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Thursday, March 30, 2017

FDA Approves First Drug To Treat Multiple Sclerosis

First drug approved for Primary Progressive MS
On March 28, 2017 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Ocrevus (ocrelizumab) to treat adult patients with relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis (MS) and primary progressive multiple sclerosis (PPMS). This is the first drug approved by the FDA for PPMS. Ocrevus is an intravenous infusion given by a health care professional.

“Multiple sclerosis can have a profound impact on a person’s life,” said Billy Dunn, M.D., director of the Division of Neurology Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “This therapy not only provides another treatment option for those with relapsing MS, but for the first time provides an approved therapy for those with primary progressive MS.”

MS is a chronic, inflammatory, autoimmune disease of the central nervous system that disrupts communication between the brain and other parts of the body. It is among the most common causes of neurological disability in young adults and occurs more frequently in women than men. For most people with MS, episodes of worsening function (relapses) are initially followed by recovery periods (remissions). Over time, recovery may be incomplete, leading to progressive decline in function and increased disability. Most people experience their first symptoms of MS between the ages of 20 and 40.

PPMS is characterized by steadily worsening function from the onset of symptoms, often without early relapses or remissions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that approximately 15 percent of patients with MS have PPMS.

The efficacy of Ocrevus for the treatment of relapsing forms of MS was shown in two clinical trials in 1,656 participants treated for 96 weeks. Both studies compared Ocrevus to another MS drug, Rebif (interferon beta-1a). In both studies, the patients receiving Ocrevus had reduced relapse rates and reduced worsening of disability compared to Rebif.

In a study of PPMS in 732 participants treated for at least 120 weeks, those receiving Ocrevus showed a longer time to the worsening of disability compared to placebo.

Ocrevus should not be used in patients with hepatitis B infection or a history of life-threatening infusion-related reactions to Ocrevus. Ocrevus must be dispensed with a patient Medication Guide that describes important information about the drug’s uses and risks. Ocrevus can cause infusion-related reactions, which can be serious. These reactions include, but are not limited to, itchy skin, rash, hives, skin redness, flushing, low blood pressure, fever, tiredness, dizziness, headache, throat irritation, shortness of breath, swelling of the throat, nausea, and fast heartbeat. Additionally, Ocrevus may increase the risk for malignancies, particularly breast cancer. Delay Ocrevus treatment for patients with active infections. Vaccination with live or live attenuated vaccines is not recommended in patients receiving Ocrevus.

In addition to the infusion-related reactions, the most common side effect of Ocrevus seen in the clinical trials for relapsing forms of MS was upper respiratory tract infection. The most common side effects in the study of PPMS were upper respiratory tract infection, skin infection, and lower respiratory tract infection.

The FDA granted this application breakthrough therapy designation, fast track designation, and priority review.

The FDA granted approval of Ocrevus to Genentech, Inc.

The FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The Agency also is responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products.

SOURCE: Press Release March 29, 2017

Friedman Place Hosts Art Exhibition Fundraiser Showcasing the Art of People with Disabilities in Chicago on May 18th

CHICAGO - Friedman Place, a non-profit supportive living community for adults who are blind or visually impaired, will host a cocktail party fundraiser and art exhibition on Thursday, May 18, 2017, to celebrate the important role the arts play in the lives of its residents.
“Celebrating the Arts at Friedman Place” will feature food, drinks, entertainment, a silent auction and the opening of VISIONS: An Exhibition of Artworks Associated with Blindness or Disability. Throughout the night, artwork and music performed by Friedman Place residents will be featured, and guests can tour the Friedman Place facility and learn more about all of the programs Friedman Place offers.
The event will also highlight Friedman Place’s Therapeutic Weaving Program, which is a signature program of Friedman Place’s David Herman Learning Center.  Housed in the recently renovated Annex Building (5519 N. Lincoln) the Weaving Studio provides residents with an opportunity to learn how to weave artistic and functional textiles. The Weaving Studio will be open during the event, featuring weaving demonstrations and a weaving sale, guests can tour the studio and learn more about the weaving program.
The event is set to take place on Thursday May 18, from 5:30 pm to 8:30 pm at Friedman Place (5527 N. Maplewood Ave.). Tickets are $75 in advance and $80 at the door and can be purchased online HERE.. Proceeds from the event will support Arts Programming at Friedman Place to provide residents with more opportunities to express their creativity through the arts.
About Friedman Place
Friedman Place is the only housing program for the blind and visually impaired in Northern Illinois. The building is designed with the needs of its residents in mind and currently houses 85 adults between the ages of 22 and 93. Friedman Place provides a full range of services and activities so that residents’ days are healthy, dignified, and stimulating. For more information visit www.friedmanplace.org                  
source: press release

