Psychiatry’s New Rules Threaten to Turn Grieving Into a Sickness
Posted on December 13, 2012 by California Disability Rights Center

A controversial change to official psychiatric guidelines for depression has raised fears that grief over the death of loved ones will be classified as clinical depression, turning a basic part of what it means to be human into a recognized sickness.

The change, contained in new revisions to the DSM-5, a set of standards used to categorize mental illness, eliminates the so-called bereavement exclusion, which exempts grieving people from diagnoses of depression for two months unless their symptoms are self-destructively extreme. Under the new standards, depression can be more easily diagnosed just two weeks after a death.

“Virtually everyone who is grieving has milder symptoms of depression. What the bereavement exclusion did is separate the normal responses from the severe ones,” such as feelings of worthlessness or suicidal impulses, said psychiatrist Jerome Wakefield of New York University, who studies bereavement and depression.

“This goes over a line. If you can pathologize this kind of feeling, any kind of suffering can be a disorder. It’s a disagreement over the boundaries of normality,” Wakefield said. “What kind of world do you want to have? One where intense, negative feelings we don’t like are labeled as disorders, or a world where people grieve?”

Defenders of the bereavement exclusion’s removal, officially announced Dec. 1 by the American Psychiatric Association, say worries of pathologized grief are overblown. They argue that though not all grieving is depressive, grief-related depression isn’t fundamentally different from what’s considered normal depression. As a result, they say the exclusion makes it unnecessarily difficult for clinicians to deal with bereaved people who legitimately need help.

“I think a good clinician can separate the two,” said Jan Fawcett, a University of New Mexico psychiatrist and head of the DSM-5 working group that authored the change, of normal grief and clinical depression. “We feel that clinicians have been making this judgment all along.”

The DSM, or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, represents American psychiatry’s official tool for deciding between mental disorders and normality. First drafted in 1952, it’s now known euphemistically as psychiatry’s Bible, used by doctors, insurance companies, the legal system, and most any social institution that deals formally with mental health.

The DSM has been revised four times since its original publication, with the latest changes developed over the last seven years and culminating in the recent approval. These have been perhaps the most controversial changes ever, partly because they’re the first made in the cacophonous media environment of the internet age, but also because of the changes themselves. New conditions include hoarding, severe pre-menstrual syndrome, binge eating, temper tantrums and everyday forgetting among the elderly. Critics say these represent a tendency in modern psychiatry to medicalize the normal range of human experience.

Far and away the most controversial change is eliminating the bereavement exclusion, which discouraged clinicians from diagnosing as depressed grieving people whose symptoms were actually part of a normal, necessary emotional process, though in other people they’d be considered formal grounds for depression.

In 1980′s DSM-3, the exclusion was set at a full year, a period reduced in the DSM-4 to two months. Many psychiatrists already considered that an insufficient time for grieving. When Fawcett’s working group asserted that depressive symptoms in bereaved people could be viewed like regular depression, qualifying as pathology if enough persisted for any two consecutive weeks, the outcry was immense.

Editorials opposing the decision appeared in prominent medical journals The Lancet and New England Journal of Medicine, as well as blogs like one written by grief counselor Joanne Cacciatore, who said the decision “seems hardly human at all” and called for a boycott of the DSM.

Critics argued that many symptoms of depression — sadness, loss of interest in once-pleasurable activities, weight loss or gain, sleep problems, fatigue — overlap so closely with the normal experience of grief, especially when a family member or close friend has died recently, that grieving people would inevitably and inappropriately be diagnosed with depression.

“I’ve seen thousands and thousands of patients, and I can’t tell the difference,” said psychiatrist Allen Frances, who chaired the DSM-4 revision process but has become an outspoken critic of DSM-5. “The idea that you can tell them apart is a fiction.”

In response to the criticisms, the DSM-5′s authors added a footnote instructing clinicians to take recent loss into account when evaluating mild depressive symptoms. To the critics, a footnote doesn’t provide the recognition of grief’s normality contained in the bereavement exclusion.

Many psychiatrists do, however, support the decision. They say distinguishing between grief-related depression and regular depression is illogical. “Defenders of the removal of the exclusion ask, ‘Why should people be denied the diagnosis if their stressor happens to be bereavement, whereas other sufferers whose stressor is job loss, for example, are not?’ ” said psychiatrist Richard McNally of Harvard University.

According to Daniel Carlat, a psychiatrist at Tufts University, bereavement sends some people into a depression from which they don’t easily recover. “There seems to be a sub-category of people who are not able to get themselves out of it, who feel worse than other people, whose lives are more profoundly affected than others,” he said. “Those are the ones we don’t want to miss.”

Whether those people are missed now is debatable. Fawcett said he doesn’t expect a significant increase in diagnoses of major depression. Instead, removing the exclusion will simply eliminate an unnecessary complication for clinicians who already make the diagnoses they need to.

A print edition of the DSM-4, which will be replaced in May by the DSM-5. Image: Richard Masoner/Flickr

But Frances anticipates a rise in depression diagnoses, as many are made not by mental professionals but by primary care doctors.

“The DSM is created by psychiatrists, but it’s not just for psychiatrists and mental health workers,” he said. “If I have trouble distinguishing between grief and depression, I certainly don’t trust primary care doctors seeing patients for seven minutes, who are influenced by drug salesmen, to do it.”

Frances cited as cautionary examples several dramatic diagnostic increases that followed revisions to the DSM-4. “For attention deficit disorder, we expected a 15 percent increase. It tripled. For autism, we expected a 3 or 4 percent increase. It was 20-fold. For adult bipolar, we expected a slight increase. It doubled,” he said. “One of the things I learned in DSM-4 is that once words are written, you lose control over them.”

Implicit in Frances’ concern is the possibility of antidepressants becoming front-line treatments for grief-related depression. While drugs aren’t necessarily the best option, the medical establishment favors their use, and some 80 percent of all antidepressant prescriptions are written by primary care doctors rather than psychiatrists.

“I think those concerns are legitimate,” McNally said. “People giving these medications are often primary care people. They often don’t have time to do full assessments. And there’s an issue with some insurance companies being reluctant to reimburse for treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapies, unless a patient is taking medication — or, worse yet, unless they’re only taking medications. There are these institutional biases.”

Wakefield worries that treating grief with medication will have the unintended consequence of eliminating aspects of the experience that, though painful, are valuable.

“Does medicating yourself retrospectively edit what your relationship was? It’s possible,” Wakefield said. “If you change your emotional stance, you can to some degree re-edit your very memories. You see that in people with post-traumatic stress disorder. The evidence isn’t there yet for grief, but I’d imagine the same would hold true.”

