Brown Bag Discussion: Disability in Federal Legislation

February 3, 2012 by cpehrson

brown paper sackThose who attended the latest CPD Brown Bag Discussion got in on a good discussion about a variety of disability issues under consideration in Congress and State legislature.

Marty Blair, Associate Director of the Mountain Plains Regional Resource Center (MPRRC) and Associate Director of the Center for Technical Assistance for Excellence in Special Education (TAESE) at the CPD, led the discussion on Disability in Federal Legislation:  The State of “Stuck.”

He indicated that the federal committees to watch included the  Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) in the House the Education and the Workforce (Republicans) or the Education and Labor (Democrats).

Current issues being considered that will impact individuals with autism and their families include the Combating Autism Act, the proposed changes in the criteria for diagnosing autism, and insurance mandates for autism, which is a state decision… 29 of the 50 states already have a mandate.

Other questions that are being discussed in Congress include: Will there be a separate funding for family support and self-advocacy?  What about funding for adult services, specifically for those on the autism spectrum?  What is “appropriate” education when considering Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)? and Is there ever a need for seclusion and restraint?

After considering some of the current issues that are being discussed in Washington, DC, this sounds like a good time to keep tabs on what is happening; even maybe a time to contact your own representative so your voice will be heard.






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Starting the conversation on the ADA and web accessibility

July 30, 2010 by JoLynne Lyon

photo of broken computer keys

WebAIM has long advocated for improved Web accessibility.

The people at WebAIM have long advocated for better web accessibility, so executive director Cyndi Rowland wrote a happy blog earlier this week on their website after learning that the Department of Justice is investigating  applying the Americans with Disabilities Act to the Internet (WebAIM is an initiative of the CPD).

“In short, the Department is seeking comments on their desire to revise regulation to ‘…establish specific requirements for State and local governments and public accommodations to make their websites accessible to individuals with disabilities,”” she wrote. “The Department is seeking specific comment on many things including the standards they should adopt, and if there should be any exemptions for certain entities (e.g., small business) before they publish their Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. This is amazing news! The impact that this will have for individuals with disabilities cannot be expressed.”

The blog was cited by Slashdot, a technical news website. The Chronicle of Higher Education also blogged on the development and quoted WebAIM’s Jonathan Whiting. Education Week’s Digital Eucation blog has also looked at the topic.

These blogs, in turn, started more discussion on web accessability. It wasn’t all happy, particularly on the slashdot site.

“If they don’t cater to a particular audience, that audience doesn’t have to visit the site,” said one commernter. “Not that this is specific to this aspect of the ADA; the same applies to brick-and-mortar stores as well. What gives anyone the right to use legal force against a business owner who doesn’t configure his property so that it caters to particular people?”

Another said, “This is about every citizen having equal access to government, for example.”

And it goes on for at least 290 comments.

Some of the responses surprised WebAIM Executive Director Cyndi Rowland. “It is important for those of us who are disability advocates to hear how others process disability-rights information.  This  experience made me think that I am more insular than I would want to believe,” she said. “I did not know that some of these opinions still existed. With that said, we need to move forward with an understanding that they do.”

WebAIM Associate Director Jared Smith addressed the topic and what it means for websites and web designers today on the WebAIM blog. In his post, he both refutes the notion that ADA requirements will send web pages back to the 1990s and agrees that implementation will be tricky.

” The ADA and its implementation is far from perfect, but I believe that we live in a world where people with disabilities should have opportunities to engage in commerce and online activities uninhibited by discrimination,” he wrote. “This has generally not occurred to date.”

Here’s to some good discussion.

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Leadership trainees bring autism message to Congressional offices

April 30, 2010 by JoLynne Lyon

The Utah group met with Utah Congressman Jim Matheson and staff members of four other Utah representatives and senators to increase awareness on disability law.

Representatives of the CPD, the Utah Developmental Disabilities Council and the Utah Regional Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (URLEND) program came together earlier this month to stay in touch with Utah’s Congressional delegation.

They attended the Disability Policy Seminar in Washington, DC and also spent some time on Capitol Hill.

It was a valuable experience for URLEND trainee Terisa Gabrielsen, who is involved in URLEND’s autism enhancement track. As the group planned out its visits on Capitol Hill, Terisa and fellow trainee Michelle Villalobos were assigned to speak on autism.

Teresa is a school psychology doctoral student from the University of Utah, and her involvement in autism-specific training through the LEND program gave made the visit important to her. “Our goal was to get support for the reauthorization of the Combating Autism Act and the Autism Treatment Acceleration Act,” she said.