Illinois Food Service Company to Pay $35,000 to Settle EEOC Disability Discrimination Suit

Legendary Baking Fired Employee Because of Spinal Cord Condition, Federal Agency Charged
CHICAGO - An Illinois food service company will pay $35,000 and furnish other relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.
According to the EEOC's lawsuit, Nashville, Tenn.-based American Blue Ribbons Holding, LLC dba Legendary Baking, violated federal law by denying light duty work to Patricia Hall, an employee at its Oak Forest, Ill., baking facility. Hall has CSP myelopathy, a condition affecting her spinal cord. The company then fired Hall and refused to rehire her because of her disability, the EEOC charged.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC filed its lawsuit on Aug. 23, 2016 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago (Civil Action No. 16 C 8266) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
Under the consent decree settling the suit, entered by Judge John Robert Blakey, Legendary Baking will pay Hall $35,000. In addition, the decree enjoins Legendary Baking from engaging in disability discrimination or retaliation. Further, the decree requires the company to train its managers at the Oak Forest location with respect to the requirements of the ADA and to report complaints of disability discrimination to the EEOC.
"The EEOC is satisfied that this employer now clearly understands that disability discrimination is unacceptable and unlawful," said Julianne Bowman, the EEOC's district director in Chicago. "We also are gratified that vigorous enforcement on the Commission's part has led to appropriate corrective action and compensation for the victim."
EEOC Regional Attorney Gregory Gochanour noted that the settlement was negotiated before the parties engaged in extended litigation or pretrial discovery.
Gochanour said, "We appreciate Legendary Baking's determination to work with the EEOC to quickly resolve the case by providing compensation to Ms. Hall and undertaking measures to assure future compliance with the ADA."
The EEOC's Chicago District Office is responsible for processing charges of employment discrimination, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and North and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.
The 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 March 30, 2017

Home Health Agency Owner Pleads Guilty to Conspiring in $17 Million Medicaid Fraud Scheme

Largest Provider Attendant Services Fraud in Texas History

March 30, 2017 - The owner and operator of five Houston-area home health agencies pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud Medicare and the State of Texas’s Medicaid-funded Home and Community-Based Service and Primary Home Care programs of more than $17 million.  He also pleaded guilty to conspiring to launder money.  These health care programs provided qualified individuals with in-home attendant and community-based services that are known commonly as “provider attendant services” (PAS).  This case marks the largest PAS fraud case charged in Texas history.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney of the Southern District of Texas Abe Martinez, Special Agent in Charge Perrye K. Turner of the FBI’s Houston Field Office, Special Agent in Charge C.J. Porter of the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General’s (HHS-OIG) Dallas Regional Office, Special Agent in Charge D. Richard Goss of the IRS Criminal Investigation’s (CI) Houston Field Office and the Texas Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) made the announcement.

Godwin Oriakhi, 61, of Houston, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Sim Lake of the Southern District of Texas to two counts of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and one count of money laundering. He is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Lake on June 22, 2017.

