Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District: Students With Disabilities and “Meaningful” Education

January 11, 2016 marked a momentous day for individuals with disabilities throughout the United States with the Supreme Court hearing arguments for Endrew v. Douglas County School District. The debate revolves around the interpretation of the 1982 Board of Education of the Hendrick Hudson Central School District v. Rowley case, relating to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1975 (IDEA).

A family in Colorado and their son Endrew argue that IDEA was intended to provide children with disabilities the access to a meaningful education which also allows for “significant educational progress.” The school district, however, interprets that IDEA has no set standard, and simply ensures that the child receives personalized education which is sufficient (i.e. “merely more than de minimus”). Endrew’s family is concerned that the Douglas County school district did not offer adequate resources for children with disabilities to achieve. After Endrew completed the fourth grade in the Douglas County School District accompanied by his Individualized Educational Plan (IEP), his parents disagreed with the proposed IEP for his fifth year and made the decision to put him in a private school. Endrew and his parents argued that he was not being sufficiently provided a Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE), as mandated by the IDEA, and were seeking reimbursement for the tuition of his private school.

Although Endrew and his family lost this case, over the course of administrative hearings and lower court cases, the family and the school district have been arguing over the measure of “some academic progress” and whether the district must meet a “merely more than de minimus” requirement. The federal government supports Endrew and his parents, drawing on Rowley which indicated that a FAPE must provide meaningful access to education which is much higher than “merely more than de minimus.”

Through the course of the Supreme Court’s oral arguments, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. summarized that the main issue at hand is whether or not IDEA places emphasis on the word “some” or the word “benefit” in the phrase “some benefit”, each resulting in both contrasting and notable meanings that has manifested into the current argument: Providing some benefit would achieve the goals of the school district in distributing education that is merely better than nothing; whereas providing some benefit implies that the education be meaningful and allow for academic progress, which Endrew and his parents seek. Justice Elena Kagan also reminded the school district’s attorney of the precedents set in previous cases in which “some benefit” was repeatedly intended to have “some bite.”

The outcome of the Court’s decision will define the quality of education for students with disabilities for years to come. Those interested in following the case, can find a copy of the transcript from this week’s arguments here. United Cerebral Palsy, along with other organizations, has signed to an amicus brief which can be viewed here. We will continue to monitor this case, and will be interested to see how the Court decides.

UCP and the National Council on Disability – “First Responders and Disability”

On December 9, 2016, UCP and the National Council on Disability joined together to host a day of conversation surrounding first responders and the disability community. Bringing together diverse perspectives from across the country, the day was a raw and honest look at the way law enforcement and other members of the first responder community interact with those living with disabilities.

Watch the footage (captioned) below:

 

View the Program Agenda

 

United Cerebral Palsy and the National Council on Disability Coming Together for “First Responders and Disability”

UCP-NCD2United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) and the National Council on Disability (NCD) are coming together to host a day long convening on December 9th, 2016, focusing on First Responders and the Disability Community. The discussion will center on first responder reform and the impact on the disability community.

The purpose of this discussion is to gather information and resources to inform NCD’s 2017 policy project focusing on how to transform the policies and practice around First Responders engagement with the disability community. This conversation will include experts in criminal justice reform, disability rights advocates, policymakers, law enforcement organizations, and individuals impacted by state violence directly.

Please join us from 9:30 am to 2:30 pm EST in person or tune in to the live stream.

For more information, including how to RSVP: Please click here.

See the program agenda here.

Read Speaker Bios here.

UCP Celebrates the 17th Anniversary of The Olmstead Decision

 

The outcome of the Olmstead v. L.C. case began in Georgia where two women, Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson, saw constant segregation due to their intellectual disabilities. Their frequent trips to state mental hospitals brought attention to the fact that community support and personal choice for individuals with disabilities was lackluster, almost nonexistent. After being represented by an attorney at the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Lois, and later Elaine, saw her position for removal of institutional bias being taken up to the U.S. Supreme Court for consideration.