Less speculatively, said Wakefield, an increase in unnecessary diagnoses could affect life insurance status, clinical trial participation, legal claims, and other practical matters in which mental health status is logistically relevant.

“There will be very few people who need this diagnosis that aren’t getting it now, and considerable risks to and costs to individuals and society as a whole,” Frances said.

But Fawcett, who stresses that the decision was based on the best available scientific data, isn’t backing down.

“Anyone is free to contest these decisions and publish data showing how wrong we were,” Fawcett wrote in an e-mail, noting that future DSM revisions will happen more frequently than before. “If, as planned, the DSM-5 becomes a living document, and the doubters bring forth evidence that we made wrong decisions … then DSM 5.1 may correct our mistakes.”

Posted on December 11, 2012 by California Disability Rights Center

Imagine not being able to touch a touch-screen device. Tablets and smartphones—with all their educational, entertaining and social benefits—would be useless.

Researchers at Georgia Tech are trying to open the world of tablets to children whose limited mobility makes it difficult for them to perform the common pinch and swipe gestures required to control the devices.

Ayanna Howard, professor of electrical and computer engineering, and graduate student Hae Won Park have created Access4Kids, a wireless input device that uses a sensor system to translate physical movements into fine-motor gestures to control a tablet.

The device, coupled with supporting open-source apps and software developed at Georgia Tech, allows children with fine motor impairments to access off-the-shelf apps such as Facebook and YouTube, as well as custom-made apps for therapy and science education.

“Every child wants access to tablet technology. So to say, ‘No you can’t use it because you have a physical limitation’ is totally unfair,” Howard said. “We’re giving them the ability to use what’s in their mind so they have an outlet to impact the world.”

The current prototype of the Access4Kids device includes three force-sensitive resistors that measure pressure and convert it into a signal that instructs the tablet. A child can wear the device around the forearm or place it on the arm of a wheelchair and hit the sensors or swipe across the sensors with his or her fist. The combination of sensor hits or swipes gets converted to different “touch-based” commands on the tablet.

Children with neurological disorders such as cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, spina bifida and muscular dystrophy typically suffer from fine motor impairments, which is the difficulty of controlling small coordinated movements of the hands, wrists and fingers. They tend to lack the ability to touch a specific small region with appropriate intensity and timing needed for press and swipe gestures.

The impact of Access4Kids could be significant. More than 200,000 children in the U.S. public school system have an orthopedic disability and have been excluded from tablet and touch screen devices. Current assistive technology, such as Augmentative and Alternative Communication devices, is available to those with motor impairments for traditional computer platforms but not tablets or smartphones.

“We can’t keep it in the lab,” Howard said. “It doesn’t make sense for me to have one child, one at a time look at it and say ‘Hey that’s really cool’ and not have it out there in the world. The real goal is to make it safe and efficient so someone can make it into a commercial product.”

Howard is creating a second prototype that aims to be more flexible. It will include wireless sensors that can be placed anywhere a child is capable of hitting them, such as with a foot or the side of the head. User trials for the second prototype will begin soon. Howard says she hopes to have the device through clinical trials starting next year.

So far Access4Kids has received positive feedback from both typically developing children and children with disabilities, as well as caregivers. The device was also a finalist in a recent Intel-sponsored competition and was showcased to the British Consulate prior to the Paralympic games this summer, receiving good reviews.

The project was originally funded through the NSF-sponsored Broadening Participation in Computing Program and then through I-Corps, a National Science Foundation program that aims to translate scientific discoveries into useful products for society. Howard is working on a version of the device called TabAccess for adults with motor disabilities.

Access4Kids also received a seed grant from the Atlanta Pediatric Device Consortium, a partnership between Georgia Tech, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and the Atlanta Clinical & Translational Science Institute that provides assistance with the commercialization of novel pediatric medial devices and technologies.

Asperger’s dropped from revised diagnosis manual
Posted on December 4, 2012 by California Disability Rights Center

The Associated Press

Asperger’s dropped from revised diagnosis manual

LINDSEY TANNER | December 1, 2012

CHICAGO (AP) — The now familiar term “Asperger’s disorder” is being dropped. And abnormally bad and frequent temper tantrums will be given a scientific-sounding diagnosis called DMDD. But “dyslexia” and other learning disorders remain.

The revisions come in the first major rewrite in nearly 20 years of the diagnostic guide used by the nation’s psychiatrists. Changes were approved Saturday.

Full details of all the revisions will come next May when the American Psychiatric Association’s new diagnostic manual is published, but the impact will be huge, affecting millions of children and adults worldwide. The manual also is important for the insurance industry in deciding what treatment to pay for, and it helps schools decide how to allot special education.

This diagnostic guide “defines what constellations of symptoms” doctors recognize as mental disorders, said Dr. Mark Olfson, a Columbia University psychiatry professor. More important, he said, it “shapes who will receive what treatment. Even seemingly subtle changes to the criteria can have substantial effects on patterns of care.”

Olfson was not involved in the revision process. The changes were approved Saturday in suburban Washington, D.C., by the psychiatric association’s board of trustees.

The aim is not to expand the number of people diagnosed with mental illness, but to ensure that affected children and adults are more accurately diagnosed so they can get the most appropriate treatment, said Dr. David Kupfer. He chaired the task force in charge of revising the manual and is a psychiatry professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

One of the most hotly argued changes was how to define the various ranges of autism. Some advocates opposed the idea of dropping the specific diagnosis for Asperger’s disorder. People with that disorder often have high intelligence and vast knowledge on narrow subjects but lack social skills. Some who have the condition embrace their quirkiness and vow to continue to use the label.

And some Asperger’s families opposed any change, fearing their kids would lose a diagnosis and no longer be eligible for special services.

But the revision will not affect their education services, experts say.

The new manual adds the term “autism spectrum disorder,” which already is used by many experts in the field. Asperger’s disorder will be dropped and incorporated under that umbrella diagnosis. The new category will include kids with severe autism, who often don’t talk or interact, as well as those with milder forms.

Kelli Gibson of Battle Creek, Mich., who has four sons with various forms of autism, said Saturday she welcomes the change. Her boys all had different labels in the old diagnostic manual, including a 14-year-old with Asperger’s.

“To give it separate names never made sense to me,” Gibson said. “To me, my children all had autism.”

Three of her boys receive special education services in public school; the fourth is enrolled in a school for disabled children. The new autism diagnosis won’t affect those services, Gibson said. She also has a 3-year-old daughter without autism.

People with dyslexia also were closely watching for the new updated doctors’ guide. Many with the reading disorder did not want their diagnosis to be dropped. And it won’t be. Instead, the new manual will have a broader learning disorder category to cover several conditions including dyslexia, which causes difficulty understanding letters and recognizing written words.

