On accessible playgrounds

imgresFrom the New York Times: “The first time I buckled Ruth in a swing she was 18 months old, but looked younger from the emaciating effects of cerebral palsy.Born in Uganda and quickly abandoned, she had spent much of her first year in an orphanage, which sent her to Maine for six months of physical therapy. Friends signed up to host her.

“My husband, Dana, and I were interested in adoption and received permission to take Ruth on weekends to see what caring for her was like. That’s how we found ourselves standing under a canopy of backyard trees, buckling Ruth into a red, plastic baby swing.

Unable to sit, crawl or even lift her head, Ruth shrieked as she soared through the air, her patent-leather baby shoes shivering the low-hanging leaves. I imagine she felt free of her captive body for the first time. A decade after that cool October morning, I’ve never heard a sound so joyful.

We officially welcomed Ruth into our family of three young children in the winter of 2005. Over the years, swinging remained among Ruth’s favorite activities — along with whizzing down the slide at our local playground. But as she grew, it became increasingly difficult to find play areas designed with equipment Ruth could use. Continue reading “On accessible playgrounds”

Law enforcement and the disabled

This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee met to discuss law-enforcement responses to disabled Americans.

As discussed in The Atlantic, “The committee, chaired by democratic Senator Dick Durbin from Illinois, met against the backdrop of the death of James Boyd, a homeless man who had been in and out of psychiatric hospitals, shot to death by police in Albuquerque, and Ethan Saylor, a man with Down syndrome who suffocatedimages to death while handcuffed by off-duty deputies working as security guards in a Maryland movie theater. They are just two of many people with psychiatric or intellectual disabilities killed by law enforcement.

“In the face of these deaths and many others, the senators and witnesses all argued that something must be done. Suggested solutions included increased funding and support for Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT) training and the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Act, which would improve access to mental health services for people who come into contact with the criminal justice system and provide law enforcement officers tools to identify and respond to mental-health issues.

“While the hearing focused on troubling, high profile, and tragic cases such as those of Boyd and Saylor, the scope of the problem extends to virtually every kind of disability. Encounters with police have also taken an unnecessarily violent turn for people with disabilities that are not psychiatric or intellectual, including conditions that are physical or sensory.

“In 2008, Ernest Griglen was removed from his car by police who thought he was intoxicated. He was subsequently beaten. Griglen was, in fact, quite sober, but he is diabetic and was in insulin shock. Judging by media reports alone, people who are diabetic are often mistaken as threatening or drunk. In 2009, Antonio Love felt sick and went into a Dollar General store to use the bathroom. Time passed and he didn’t come out, so the store manager called the police. The officers knocked on the bathroom door, ordered him to come out, but got no response. They sprayed pepper spray under the door, opened it with a tire iron, then tasered Love repeatedly. Love is deaf. He couldn’t hear the police. Again, if news reports are any indication, deaf people are too frequently treated as non-compliant and tasered or beaten by police. Continue reading “Law enforcement and the disabled”

Disabilities and college life

New college students with disabilities are often insecure.

As InsideHigher Ed reports,”Navigating a complicated bureaucracy for the first time with far less institutional support than they had in high school, these students often must overcome stigma and ignorance surrounding their disabilities and advocate for themselves, which they’re often not used to doing. The alternative: risk not getting the tools they need to succeed academically. That’s difficult enough. But some people make it harder.

“I literally had a professor say, ‘Well, I’ve never had a student of that kind before, so I don’t know what to do,’ ” one college employee said here Tuesday at the American College Personnel Association’s annual conference. “But the student was standing right there ready to take their test. It felt so violating.”At a session here exploring what students with physical and psychological disabilities have to say about their collegiate experiences, it was clear that professors have a lot of learning to do.

“I have faculty who are more dismissive of something like bipolar disorder than they would be of something like cerebral palsy,” one attendee said. Because the affliction is psychological rather than physical, she said, “they don’t see it as being as challenging.”But the student affairs and services staff in the room blamed themselves, in part. One person admitted it’s “embarrassing” that his small private college does not offer any disabilities service training to workers in the campus writing center.

Continue reading “Disabilities and college life”

Court to address death penalty and mental disability

The Supreme Court said Monday it would consider taking another step toward limiting the use of the death penalty, this time by trying to clarify the legal standard for who is ineligible for the ultimate punishment because of mental disability, reports the LA Times.images

At issue is whether states such as Florida may disqualify anyone who scores above 70 on an IQ test. A score below 70 generally indicates mental disability.

