Monday, September 28, 2009

Could Chicago Olympics Set New Standard for Accessibility?

According to an article in the Chicago Sun Times, if Chicago is selected next week as the host of the 2016 Olympic Games, Chicago Stadium could become the most "handicapped-friendly" venues ever built.

Specifically, city officials are working on a plan to convert up to 50,000 of the 80,000 seats in the temporary stadium into wheelchairs. After the Olympics, when the stadium is torn down, the wheelchairs could be donated to people who need them. Patrick Ryan, the CEO of the Chicago 2016 bid team, said, "It addresses a social issue where we can make wheelchairs -- privately funded -- available to people around the world with disabilities. There are still people around the world who still have to drag themselves because they don't have wheelchairs."

Credit for the idea is being given to Darren Brehm, who works for a firm consulting for Chicago 2016 and has used a wheelchair since 1990, when a car crash left him paralyzed. "It could change a lot of people's lives," Breman said.

The cost for the special seats? About $100 to $200 each. The entire cost of the stadium could be nearly $400 million, and the cost of the seats may require support from private sponsors.

Sounds like a win-win situation, don't you think? Now, let's see if Chicago gets that bid...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Duncan: "A Lot about NCLB and U.S. Education Needs to Change"

Here are Education Secretary Arne Duncan's prepared remarks for a Thursday speech on No Child Left Behind, the 2002 incarnation of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which is up for reauthorization.

From Duncan's remarks: "The biggest problem with NCLB is that it doesn’t encourage high learning standards. In fact, it inadvertently encourages states to lower them. The net effect is that we are lying to children and parents by telling kids they are succeeding when they are not."

I have to give credit for mentioning disabilities in a speech -- as far as I've seen, the first time he has as education secretary. Specifically, his remarks say: "Today I am calling on all of you to join with us to build a transformative education law that offers every child the education they want and need – a law that recognizes and reinforces the proper role of the federal government to support and drive reform at the state and local level....Let us build a law that brings equity and opportunity to those who are economically disadvantaged, or challenged by disabilities or background."

Duncan is also going to ask for input from stakeholders, which I hope will include special ed advocates and parents of children with special needs. "Over the coming months the administration will be developing its proposal for reauthorization," his remarks say. "Before we do, however, we want to hear from you. We want your input."

Stay tuned for an update after he gives the speech tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Don't Forget the Paralympics

With Chicago bidding to host the 2016 Olympics, there's a lot of talk about what President Obama's role should be. One aspect of the story you don't hear as much about is the Paralympics, which will be held in the same city that hosts the Olympic Games.

Paralympian Linda Mastandrea is the director of Paralympic Sport & Accessibility for Chicago 2016. Mastandrea, who won gold and silver medals in Atlanta in 1996 and set a record in the 200-meter race, has also played wheelchair basketball in the 1992 Paralympics in Barcelona.

Mastrandrea says:
"What surprises people who have never seen Paralympic sport before is how strong and capable athletes are, how it doesn't matter whether you are missing a limb, your eyesight, or your ability to walk, you can be an amazing athlete. Sport is sport, whether it is played from a wheelchair, with a prosthetic or some other assistive device. Paralympic athletes have the same drive, the same will to succeed and to win, that athletes without disabilities have."

Read about the U.S. Paralympic team and the 2010 games in Vancouver, which will be held March 12-21, 2010.

Read more about the Paralympics and the Chicago bid at the Huffington Post.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Rationing or Better Care for Kids with Disabilites?

Easter Seals and Autism Society: "Health care will improve coverage for people with disabilities!"

Republican-sponsored parents: "Health care will kill people with disabilities!"

Having been active in special needs issues for five years now, I've seen that parents and other advocates can have honest disagreements about the appropriate approaches for treatment, education, and medical care. But the vocal minority who seem to oppose any form of health care reform come across as partisan, intentionally uninformed, and counter-productive to improvements that can benefit the people they most care about.

Read the Associated Press article "Rationing or better care for disabled kids?"

Officials at Easter Seals and the Autism Society say the proposed legislation would improve services for disabled children. And 40 groups that advocate for people with disabilities are on record as supporting the House Democratic bill. Jeff Sell, vice president for advocacy at the Autism Society, who has twin 14-year-old sons with autism, said, "I have seen nothing in the legislation that would lead to rationing of care for children with disabilities." Sell said the bill would actually improve care by eliminating annual and lifetime limits on coverage, as well as coverage exclusions for pre-existing health problems.

Reacting to some parents who claim that a "government takeover" will lead to their children being denied services, Sell added, "I am having a hard time following their logic of jumping to the negative instead of seeing possibilities."

Agree or disagree? I invite your comments.