The trustees on Saturday made the final decision on what proposals made the cut; recommendations came from experts in several work groups assigned to evaluate different mental illnesses.

The revised guidebook “represents a significant step forward for the field. It will improve our ability to accurately diagnose psychiatric disorders,” Dr. David Fassler, the group’s treasurer and a University of Vermont psychiatry professor, said after the vote.

The shorthand name for the new edition, the organization’s fifth revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, is DSM-5. Group leaders said specifics won’t be disclosed until the manual is published but they confirmed some changes. A 2000 edition of the manual made minor changes but the last major edition was published in 1994.

Olfson said the manual “seeks to capture the current state of knowledge of psychiatric disorders. Since 2000 … there have been important advances in our understanding of the nature of psychiatric disorders.”

Catherine Lord, an autism expert at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York who was on the psychiatric group’s autism task force, said anyone who met criteria for Asperger’s in the old manual would be included in the new diagnosis.

One reason for the change is that some states and school systems don’t provide services for children and adults with Asperger’s, or provide fewer services than those given an autism diagnosis, she said.

Autism researcher Geraldine Dawson, chief science officer for the advocacy group Autism Speaks, said small studies have suggested the new criteria will be effective. But she said it will be crucial to monitor so that children don’t lose services.

Other changes include:

—A new diagnosis for severe recurrent temper tantrums — disruptive mood dysregulation disorder. Critics say it will medicalize kids’ who have normal tantrums. Supporters say it will address concerns about too many kids being misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder and treated with powerful psychiatric drugs. Bipolar disorder involves sharp mood swings and affected children are sometimes very irritable or have explosive tantrums.

—Eliminating the term “gender identity disorder.” It has been used for children or adults who strongly believe that they were born the wrong gender. But many activists believe the condition isn’t a disorder and say calling it one is stigmatizing. The term would be replaced with “gender dysphoria,” which means emotional distress over one’s gender. Supporters equated the change with removing homosexuality as a mental illness in the diagnostic manual, which happened decades ago.

For College Students with Disabilities, Success Linked to Mentoring, Self-Advocacy and Perseverance Access to campus accommodations not a problem but learning about them can be difficult
Posted on October 25, 2012 by California Disability Rights Center

Rutgers Study: For College Students with Disabilities, Success Linked to Mentoring, Self-Advocacy and Perseverance
Access to campus accommodations not a problem but learning about them can be difficult

October 17, 2012

EDITOR’S NOTE: ATTENTION EDUCATION, ASSIGNMENT EDITORS, to interview study author Paula Barber, e-mail or call 732-932-4100, ext. 6320. For a link to the study, click here

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – A Rutgers study of recent New Jersey college graduates with disabilities has found that students attributed their academic success to a combination of possessing strong personality traits as perseverance and their relationship with a faculty or staff mentor.

Accessing campus accommodations was not a major issue but learning about such help “was not always the smoothest process,” the report noted. The research also determined that students mainly used campus resources for assistance rather than a combination of college and community services. Additionally, investigators examined problems faced by college disability and special services offices, including record-keeping and student-faculty outreach.

“The challenges students with disabilities face on college campuses are well documented but little is known about the experience of those students who successfully completed college,” said Paula Barber, a clinical social worker and senior research project manager at Rutgers’ John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development. “To level the playing field for people with disabilities by encouraging college education and completion, it is essential to learn the factors supporting degree completion.”

One such factor, self-advocacy, increases the opportunity to become more competitive during job searches, Barber reported. “While it appears college enrollment for students with disabilities is increasing, the ability to secure employment at a level matching their educational attainment is often limited,” Barber said.

Despite passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, federal research indicates that people with disabilities have a lower employment rate and higher rate of poverty and dependence on public social services support than their counterparts without disabilities. They also complete college at a statistically significant lower rate than students without disabilities and those who do graduate have a persistent lower rate of employment irrespective of their level of degree attainment.

For the study, disabilities services staff identified students who completed their degrees between May 2008 and May 2012 or were about to do so. The participants’ disabilities included a wide range of physical, emotional and cognitive disabilities, as well as dual diagnoses. All thought their personal and financial investments in their education were “life changing” and worthwhile, Barber said. She added that some were told by high school teachers that they were not “college material.”

The collegians learned about accommodations through a variety of on-campus sources, including classmates, academic advisers, deans, at community colleges, and by trial-and-error. Parents, high school special education classes, medical professionals and outpatient rehabilitation providers were among off-campus resources. Accommodations included classroom and test-taking help, tutoring, technology support and counseling.

Twenty students from Burlington County College, Mercer County Community College, Raritan Valley Community College, New Jersey City University and Rutgers were interviewed for “College Students with Disabilities: What Factors Influence Successful Degree Completion? A Case Study.”

Among the report’s key findings:

Students with disabilities who completed college reported using many services on campus and overwhelmingly attributed their success to a significant relationship with either a professional staff member at the Office of Disability/Special Services or a faculty member.
Participants had observable personal qualities (self-awareness, perseverance, interpersonal skills) that allowed them to develop and maintain positive, long-term relationships with mentors, either on-campus on in their social circles. Their insight about their disabilities and ability to self-advocate were universally high.
Although learning about accommodations was not a smooth process, access to accommodations was not a major issue.
Participating colleges were significantly challenged in accessing service information on students with disabilities.
Offices of Disability/Special Services are often underfunded, high-volume operations.
Students and staff identified faculty training on their role in providing accommodations and in understanding how disabilities affect learning in the college classroom as in need of additional support and resources.

Barber says that because previous research suggests that only about half of students with disabilities at community colleges avail themselves of on-campus resources, questions about why students fail to use such resources must be answered. She also recommends conducting research on the impact of college faculty and staff development on disability as a diversity issue and on best practices to facilitate the transition of students with disabilities to employment.

“Including disability as a diversity issue on college campuses has been very slow to be adopted, if at all, and merits serious attention if we are to meaningfully include people with disabilities on college campuses as students, faculty or staff,” Barber said.

Barber’s research appeared in the Disability and Work research report, a joint publication of the Heldrich Center and the Kessler Foundation.

Media Contact: Steve Manas
732-932-7084, ext. 612

Family: Teen With Down Syndrome Banned From Flight for ‘Security Issue’
Posted on September 4, 2012 by California Disability Rights Center

LOS ANGELES (KTLA) — A family claims they couldn’t board their cross-country flight to Los Angeles after their son was singled out and discriminated against because he has Down syndrome.

Joan and Robert Vanderhorst were flying on American Airlines from Newark, New Jersey to Los Angeles on Sunday with their 16-year-old son Bede.

But they say that as they waited to board the flight, they were told that they weren’t allowed on the plane.