“The justices agreed to hear the case of Freddie Hall, a Florida death row inmate who killed two people in 1978, but who was described as mentally disabled when he was a child and was deemed to be mentally retarded by the judge who sentenced him to die. Three years ago, Florida prosecutors said Hall had scored a 71 on a Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale test and therefore could be executed for his crimes. At other times he scored 73 and 80.

“His case figures to be the most important death penalty dispute decided during this court term. During the last decade, the court has limited the use of the death penalty by excluding those who were younger than 18 at the time of the crime or who suffered from a significant mental disability. But until now, the court has not intervened to clarify who qualifies for an exemption based on a mental disability. “It’s been 11 years, and this issue is still not settled,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

Continue reading “Court to address death penalty and mental disability”

Disability Awareness month

October is Disability History & Awareness month, a time to recognize and advocate for ongoing struggles for freedom and equality that involve the fates of millions of people. As a recent post in the Wisconsin Gazette puts the matter,

“It is really “our” struggle because any of us — due to injury, illness or quirky chromosomes — can develop a disability at any time.

“Many people are angry about the government shutdown and budget impasse, but among those  taking direct action have been members of the kick-ass disability rights group ADAPT.

“ADAPT is a network of activists who engage in direct action to assert the rights of people with disabilities to live in freedom and independence. It focuses on the de-institutionalization of people with disabilities and is incensed at government policies that hinder that process. Its slogan is “Free Our People!”

“On Sept. 30, hundreds of ADAPTers protested at the U.S. Capitol, while 20 stormed the office of House Speaker John Boehner. Their message: Don’t play politics with programs that assist people with disabilities to lead independent lives.

“Sixty activists, many in wheelchairs, were arrested at the White House. They had squeezed through barriers, chained themselves at the gates and refused to move. They were protesting Vice President Joe Biden’s broken campaign promise to meet with them about community living issues and a new regulation proposed by the Department of Labor that ADAPT believes will restrict the hours of home-care attendants and people’s rights to choose their own attendants. The regulation extends overtime pay to home-care workers, a long-overdue pay equity issue, supported by the Service Employees International Union. However, because Medicaid is not increasing reimbursement rates for home care, providers are likely to cut or cap the hours attendants work. This could lead to inadequate home-care services and the shift of some people back to institutional care, which is better covered by Medicaid. Continue reading “Disability Awareness month”

Caregivers live longer

The common wisdom in the fields of medicine and social work has held that those who care for a long-term seriously disabled person have their lives shortened as a consequence. Compensating anecdotes are often rendered about increased empathy, fulfillment, and so on. But the overriding narrative is generally rather grim.

Now a new study tells the opposite story, as reported in the American Journal of Epidemiology: a large new study shows that caregivers live as long or longer than non-caregivers, although the kind of care (which seems crucial in such a discussion) it not directly discussed in the abstract available online.

“Previous studies have provided conflicting evidence on whether being a family caregiver is associated with increased or decreased risk for all-cause mortality. This study examined whether 3,503 family caregivers enrolled in the national Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) Study showed differences in all-cause mortality from 2003 to 2012 compared with a propensity-matched sample of non-caregivers. Caregivers were individually matched with 3,503 non-caregivers by using a propensity score matching procedure based on 15 demographic, health history, and health behavior covariates.

“During an average 6-year follow-up period, 264 (7.5%) of the caregivers died, which was significantly fewer than the 315 (9.0%) matched noncaregivers who died during the same period. A proportional hazards model indicated that caregivers had an 18% reduced rate of death compared with non-caregivers (hazard ratio = 0.823, 95% confidence interval: 0.699, 0.969). Subgroup analyses by race, sex, caregiving relationship, and caregiving strain failed to identify any subgroups with increased rates of death compared with matched non-caregivers. Continue reading “Caregivers live longer”

Fake service dogs

It’s one thing to park in a disabled parking space, shameful as that is, but it’s quite another to dress your pooch up as a service dog, as reports Huffington Post:imgres

“By strapping a vest or backpack that says “service animal” to their pet, anyone can go in stores and restaurants where other dogs are banned, creating growing problems for the disabled community and business owners and leading to calls for better identifying the real deal.

“Those with disabilities are worried about privacy and the safety of their highly trained service dogs, while business owners are concerned about health violations and damage to merchandise from impostors abusing the system.

“Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, it’s a federal crime to use a fake dog. And about a fourth of all states have laws against service animal misrepresentation. But privacy protections built into the laws make it nearly impossible to prosecute offenders. It’s even more difficult because no papers are legally required for real service dogs. Often, people who want to take their pets into restaurants or retail stores just go online to buy vests, backpacks or ID cards with a “service animal” insignia.

“The law says those entering businesses with animals can be asked just two questions: Is this a service dog? What is it trained to do for you?

