Americans with Disabilities

Donna Drumm teaching Masters of Health Administration program @ Mercy College

Beginning next week, I will be teaching students in Mercy College's Master of Public Health Administration program Law, Government and Policy. This will be the fifth time I have taught the course. I am grateful to have the opportunity to empower students to make a difference in three ways: 1) The 'formal way', learning how to write a bill and bring it to a Congressperson.

2) Impacting policy from the workplace or 'behind the desk' advocacy through navigating the maze of administrative law.

3) Having no governmental experience, the activist way - someone who is not a professional politician or health administrator, who believes something should be changed and has the will to do so.

I bring this to my clients who having experienced the difference an ADA Advocate can bring to a court, school or housing setting, are empowered to want to start up non profits or write books to help others suffering from disabilities to become aware of their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

It's summertime! Airport Accommodations for persons with disabilities

Recent article on airport & airplane accommodations suggests airplane aisles will be widened for wheelchairs and airplane lavatories will be widened for wheelchairs... here is the article.... learn more here

The Airplane of the Future Could Be Much More Accessible for Passengers With Disabilities

For one thing, the DOT is getting serious about making it easier to go to the bathroom.

by: AARIAN MARSHALL @AarianMarshall

For airline passengers with disabilities, logistical headaches exist at every turn. Imagine navigating a security line without being able to hear the capricious and ever-changing instructions of TSA agents; sitting through a long-haul flight without the take-it-for-granted option of in-flight entertainment; trying to navigate a wheelchair to a tiny lavatory through thin airplane aisles.

> But in early December, the Department of Transportation announced it’s exploring the possibility of new regulations that could force airlines to make additional accommodations for travelers with disabilities.

DOT is gathering feedback on creating new in-flight entertainment options for people with visual or hearing impairments, fitting accessible bathrooms on new single-aisle aircraft, and producing firm and fast rules about service animals.

Airlines are not subject to the American Disabilities Act, but companies with foreign and domestic flights terminating in the U.S. come under the Air Carriers Access Act. This law requires air carriers to provide “reasonable accommodations” to those with disabilities, up until those accommodations pose risks to other passengers or cause the airlines “undue burdens.” What that term means is clearly up for debate.

Why is this an issue now? More and more airlines are using small planes on very long flights, DOT notes. Those flights tend to have limited bathroom space. Eric Lipp is the director of the Open Doors Organization, which advocates for those with disabilities within the travel industry. He is partially paralyzed and uses an electric scooter to travel, but it’s simply too big for an airplane cabin and has to travel with the luggage. On flights, Lipp told the Chicago Tribune last month, he has to contact a flight attendant, be transferred to an on-board, folding wheelchair, and wheeled to a bathroom.

Current federal regulations only require airlines to place these wheelchairs on small planes with no accessible lavatory—the ones used increasingly often on long flights—if a passenger has given 48 hours’ notice.

And then when he actually gets to the restroom, Lipp faces the prospect of navigating around a mini airplane lavatory. It’s an ordeal, he said.

Of course, requiring companies to “take a few seats out and put [an accessible bathroom] in,” as Lipp suggests, has a serious downside for the airlines: Fewer seats to sell.

But the Open Doors Organization suggests there’s an economic case for accessible airplanes, too. According to the group’s 2015 survey, 11 million travelers with disabilities took 23 million trips over the past two years, spending $9 billion on their flights in the process. But 72 percent of those who traveled by air said “they encountered major obstacles with airlines,” indicating there’s a lot of room for improvement.

An addendum: Those numbers may not include older people, many of whom face similar types of challenges, like trouble walking, hearing, seeing, or communicating. They could use more accessible bathrooms, too.

There has been improvement on the issue of restrooms, specifically. More and more airlines have voluntarily purchased planes with restrooms like Airbus’s Super-Flex, which puts a moveable wall between two lavatories that can be rolled away by the crew to create one big, wheelchair-accessible throne. Airbus tells CityLab that 57 aircrafts equipped with the Super-Flex concept have been shipped, with more on the way.