It was found under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), that discrimination against an individual with disabilities was illegal, and that the behavior portrayed towards both Curtis and Wilson held both legal and moral conflict.

 

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Under the Olmstead decision, The Court stated that individuals with disabilities have rights that are inclusive of:

  • Prohibition in the segregation of individuals with disabilities in community living
  • The ability to receive services in integrated environments
    • Services received may be appropriate to individual needs
  • The ability to receive community based services rather than institutionally based ones, in the event that:
    • Community placement is the appropriate course of action
    • The individual in question does not oppose to the treatment being offered
    • The individual’s placement can be accommodated in a reasonable manner

 

As a section under the ADA, the Olmstead decision follows the anti-discriminatory nature that the ADA set many years ago. The ADA, which celebrates its 26th signing anniversary, prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in a number of areas that include transportation, employment, government activities, and more. According to the Olmstead decision, unjustified segregation would violate Title II of the ADA, which stated that individuals with disabilities may not be discriminated against when it came to State and local government provided public services. This gave individuals with disabilities the right to choose where they were to live, instead of having economic factors coerce them into making decisions they may not otherwise wish to make. The Olmstead decision tied together the anti-discriminatory nature of the ADA by not legally binding individuals with disabilities to be institutionalized, meaning that there legally cannot be a system that will inevitably end up with a majority of the disability community in institutions.

For individuals with disabilities, these acts held the power to allow them to work in traditional office environments, live in community settings that foster independent lifestyles, receive equal opportunities when it came to a variety of traditionally implemented services, and most importantly, have the right to decide where to live, without economic or legal influences.

Here at UCP, we appreciate the previously implemented and ongoing efforts for integration, habilitation, and opportunity for expansion for those who live with disabilities. Many of our affiliates provide services that both directly and indirectly relate to the Olmstead decision. For example, most of our affiliates offer community living based services. Outlined below are a sampling of specific services that follow ideals set by the Olmstead decision.

 

 

  • Within the UCP of Central Pennsylvania lies In-Home and Community Support Programs, which offer a variety of training and support to individuals with disabilities in the realm of opportunities that allow them to participate further in the community around them. These community integration and in-home habilitation programs allow for an individual to feel as though they can be cared for and supported throughout processes in any environment that they choose. It need not have to be an institution that can provide habilitation, but rather, it can occur within the home, simultaneously alongside community support options.

 

  • Through UCP of Central Arizona, the Summer Program, as an extension of the Day Treatment and Training for Kids and Teens Program, works on even further enhancement and training of social, community, cognitive, and communication skills for kids and teens. This program focuses on the individual needs of each child, and exposes each individual to real life scenarios in preparation for community integration. This program, along with many other of it’s kind, provides services of transportation to and from the individual’s home/school, making it clear that such services, again, are not contingent upon whether or not an individual is residing at home or within an institution. Usually, habilitation skills are not necessarily provided for children outside of an institution setting, however, as can be seen from such programs, not only is the child free to reside wherever he/she may desire, but he/she may also be provided with many character building and habilitation services that otherwise would confine them to institutions.

 

In addition to skill specific programs, services such as Child Development, Respite Care, and Early Intervention are made available in a location of the individual’s choice, making it clear that community integration, and most of all, personal choice, is the priority when it comes to the creation and reformation of programs focused towards individuals with disabilities.

While disability rights and removal of bias and segregation from the disability community has seen great progress, there is much still much to be done.  On the 17th anniversary of the signing of the Olmstead decision, we at UCP wish to not only celebrate, but also take part in movements that further advocate for the rights that all individuals are entitled to.

We want to hear how the Olmstead decision has impacted your life! Share your stories using the hashtag #OlmsteadAction on social media.

Find out more information on the Administration for Community Living’s celebration of the Olmstead Anniversary here. 