“Efforts to make the law more prosecutable have begun, but few agree on what will work best. Ideas range from ditching privacy to doing nothing.

“Corey Hudson, chief executive officer of Canine Companions for Independence in San Rafael and president of Assistance Dogs International, a coalition of training schools, is leading the effort to get the U.S. Department of Justice involved. He started writing to the agency 18 months ago but has not received a response.

“Hudson wants to open talks and explore ways to identify the real from the phony. Continue reading “Fake service dogs”

Disney curtails disability access

Across the country, parents of children with disabilities are reacting with alarm to news that Disney will soon end its “Guest Assistance Card” program. Some have launched online petitions and letter-writing campaigns, reports the Seattle Times.

“Some parents say waiting for an extended period of time, even if they don’t have to stand in a crowded queue, is not practical for their children. Some cannot mentally

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process why they can’t ride immediately. Others must be on rigid schedules for food, medicine or even bathroom breaks. Some can be in the parks for only two or three hours before their child becomes exhausted or has a meltdown.

“This is going to be a huge obstacle for my son,” said Brad Doyle, 49, of Glendale, Ariz., who has taken his son many times to Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. “I really have to rethink my whole vacation now.”

“Disney says it is sympathetic to their concerns. But it also says it must make changes to a program now being widely exploited by others.

“Stories of wealthy families hiring disabled tour guides to pose as family members have drawn national attention and scorn. But the more common abuse is subtler: people faking hard-to-verify handicaps such as heart murmurs, back spasms or claustrophobia; or groups using a pass issued to an elderly relative to jump the lines for thrill rides that the relative can’t or won’t ride.

“The abuse has intensified in recent years, fueled by swelling crowds in Disney’s theme parks, which draw tens of millions of visitors a year. Soon after the opening of the popular Cars Land in Disney California Adventure last year, Disney found that close to a quarter of all the visitors riding Radiator Springs Racers — 5,000 out of 20,000 on average per day — were using a Guest Assistance Card, according to MiceChat.com, a website devoted to Disney theme-park news. Most were also annual-pass holders. Continue reading “Disney curtails disability access”

Math disability affects 6 percent

A math learning disability similar to dyslexia affects 6 percent of people, although it gets little attention.

“Dyscalculia” is discussed in Discover Magazine as excerpted below:

“Steph Zech graduated from high school this spring with an admirable academic record. She especially loved chemistry, writing and literature — though she has some reservations about Dante. A bright and diligent student, she took two Advanced Placement classes her senior year, sailing through both.images

“But when it comes to math, Steph has struggled mightily. At age 17, she still counts on her fingers to add 3 and 5. She doesn’t know her multiplication tables. She can’t understand fractions, process concepts of time such as “quarter after” or read dice without counting the dots. She did recently figure out that if something costs 75 cents, the change from a dollar should be 25 cents. But when asked what the change would be if the price were 70 cents, she considers at length before venturing, “15 cents?” Continue reading “Math disability affects 6 percent”

Veterans’ PTSD options are lacking

The Department of Veterans Affairs is being criticized for the shortfall in care for almost a million veterans who can’t get timely compensation and have been waiting hundreds of days for help, often to no avail, reports NPR today.images

“Frustration with the agency came to a head last Thursday when VA Secretary Eric Shinseki was called before a closed-door meeting of the House Appropriations Committee.”We are aggressively executing a plan that we have put together to fix this decades-old problem and eliminate the backlog, as we have indicated, in 2015,” Shinseki said after the meeting.“So this is a challenge [and] we’re making tough decisions that make it possible for more people to apply for and receive benefits.

“Glenn Smith, a 28-year-old Army veteran from St. Louis, joined the military in 2004.”I joined because I loved tanks, believe it or not,” Smith tells Jacki Lyden, host of weekends on All Things Considered.Smith was deployed to Iraq twice between 2006 and 2010; he spent most of four years in combat. He now has an irregular heartbeat, and attributes it to one of the many IED blasts he went through. The irregular heartbeat, discovered during a routine training exercise, led to him being discharged last spring.

“Smith described an anxiety attack in March in which “things just [closed] in” on him. It’s even happened while he was driving.”I didn’t feel like I had any release or way to break free of it,” he says. “I’ve had memories and nightmares of my experiences while I was in Iraq. Any all that just came rushing to the surface.”Smith also says he has a bad case of PTSD. His PTSD has been so debilitating, he needs help navigating the VA. He submitted his initial claim about a year ago, but still lacks regular treatment for the disorder. Continue reading “Veterans’ PTSD options are lacking”

Court rules for abused mentally disabled workers

A US jury has awarded $240m to 32 mentally disabled men who suffered decades of abuse while working at a turkey processing company in Iowa, reports the BBC today. “Jurors in Davenport heard how the men had been kicked, verbally abused and denied toilet breaks by their employers from Henry’s Turkey Serviceimages-2

“One expert said the disabled workers – who were each paid only $65 per month – had been “virtually enslaved”. The verdict is in addition to $1.3m in back wages awarded to the men in 2012.