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Guide to Employment for People with Disabilities

The job market is tough right now -- especially for people with disabilities. So for Labor Day, I won't waste your time with summaries or links to ceremonial speeches about the holiday and the importance of work in our society. Instead, here are resources that may be helpful to people with disabilities who are seeking employment. If you have other tips, please post them in a comment.


Teleseminar: Using the Internet to Find a Job
On Sept. 16 there's a free teleseminar on "10 Secrets That Every Job Seeker with a Disability Needs to Know: How to Make the Internet Work for You When Looking for a Job." The seminar, led by Seth Acosta of the Sierra Group will share tips when posting a resume to an electronic job board. 1:00-2:00 EST. More information. The seminar is sponsored by One More Way, which is an interesting initiative to support employment for people with disabilites. Visit their website.

Resources from is a great resource for people seeking employment, and for employers who want to know the laws related to disabilities. You can find information on:
- Career counseling
- Job training
- Job banks -- real jobs available right now
- Mentoring and internships
- Federal employment

Employment Locator
Career One Stop, an initiative of the U.S. Department of Labor, offers an employment locator that allows you to search for jobs by state and industry. I haven't used it -- if you have, share your thoughts.

Articles from has partnered with JobsCentral to create a database of jobs available to people with disabilities -- visit They also some excellent advice for people with disabilities in their employment section. For example:
- Finding employment with a disability during a recession
- Five crucial tips for acing an interview
- How to tell if a company is "disability-friendly"
- How to get hired from virtual volunteering

FOR EMPLOYERS has an entire section on Employing People with Disabilities. It includes tips on recruiting and hiring, interviewing, workplace accommodations and supports, HR tools and resources, tax incentives, occupational health and safety, and more. Read success stories of solutions that have benefited companies and workers with disabilities.

Friday, September 4, 2009

How Will Supreme Court Decision on Special Ed Reimbursement Affect School Districts?

According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, a recent Supreme Court ruling on special education is expected to put additional pressure on school districts. The ruling says parents of students with special needs have the right to seek reimbursement from their districts for private school tuition, even if they have not first tried special ed program in their public schools.

Matthew Cohen, a Chicago attorney who specializes in disability law, said the Court's June decision "makes it clear that school districts...may be held legally liable for placements that the parents make on their own." Will these mean a stampede toward private schools? Probably not, because parents would need to pay tens of thousands of dollars in private school tuition -- and only then seek reimbursement. There's no guarantee they will be reimbursed, and it's unclear how those decisions will be made.

According to the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), students are entitled to a "free and appropriate public education." Districts have to pay for private school only if they have tried but failed to meet a student's needs.

As you can imagine, not everyone is happy about the decision that puts even more pressure on school districts. Mark Friedman, who recently retired as a public school superintendent in the Chicago area asked, "Where do you draw the line when class size is getting bigger and you only have X number of dollars? When you can educate five kids for the cost of one special ed kid? The community is not happy when we have dwindling resources, when there are 28 students in a class and we're spending $100,000 for one kid. That feeling is out there. I have heard it, I have felt it ... and this kind of ruling can create an even bigger divide."

How would you answer Mr. Friedman's question? Where DO you think the line should be drawn? How much is too much to educate a child with special needs?

CDC: Swine Flu Poses Higher Risk to Children with Disabilities

A new report on the H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu, has a particular caution to parents of children with disabilities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children with high-risk medical conditions or disabilities should be among the first to be vaccinated against H1N1 influenza.

CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden said, "We also are recommending that all people with underlying conditions get vaccinated -- people who have asthma, diabetes, lung disease, heart disease, neuromuscular conditions, neurological conditions that increase their risk factors, and women who are pregnant." And high-risk children under 18 years of age should be rushed to a doctor at the first sign of the virus, Frieden said.

The vaccine is expected to be available by mid-October, and it's adding flames to the existing debate over the possible link between vaccines and autism. While there is no scientific evidence that vaccines cause autism, the debate over this issue is only heating up. It doesn't help that the H1N1 vaccine will be new and untested over time, and that reports (see Washington Post article) say many of the vaccines will have thimerosal, which contains mercury (which has been removed from many vaccines). Read what the CDC says about the vaccine.

As of Aug. 22, there had been 556 deaths in the United States associated with the H1N1 virus as of Aug. 22 -- and 42 were children under 18. Seven of the children who died were younger than 5, and 24 had underlying disabilities such as muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, or another medical condition.

Learn more and keep up with this special section of the CDC's website.

Unemployment Continues for People with Disabilities

We all know the economy is not showing any dramatic signs of recovery. But it's troubling that while job losses are slowing for the general population, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities reached a record high for the third month in a row in August. The rate is now 16.9 percent, compared with 9.3 for the general population. Read more from Disability Scoop.

Disability Scoop

Special Ed News (Education Week)

Special Education Law