Thursday, July 30, 2009

U.S. Signs Disability Rights Treaty

As President Obama announced on Friday, today Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in New York. The president will submit the treaty to the U.S. Senate, which needs to ratify it.

According to the Associated Press, Rice said the treaty "symbolizes that the United States is recommitting itself to upholding human rights through multilateral institutions. It is symbolic of the president's determination to adhere universally to those principles that he has championed and that the United States stands for domestically....

"We all still have a great deal more to do at home and abroad. As President Obama has noted, people with disabilities far too often lack the choice to live in communities of their own choosing; their unemployment rate is much higher than those without disabilities; they are much more likely to live in poverty; health care is out of reach for far too many; and too many children with disabilities are denied a world-class education."

The treaty, already signed by 140 countries, is designed to end discrimination and exclusion of people with physically and mentally disabilities. About 10 percent of the world's population, or 650 million people, live with a disability.

Hypocrisy in Greece over Special Olympics?

Kristina Chew over at recently raised an issue over Greece's role as host of the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games. She quotes blogger Emma, whose blog, The Iron Chicken, is about "Life in the weird lane, raising a child with disability in Greece and other things."

Emma writes:
"The irritation stems from the knowledge that Greek politicians are going to being doing their photo opportunities and making their postive statements about inclusion and acceptance and the progress that Greece has made etc, etc, etc, when in fact they are doing pretty much.....nothing towards inclusion and acceptance or anything else regarding disability."

Read Emma's post.

Vist the official site of the 2011 Games.

Mixed Reactions to ADA Anniversary Events

Dora Raymaker of points out that reaction to President Obama's ceremony marking the 19th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act was not entirely positive.

As an example, read the reaction from New Mobility, titled "Obama's ADA Speech Bombs." Managing editor Josie Byzek worries that President Obama "believes most of the hard work is already done (if it was ever that important to begin with), and mainly all we need now is better medical treatment, either through stem cell research or health care. Obama’s greatest praise is for the appeasers who never complain, and he gave just a passing pat on the back for the advocates who brought the ADA into being. Job done, he seems to say. No need for that type of unpleasantness any more."

Raymaker herself wrote a thoughtful analysis about her mixed feelings about the ADA, asking readers whether the ADA should get a birthday card, a get well card, or both.

To provide a balanced report, here is the statement of U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis on the ADA anniversary.

I think the real question is not what people think about the president's comments on the ADA's 19th anniversary, six months after taking office. The real test for President Obama will be when we mark the 20th anniversary and reflect on what progress this administration has made in disability policy.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

ADA 19th Anniversary: Remarks, Proclamation

Today is the 19th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

As reported earlier (see post below), President Obama on Friday announced his intention to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. As part of a ceremony marking the ADA anniversary, the president also signed a proclamation (read full text) and commented on the work that remains to be done in the area of disability rights.

The proclamation notes: "People with disabilities far too often lack the choice to live in communities of their choosing; their unemployment rate is much higher than those without disabilities; they are much likelier to live in poverty; health care is out of reach for too many; and too many children with disabilities are denied a world-class education."

And in his remarks, the president said, "I am not satisfied -- I am proud of the progress we have made, but I am not satisfied -- and I know you are not either -- until every American with a disability can learn in their local public school in the manner that's best for them. Until they can apply for a job without discrimination and live and work independently in their communities, if that is what they choose, we have got more work to do."

Watch CSPAN's video of Friday's event.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The ADA at 19: A Time to Celebrate (and Advocate Harder Than Ever)

Sunday is the 19th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It's nearly indisputable that people with disabilities have more rights and more access than they did before the ADA, and that's reason to celebrate. But if you're reading my blog, you probably also know that our country has a long way to go before people with disabilities are truly equal citizens. Today, we face questions like: How will people with disabilities fare in health care reform? How can we make progress in education, housing, employment, and other areas when budget cuts are devastating services for people with disabilities nationwide?

This milestone will elicit many ceremonies and speeches, including one from our president, but it will take more than words and compassion to eliminate discrimination, remove barriers, solve problems, and ensure equal rights and opportunities for all Americans. As I review remarks about this anniversary, I'll be looking for ideas, plans, and dollars -- not just progress reports.