Joan pulled out her cell phone and began to videotape, documenting what she believes was a violation of her son’s civil rights and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Bede — who was labeled a flight risk — can be seen in the video sitting at the gate, quietly playing with his hat.

In the video, you can hear Joan sobbing and her husband expressing disbelief.

“He’s behaving,” Robert says. “He’s demonstrating he’s not a problem.”

“Of course he’s behaving. He’s never not behaved,” Joan adds.

“I kept saying, ‘Is this only because he has Down syndrome?’” Joan said in an interview with KTLA via Skype.

The family has flown together dozens of times. The only thing different about this flight was that they had upgraded for the first time to first class.

“This little boy had a seat in the first class area, and for some reason, they didn’t want that. That wasn’t acceptable,” Joan said.

American Airlines claims Bede was “excitable, running around, and not acclimated to the environment” and that the pilot had unsuccessfully tried to calm him down.

“For the safety of the young man and the safety of others, American Airlines offered to book another flight for the family,” American Airlines spokesman Matt Miller told KTLA.

Robert says the family was warned their son’s behavior was a concern because their first class seat was to close to the cockpit and a distraction to the pilot could cause a mid-flight emergency landing.

“My son is no different from a 4 or 5 year old as far as behavior,” Robert insisted.

The Vanderhorsts claim Bede hadn’t caused any troubles and instead was being discriminated against.

Eventually, airline personnel called airport police to intervene — and the family was booked on a United Airlines flight.

The Vanderhorsts eventually got to their home near Bakersfield and say they were not refunded for their upgrade fee, which they were never able to take advantage of.

They say they plan to sue American Airlines, and hope their experience will teach the company and people in general a valuable lesson.

“Respect each person’s dignity,” Robert said. “Every one of us should be treated with equal dignity.”

Is obesity a disability under the new ADA? Probably.
Posted on July 27, 2012 by California Disability Rights Center

Is obesity a “disability” entitled to protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act?

As our nation allegedly gets more zaftig this question could take on enormous significance.


(By the way, did you know that Marilyn Monroe really was not a size 14 but smaller than a size 2? It’s a fact! I am so disappointed. I loved the idea of a size-14 sex symbol.)

“Obesity” is medically defined as having a body mass index of 30 or more. (Exceptions may apply if you’re really buff because all those muscles will make your body more dense.) “Morbid obesity” means you are 50-100 percent above your ideal body weight, or 100 pounds above your ideal weight, or have a BMI of 39 or more.

A BMI of 25 to 29.9 is merely “overweight.” (A BMI of 18.5-24.9 is “normal,” and anything below 18.5 is “underweight,” which is a problem don’t see much of in this country and so we will save for another day.)

Let’s start at the extremes and work our way toward the mushy (flabby?) middle. If you’re obese because you have a thyroid condition or some other medical problem, then, yes, your obesity is a protected ADA disability. This was true even under the old ADA, although you could have had a tough time proving you were “substantially limited in a major life activity” under the old standard. Now, under the ADA Amendments Act, it’s virtually a slam dunk.

At the other extreme, say you’re merely “overweight.” Not a disability, right? Right. Start taking the stairs instead of the elevator, ya bum.

OK, those easy ones ended way too quickly. Now, what if (like many Americans) your BMI is over 30 because you have a sedentary job and you like Big Gulps, and if you would just eat Swiss chard three times a day and start showing your face at Zumba class once in a while you would be down to “normal” before you could say Jack Robinson?

According to a recent decision from the Montana Supreme Court, you may be disabled in these circumstances, as well. The court decided that obesity, even when it did not result from a physiological disorder, was an “impairment” within the meaning of the state human rights statute, which is modeled after the pre-amendment ADA. Under the Montana law, if an individual has an “impairment” that “substantially limits” one or more “major life activities,” then the person has a “disability.”

The Montana decision is an interesting read. The majority applied ADAAA standards to a state statute that was modeled on the unamended ADA and then applied it to an employment decision that was made before the ADAAA took effect. Whatevs! It’s the state Supreme Court, so Montanans are stuck with it.


But I do agree with the majority that obesity is probably an “impairment” under ADAAA standards, even if it’s a result of nothing more than eating too much and not exercising enough. Some federal circuits had held under the old ADA that obesity had to result from a physiological disorder to be protected, but those decisions are in question now. In fact, I submit that obesity is usually going to be an “impairment” and also a “disability” under the ADAAA, regardless of its cause. Here’s why:

1) Unless you’re Arnold Schwarzenegger, who appears to be fit but probably has a BMI of, like, 150 or something, if your BMI is 30 or over you are probably somewhat limited in what you can do compared with the general population. The definition of “substantially limited” under the new ADA is so lax that being “somewhat limited” is probably good enough to mean you are legally “substantially limited.” (That is right — the law no longer means what it says, like “serious health condition” under the Family and Medical Leave Act.)


2) Some people with BMIs over 30 have BMIs that are waaaay over 30, and not because they’re “buff” like Ahnold. The higher you go, the more likely you are to have other health problems associated with obesity — many of which are ADA disabilities in their own right — problems like diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, impaired mobility, etc. I think the obesity in itself may be a disability, but even if it isn’t, all of these related health problems are.


3) Many people who are obese are that way because of medications they have to take for — you guessed it — disabilities. For example . . . you have a disability (let’s say an anxiety disorder) that requires you to take prescription meds that have weight gain as a side effect, and which cause your BMI to go over 30. Now your anxiety disorder is under control, which is great but doesn’t matter because the disability analysis under the ADAAA cannot take into account the good effects of “mitigating measures.” Meanwhile, your meds have caused you to become obese, which is a bummer, and the bad effects of “mitigating measures” must be taken into account in determining whether you have an ADAAA disability. Any way you look at this situation, you have a disability.

All of which raises some interesting questions:

*Suppose you are obese for non-physiological reasons, you go on a diet and start exercising, and you lose 50 pounds, returning to “normal” weight. Does that make you a person with a “history” of a disability?

*Suppose you are just “overweight” or mildly obese, but your boss is Mayor Bloomberg, so he erroneously thinks you are severely limited as to what you can do. Does that make you a person who is “regarded as” having a disability?

*If obesity that doesn’t result from a physiological disorder is a “disability,” does that mean the entire younger generation is going to be entitled to reasonable accommodations when they get old enough to work?

Isn’t the ADAAA fun? I just love it.

DISCLAIMER-I am a fan of every super-sized celebrity depicted in this post, as well as many others who are not depicted (Orson Welles, William Howard Taft, Tor Johnson, Santa Claus (you don’t need a link for him, do you?), Junior Samples, Fred Flintstone . . .). Although Chris Farley died prematurely, it appears to have been from a drug overdose, not a weight-related condition. Aretha Franklin is still going strong at age 70 (and has lost a lot of weight). Jackie Gleason lived to be 71 and died of cancer, not from weight-related illnesses. And, by the way, Mama Cass didn’t die from choking on a ham sandwich, either. (PS-I like Marilyn Monroe, too, even if she was only a size 2.)