According to his plea, Godwin Oriakhi admitted that he, his daughter and co-defendant Idia Oriakhi, and other members of his family owned and operated: Aabraham Blessings LLC, Baptist Home Care Providers Inc., Community Wide Home Health Inc., Four Seasons Home Healthcare Inc. and Kis Med Concepts Inc., all of which were home health agencies in the Houston area. Godwin Oriakhi admitted that he, along with his daughter and co-conspirators, obtained patients for his home health agencies by paying illegal kickback payments to patient recruiters and his office employees for hundreds of patient referrals. Oriakhi also admitted that he, along with his daughter and co-conspirators, paid Medicare and Medicaid patients by cash, check, Western Union and Moneygram for receiving services from his family’s home health agencies in exchange for the ability to use their Medicare and Medicaid numbers to bill the programs for home healthcare and PAS services. Oriakhi admitted that he, his daughter and their co-conspirators also directly paid some of these patients for recruiting and referring other Medicare and Medicaid patients to his agencies.

Additionally, Oriakhi admitted that he, his daughter and other co-conspirators paid physicians illegal kickbacks payments, which Oriakhi and his co-conspirators called “copayments,” for referring and certifying Medicare and Medicaid patients for home health and PAS services.

Oriakhi further admitted that each time he submitted a claim predicated on an illegal kickback payment he knew he was submitting a fraudulent claim to Medicare or Medicaid based on his false representations that the claim and the underlying transaction complied with the federal Anti-Kickback Statute and other state and federal laws. Oriakhi further admitted that he knew that Medicare and Medicaid would not otherwise pay for the fraudulent claims, according to his plea.

In addition to the home healthcare and PAS services fraud scheme, Oriakhi admitted that he and his co-conspirators used the money fraudulently obtained from Medicare and Medicaid to pay illegal kickback payments to patient recruiters, employees, physicians and patients to promote the Medicare home health and Medicaid PAS fraud conspiracies, and ensure their successful continuation.

In total, Oriakhi admitted that he and his family submitted approximately $17,212,051 in fraudulent home healthcare and PAS claims to Medicare and Medicaid and received approximately $16,198,600 on those claims.

Oriakhi is the last member of the charged conspirators to plead guilty. Oriakhi’s co-defendants: Idia Oriakhi, his daughter; Charles Esechie, a registered nurse; and Jermaine Doleman, a patient recruiter, pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.

The FBI, HHS-OIG, IRS-CI and MFCU are investigating the case, and brought by the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, under the supervision of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas. Senior Trial Attorney Jonathan T. Baum and Trial Attorneys Aleza S. Remis and William S.W. Chang of the Fraud Section are prosecuting the case.

The Fraud Section leads the Medicare Fraud Strike Force. Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, now operating in nine cities across the country, has charged over 3,000 defendants who collectively have billed the Medicare program for over $11 billion. In addition, the HHS Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the HHS-OIG, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.

To learn more about the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), go to www.stopmedicarefraud.gov.
SOURCE: Press Release Dept. of Justice

In The USA, What’s The Rate Of People With Disabilities In Your County and State?

Nationwide, the rate of working-age people on federal disability assistance has increased 23 percent since 2004. At a county level, rural areas have seen the sharpest increases and the highest disability rates.
Explore how disability rates have changed where you live.
A Washington Post article offers a look into the trends in counties and states in the USA.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Special Olympics 2017 Winter World Games closing ceremony March 24th

GRAZ,AUSTRIA,24.MAR.17 - SPECIAL OLYMPICS - World Winter Games, closing ceremony. Image shows fireworks. Photo: GEPA pictures/ Christopher Kelemen

A moving speech by Arnold Schwarzenegger and grand fireworks in the sky over Graz were the final highlights of the closing ceremony of the Special Olympics World Winter Games 2017. And it was definitely a worthy ending of an event that took the hearts of the people by storm.

The big showdown at the Liebenau stadium was characterized by the same beautiful positive energy as the opening ceremony at Schladming. Again, more than 15.000 people wanted to witness the event and so another audience sector had to be added on Thursday. The show that lasted about one and a half hours offered a well-balanced mix of typically Styrian elements, and energetic international dance and acrobatics performances, for example by artists of the Cirque du Soleil or world champion in dancing Louis van Amstel.

