congress repeals the Affordable Care Act or cuts spending on Medicaid, which pays for about 25 percent of all mental health care, he said.

“The benefits of the mental health bill will be far outweighed by the catastrophic harm caused to individuals with mental illness if the Republicans move forward with their radical plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, block grant Medicaid and cut benefits for low-income individuals,” Pallone said.

Many mental health advocates celebrated the bill’s passage.

Ronald Honberg, national director of policy and legal affairs at the National Alliance on Mental Illness, called the bill’s mental health provisions “necessary and promising.” He said he appreciated the bill’s focus on “preventing the most horrific consequences of untreated mental illness,” including homelessness, incarceration and suicide.

The bill generally requires states to use at least 10 percent of their mental health block grants on early intervention for psychosis, using a model called coordinated specialty care, which provides a team of specialists to provide psychotherapy, medication, education and support for patients’ families, as well as services to help young people stay in school or their jobs. Research from the National Institutes of Health shows that people who receive this kind of care stay in treatment longer; have greater improvement in their symptoms, personal relationships and quality of life; and are more involved in work or school compared to people who receive standard care.

The bill also sets up a $5 million grant program to provide assertive community treatment, one of the most successful strategies for helping people with serious mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia. Like the early intervention program, assertive community treatment provides a team of professionals that is on call 24 hours a day. The bill also expands a grant program for assisted outpatient treatment, which provides court-ordered care for people with serious mental illness who might otherwise not seek help.

Although the bill authorizes these grants, a future Congress would have to approve funding for the programs. “The fact that a program has been authorized is no guarantee that it will be funded,” Honberg said. “It’s a necessary first step.”

Mental health advocates will lobby for Congress to approve funding for the most critical programs, Honberg said.

While funding treatments for mental illness is expensive, “it’s more expensive to ignore it,” said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, who co-sponsored mental health legislation in the House that folded into the 21st Century Cures Act.

Other sections of the bill, based on legislation introduced by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, give communities more flexibility in how they use federal grants. For example, communities could use community policing grants to train law enforcement officers to deal with patients in the midst of a psychiatric crisis. Another provision would require the U.S. attorney general to create at least one drug and mental health court pilot program, which would aim to help people with mental illness or drug addiction receive treatment, rather than jail time, after committing minor offenses.

The legislation will help “those suffering from mental illness in the criminal justice system can begin to recover and get the help they need instead of just getting sicker and sicker,” Cornyn said. “This bill also encourages the creation of crisis intervention teams, so that our law enforcement officers and first responders can know how to deescalate dangerous confrontations. This is about finding ways to help the mentally ill individual get help while keeping the community safe at the same time.”

The mental health provisions have been scaled back significantly since they were first introduced.

An earlier version of a bill introduced in the House of Representatives would have changed a federal privacy law to allow doctors, under certain circumstances, to share mentally ill patients’ medical information with their family caregivers. Doctors today often shut families out of their loved one’s care, refusing to share even basic information, such as appointment times, for fear of violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA.

Many health professionals misunderstand HIPAA, refusing to listen to the families of patients who are too disabled by psychosis to provide key details of their medical history, said Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., who first introduced the House bill in 2013 in response to the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Some advocates for the disabled objected to that change, however, arguing that patient privacy is essential, and that people might avoid care if they believe their doctors might disclose confidential information.

The new bill instructs the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to clarify when doctors can share patients’ medical information with family caregivers, as well as educate health care providers about what the law actually says.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Honberg said. “There is so much misinformation about HIPAA. It’s one of the most mischaracterized laws out there.”

The bill also aims to better coordinate mental health care. Although eight federal agencies today fund 112 programs that provide mental health care, these agencies rarely coordinate their efforts to make sure patients get the help they need and to avoid duplicating services, said Tim Murphy.

The bill would make structural changes to the way federal agencies provide mental health services.
  • A new committee would link leaders of key agencies involved in mental health care, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Justice and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA.
  • A new position — the assistant secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use — would oversee SAMHSA and disseminate the most successful approaches to treating mental illness.
  • An advisory board, the National Mental Health and Substance Use Policy Laboratory, would also analyze treatments and services to help decide which ones should be expanded.
Chris Murphy said he wishes the final bill had included more resources for outpatient mental health care, as well as inpatient hospital bills for people in psychiatric crisis. He also said the current bill provides a starting point but that he hopes Congress will continue working to improve mental health care in its next session.