Champions of Change Honored at White House

WHChaps 1This week, staff from UCP National, along with several participants in our summer intern program, attended the Champions of Change ceremony at the White House in Washington, D.C. The program, “Disability Advocacy Across Generations” recognized the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and nine “Champions of Change” selected by the Obama administration. Each champion has been very influential in the disability community and has brought about major changes, while facing obstacles of their own.

Champion Dilshad Ali, a mother of a son with autism, spoke about how disability is something that is hidden and never spoken of in her Muslim community. Ali discussed the importance of being able to access the support of one’s religious or cultural institutions as part of a panel on Effective Disability Advocacy. There was also Dior Vargas, a Latina woman who suffers with depression and anxiety. Vargas emphasized how many times disabilities are ‘invisible’, and therefore go unnoticed. She brought an interesting aspect to the table, and channeled people’s focus on another kind of disability, mental illnesses, which are often left out of the conversation on disability advocacy.

The day’s speakers included Jim Abbott, a former MLB pitcher and Olympian born without a right hand. Abbott has faced physical obstacles his whole life – especially in sports. He spoke about how he had to do things a little bit differently, but that is what got him to where he is today. He showed the audience how he adapted to pitching a baseball with one hand, and told stories about how former teachers and coaches who were open to “doing things differently,” giving him the opportunity to excel.

Another panel on Owning the Future: Disability, Diversity and Leadership included some Champions, who faced more communication barriers than others. Mike Ellis, who is deaf, explained more about his role at AT &T and working to ensure communication technology was accessible to all. Another champion, Catherine Hutchinson, experienced a severe brain injury and is now quadriplegic used a speech synthesizer to communicate.

At the end of the second panel, Derrick Coleman from the SuperBowl champion Seattle Seahawks worked to motivate the crowd to follow their dreams. He lost his hearing at the age of 3 and is the first deaf player in the NFL. Coleman told the audience to be themselves and love themselves.

U.S Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez closed out the event with information about current initiatives to improve upon worker rights, such as raising the federal minimum wage for all workers and echoed some of the panelist’s comments about the importance of participation in the workforce to true inclusion and independence.

Comedians with Disabilities Come Together to Break Down Barriers

Twenty five years ago, before the passage of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), there likely would have been physical barriers in clubs and theaters, challenges at airports and in hotels or other issues that would make it difficult, difficult if not impossible, for Michael Aronin, Shanon DeVido, Tim Grill, and Mike Murray to mount a full-fledged comedy tour.

In 2015, accessibility in public places has improved and with it the attitudes of many toward people with disabilities such as spina bifida, cerebral palsy, hearing impairment and spinal muscular atrophy. However, for many who don’t have a close friend or family member with a disability, there are still misconceptions and a lack of understanding. Employers can still be reluctant to hire people with disabilities, especially in the entertainment industry where there is a perception that audiences won’t respond well.

So, the comedians set out on a mission to bridge the gap with laughter. Wicked wit forged from a lifetime of dealing with adversity, No Comic Left Behind smashes stereotypes with every joke: people with disabilities are really no different from you and I. Set-ups on relationships, jobs, and family come with punch lines about wheelchairs and the underrated benefits of being deaf.

“Comedy is a great way to break down that barrier that people often have when they’re talking with people with disabilities,” said Shannon DeVido.

The comedians have long understood that laughter is the best medicine. Michael Aronin, who nearly died at birth and now has cerebral palsy, uses humor to coach audiences toward their career goals as a motivational speaker. And, Tim Grill was born with spina bifida, going through thirteen surgeries to enable him to walk. Rounded out by experienced performer and wheelchair user Shannon DeVido and Mike Murray, who was deaf until the age of 40 when Cochlear implants brought him into the hearing world, each comic is eager to raise awareness about disability.

Collectively, performing under the banner of No Comic Left Behind, the quartet is determined to follow their mission across the country in clubs, theaters and universities. Their ultimate goal is to expose as broad of an audience as possible through, raising awareness about the inherent abilities of people with disabilities. Once the audience is laughing, it becomes much easier to talk about the serious stuff and make people think about what they can do to better include people with disabilities in everyday life.