“On Wednesday, the jury determined that the now-defunct Henry’s Turkey Service had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. It said the company had created a hostile environment and discriminating conditions of employment for the men, who had learning difficulties and worked at the West Liberty plant under the company’s oversight since the 1970s. The award gives each worker $7.5m in compensation. The authorities say they will now seek to recover the award from the remaining assets of the liquidated firm. Continue reading “Court rules for abused mentally disabled workers”

Gillard’s disability gambit

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has pinned her government’s re-election hopes on a new welfare program for the disabled, proposing on Wednesday a new tax to better fund care for Australians with severe physical and mental disabilities, reports the Associated Press

“The tax would not be paid until July 1, 2014. Gillard said legislation to create the tax would not be considered by Parliament before general elections on Sept. 14.images-1

“Opinion polls agree Gillard’s center-left Labor Party government is unlikely to retain power. While the conservative opposition supports the concept of a new disability support fund, it opposes a new tax to pay for it.

“Gillard had rejected a new tax last year but said Wednesday the government could not fund the program through savings because company tax revenue was falling billions of dollars short of Treasury Department forecasts due to the cooling mining boom and a strong Australian dollar damaging business competitiveness Continue reading “Gillard’s disability gambit”

Alcoholism as disability

If alcoholism is a disease, as most professionals in the treatment industry assert – then shouldn’t those who get in trouble with the law for alcohol-related reasons be treated as “ill” rather than “criminal.”?

LifeHealth reports that “A police officer fired for driving drunk in an unmarked police car while off-duty has filed a $6 million lawsuit against the city of Gresham, the police chief and others, alleging his rights were violated under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).imgres-1

“The lawsuit filed in Portland alleged the officer, Jason Servo, was suffering from alcoholism, a recognized disability under the act, and shouldn’t have been dismissed.The suit also alleged Servo was denied due process, and the police union failed to represent him adequately. Continue reading “Alcoholism as disability”

Looking for work with a disability

Five years after starting to keep track of whether people with disabilities are working, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has found fewer people with disabilities in the labor force even as the population has grown, reports the Pittsbugh Gazetteimages-1

“In June 2008 when the bureau started to keep track of the disabled population’s relationship to the labor force, there were 27.3 million people who were disabled and 21.7 percent of them were either working or looking for a job.As of March, that number had grown to 28.9 million, but their participation rate in the labor force had fallen to 18 percent.

“During the same time period, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities in the labor force has risen from 9.3 percent to 13 percent. The trends for people with disabilities mirrors the larger population, in which the unemployment rate rose from 5.6 percent in June 2008 to 7.4 percent in March (without seasonal adjustment) while the labor force participation rate has fallen from 72.6 percent to 68.7 percent. “In this market when there are so many people looking for work, people with disabilities have to outshine everybody else,” said Eric Smith, associate director of the Center for Accessible Technologies in Berkeley, Calif. Continue reading “Looking for work with a disability”

U.S. disability system in crisis

Social Security’s disability program is overwhelmed by so many claims that judges sometimes award benefits they might otherwise deny just to keep up with the flow of cases, according to a lawsuit filed by the judges themselves.

The Social Security Administration says the agency’s administrative law judges should decide 500 to 700 disability cases a year. The agency calls the standard a productivity goal, but the lawsuit claims it is an illegal quota that requires judges to decide an average of more than two cases per workday.

“When the goals are too high, the easy way out is to pay the case,” said Randall Frye, president of the Association of Administrative Law Judges and a judge in Charlotte, N.C. “Paying the case is a decision that might be three pages long. When you deny benefits, it’s usually a 15- or 20-page denial that takes a lot more time and effort.”

The lawsuit raises serious questions about the integrity of the disability hearing process by the very people in charge of running it. It comes as the disability program faces serious financial problems.

The disability program’s trust fund will run out of money in 2016, according to projections by Social Security’s trustees. At that point, the system will collect only enough money in payroll taxes to pay 79 percent of benefits. That would trigger an automatic 21 percent cut in benefits.

Congress could redirect money from Social Security’s much bigger retirement program to shore up the disability program, as it did in 1994. But that would worsen the finances of the retirement program, which is facing its own long-term financial problems.