Also, musically the show presented us with familiar faces from the opening ceremony: Rose May Alaba performed the Coca-Cola Unified song „Can you feel it“ and the atmosphere reached its emotional peak when Helene Fischer entered the stage and presented the official anthem of the World Winter Games 2017, “Fighter”, just like a week before in Schladming. The president of Special Olympics Austria, Jürgen Winter then handed over the flag of Special Olympics to the hosts of the next Games: Abu Dhabi. The capital of the United Arab Emirates also gave us an impressive presentation of what to expect in 2019.

The dance group “Ich bin O.K.” with their protagonist Maria Naber offered an enchanting performance, just like at the opening ceremony. She particularly impressed Austrian folk star Andreas Gabalier whom she presented a lit up heart after his unplugged performance of his song “Steirerland”.

The „flame of hope“ lay at the heart of the speech by Siegfried Nagl, mayor of Graz. His message: “The flame might be gone but the fire is still burning”. It served to remind that the impulse that the Games had set must not go out again.

13-year old America´s Got Talent winner Grace VanderWaal got the audience moving when she performed her two songs “I don´t know my name” and “Light the sky”, before she handed over the stage to honorary president of Special Olympics Austria, Arnold Schwarzenegger. “I’m so happy that you are all here, because you are all the greatest athletes in the world! And I’m really proud of these games – they were the best and biggest in history”, he said.

„Heartbeat for the world“, was the motto of this year´s Special Olympics World Winter Games, the worldwide largest winter sports event for people with mental impairments and which took place from March 14 to 25. More than 2600 athletes from 105 nations, 1100 trainer, 5000 family members, 3000 volunteers and 600 journalists and media representatives were present at the sporting venues at Graz, Schladming and Ramsau am Dachstein. Eight days of competition resulted in about 1000 medals.

In total, the World Winter Games were the initial impulse for a new culture of exchange which was characterized by openness, warmth and by working together instead of against each other. This was also easily seen even before the competitions began: with the Torch Run and the enthusiastic realization of the Host Town program in the whole of Austria.

The people realizing and participating in both programs were significantly responsible for the more than a thousand people who witnessed the competitions as well as the award ceremonies and therefore were responsible for those countless moments of heart-warming emotions as well as the exuberant atmosphere at all the venues.

And there is even more good news: apart from a few mild injuries, there were no complications whatsoever during this beautiful event.

Jürgen Winter, President of Special Olympics Austria: The Special Olympics World Winter Games 2017 were games of all games! Austria could show how cordial its people as well as its culture can be. In the future we need to seize this launch vehicle to further the cause for people with mental impairments and move a step forward to a change of the whole of society.

Marc Angelini, Director of Austria 2017: I was present throughout 13 World Games in various positions and therefore I know well what can be good and what cannot work. But if you actually receive only six calls telling you about something that does not work, then this speaks for itself. If Coca-Cola boss Mutar Kent tells you that event was literally the event for him, a wonderful experience, that speaks for itself. If you are being praised by athletes and coaches and only see radiating faces, if you can witness the happiness and this unique atmosphere, then this speaks for itself even more. The entire team did something remarkable, something incomprehensible. First and foremost we set an signal that reaches far beyond any borders concerning sport, humanity

Markus Pichler, Director of Austria 2017: We definitely reached our goal to carry the message of Special Olympics into society. We showed what inclusion means, that it works and what the people are capable of. This is the true value of the World Winter Games. The spark jumped over to the people, they are talking about it and concern themselves with it. The topic is now present in the heads of the people – in the future, a lot of things will happen in this regard. Concerning the organization of the event we showed that Austria is a great host country. Somebody told me: Such a level of professionalism paired with such cordiality! This amazing praise is deserved by everybody who was part of it.