“Think about it,” said Tim Grill. “We can win over 100 or more people with each show just by being funny – which is something we do on daily basis anyway. Then those 100 people go back out into the world feeling a lot less uncomfortable around people with disabilities and help spread the love. They’ll be more likely to think about accessibility and inclusion and more likely to have some understanding of the next person with a disability that they meet.”

 

For more information about No Comic Left Behind, check out their website!

You can also watch a short video featuring the comics of No Comic Left Behind on UCP’s Youtube Channel!

UCP Visits the Abilities Expo!

UCP made a trip to Edison, New Jersey for the New York Metro Abilities Expo a couple weeks ago. The Abilities Expo brings together vendors, organizations and disability-centered initiatives for three days for those to explore the latest and greatest in all things disability related. Staff from UCP National visited the Expo on May 2nd and 3rd, networking with several organizations and fellow Expo-goers.

 

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UCP Staff with the crew from the [dis]ABLED InsideOut collaborative.

Some of the highlights from the Expo included: The Panthera X, a carbon-frame chair that weighs only nine pounds with the wheels attached, with the frame itself only weighing four pounds. Other cool and notable technology included Smart Drive, which allows a manual wheelchair user to be able to steer their chair by just tapping on the wheels.

The UCP Staff hadopportunity to be apart of the large-scale and collaborative art project [dis]ABLED InsideOut, which is being lead by French actress and activist Leopoldine Huyghues-Despointes and artist JR. The goal of the project is to help bring awareness to disability, as well as to play a role in helping to challenge stereotypes that those with disabilities often face. The staff members who participated in the project were all born with Cerebral Palsy and were honored to be apart of the [dis]ABLED movement.

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Some of the assistive devices on display at the Expo.

 

The biggest highlight of the Expo was, without a doubt, getting to meet and connect with so many wonderful and like-minded people with disabilities. There was great camaraderie and conversation. It’s an amazing thing to see such a strong amount of activism in one space.

If you have a chance, go check out the Abilities Expo when it comes to your city!

 

 

Disability Policy Seminar Brings Advocates to Capitol Hill

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Almost 700 disability advocates gathered at The Renaissance Hotel in downtown Washington, D.C.April 13-15 for the annual Disability Policy Seminar. Co-hosted each year by UCP, The Arc, SABE, AAIDD, AUCD and NACDD, this event brings together advocates, policy experts and people with disabilities and their families on Capitol Hill to discuss current policy issues important to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and to advocate for top priority policies by going directly to their representatives in Congress.

Take a peek at the event courtesy of photos from AUCD at https://www.flickr.com/photos/aucd.

Visit disabilitypolicyseminar.org for more general information about the event and to plan for next year.

 

Replacing Pity with Power: A Former Poster Child Speaks Out

Lorraine C_ChildhoodLorraine Cannistra is an author and speaker who was once a “poster child” for United Cerebral Palsy in 1974. UCP was founded by by Leonard H. Goldenson, then-President of United Paramount Theaters and ABC Television. He used his television background to establish very successful fundraising telethons and advertising campaigns featuring “poster children” with obvious physical disabilities. As you will read in her brutally honest account, this part of UCP’s history was a very different time. UCP is proud of the work we did during that era to help people with disabilities and their families, much of which was supported by telethon donations. But it did have a negative impact of children such as Lorraine, so we are equally proud that she chose to share her experience with us to make a powerful point. You can read more from Lorraine at www.healthonwheels.wordpress.com or contact her at lorrainecannistra.com.  