The lawsuit was filed by the judges’ union and three judges on Thursday in federal court in Chicago. It names the agency and Acting Social Security Commissioner Carolyn Colvin as defendants. Colvin took over in February after Commissioner Michael Astrue’s six-year term expired.

The union announced the lawsuit at a press conference Friday in Washington. A Social Security spokesman declined to comment. In an interview, Astrue disputed the union’s claims. Continue reading “U.S. disability system in crisis”

The radio of “Lifestyles of the Disabled”

The participants at “Lifestyles for the Disabled” do not exactly seem like naturals as radio personalities.

There is Anthony Cossentino, 29, a huge “Jeopardy” fan who for years has been arriving at Lifestyles, a daytime occupational program on Staten Island for developmentally delayed adults in their 20s and 30s, every morning with a self-written question of the day, to pose to anyone who will listen,reports the New York Times.images

“Or take Michael Halbreich, 32, who has an uncanny ability to remember the birthday of anyone he meets, and to instantly name the day of the week that any date in history fell on.

“He has yet to get one wrong,” said Burak Uzun, a staff supervisor who runs the media program at Lifestyles, which offers vocational, social, recreational and educational services geared toward independent living.And then there’s Anthony DiFato, 22, who is well known at Lifestyles for his obsession with mystery novels, films and television shows. He is known as the Mystery Man because he is never without a whodunit book.

“Ever since I was a kid, I was always into mysteries,” Mr. DiFato said at Lifestyles one recent weekday while holding a paperback copy of a book in the Mrs. Jeffries mystery series by Emily Brightwell. But these quirky skills and interests can make for good radio. Just over two years ago, Mr. Uzun, along with another staff member, Joel Richardson, began recruiting participants at Lifestyles with varying degrees of autism to record brief talk show segments on a laptop. The segments were posted online as podcasts, mostly for friends and relatives of participants and staff members to listen to.

More at: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/14/nyregion/radio-personalities-at-lifestyles-for-the-disabled-make-their-voices-heard.html?ref=nyregionspecial

The Punk Syndrome

The Punk Syndrome is the title of a recent independent film about musical band made up of people with intellectual disabilities

This attractive Finnish film brings to mind the Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki’s Leningrad Cowboys Go America, a zany comedy about a terrible Finnish rock group touring the States, reports The Guardian.imgres-2 “The difference, however, is that Kärkkäinen and Passi’s film is a documentary about a real punkquartet called Pertti Kurikka’s Name Day, a genuine punk quartet made up of the autistic duo of Pertti Kurikka (lead guitar) and Karl Aalto (singer), and the Down’s syndrome duo of Sami Helle (bass) and Toni Välitalo (drums). Continue reading “The Punk Syndrome”

Rising unemployment among the disabled

Following the news last week that American unemployment ticked up to 7.9 percent came another, more sobering, statistic.

The unemployment rate among Americans with disabilities increased significantly in January, the U.S. Department of Labor said Friday, reports DisabilityScoop.

“Statistics indicate that the jobless rate jumped to 13.7 percent last month for people with disabilities, a steep rise over the 11.7 percent unemployment rate reported for the final month of 2012.

“Multiple factors appear to have contributed to the growth in

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individuals with disabilities without jobs in January. Not only were there more without jobs, but the number of people seeking work also grew, according to Labor Department data. Continue reading “Rising unemployment among the disabled”

Acting, disability, and visibility

Michael J Fox’s continuing role on “The Good Wife” and other programs has been a singular example of an actor willing to reveal a disabling illness, testifying to Fox’s professional commitment and his openness to disclosure.imgres-2

Both things are praiseworthy, but the latter is remarkably rare in a media economy so predicated on bodily perfection and endless youth. Ben Brantley writes in a recent New York Times review of several theater groups that are doing similar work, however – as they foreground forms of disability and “difference” among actors that typically never get revealed or seen on stage or screen. As Brantley writes,

“Theatergoers generally expect actors to abide by certain longstanding conventions, and if actors fail to oblige, it usually isn’t intentional. Continue reading “Acting, disability, and visibility”

School sports and disability rights

Recent federal action on school sports programs could do for disabled students what Title IX did for women and girls.

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For the first time, federal officials are telling school districts that they must offer students with disabilities equal access to school sports, reports today’s edition of DisabilityScoop, continuing:

“In guidance issued Friday to districts across the country, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights said that children with disabilities have the right to participate in their school’s extracurricular activities under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

“Accordingly, the agency said that students with intellectual, developmental, physical and other types of disabilities should be afforded opportunities to play for their school teams with modifications, aids and services as needed. Continue reading “School sports and disability rights”