Right to Counsel for the indigent .... Many of my clients ask if they qualify

... to get a pubic defender or 18-b lawyer appointed by the court for their case. Throughout the nation court's dockets are burgeoning with more and more people who cannot afford lawyers yet need to have legal represenation for the most important aspects of their lives.

I follow this issue and wanted to share a recent post from NCRCC - National Coalition for a Right to Civil Counsel.


DOJ: State Courts Imposing Fees and Fines Must Appoint Counsel in “Appropriate” Cases

The U.S. Department of Justice has sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to state chief justices and court administrators in order to "provide greater clarity to state and local courts regarding their legal obligations with respect to the enforcement of court fines and fees.” Among other things, the letter reminded court personnel that the Sixth Amendment guarantees counsel for any criminal proceedings resulting in imprisonment and that "Under the Fourteenth Amendment, defendants likewise may be entitled to counsel in civil contempt proceedings for failure to pay fines or fees."

If you would like to learn more here is the link for the "Dear Colleague" letter:

Thank you!

Pregnant Workers Can Seek Accommodations in NY

As of Jan. 19, 2016 NYS Legalizes Pregnancy Accommodations in Workplace

The Bill amends the New York State Human Rights Law’s definition of reasonable accommodation, which is currently limited in its application to individuals with disabilities, to include actions taken by an employer to permit a person with “a pregnancy-related condition” to perform the job. [Cite:] Report on Legislation by the Committee on Sex and Law, New York City Bar Association

What does this mean for pregnant workers in NY? "Conditions related to childbirth and pregnancy can result in impairment requiring accommodation. Some pregnant workers require modest adjust ments on the job for conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth in order to stay healthy and keep working. Employees may require a stool to sit on, extra restroom breaks, transfer away from hazardous duties, a temporary reprieve from heavy lifting, or a reasonable time for childbirth recovery." Cite

Thanks to Karen Winner, Esq. for alerting me to this news!

Congratulations to Joey Watley, fighting for the rights of Disabled parents

As reported in the Oct. 5 Hartford Courant by Josh Kovner

Connecticut couple files federal appeal after two children are taken from them at birth A Connecticut couple whose children were taken from them at birth after the parents were deemed mentally unsound by child-protection officials have filed a federal appeal, claiming that they were denied rights under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

It has been a grueling struggle for Joseph Watley, 61, who is staying with his ailing mother in Thomaston, and Karin Hasemann, 47, who lives with her mother and father in Watertown.

They lost the boys — Joe Jr. was born in July 2005, and Danny came along in July 2006 — under the doctrine of "predictive neglect." The Department of Children and Families argued that it was more likely than not that Hasemann and Watley would neglect the children if they remained with their parents. So the state took them away.

"How do you defend against that?" said Watley. He's worked a number of factory and machine-shop jobs and now receives disability payments for a back injury suffered in a car accident.

When Hasemann was 16, she had a benign brain tumor surgically removed. Since then, she has been diagnosed with narcolepsy. The couple fought against the removal of their children at three trials in state Superior Court in Middletown. They lost all three, although they won state appeals and had the case sent back for further hearings. They ultimately lost every trial. A lawsuit against DCF was dismissed in federal court.

In the couple's federal appeal, lawyer Andrew O'Toole of Hartford asserts Hasemann has received a series of "inconsistent and conflicting" psychological evaluations that were ordered by DCF. Her diagnoses include attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder; personality disorder – major depression; chronic functional impairments; cognitive defects; and other "unspecified" psychological difficulties," O'Toole stated in the appeal brief. For his part, Watley was diagnosed with "personality disorder – unspecified."

"That's the 'common cold' of mental health," said Watley. "We were branded with negative, stigmatizing labels that we will never be able to shake. What DCF is saying is, 'You're inferior because of your disability, or what they perceive as our disabilities, so you don't have the right to get your kids."