To Read More please visit the California Disability Rights Center Blog HERE

Federal Funding Cuts to Impact Individuals with Learning Disabilities
Posted on July 19, 2012 by California Disability Rights Center

Federal Funding Cuts to Impact Individuals with Learning Disabilities

After the coming elections this November and before the end of the 2012, Congress is faced with several major decisions that will impact our nation’s financial situation. One of the major decisions Congress faces is how to deal with automatic funding cuts (called “budget sequestration”) to both military and domestic spending programs that will take place on January 2, 2013. Funding to support education and other programs that serve and impact individuals with learning disabilities will be greatly impacted by the cuts. Approximately nine percent will be cut from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Title I, and other critical education programs that serve individuals with learning disabilities.

Sequestration is the outgrowth of the creation of a “super” committee that Congress created in August of 2011. This committee was tasked with identifying and approving $1.2 trillion in cuts in federal spending over ten years. The committee was not able to come to an agreement on which cuts to approve, so a process called “budget sequestration” was triggered.

Budget sequestration institutes across-the-board cuts in nearly all federal spending programs of roughly the same amount. Certain programs like Medicare, Pell Grants and child nutrition programs are exempt from sequestration, or have limits on the percentage of funding that can be reduced. Left unchecked, cuts of $110 billion in federal spending will happen each year, starting with this coming January, for the next nine years. These cuts will be evenly divided between military spending and non-defense-related spending.

Sequestration will have an especially devastating impact on education programs, translating into cuts of about nine percent each year of this nine-year period. For IDEA’s Part B Grants to State program (the main federal program that funds special education services in K-12 schools), this will mean a cut of over $1 billion nationally for 2013. For Title I (the primary program under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that focuses on the education of disadvantaged students), school districts will receive a cut of $1.3 billion nationally in 2013.

What are the options for Congress? If no action is taken, these harmful cuts will be implemented. Congress could also substitute other reductions in spending to meet all or part of the $1.2 trillion that will be cut over the next nine years. There is not a consensus yet in Congress on how to respond to sequestration. There may (or may not) be a resolution determined after the November elections.

We’ll keep you updated on this important issue. Services and protections for individuals with LD are at stake!

See Source Article Here.

Mount Umunhum Environmental Restoration and Public Access Project
Posted on July 11, 2012 by California Disability Rights Center

Mount Umunhum Environmental Restoration and Public Access Project

The work to protect the awe-inspiring Mount
Umunhum as a recreational destination is
finally coming to fruition. The site has been
cleaned up, environmental restoration of this
former military base has begun and we are
preparing to open it for visitors.

Before the site can be opened up to the public
it’s critical that the District receives your input.
At this meeting you’ll have an opportunity
to review detailed information about the
public access design options (see back
for more details), to ask questions and to
provide comments.

In the fall, the Board will determine the best
option that reflects the District’s mission and serves the District’s constituents, while at the same time respecting
Mount Umunhum’s unique historical legacy. In the meantime, please continue to check the project website for
the latest updates.

Please join us on July 18 to share your vision for the site.

For more information:

For questions or comments regarding the Mount Umunhum Environmental Restoration and Public Access Project, contact Meredith Manning, Senior Planner, at 650-691-1200 or

For project details and updates:

Please Join Us -
Invitation to Provide Input: Mount Umunhum Public Access /Design
Community Open House and Board Workshop
Wednesday, July 18, 2012, 6:30–9:30 pm
Quinlan Community Center
10185 North Stelling Road | Cupertino, CA 95014

California Disability Rights Center and AIDS Legal Referral Panel working together!
Posted on May 3, 2012 by California Disability Rights Center

California Disability Rights Center is proud to announce its affiliation with the AIDS Legal Referral Panel as of May 2012!!!

We are in full support of the ALRP and their mission and California Disability Rights Center is happy to lend our support to a community in need.

Anger motivates developer to house vets – OC Register
Posted on April 24, 2012 by California Disability Rights Center

If you have any questions, concerns or inquiries about the following story, please do not hesitate to contact California Disability Rights Center at (877) 51-LAWYER or please visit our website: California Disability Rights Center

Real-estate developer Matt Heslin is an avid cyclist. As he rode the streets of Orange County and Los Angeles, something disturbed him greatly.

“As I rode, I continually saw very young homeless men and women,” said Heslin. “I’d see them at the beaches, on freeway off-ramps, in river beds, and under bridges.

“In talking with these young people, I learned many of them are veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.”

Heslin says they’ve come home and have been turned loose into society without any reintegration plan to make the transition from soldier to civilian.

“Many are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and can’t function in society,” said Heslin. “They’ve ended up jobless, homeless, and living on the streets.”

The more Heslin heard, the angrier he got. He visited the Veterans Administration and asked for ways he could help. Then, he took action and founded Serene Haven, a Home for the Brave.

Heslin invested $3 million of his own money to start the nonprofit group. He purchased three apartment buildings in Hyde Park and the West Adams area to house homeless veterans and help give them a fresh start.

Read Full Article Here

California Disability Rights Center would like to invite you to the 2012 Abilities Expo
Posted on March 30, 2012 by California Disability Rights Center

California Disability Rights Center would like to invite you to the 2012 Abilities Expo being held at the Los Angeles Convention Center this year. The event is completely free for all who come and will be the event of the year for everyone who can make it! Please come down and enjoy some great food and cold drinks, with some wonderful company and conversation to be had when you get there. ALSO!!! Everyone that does come will be able to enjoy the luxurious seating arrangements of a Raptor…so come early to get the best seat in the house!!! To read more please scroll down or visit the event website, all which I have conveniently included below.

For more than three decades, Abilities Expo has succeeded in improving the lives of Americans with disabilities, their families, caregivers and healthcare professionals. This unique forum features three days of cutting-edge products and services, compelling workshops, fun-for-the-whole-family activities and has become the leading event for the community of people with disabilities (PWDs).

Abilities Expo reaches out to all ages and all sectors of the Community including wounded veterans, persons recovering from immobilizing accidents, seniors with age-related health concerns, children with disabilities, individuals with mobility and spinal issues, people who have vision and hearing impairments, people with developmental disabilities and many more. Whether your challenges are mild or severe, this is your event.

To read more visit California Disability Rights Center or 2012 Abilities Expo

Questions About Special Education Contact CDRC at 1 (877) 51-LAWYER
Posted on March 29, 2012 by California Disability Rights Center

Below is a video from KTLA regarding questions over closed Autism Care Providers across the Southland. If any parents, caregivers, or guardians have any questions or comments regarding Special Education, Autism and/or the closing of Autism Treatment Centers please contact us.