In the meantime, I want to share several important resources that may help you learn more -- and teach others -- about the ADA and its importance. I encourage you to add your own comments on 1) the significance of the ADA, 2) steps we still need to take, or 3) other resources you'd like to share.

- Full text of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (as amended in 2008)
- About the ADA
- History
- How the ADA Defines "Disabilities"
- ADA Training (podcasts, toolkits, conferences, and more)
- Resources (employment, youths with disabilities, and more)
- Information on Accessible Technology

Thanks to the Disability and Business Technical Assistance Center (DBTAC) National Network of ADA Centers for these resources. Learn about DBTAC and find even more on its website.

"With nearly 54 million Americans living with disabilities, it must be a priority for our government to do everything it can to protect and respect the needs of these Americans. I am proud the Senate passed this Act today to reverse judicial decisions that permit discrimination against persons with disabilities. Eighteen years ago, enacting the Americans with Disabilities Act was a historic milestone for millions of Americans when it was signed into law. It gave Americans with disabilities better access, more opportunities, and increased independence."
- Senator Barack Obama, on the Senate's passage of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, Sept. 11, 2008

"The ADA is one of the most successful civil rights laws in our history and has been an essential part of countless American lives."
- President George W. Bush, proclamation on the 18th anniversary of the ADA, July 26, 2008

"In 1992, I issued a challenge to our nation. I said we must not rest until America has a national disability policy based on three simple creeds; inclusion, not exclusion; independence, not dependence; and empowerment, not paternalism. I remain committed to that vision and I want to thank all of you for working so hard with us to make it a reality. More than ever before in our history, America's greatness in the next century will depend upon the ability of our citizens to make the most of their own lives. Americans with disabilities are an enormous, largely untapped reservoir of that potential."
- President Bill Clinton, May 23, 1996

"This Act is powerful in its simplicity. It will ensure that people with disabilities are given the basic guarantees for which they have worked so long and so hard. Independence, freedom of choice, control of their own lives, the opportunity to blend fully and equally into the rich mosaic of the American mainstream."
- President George H.W. Bush, ADA signing ceremony, July 26, 1990

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
-- Martin Luther King Jr.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

President to Sign International Disability Treaty

Earning its name, Disability Scoop reports two days early that on Friday, President Obama will announce he will sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It's no coincidence that Friday is also the 19th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

To date, 140 countries have already signed the treaty, which seeks to remove barriers for approximately 650 million people with disabilities around the world.

White House spokesman Shin Inouye told Disability Scoop, "On Friday, the president will announce this administration’s decision to join all the other nations who have signed this convention, thereby affirming internationally the commitment enshrined in our own national law and our long-standing leadership in protecting the rights of people with disabilities."

Read more at the United Nations' Enable website, a great resource for disability rights around the world.

UPDATE: United States International Council on Disabilities (USICD) applauds the president's decision, calling the treaty "good for America, good for people with disabilities, and good for the world."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

An Easy Way to Make a Big Difference for People with Autism

I serve as a state advocacy coordinator for Autism Speaks, but as a parent, I have a personal appeal for you. Health reform is moving along without a critical component -- assurance that insurance companies will be required to cover autism services. You can help by making two phone calls, sending two emails, and telling your friends about this.

Most urgent, call House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at 202-225-0100.

Also important, call Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at 202-224-3542.

If you aren't sure what to say, you can use these messages:
"Hi, My name is _______________. I am calling from (your city, your state). I want you to know that health care reform that does not stop autism insurance discrimination is unacceptable. People with autism deserve coverage for the treatments and therapies that will help their medical condition. Thank you."

You can also email Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid.

Read more about these issues and how you can get involved.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

An Open Letter -- and Homework -- for Secretary Duncan

Dear Secretary Duncan:

I like to report on positive steps the administration is taking to improve the lives of people with disabilities. And I'd REALLY like to find some good news -- even supportive statements -- coming from you and the Department of Education. I promise you, if you say something positive, I'll report it here and many people will read about it.

But PLEASE. Give me something to work with.

As an example, you met yesterday with the American Federation of Teachers, the second largest teachers union, with 1.4 million members. In your address and in the Q&A, you never mentioned special education and how it might fit in with your proposed education reforms.