“This doesn’t solve all the problems in the mental health system,” said Chris Murphy, noting that Congress may still need to change the HIPAA law to allow families to better care for people with mental illness. “We may still have to look at this down the line.”

KHN’s coverage of prescription drug development, costs and pricing is supported in part by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

Airline Kiosks and Websites Must Meet DOT Access Rules

Airline Self-Service Kiosks installed after December 12, 2016 must be Accessible under RULES previously issued by the Department of Transportation (DOT). This applies to kiosks used for checking in, printing boarding passes, and other passenger services. In addition, airline websites must be fully accessible to the public as of this date.

The rules require compliance with accessibility standards so that passengers with sensory or physical disabilities can use airline kiosks independently. The standards are based on requirements in the ADA Standards for ATMs and fare machines and provisions for self-contained closed products in the Board's Section 508 Standards covering electronic and information technology. They address operable parts, clear floor space, input controls, tactile elements, speech output, captioning, and other features. New units must comply until at least a quarter of all kiosks at each location are accessible. The requirement applies to U.S. and foreign air carriers that own, lease, or control automated airport kiosks at U.S. airports with at least 10,000 enplanements a year. In addition, U.S. airport operators that jointly own, lease, or control automated kiosks with U.S. or foreign air carriers must work with carriers to ensure that the kiosks installed are compliant.

The rules also require that public-facing pages of airline websites are accessible in accordance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. This mandate applies to U.S. and foreign carriers that operate at least one aircraft having a seating capacity exceeding 60 passengers and that own or control a primary website serving air travel consumers in the U.S. DOT issued these rules in 2013 under the Air Carrier Access Act which prohibits discrimination against air travelers with disabilities.

A compilation of rules, guidance, enforcement orders and publications on disability issues in aviation, information is available on DOT's website.

President Obama Appoints Gregory S. Fehribach to the U.S. Access Board

Gregory S. FehribachPresident Barack Obama has named Gregory S. Fehribach of Indianapolis to the U.S. Access Board. Fehribach is president of the Fehribach Group, a consulting firm he founded in 1995 that specializes in accessibility, universal design, and compliance with the ADA. He is also an attorney with the firm of Doninger, Tuohy and Bailey, LLP in Indianapolis and has practiced law for the past 30 years.

Since 1988, Fehribach has served as a panel trustee for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of Indiana. In 2009, he was designated a Distinguished Fellow at Ball State University's Bowen Center for Public Affairs where he established The Disability Project. Fehribach has served on the Ball State University Board of Trustees, the Indiana Governor's Planning Council for People with Disabilities, the Board of Directors of the Indianapolis Public Transportation Corporation, and the Marion County Health and Hospital Corporation Board of Trustees. He succeeds Hans Van Winkle on the Access Board.

The U.S. Access Board is an independent Federal agency that provides leadership in accessible design under the ADA and other laws. The Board is structured to function as a coordinating body among Federal agencies and to directly represent the public, particularly people with disabilities. Half of its members are representatives from most of the Federal departments, and the other half is comprised of public members appointed by the President. 

SOURCE: Press Release Dec. 19, 2016

U.S. Access Board Webinar: Question and Answer Session on the ADA and ABA Standards (January 5)

laptop with Access Board sealThe next webinar in the U.S. Access Board's free monthly series will take place January 5 from 2:30 – 4:00 (ET) and will feature an open question and answer session on accessibility standards issued under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) for buildings and facilities. Presenters will field questions from attendees on the ADA and ABA standards, including their scope and application and specific requirements for building elements and spaces.
For more information or to register, visit www.accessibilityonline.org. Webinar attendees can earn continuing education credits. The webinar series is hosted by the ADA National Network in cooperation with the Board. 

Archived copies of previous U.S. Access Board webinars are available on the site.
SOURCE: Press Release, U.S. Access Board

2016’s Most Caring Cities in America – WalletHub Study

Dec. 19, 2016 -- With the holidays reminding Americans to look out for one another, either through charitable giving or other acts of kindness, the personal-finance website WalletHub conducted an in-depth analysis of 2016’s Most Caring Cities in America.