Please do not hesitate to contact California Disability Rights Center at 1 (877) 51-LAWYER

A series of Southern California treatment centers for children with autism closed Friday without warning, leaving the parents of the young patients wondering what happened.

Posted on March 14, 2012 by California Disability Rights Center

Please tune in HERE tomorrow as California Disability Rights Center is excited to announce that it is sponsoring the KTLK AM 1150 Diverse LA show tomorrow, hosted by Josefa Salinas on Thursday March 15, 2012 from 9 am – 12 pm.


Clear Channel Los Angeles announces “Diverse LA,” a new three week series of special broadcasts airing every weekday from 9AM to Noon on KTLK AM 1150, starting March 12. Greg Ashlock, Los Angeles Market Manager said, “These 45 hours of prime programming will feature local hosts and guests discussing a wide variety of issues associated with the spectrum of experience of all Angelenos.” Individual shows will examine issues of special concern to African American, Latino, Asian American and other communities.

The Executive Producer of the series is Clear Channel’s Morris O’Kelly, longtime radio
producer and political commentator. O’Kelly reports, “This is about Los Angeles hearing voices and viewpoints less often heard while also addressing communities historically underserved. “Diverse LA” will highlight new personalities and newsmakers for the KTLK audience, but more importantly provide a platform for inclusive, substantive dialogue in the public square.”

To be sure the series reaches the widest possible audience, other Clear Channel Los Angeles radio stations will help promote the series and link to it on their websites.

This newest project is part of our ongoing commitment to create unique programming that addresses issues important to our diverse communities. We are already seeking hosts and guests for these shows. We invite community members to contact
with ideas and input.

According to KFI/KTLK Program Director Robin Bertolucci, “This will be a launching pad for discovering talent for future opportunities. This is a great way to hear potential talk show hosts and guests in a live environment.” Shows will be archived online after each broadcast at

To Read more about the Diverse LA Show on KTLK please visit HERE.

To Read more about Josefa Salinsas and her contributions to Los Angeles communities and events please visit her HERE.

If you have any questions or inquiries regarding California Disability Rights Center please feel free to Contact California Disability Rights Center at (877) 51-LAWYER or

You can also Contact ThruLaw at (877) 97-LAWYER or

NOSSCR Responds to USA Today Editorial
Posted on March 14, 2012 by California Disability Rights Center

NOSSCR Responds to USA Today Editorial – Posted 2/13/12

On 2/4/12,USA Today ran both an inaccurate editorial about Social Security disability benefits and a thoughtful and informative op-ed response from NOSSCR President Chuck Martin.

Here are the links to both:

We are eager to “correct the record” whenever the media reports about the Social Security disability program are inaccurate, incomplete or misleading. Please notify us when you see this type of media report so that we can respond.

Accredited Disability Representatives
Posted on March 8, 2012 by California Disability Rights Center

The National Association of Disability Representatives is offering the professional designation entitled an Accredited Disability Representative.

The overriding philosophy for all Accredited Disability Representatives (hereinafter referred to as ADR) shall be that any action taken will be in the client’s best interests and result in no harm coming to the client. The Representative shall hold the client in the highest regard, with the client’s welfare the sole object of the Representative’s efforts.

California Disability Rights Center is a proud member of the National Association of Disability Representatives (NADR)
Posted on March 8, 2012 by California Disability Rights Center

I wanted to take a moment and tell you about the National Association of Disability Representatives, which we are a proud member of.

For many years, Professional Social Security Claimants Representatives have wanted to have an organization that would be interested in their issues, educational opportunities, and interests.

In March of 2000, 35 Professional Social Security Claimants Representatives met in St. Louis, MO and formed NADR, Inc. They chose our name and established the following goals:

1) Conduct Annual Conventions open to members and non-members with educational seminars to keep practitioners up to date on Social Security rulings, regulatory changes and practice improvements.
2) Create a free national referral service for claimants seeking representation and information about Social Security Disability, Continuing Disability Reviews and over payment and underpayment problems.
3) Seek status as an approved, “not-for-profit” organization with the IRS and Social Security offices nationwide in order to fulfill our stated mission.
4) Create a “talk list” where our members can discuss problems, pass information and learn from each other on a daily basis.

Read more about NADR and their mission here.

If you have any questions or inquiries regarding California Disability Rights Center please feel free to Contact California Disability Rights Center at (877) 51-LAWYER or

You can also Contact ThruLaw at (877) 97-LAWYER or

Hispanas Organized for Political Equality (HOPE)
Posted on March 8, 2012 by California Disability Rights Center

Thrulaw is presenting at the HOPE 21st Annual Latina History Day Conference at the Millennium Biltmore this Friday, March 9th. If you are going to be at the event, please come and visit our table.

Since we are on the subject of the 2012 Latina History Day Conference I wanted to take a moment and tell you about the Hispanas Organized for Political Equality (HOPE), who is responsible for the past & present Latina History Day Conferences.

HOPE.ACT builds Latina access and influence through the power of online and offline networking. It aims to identify, train, and mentor a powerful network of Latinas about important issues affecting them, their families, and communities.

HOPE.ACTconnects Latinas to take effective and collective action to build a better California through social networking tools. Every new HOPE.ACTmember is considered a “Change Agent” who expands the network reach and influence that enables greater access to corporate leaders, community leaders, and decision makers. The network is also important in gerating and strenthening Latina leadership through education and trainings that will serve personal and professional empowerment. HOPE.ACT.HEALTH. and HOPE.ACT.VOTE. are two current programs under the HOPE.ACT

If you have any questions or inquiries regarding ThruLaw and/or California Disability Rights Center presenting at this years Latina History Day please feel free to Contact California Disability Rights Center at (877) 51-LAWYER or

You can also Contact ThruLaw at (877) 97-LAWYER or

Latina History Day
Posted on March 8, 2012 by California Disability Rights Center

Join us for our 21st year of producing one of the most dynamic Latina conferences in the nation.

Thrulaw is very excited to be presenting this year at the HOPE 21st Annual Latina History Day Conference which will be located at the Millennium Biltmore this Friday, March 9th. If you are going to be at the event, please come and visit our table.

The Latina History Day Conference, for which Latina History Day in California was created, draws over 700 women to celebrate the historic accomplishments of Latinas and presents workshops on career development, community issues, and financial empowerment.

Cornerstones of the conference include inspiring keynote speakers and the Comadre Network & Exhibit Area where conference participants are invited to an afternoon of networking with California’s most successful Latinas.