You had a chance when a teacher from Illinois asked you about standards for paraprofessionals. You could have said, "Great question. As you know, we have more than 250,000 paraprofessionals in our schools who play an important role supporting teachers -- and who are critical to our ability to meet the needs of children in special education programs. We have to make sure that we have high standards for them just as we do for teachers."

That's what you could have said. Instead, your answer was: "Great question. One I haven't done a lot of work on."

Secretary Duncan, with all respect, it's time for you to do some work on special education. As a start, please read this fact sheet on paraprofessionals from your own Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). But please, don't stop there. As you work to fulfill your responsibility to provide education for all Americans, including those who have disabilities, visit the OSEP website to learn about its programs and responsibilities. While you're there, you may notice that under "what's new," there are only two new entries since President Obama took office six months ago. I hope to see more developments and hear your plans soon.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Longtime Advocate for Blind Dies at 61

After Harold Snider was forced out of his third-grade classes because he was blind, his parents sued Duval County in Florida, and Harold became the first blind child in the county to graduate from public school. He went on to become a leading advocate for people with disabilites. Snider died June 26 at his home in Rockville, Md., after a heart attack.

In the 1970s, he became the first blind employee of the Smithsonian Institution, where he coordinated programs for people with disabilities for the National Air and Space Museum. "You can't look at the spacecraft, so you touch it, or you hold a model of it or a raised line picture of it," he explained. "You can't see an airplane, so you hear its engine roar."

Snider worked on disability issues for the Republican National Committee, and in 1990President George H.W. Bush appointed him as deputy executive director of the National Council on Disability. He helped draft the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990. He also worked with the National Federation of the Blind to develop NFB-Newsline, an audible newspaper and magazine service that allows people to hear the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, and other newspapers at no cost.

According to an obituary in the Washington Post, Snider "said he was sometimes asked how blind people performed tasks such as crossing the street, cutting a sandwich or, as the more curious would ponder, having sex. 'I tell them I do it like everybody else. In the dark.'"

Friday, July 10, 2009

Waitlist-Gate Likely a Non-Issue for White House Disability Chief

The White House's top disability advocate was back in the news yesterday -- but for the wrong reasons. The Chicago Tribune reported that Kareem Dale, special assistant to the president for disability policy, used his White House email account to recommend a student for admission to the University of Illinois law school, his alma mater. The school's dean testified that the school no longer uses "clout lists" and that Dale's email from April was ignored.

Is this a big deal or a small deal? I say pretty minor, and unlikely to affect Dale's ability to be an effective advocate for people with disabilities. In his email, he stressed that he was writing in a personal capacity -- so while he used poor judgment, there's no evidence he was intentionally implying his endorsement reflected the views of the President or anyone else at the White House.

When I worked at the White House during the first years of the Clinton Administration, several junior staff were reprimanded for receiving -- not sending -- faxes with NCAA brackets during March Madness. It was considered a form of gambling and an ethical violation to give someone the fax number and ask to receive the document. Sending a completed bracket, I'm sure, would have been considered worse.

More relevant, there was a strong policy against using your White House badge to gain any sort of favor. If a local bar or restaurant advertised "half price drinks/food for White House staff," it would be an ethical violation to accept. In fact, you were encouraged to put your badge in your pocket while you were outside the building. So when you work there, you have to recognize that you are always representing the White House and the President -- and increasingly, you are under a microscope from people who want to catch you doing something wrong.

My guess? From now on, Kareem Dale's media exposure will be related to his dual roles as an advocate for disabilities and the arts. And you've heard the end of waitlist-gate.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

White House Appoints Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services

President Obama has appointed Alexa Posny as his Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services in the U.S. Department of Education. As you can see from her bio, she has a lot of relevant experience, including being a teacher herself.