In order to identify the most warmhearted places in America, WalletHub’s analysts compared the 100 largest U.S. cities across 32 key metrics. The data set ranges from “homelessness rate" to “percentage of income donated to charity” to “special-education teachers per capita.”
 Most Caring Cities in America  
 1Madison, WI 11Scottsdale, AZ
 2Lincoln, NE 12Washington, DC
 3Virginia Beach, VA 13New York, NY
 4Boise, ID 14Omaha, NE
 5Honolulu, HI 15Minneapolis, MN
 6Anchorage, AK 16Boston, MA
 7Colorado Springs, CO 17Gilbert, AZ
 8Chesapeake, VA 18Durham, NC
 9Pittsburgh, PA 19Lexington, KY
 10St. Paul, MN 20Plano, TX

Key Stats
  • Memphis, Tenn., has the highest share of income donated to charity, 5.4 percent, which is 2.8 times higher than in Laredo, Texas, the city with the lowest at 1.9 percent.
  • Virginia Beach, Va., has the most volunteering hours per capita, 45.9, which is 2.9 times more than in New Orleans, the city with the fewest at 16.0.
  • Milwaukee has the highest share of residents who do favors for neighbors, 20 percent, which is four times higher than in Phoenix, the city with the lowest at 5 percent.
  • Lexington, Ky., has the highest share of sheltered homeless persons, 98 percent, which is 4.1 times higher than in Fresno, Calif., the city with the lowest at 24 percent.
  • Fremont, Calif., has the lowest child-poverty rate, 6.2 percent, which is 9.2 times lower than in Detroit, the city with the highest at 57.1 percent.
  • Lincoln, Neb., has the most residents who work in community and social services per 100,000 residents, 1,164.79, which is 3.3 times more than in Las Vegas, the city with the fewest at 351.25.

To view the full report and your city’s rank, please visit: https://wallethub.com/edu/most-caring-cities/17814/

SOURCE: WalletHub

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Come and Visit Santa's Reindeer for the 2016 Christmas Season!

Santa on Reindeer Cam Live :photo

In the spirit of the Holidays, the Live Reindeer cam has become a wonderful tradition, enjoy and the best for the season to all! Jim at Ability Chicago Info!

Please visit Reindeer Cam and see you on the Nice List  at: https://www.reindeercam.com/

Saturday, December 17, 2016

A Illinois Group homes CEO tells judge he doesn't know location of 6 residents with developmental disabilities

Disability Services CEO Reuben Goodwin Sr.
Chicago, IL. - Dec 16, 2016 - In a stunning admission, the chief executive of a troubled network of group homes told a judge Friday that he didn't know the whereabouts of six of his residents with developmental disabilities.
It also wasn't clear that any of the six had their medications with them when they left homes run by Disability Services of Illinois, which lost its license because of safety concerns.
An incredulous Cook County Circuit Judge Kathleen Pantle responded by scolding the operator of Disability Services and sharply questioning his attorney.
"It's going to be 5 below zero on Sunday," Pantle said. "This is outrageous. You don't even know ... if they could be freezing to death or starving to death!"
For the full excellent Chicago Tribune article, by Patricia Callahan and Peter Matuszak: CLICK HERE

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

U.S. Access Board Issues Final Rule Update For ADA Guidelines for Buses and Vans

bus icon and cover of Federal RegisterThe U.S. Access Board has issued a final rule updating sections of its accessibility guidelines for transportation vehicles covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The rule revises provisions in the guidelines that apply to buses and vans to enhance accessibility and to address industry trends and improvements in design and technology. The guidelines, which the Board originally published in 1991, apply to new or remanufactured vehicles (they also include provisions for rail vehicles that the Board will update separately).

The guidelines for buses and vans address boarding access, fare devices, interior circulation, seating and securement, signs, lighting, and announcement systems. The rule reduces the maximum slope for vehicle ramps because low floor buses are now ubiquitous in fixed route systems. New provisions also address level boarding systems and incorporate updated standards for wheelchair securement systems. The rule improves communication access by requiring that buses in fixed route systems with at least 100 buses have automated stop and route announcements that are visual as well as audible. Further, access to over-the-road buses, which are typically used in commuter and long-distance bus lines and charter services, is more comprehensively addressed. In addition to these substantive changes, the rule features a new format and numbering system. An assessment of the costs and benefits is included with the rule.
"The Board is eager to issue this update which will improve usability aboard buses and vans by building upon the significant engineering and technological advancements that have occurred over the years," states Access Board Executive Director David M. Capozzi. "We will now turn our attention to updating the sections on rail vehicles."
The Board previously issued versions of the rule in draft and proposed forms for public comment and has finalized the rule based on the feedback received. At a later date, the Board will propose updates to sections of the guidelines covering vehicles in fixed guideway systems, including rapid, light, commuter, and intercity rail, according to recommendations from an advisory committee it chartered, the Rail Vehicles Access Advisory Committee, which submitted its report to the Board last year.