You can read more about Latina History Day and the Conference Details here

If you have any questions or inquiries regarding ThruLaw and/or California Disability Rights Center presenting at this years Latina History Day please feel free to Contact California Disability Rights Center at (877) 51-LAWYER or

You can also Contact ThruLaw at (877) 97-LAWYER or

“Sacramento jury awards $167 million to former Mercy hospital employee”
Posted on March 2, 2012 by California Disability Rights Center

A jury in Sacramento federal court on Wednesday awarded more than $167 million to a former surgical physician’s assistant at Mercy General Hospital on her claims of workplace harassment and retaliation that led to her wrongful termination.

The panel assessed Mercy and its parent, Catholic Healthcare West, $125 million in punitive damages as punishment for their “unlawful conduct,” and $42.7 million as compensation for lost wages, mental suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, damage to reputation, and humiliation.

Read more here: Sacramento jury awards $167 million to former Mercy hospital employee

Contact California Disability Rights Center at (877) 51-LAWYER or

Posted on February 3, 2012 by California Disability Rights Center

Beginning Next week, I will be answering a limited number of questions that you may have about your child’s disability related l egal matters on the California Disability Rights Facebook page.

If your question is general enough I can answer it on the CDRC page. If it is more complex, I will contact you directly or point you to a reliable resource to help you.

Many of you have the same questions that other parents have, so please let other parents know that there is a forum for them to find answers.

I KNOW how hard you parents work to fight the good fight for your child. I’m honored to help.

Contact California Disability Rights Center at (877) 51-LAWYER or

Medical Conditions That May Entitle You To Disability Compensation Include:
Posted on February 2, 2012 by California Disability Rights Center

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – A condition that causes fatigue severe enough to interfere with your ability to participate in normal work, recreational, or social activities. Fatigue caused by CFS does not improve substantially with rest.

Multiple Sclerosis – A chronic neurological disease that involves the central nervous system—specifically the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. MS can cause problems with muscle control and strength, vision, balance, sensation, and mental functions.

Lupus – A chronic disease that can cause inflammation, pain, and tissue damage throughout the body. Lupus is an autoimmune disease, in which a person’s immune system attacks its own tissues as though they were foreign substances. If you develop serious lupus, you may have problems with your kidneys, heart, lungs, or blood cells.

Degenerative Disc Disease – This encompasses an assortment of ailments to the spine, including herniated discs, spondylolisthesis, stenosis, idiopathic scoliosis, kyphosis, and other spinal diseases that occur as we grow older.

Bi-polar Disorder – Also known as manic depression, bi-polar disorder is a serious illness that can lead to crippling mood swings, irrational behavior and suicidal tendencies.

Cancer – a general term for more than 100 medical conditions involving uncontrolled and dangerous cell growth. Scientists suggest that some cancer is caused by genetic factors, while other forms are caused by environmental conditions.

Osteoarthritis – type of arthritis that is caused by the breakdown and eventual loss of the cartilage of one or more joints.

Rheumatoid arthritis – a type of arthritis that causes the body’s immune system to attack the joints.

Congestive heart failure – potentially lethal condition in which congestion develops in the lungs that is produced by a heart attack, poorly controlled or uncontrolled hypertension, or disease processes that weaken the heart.

Chronic heart failure – a disorder in which the heart loses its ability to pump blood efficiently throughout the body. The oxygen and nutrients in the blood provide the body with the energy it needs to operate efficiently.

Anxiety disability – sudden bouts of intense fear or anxiety that causes frightening but not life-threatening symptoms such as a pounding heart, shortness of breath, and the feeling of losing control or dying.

Reflex sympathetic dystrophy – chronic progressive neurological condition that affects skin, muscles, joints, and bones. The syndrome usually develops in an injured limb, such as a broken leg.

HIV – Human Immunodeficiency Virus, the virus which causes AIDS. HIV is a retro- virus that attacks the human immune system.

AIDS – A serious (often fatal) disease of the immune system transmitted through blood products especially by sexual contact or contaminated needles.

Hepatitis C – Affects the liver and can cause liver damage. Hepatitis C infection happens by coming into direct contact with the blood of an infected person.

Schizophrenia – a wide range of mental disorders characterized by a disassociation of sensory input, feelings and emotions on one hand and thoughts on the other. Symptoms can include hallucinations, hearing voices, a feeling that one’s thoughts or actions are under someone else’s control, and many others.

Crohn’s disease – inflammatory disease most prominent in the small bowel, which may involve any part of the gastrointestinal tract and other organs, and which is associated clinically with diarrhea and irritable bowel.

If you have been permanently disabled due to an accident, injury, or medical condition you may be able to collect benefits from social security disability or supplemental security income.

If you have filed a Social Security Disability claim and it has been denied, contact California Disability Rights Center ( today to have an experienced disability attorney examine your case.

Contact California Disability Rights Center at (877) 51-LAWYER or

Nominate your Hometown Hero
Posted on November 23, 2011 by California Disability Rights Center

The personal injury law firm of ThruLaw, P.C. ( was founded on service and community action. Our attorneys and staff have been inspired by members of our community who make California such a great place to live and work. In 2011, we founded our Hometown Heroes campaign that honors local heroes responsible for community initiatives and acts of kindness.

In addition to recognizing Hometown Heroes in our community, ThruLaw, P.C. is tracking all of the good deeds across California. ThruLaw, P.C. will keep a running tally of good deeds in the community and will publish our list of local heroes so that the public can view their positive impact.

Fill out the form at to submit an everyday action that you’ve taken in your area to help others or nominate a friend, family member or co-worker and watch the Good Deeds in our community grow.

Contact California Disability Rights Center at (877) 51-LAWYER or

You can also contact ThruLaw, P.C. at (877) 97-LAWYER or

CDRC Recommends ThruLaw, P.C., a Personal Injury Law Firm
Posted on November 11, 2011 by California Disability Rights Center

ThruLaw lawyers are experienced, highly trained professionals with substantial trial expertise in personal injury law. Many are graduates of some of the best law schools in the country, and they have an excellent track record of winning cases both in and out of the courtroom.

Whether through investigation, discovery, motions, trial or appellate work, the lawyers and staff at personal injury law firm zealously pursue their clients’ interests and do what it takes to achieve their clients’ goals.

Injuries inevitably come with complications. In addition to the physical injuries you have suffered, accidents also bring emotional strain and financial uncertainty. At
ThruLaw, they know that waiting for your doctor is often unavoidable, but waiting for your lawyer shouldn’t be. As your Personal Injury Lawyer,
ThruLaw understands how valuable your time is. You are ready to put the incident behind you, and help you take the first step forward.

ThruLaw brings much more than a single lawyer to each case. Our support staff members including claims consultants, accident investigators, legal assistants and nurse consultants are all dedicated to handling your claim.