Abschlussfeier Special Olympics World Winter Games 2017 Highlights

2017 World Autism Awareness Day April 2nd theme "Toward Autonomy and Self-Determination"

The United Nations has recognized recognized every April 2nd as  World Autism Awareness Day.The ninth annual World Autism Awareness Day is April 2, 2017. Every year, autism organizations around the world celebrate the day.

The following is as posted at a United Nations dedicated webpage.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) recognizes the right of persons with disabilities to independence of person and to individual autonomy (article 3). Moreover, the CRPD highlights the right of persons with disabilities to "legal capacity on an equal basis with others and in all aspects of life" (article 12).

Legal capacity is instrumental to the recognition of a person as a human being of full personhood, with the right to take decisions and enter into contracts. However, certain abilities have often been seen as necessary qualifications for full personal autonomy, creating a barrier to full societal inclusion for people with autism.

The WAAD observance, on 31 March 2017, will discuss policies and approaches being implemented with regard to guardianship and the path to self-determination and legal capacity of persons with autism.

The 2017 WAAD observance is organized by the United Nations Department of Public Information and Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
# # #

Autism is a lifelong neurological condition that manifests during early childhood, irrespective of gender, race or socio-economic status. The term Autism Spectrum refers to a range of characteristics. Appropriate support, accommodation and acceptance of this neurological variation allow those on the Spectrum to enjoy equal opportunity, and full and effective participation in society.

Autism is mainly characterized by its unique social interactions, non-standard ways of learning, keen interests in specific subjects, inclination to routines, challenges in typical communications and particular ways of processing sensory information.

The rate of autism in all regions of the world is high and the lack of understanding has a tremendous impact on the individuals, their families and communities.

The stigmatization and discrimination associated with neurological differences remain substantial obstacles to diagnosis and therapies, an issue that must be addressed by both public policy-makers in developing nations, as well as donor countries.

Throughout its history, the United Nations family has celebrated diversity and promoted the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities, including children with learning differences and developmental disabilities. In 2008, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities entered into force, reaffirming the fundamental principle of universal human rights for all. Its purpose is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity. It is a solid tool to foster an inclusive and caring society for all and to ensure that all children and adults with autism can lead full and meaningful lives.

The United Nations General Assembly unanimously declared 2 April as World Autism Awareness Day (A/RES/62/139) to highlight the need to help improve the quality of life of those with autism so they can lead full and meaningful lives as an integral part of society.

For More Information on World Autism Day, and The United Nations:          

Facts About Autism:
  • Autism now affects 1 in 68 children and 1 in 42 boys
  • Autism prevalence figures are growing
  • Autism is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the U.S.
  • Autism costs a family $60,000 a year on average
  • Boys are nearly five times more likely than girls to have autism
  • There is no medical detection or cure for autism
YouTube published by United Nations
This video depicts young film-maker Benjamin Rosloff’s visit to the United Nations Headquarters in New York City and his interview with UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon. Before the interview, Benjamin had the opportunity to explore and film the building including art and photo exhibits from all over the world. The video – produced for the World Autism Awareness Day (2 April 2016) – reflects on Benjamin’s future and how it relates to major global issues.

ValleyLife Disability Services Company to Pay $100,000 to Settle EEOC Disability Discrimination Lawsuit