The boys live with foster parents in Watertown. Watley and Hasemann have not seen them since 2008. They lost parental rights in state court and have no visitation rights.

Even if the appeal is successful and they were to prevail at a new trial in federal court, the couple wouldn't get the boys back. A win would mean money damages, and possibly a ruling that says that even parents who've been deemed unfit by DCF deserve access to services and support under the ADA before a child is removed.

The final appeal papers were filed Sept. 24 and contain references to a federal enforcement action in Massachusetts that has emboldened Watley. The Department of Justice in January ordered the Massachusetts DCF to return to 21-year-old Sara Gordon the now almost 3-year-old child the state had removed on the basis of Gordon's developmental disability.

The Massachusetts DCF "acted … based on … discriminatory assumptions and stereotypes about her disability, without [considering] family-based support services" routinely available to other parents who risk losing a child, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights wrote in the order to the Massachusetts DCF.

The department also "failed to … modify its practices … to accommodate Ms. Gordon's disability," and "denied her the opportunity to receive meaningful assistance from her mother and other service providers," they wrote. Watley says that in 2005 and 2006, when the boys were born, "family members from both sides were ready and willing to help us raise the children — we never got the chance."

In the Massachusetts case, the justice department and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said the ADA applies to all services and activities performed by a state child-protection agency — even during the process to terminate parental rights.

The Connecticut DCF argues in its court papers that the accommodations and access to services required by the ADA don't apply to termination proceedings.

"Any parents who find themselves in our situation should immediately file a disability-rights complaint with the Justice Department and HHS — that's my advice," said Watley.

O'Toole's brief is technical, asserting that the federal trial judge made procedural errors when he dismissed the case without ever hearing from the couple. The couple "have never fully and fairly litigated their [ADA claims] alleging intentional discrimination based on their disability, perceived disability, or and/or with an individual with a disability," O'Toole wrote. "Accordingly, the district court erred in finding that their ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims" had been properly barred from the state court proceedings.

Watley and Hasemann's principle argument hasn't changed in a decade — that the state stole their children. "Like a thief in the night," said Watley, "but with this thief, you know damn well who did it, but you still can't get your children back. "I've experienced death in my life," Watley went on. "I lost my father. I lost my brother. My mother is sick now — but you know you will lose family members. What happened to us — that is unnatural. It is the worst possible experience a father and mother could have. Your children are alive, you know where they are, but you can't see them."


DRUMM Notes is the blog site for ADA Advocates.

Celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act! July 26, 2015

FAQs on the ADA click here to

The ADA in a Nutshell:

Q: What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

A: The ADA is the first comprehensive civil rights law that protects people with disabilities from discrimination on the basis of disability. It was passed almost unanimously by Congress and signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990. The ADA protects people with disabilities from discrimination in all aspects of employment, in access to public services such as transportation and state and local government programs and services, and access the goods and services provided by businesses such as restaurants, stores, hotels and other types of businesses such as law offices and medical facilities. (Source: ADA Network)

Q: Are courthouses covered under the ADA?
A: YES. The ADA consists of five sections or Titles. Title II covers all activities of state and local governments. Title II requires that state and local governments give people with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from all of their programs, services and activities. (Source: ADA Network) Examples of these are courthouses (with more than 50 employees).

Q: I have an invisible disability, PTSD, can I request accomodations for my upcoming court appearance? A: YES. Under the ADA "Public entities are required to make reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures where necessary to avoid discrimination, until doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of the service, program or activity provided."

Q: How do I qualify my disability?
A: The courts want to make sure that people who have disabilities are protected from discrimination. Accomodations for physical disabilities, like wheel chair ramps, and parking places designated for the handicapped are commonplace. The same law that required public entities to install these accomodations for persons with physcal disabilities apply to those with invisible disabilities. Your ADA Advocate can help identify your disability, assess if it is covered under the ADA and seek accomodations.

To learn more about the ADA, visit the ADA National Network
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