 

When I look at the picture now, I can see it so clearly. I can see the braces. The braces were made of metal and leather and weighed more than I did. They were cumbersome and hideous and confined my movements almost as much as a straight jacket. My pigtails, new dress and big smile only magnified the orthopedic braces. And that was the point. I was not only crippled, but I was cute too, and that combination made for a perfect picture of pity. The image said, “Look at me. I can’t stand upright without braces and the aide of crutches. Isn’t that sad? Isn’t it tragic? I can’t run or play hide and go seek. My life is full of heartache and so much pain that you must want to look away. You want to create distance between you and I. That’s okay. It is only fate that made your kids strong and healthy. Does that make you feel guilty? I have an easy fix. You can donate money to United Cerebral Palsy so there won’t be as many kids like me. That way you have done your part and you can sleep peacefully tonight.” Donation cans were all over town, with that picture plastered on the front. People could throw in their spare change and not have to think about me anymore.

It was all lost on me at the time. As a six-year-old kid, when I was chosen to be poster child for United Cerebral Palsy in Bergen County New Jersey, I was excited. I thought it was cool. I thought it was important. I thought it was an honor.

My parents have told me a story repeatedly about the year I was poster child. Halfway through the year, my orthopedist told them I didn’t need my long leg braces anymore. They had served their purpose and were no longer necessary. Back in 1974, the powers that be at United Cerebral Palsy told my parents that I could not be photographed as poster child unless I was wearing the braces. They didn’t think I looked pitiful enough without them.

In the forty plus years since then I have thought often about their motivation. On the surface I can sort of see that at the time the idea was to raise as much money as possible, and back then the most effective way to accomplish that was to pull hard on the community’s heart strings.

What I don’t understand is why nobody at UCP considered the potential damage of what they were doing on me. Didn’t anybody realize how demeaning it is to be the object of somebody’s pity? Didn’t they know that by trying to make people feel sorry for me they were making sure the playing field was never going to be equal? They were making a division between the “us’s” and the “them’s” of society. It has taken me a while to erase that line. Some people will never let me do it completely.

The other thing I believe happened in the year when I was poster child was that I began to internalize that message. I began to see my physical weakness as a deficit that was going to limit what I was capable of in life. That was the goal of the picture. The sad part is, in the process, it rubbed off on me.

Do I think that being poster child has really stopped me from doing what I want to do? No. But I will admit I have struggled with confidence and having a positive self-perception. There have been many times when that struggle has gotten in my way. Honestly, I don’t lorraine_cannistra and Leahknow how much of that comes from the fact that I was poster child forty years ago. There are times even now when I go to a restaurant with friends or out to the grocery store and people look at me with pity. Some still avoid eye contact or watch me struggle and want to look away.

Ironically, these days I have a career as a writer and public speaker. The main topic I explore is disability awareness and empowerment. I figure if I can tell a group of people something they didn’t know about disability or maybe challenge some negative perceptions a bit, then there is potential for some kids with disabilities not to experience some of the things that I did. If that is the outcome, then I can live with all I went through.

When I look at the UCP website today, I am convinced that the organization and I have the same goals. We want people with disabilities to be seen in a context of power not pity, and we want the community to view those with disabilities with a “one of us” attitude.

When I get ready to speak, I feel this odd mixture of nerves and excitement, and get so worked up that sometimes I think I am going to be sick. But at that point, I take a deep breath, exhale slowly and examine the crowd. I make a point to make eye contact with as many people as possible.

My message is simple. “Look at me, I am just like you.”

Share Your Insights on Families, Disabilities and Post-Secondary Success

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment is launching their next Connecting Families Online Dialogue starting Monday, January 26 and running through Friday, February 6, 2015. This online dialogue on Families, Disabilities and Post-Secondary Success is for the families of students/young adults with disabilities who are currently or were recently enrolled in a post-secondary education program  (e.g., certificate, apprenticeship, community college, college).

To participate, family members can register here and post their comments beginning Monday morning at 8 a.m. EST. Once registered families will be prompted regarding when subject-specific experts will be providing feedback on the topics of

Don’t miss your chance to join the conversation: The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) wants your input through this “virtual town hall” where you’ll be able to share your ideas and insights on ways that post-secondary institutions and other providers can better assist you in supporting your student’s educational and employment success. Register now and start chiming in on Monday morning!