ValleyLife Failed to Provide Reasonable Accommodations to Employees With Disabilities, Federal Agency Charges
PHOENIX - ValleyLife, a disability support services company, will pay $100,000 and furnish other relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.
According to the EEOC's suit, ValleyLife had a practice of firing employees with disabilities who needed extended leave or reassignment rather than providing them with reasonable accommodations as required under federal law. The EEOC alleged that ValleyLife simply terminated people who had exhausted their paid time off and/or any unpaid leave for which they were eligible under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) rather than determine if there was a reasonable accommodation that would allow them to continue to work.
The EEOC further charged that ValleyLife did not engage in any kind of back-and-forth dialogue with the employees to explore whether reasonable accommodations were possible. For example, the agency said ValleyLife could have reassigned the employees to other positions, provided additional leave, or provided other kinds of accommodations such as a shift change or assistance with lifting. The EEOC also alleged that ValleyLife commingled medical records in employee personnel files and failed to keep these medical records confidential.
All this alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects workers from discrimination based upon disability and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental impairments of disabled employees unless doing so would cause an undue hardship. Moreover, the ADA requires employers to keep employees' medical information confidential and separate from other personnel records.
The EEOC filed its lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona (EEOC v. ValleyLife, Civil Action No. 2:15-cv-00340-GMS) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
The consent decree settling the suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona and signed by Judge G. Murray Snow, requires ValleyLife to pay $100,000 to four ex-employees. Besides the monetary relief, the decree requires the company to revise its policies to make clear that the company will consider reasonable accommodations for applicants and employees with disabilities; provide ADA training to its work­force from top to bottom; keep medical records confidential and separate from personnel files; and post a notice informing its employees of their rights under the ADA.
"People with disabilities are valuable contributors to our workforce," said EEOC Phoenix District Office Regional Attorney Mary Jo O'Neill. "It is critically important for employers to make genuine efforts to provide reasonable accommodations for those employees with disabilities who need them. It's good business, and it's also the law."
District Director Elizabeth Cadle of the EEOC's Phoenix District Office, added, "Employees with disabilities whose FMLA leave has been exhausted have independent rights under the ADA. Employers must consider reasonable accommodations including additional unpaid leave, leaves of absence, and reassignment."
The 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

U.S. Supreme Court rules for Texas death row inmate, obsolete standard used to assess intellectually disabled

WASHINGTON D.C. - The Supreme Court on Tuesday (3/28) faulted Texas, the U.S. leader in executions, in a death penalty case for the second time in a month and again ruled in favor of a black inmate, finding the state used an obsolete standard to assess whether he is intellectually disabled and exempt from capital punishment.

By Lawrence Hurley | REUTERS | March 28, 2017               
The justices, in a 5-3 decision, threw out a Texas court's ruling upholding the death sentence of Bobby Moore, 57, who was convicted at age 20 of fatally shooting an elderly grocery store clerk during a 1980 robbery in Houston. Moore's lawyers argue he is intellectually disabled and thus not eligible for the death penalty, and now get another chance to show that in court.

"Today, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that all persons with intellectual disability are exempt from execution, and that current medical standards must be used to determine whether a person is intellectually disabled," said Cliff Sloan, Moore's lawyer.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that the execution of people who are intellectually disabled violates the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which bans cruel and unusual punishment. In Moore's case, in a ruling authored by liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the court held that the Texas system for gauging the intellect of defendants is deficient.

On Feb. 22, the court gave another Texas death row inmate, Duane Buck, a chance to avoid execution because his trial was tainted by testimony from a psychologist who stated Buck was more likely to commit future crimes because he is black. Chief Justice John Roberts denounced the "noxious strain of racial prejudice" seen in that Texas case.

Since the resumption of capital punishment in the United States four decades ago, Texas has carried out 542 executions, far more than any other state. Texas has executed four inmates so far this year, more than every other state combined.

Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's office said he was disappointed in the ruling on Moore but offered no further comment.

The lower court that upheld Moore's sentence wrongly used a quarter-century old definition employed in Texas when it determined Moore was not intellectually disabled, the court ruled. Moore's lawyers said a lower court found that Moore's IQ of 70 was "within the range of mild mental retardation."

Ginsburg noted that the Supreme Court had previously said consideration of intellectual disability must be guided by the views of medical experts.

"That instruction cannot sensibly be read to give courts leave to diminish the force of the medical community's consensus," Ginsburg wrote.

Conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy joined the court's four liberals in the ruling. Three of the court's conservatives, Roberts, Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito, dissented.

Roberts wrote in dissent that court precedent did not compel a ruling favoring Moore.
"The court instead crafts a constitutional holding based solely on what it deems to be medical consensus about intellectual disability. But clinicians, not judges, should determine clinical standards; and judges, not clinicians, should determine the content of the Eighth Amendment," he wrote.