"Alexa E. Posny currently serves as the Commissioner of Education for the state of Kansas. As Commissioner, she is responsible for helping over 450,000 students meet or exceed high academic standards, licensing over 45,000 teachers, and overseeing a state education budget of a little over $4.5 billion. Prior to this, Posny was appointed as the Director of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) for the U.S. Department of Education, a position in which she assisted state and local efforts to effectively educate all children and youth with disabilities. Other positions that Posny has held included the Kansas Deputy Commissioner of Education, Kansas State Director of Special Education, Director of Special Education for the Shawnee Mission School District, Director of the Curriculum and Instruction Specialty Option as part of the Title 1 Technical Assistance Center (TAC) network of TACs across the United States, and a Senior Research Associate at Research and Training Associates in Overland Park, Kansas. Posny earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point, a master's degree in behavioral disabilities and a doctorate in educational administration both from the University of Wisconsin Madison. Currently, she serves on the Board of Directors for the Chief State School Officers, the National Council for Learning Disabilities, and chairs the National Assessment Governing Board's Special Education Task Force. Most importantly, she has been a teacher at the elementary, middle and high school levels and remains a teacher today, serving as adjunct faculty with the University of Kansas."

Posny's nomination requires Senate confirmation. Read July 6 press release, including other appointments.

UPDATE: Kathy Martinez has been confirmed as the Assistant Secretary for Disability Employment Policy at the Department of Labor. Read bio from the Washington Post.

Disability Groups Support Sotomayor Nomination to Supreme Court

Back on May 27, I posted a review of Judge Sonia Sotomayor's record on disability issues. Yesterday Disability Scoop reported that numerous disability organizations are publicly expressing their support for Judge Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court. The groups -- which include the American Association of People with Disabilities, the Autism Society of America, the National Council on Independent Living, the National Disability Rights Network, the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, and the National Down Syndrome Society -- wrote a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee saying Judge Sotomayor's record reflects "a good understanding of -– and healthy respect for -– the rights of persons with disabilities."

UPDATE (July 9) -- Read the letter from these groups. And here's a letter from disability law professors who support Judge Sotomayor.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Autism Speaks Makes Push for Insurance Coverage: You Can Help

Autism Speaks is urging parents and advocates to call Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Red to "stop autism discrimination" by insurance companies.

According to Autism Speaks, "Autism insurance reform can and should be included in the final health care reform bill that President Obama has stated he will sign by the end of October. This is the time to end autism insurance discrimination once and for all. Our children have a medical condition which deserves appropriate treatment, therapy, and care. Congress needs to know that health care 'reform' that fails to stop autism insurance discrimination is unacceptable."

Here are three ways you can help:

1. Call Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid. Here are their phone numbers and a simple message that you can read or modify:

Speaker Pelosi: (202) 225-0100
Majority Leader Reid: (202) 224-3542

"Hi, My name is _______________. I am calling from (Your city, your state). I want you to know that health care reform that does not stop autism insurance discrimination is unacceptable. People with autism deserve coverage for the treatments and therapies that will help their medical condition. Thank you."

2. Send a message online. Add personal information about why this is an important issue for you and your family. Be sure to let them know that all children with autism from coast to coast deserve appropriate insurance coverage.

3. Forward this information to people by email, Facebook, Twitter, and listservs. Autism Speaks suggests forwarding it to at least 20 people who do NOT have a child with autism -- neighbors, extended family, coworkers, etc. -- and ask them to make these two calls for your child.

To stay updated on this initiative and more, register at If you want to make a difference for all children with autism (and their families), this is the most important thing you can do this week.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Patriotism & Special Ed

In this holiday blog post, special ed attorney Jennifer Laviano explains why special education law and patriotism go hand in hand.

"In few areas of the law is there a better demonstration of the ideals of the Founding Fathers than in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act," she writes. "Something about the way the IDEA envisions a just and equitable educational system as it regards kids with special education needs speaks to me as an American. It really is about all of the things that I love about the founding principles of the USA: justice, fairness, individual rights, recognizing that with power comes responsibility. Protecting the most vulnerable among us."

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at (You won't be disappointed). Her blog is

I hope you had a good Fourth of July. My family helped raise money for autism research and care by running/walking today in the Autism Speaks Potomac 5K, followed by a pool party for our 30+ team members and their families. Mark your calendars for the Walk Now for Autism on the National Mall on Halloween morning -- Saturday, Oct. 31, 2009.

Disability Scoop

Special Ed News (Education Week)

Special Education Law