She spoke specifically on how an interdisciplinary, multifaceted approach to autism is just starting to take hold in Utah through URLEND. The program’s autism-specific training is funded through the Combating Autism Act Initiative. URLEND trains post-graduate students and professionals to get a more complete picture of health care for children and adolescents with disabilities. The program is co-directed by Dr. Judith Holt.

The visit’s purpose was to make sure the reauthorizations and other issues were on the Utah delegation’s radar, said CPD Policy Analyst Jeff Sheen. “We were very much listened to. … It’s always a good opportunity to connect.”

The URLEND trainees went in with a fact sheet and a plan. They came away with some valuable experience. They met face-to-face with Representative Jim Mattheson and with staff members of four other Utah representatives and senators. Terisa came away impressed with how easy it was to communicate with them. “You can talk to your congressman if you make an appointment. They’re a lot more accessible than you think.”

Other tools that she found helpful were the fact sheet and a good, working understanding of the issues. Even better is a solution to suggest and an idea of how to fund it.

The group benefited from the expertise of its members, including Utah Developmental Disabilities Council Legislative Member Paul Ray, a state representative from Clearfield who sits on the Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee of the Utah Legislature. Also present was URLEND faculty member Janice Palumbos, who teaches genetics.

As for Terisa, the Washington visit probably won’t be the last time she talks to policy makers, though her next efforts will be closer to home.

“It was kind of exciting,” she said.

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AUCD Outlines Benefits of New Health Reform for People with Disabilities

April 1, 2010 by cpehrson

The Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD), a network of interdisciplinary centers advancing policy and practice for  individuals with developmental and other disabilities, has summarized the benefits to people with disabilities found in the final health reform package just passed by Congress.

The reform package contains a number of provisions important to people with disabilities, including:

  • Major insurance market reforms such as the elimination of discrimination based on health status, a prohibition on pre-existing condition exclusions, guaranteed issue and renewal requirements and the elimination of annual and lifetime caps;
  • Creation of  a high-risk pool to provide immediate assistance to those currently uninsured with pre-existing conditions;
  • The Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act, a new voluntary, national long-term services insurance program to help adults with severe functional impairments to remain independent, employed and part of their communities;
  • The Community First Choice Option to provide Medicaid coverage of community-based attendant services and supports to people otherwise eligible for Medicaid institutional services
  • Significant investments in Medicaid to dramatically expand eligibility and provide increased matching rates to help states provide this new coverage;
  • An extension of the exceptions process to the Medicare therapy caps on physical, occupational and speech language therapies

Links to summaries and the text of the bill are on AUCD’s health policy website, including detailed summaries of provisions that impact AUCD network programs and implementation guidelines developed by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

A summary of the wellness, prevention and public health workforce provisions in the Senate bill can also be found on the website.

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Students discuss disability at state capitol

February 10, 2009 by JoLynne Lyon

Representative Fred Hunsaker talks to students from the CPD's disability awareness course.

Representative Fred Hunsaker talks to students from the CPD's disability awareness course.

Utah State University students spoke out about the issues that mattered to them at this year’s Utah Legislative Coalition for People with Disabilities’ reception.

They made the trip to Salt Lake in February with the Interdisciplinary Disability Awareness and Service Learning class, offered through the Center for Persons with Disabilities on the Utah State University campus.

Student Aria Spear said the experience was valuable. “It was so informative. … I’m glad that I came. It will be easier to contact him [State Senator Lyle Hillyard] if I have concerns.”

Spear wanted more information about a legislative budget cut that repealed an extra dependency exemption to families of a child with disabilities. The exemption is no longer available on 2008 Utah state income tax returns.

The change came after a marathon session of budget cutting. Representative Fred Hunsaker said the goal was to create more stable income tax revenue, but he was sorry the exemption was lost. “That’s not a good tradeoff,” he said.

Spear also wanted to know whether her legislators supported Clay’s Law, which would require insurance companies to cover autism services  for Utah families.

The subject interested several of the students who went on the trip. Representative Fred Hunsaker of Logan told the students that he supported Clay’s Law (SB 43), though he had reservations about mandating insurance coverage in general.

As for the bill, Senator Hillyard was not sure how far it would go in this year’s legislative session. He told student Jody Facer that he would probably support it, though he had some reservations about supporting mandates on insurance companies. “Though he could tell that what he had to say wasn’t what I wanted to hear, he was really honest about it,” she said. Facer is the mother of two children with autism.

As of February 10, Clay’s Law remained in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, where it has been since January 28.

Attendees fill the rotunda at the Utah Legislative Coalition for People with Disabilities’ reception.

Attendees fill the rotunda at the Utah Legislative Coalition for People with Disabilities’ reception.

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