Moore, a repeat offender at the time of the murder, shot store clerk James McCarble in the head with a shotgun after entering the Birdsall Super Market with two other robbers wearing a wig and sunglasses, according to prosecutors. Authorities apprehended him in Louisiana 10 days later.

More death row inmates from Harris County, where Moore was prosecuted, have been executed since the resumption of the death penalty than any other county. In fact, the number of inmates executed from that single county exceeds the total of any other whole state other than Texas.

U.S. executions are becoming less common, with opinion polls showing rising opposition to the death penalty. Twenty executions were carried out in 2016, the lowest total since 1991, and they took place in only five of the 50 states.

The Supreme Court's justices have differed among themselves over capital punishment but the court has shown no indication it will take up the broader question of the whether the death penalty itself violates the Constitution.

In 2015, they upheld Oklahoma's lethal injection process in a 5-4 ruling. But Ginsburg and fellow liberal Justice Stephen Breyer asserted that the way the death penalty is implemented may be unconstitutional in part because of state-to-state differences.

On Feb. 21, liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor faulted the court for declining to consider whether Alabama's lethal injection procedures amounted to unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Will Dunham)

Monday, March 27, 2017

U.S. Access Board Issues Guidance on the International Symbol of Accessibility

International Symbol of Accessibility (ISA)The U.S. Access Board has released guidance on the International Symbol of Accessibility (ISA) to address questions that have arisen on the use of alternative symbols. Some cities and states have adopted a different symbol that was created to be more dynamic and suggestive of movement. The Board's guidance explains how use of a symbol other than the ISA impacts compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

Standards issued under the ADA require that the ISA label certain accessible elements, spaces, and vehicles, including parking spaces, entrances, restrooms, and rail cars. Similar requirements are contained in standards issued under the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) for federally funded facilities. The ISA, which is maintained by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), has served as a world-wide accessibility icon for almost 50 years.
"Consistency in the use of universal symbols is important, especially for persons with limited vision or cognitive disabilities," states Marsha Mazz, Director of the Board's Office of Technical and Information Services. "In addition to the ADA and ABA Standards, many codes and regulations in the U.S. and abroad also require display of the ISA."
While the ADA Standards do not recognize specific substitutes for the ISA, they do generally allow alternatives to prescribed requirements that provide substantially equivalent or greater accessibility and usability under a provision known as "equivalent facilitation." However, in the event of a legal challenge, the entity pursuing an alternative has the burden of proof in demonstrating equivalent facilitation. Under the ABA Standards, use of a symbol other than the ISA requires issuance of a modification or waiver by the appropriate standard-setting agency.

"The Board understands the interest out there to revisit the ISA but strongly recommends that such efforts be directed to the ISO to ensure consensus in adoption and uniformity in implementation," says Mazz.

The ISA bulletin is posted on the Board's website along with other issued guidance on the ADA Standards and the ABA Standards. For further information, contact Dave Yanchulis, yanchulis@access-board.gov, (202) 272-0026 (v), or (202) 272-0027 (TTY).

Washington D.C. Order Arrested Disability Rights Activists To Return To Washington To Pay Fines

Most of those arrested have serious disabilities and are scattered across the country.

U.S. Capitol Police prepare flex cuffs to arrest members of ADAPT protesting in the Capitol rotunda on Tuesday against the American Health Care Act of 2017 and cuts to Medicaid. (photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
article by By Daniel Marans for The Huffington Post | March 24, 2017                  
WASHINGTON ― Disability rights activists from across the country who were arrested this week at a Capitol building protest of the Republican health care bill will have to return to Washington to pay $50 fines.

The 54 far-flung activists who converged on Capitol Hill Wednesday to demonstrate against Medicaid cuts in the GOP legislation must pay their fines in person within 15 days of their arrests, U.S. Capitol Police told The Huffington Post.