The Board's vehicle guidelines serve as the basis for mandatory standards issued by the Department of Transportation (DOT) under the ADA. Compliance with the updated requirements for buses and vans will become mandatory once specified by DOT in a future update of its ADA standards.

For further information, visit the Board's website or contact Scott Windley at (202) 272-0025 (voice), (202), 272-0028 (TTY), or windley@access-board.gov.

SOURCE: US Access Board Press Release 12/14/2016
# # #

Federal Register Summary of Significant Changes

The 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines are intended to revise and update the Access Board's existing guidelines that provide scoping and technical requirements to ensure that ADA-covered buses, OTRBs, and vans are accessible to, and usable by, passengers with disabilities. Some of the key changes reflected in the final rule (relative to the existing guidelines) include:

  •  New Organization and Format: The 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines use a new organizational approach that is modelled after the Access Board's accessibility guidelines for buildings and facilities in 36 CFR part 1191. The new format organizes the revised scoping and technical guidelines for buses, OTRBs, and vans, into seven chapters, all of which are contained in a new appendix to 36 CFR part 1192. Most of the revisions in the final rule are editorial only, and restate current requirements in plain terms that are clear and easier to understand.
  •  Consistent Application of Accessibility Requirements across Different Types of Non-Rail Vehicles: Unlike the vehicle-by-vehicle approach used in the existing guidelines, the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines establish accessibility requirements that, with some exceptions, apply across all covered non-rail vehicles (i.e., buses, OTRBs, and vans), so that accessibility requirements between different types of vehicles are generally similar. The aim is to make these guidelines easier to understand and apply, particularly for regulated parties—such as public transit agencies—that frequently operate different types of non-rail vehicles.
  •  New Requirement for Automated Announcement Systems on Large Fixed Route Buses Operated by Large Transit Entities: Large transit entities are required under the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines to provide automated stop and route announcement systems on all large vehicles operating in fixed route bus service that stop at multiple designated stops. Automated announcement systems must have both audible and visible components. For purposes of this requirement, a “large transit entity” is defined as a provider of public transportation that operates 100 or more buses in annual maximum service for all fixed route bus modes collectively based on required annual data reported to the National Transportation Database, which is maintained by the Federal Transit Administration.
  •  Revised Requirements for Maximum Running Slope of Ramps: The 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines revise and simplify the existing guidelines regarding running slope for ramps in non-rail vehicles. The existing guidelines specify a range of maximum running slopes for vehicle ramps depending on nature of deployment (e.g., deployment to sidewalk or 
  • roadway), with 1:4 being the steepest permitted maximum running slope for ramps deployed to the roadway. However, years of field experience and research studies have shown that 1:4 ramps are difficult to use and have resulted in safety concerns for many transit operators and passengers who use wheeled mobility devices. Newer vehicle and ramp designs now make deployment of ramps with lesser slopes feasible. Accordingly, the final rule specifies a maximum running slope of 1:6 for ramps deployed to roadways or curb-height bus stops, and 1:8 for ramps deployed to boarding platforms in level boarding bus systems.
  •  New Accessibility Requirements for OTRBs: Under the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines, OTRBs operating in fixed route service will be newly required to satisfy the following accessibility requirements: Signs for accessible seating and doorways; public address systems; stop request systems; and provision of exterior destination or route signs on the front and boarding sides of vehicles, when exterior signage is provided. These requirements are new only as applied to OTRBs; buses and vans have been covered by similar requirements since 1991.
  •  Other Revisions to Reflect Changes in Technologies and Standards: The 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines also reflect other changes, such as establishing accessibility requirements for level boarding bus systems and incorporating updated standards for wheelchair securement systems, which did not exist when the existing guidelines were issued.
  • Discussion of the bases for the key changes embodied in the 2016 Non-Rail Vehicle Guidelines, as well as proposed changes that were not carried forward to the final rule, is provided in this preamble.