Leaders of ADAPT, the disability rights activism network that organized the protest, said police wouldn’t allow them to pay the fine in person after the arrests. Forcing a return to the city is a costly and outrageous hardship for the activists, most of whom have serious physical disabilities, said Gregg Beratan, an Albany, New York-based policy analyst for the Center for Disability Rights who was among those arrested.
“It comes off as punitive,” Beratan said. “Adapt has been protesting in D.C. for years. We’ve never experienced anything like this."
ADAPT activists demonstrate in the Capitol rotunda on Wednesday, March 22, 2017. photo courtesy of ADAPT
The activists, a majority in wheelchairs, were arrested by Capitol Police on a charge of obstructing the Capitol rotunda, where they had gathered to protest the GOP legislation.

Police held them for several hours for processing, and informed them they could return in the evening to pay the $50 fine and complete paperwork, according to Beratan and other protest organizers.

But when the activists returned that evening, officers said they needed additional time for processing paperwork, the organizers said.

Some of the activists stayed in Washington overnight and paid the fine the next day. Dozens of others had to leave town on Wednesday night without paying their fines. They include 24 activists who took a seven-hour overnight bus ride to the protest from Rochester, New York, as well as 12 activists from Philadelphia, and one from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Eva Malecki, a spokeswoman for the Capitol Police, did not contradict activists’ account.

“They can only pay their fines after all of their arrest paperwork is fully completed, which involves the generation of other documentation in addition to the officers processing each arrestee following their arrest,” Malecki said in an email. “It takes time to complete all of this documentation, and the timing of the completion of such can be impacted by the number of arrests made, time of day they are arrested, etc.”

If the arrested protesters do not pay the fine or request to be arraigned in Superior Court in Washington within 15 days of their arrest, Capitol Police will issue arrest warrants.

Protesters said they want police to permit a lawyer to pay the fines in person on their behalf.

Bruce Darling, president of the Center for Disability Rights, helped arrange the bus from Rochester. Chartering a bus specially equipped for people with disabilities cost $3,896, paid with fundraising donations. In addition to the expense, a return trip involves special hardship for people with disabilities.
“That is a long time for someone to be sitting for someone who has a spinal cord injury,” Darling said. “This is an incredible hardship for folks. And it’s offensive because they actually were there and tried to follow through.”
Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), who represents the arrested Pennsylvanians, has been following the ordeal, spokesman John Rizzo said.

“It’s unfortunate that constituents with disabilities will have to travel back to DC to settle this issue when they were willing to do it while they here this week,” Rizzo said in a statement.

Adapt’s lawyer is trying to reach an accommodation with Capitol Police. If that fails, the network of activists is prepared to begin fundraising for a return to Washington.

“We’re still keeping our eye on the big picture, which is to stop these massive cuts to Medicaid that will force people into nursing homes and institutions,” Darling said. “It’s forcing people with disabilities into something like the Hunger Games.”
# # #

Shared From National ADAPT....

Support Members of National ADAPT
Last week, many of you helped cheer on the 54 ADAPT members who occupied the Capitol Rotunda to save Medicaid against the AHCA. Civil disobedience never ends when the action stops. It is up to us as a community to stay dedicated in helping in any way we can. Right now ADAPT needs donations to help with arrest fines and the National Action in May. Please help by contributing to ADAPT as follows (even $5 helps!).

OPTION ONE to support the ADAPT 54!
On the left side 3 bars down: Donate to ADAPT
You can use a credit card or PayPal

OPTION TWO to support the ADAPT 54!
Write a check!
Mail it to:
1208 S Logan
Denver, Colorado 80210
ALL donations are tax deductible!

# As information becomes available Ability Chicago Info will update this persecution of those with disabilities.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The show ran for two days, on March 22 and 23, 2017.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dye thought they could trust him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

His application was denied.

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

Conn racked in more than $20 million in fees.

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

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

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

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

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

"There will be suicides," he said.

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

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

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

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

"Why live?" Kevin Robertson wrote him.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE March 2017: 

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