Contact ThruLaw at (877) 97-LAWYER or

You can also contact California Disability Rights Center at (877) 51-LAWYER or

Life after high school: have disability, considering college?
Posted on November 8, 2011 by California Disability Rights Center

More and more high school students with disabilities are discovering that the opportunities to attend community colleges and universities are expanding. Whether you are looking for campus accessibility, assistive technology, scholarships, an active disabled students’ program or guidance from students who have already done it, there are many resources to tap into. Some schools specialize in reaching out to students with a particular disability. One organization focuses on linking students with disabilities to international study programs. A new book by students with autism is full of tips for those trying to find welcoming schools. We have gathered a selection of references below and invite you to send us useful links that we missed.

General resources

Studying abroad

Financial resources

For students with developmental disabilities

For students with learning disabilities

For students with autism

Contact California Disability Rights Center at (877) 51-LAWYER or

How Many Americans Have a Disability?
Posted on July 28, 2011 by California Disability Rights Center

According to the U. S. Census Bureau, about 49.7 million Americans have a disability, which includes people of all ages. About two-thirds of these individuals have a severe disability. Statistical information about persons with disabilities can be obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau Web site, or by phone at 301-457-3242. Additional sources of disability statistics can be found online at

Contact California Disability Rights Center at (877) 51-LAWYER or

CDRC Attorney Monica Wegner Receives Special Training to Assist Veterans
Posted on July 21, 2011 by California Disability Rights Center

Pro bono lawyers like Monica Wegner of California Disability Rights Center ( with the skills and credentials to deal with the VA are hard to come by, especially since a certificate and completion of special training is required to appear before the VA. In response, Jon Streeter, chair of the State Bar Board of Governors Stakeholders Committee, and board members Karen Goodman and Wells Lyman are working on an initiative to train and encourage attorneys to provide legal help to veterans.

“The idea is to use the bar as a clearinghouse for information about how pro bono services can be provided to veterans,” said Streeter. “This is a community of people who have, as part of their duty of citizenship, put themselves in harm’s way, and I think we’ve got a reciprocal duty to extend a helping hand.”

On May 6, 2011, Monica Wegner received special training with the Practising Law Institute (PLI) that meets the VA training requirements. The course, “Advocating for Veterans – the Basics on Benefits, Discharge Upgrades and Combat to Community,” was held in San Francisco and by webcast and included instructions on everything from an overview of government benefits and service-connected disability compensation to PTSD and military discharge upgrade and review.

The VA has a backlog of more than 1 million benefits claims, which take an average of 161 days to settle and three years to appeal. Monica Wegner receives e-mails, phone calls and snail mail from veterans around the country seeking help.

Contact Monica Wegner of California Disability Rights Center for help. She can be reached at (877) 699-7225 or (650) 515-4690. CDRC has two convenient California offices to assist you.

Contact California Disability Rights Center at (877) 51-LAWYER or

Disability Rights Legal Center in California to Receive National Recognition through ABA Award
Posted on April 12, 2011 by California Disability Rights Center

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 25, 2010 — The American Bar Association Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law has selected the Disability Rights Legal Center of Los Angeles to receive the 2010 Paul G. Hearne Award for Disability Rights.

For 35 years the DRLC, a nonprofit legal services program, has advocated on behalf of people with disabilities with the mission of eliminating discrimination and other legal barriers that keep these individuals in poverty. The DRLC litigates in federal and state court to enforce various disability anti-discrimination laws, and educates and conducts outreach to the public on compliance with these laws. The center also provides legal services and programs such as:  civil rights litigation, a Cancer Legal Resource Center, education advocacy, community outreach, options counseling and a lawyer referral service. Its Inland Empire Program facilitates interagency cooperation among agencies charged with providing programs, services and supports to children and adults with disabilities.

The center’s recent efforts include filing class actions alleging failures to provide special education at the Los Angeles County jail and ensuring that the county’s emergency preparedness plans address the needs of people with disabilities.

Additionally, DRLC lawyers have  been counsel on cases that have included a million dollar settlement with broad injunctive relief addressing systemic failure to provide reasonable accommodations and habitable living conditions for low-income tenants with disabilities at the Alexandria Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, and have successfully settled a class action case on behalf of students with disabilities on systemic failure to provide accommodations and physical access on the California State University San Bernardino campus, resulting in $11.7 million worth of improvements and an overhaul of the accommodations’ procedures for students. The DRLC also served as co-counsel on a case that resulted in a preliminary injunction enjoining cuts to California’s In Home Support Services program, which affects approximately 130,000 low-income people with disabilities.

The award will be presented at the commission’s annual reception during the ABA 2010 Annual Meeting on Aug. 9 in San Francisco. The event will begin at 6 p.m. at the Moscone Center West, 3rd floor, room 3020.

Each year the ABA presents the Paul G. Hearne Award for Disability Rights to an individual or organization that has performed exemplary service in furthering the rights, dignity and access to justice for Americans with disabilities. The award is co-sponsored by the Starbucks Coffee Company.

About the Award

Paul G. Hearne (1950-1998), for whom the award was named, was born with a connective tissue disorder that physically limited his growth and restricted his movement. Through tenacity, intelligence and initiative, he created opportunities for himself and others, and proved a leader for all people with disabilities.  Hearne’s life was marked by many pioneering endeavors in the legal and disability communities.  He served as the director of Just One Break, Inc., the nation’s first private job placement agency for people with disabilities; the National Council on Disability; the Dole Foundation for Employment of People with Disabilities; the International Center for the Disabled; the Very Special Arts International Fund; and the Osteogenesis Imperfecta Foundation.

With nearly 400,000 members, the American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world.  As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.

Is the Property Exempt from Compliance or “Grandfathered?”
Posted on March 30, 2011 by California Disability Rights Center

A striking number of defendants incorrectly believe that their properties are exempt from compliance with accesslaws (because they have been “grandfathered” in some respect) because they are of a certain age, or because no major renovation has ever been performed.  While it is not the intention of this article to provide legal advice about specific renovations that are required for any particular property, the reader is reminded that:

The ADA requires removal of such access impediments as are “readily achievable” for the defendant, there is no “exception” or “grandfather” provision exempting older properties.

The ADA and attendant regulations confirm that what is “readily achievable” depends on the total financial resources of both the commercial tenant and property owner, and would presumably include equity in the property.  Many defendants read this and think they will assert the defense that a particular renovation was not “readily achievable” for them because it was too expensive or complicated; once they find out they will have to produce their financial statements to support this argument, they often reevaluate this position, but only after considerable time and legal expense.  Assuming all appropriate defendants are joined in an action, and considering the vast increase in equity that has applied to commercial real estate in many parts of the country, it may be difficult to argue that almost any barrier removal was not “readily achievable” at many properties.

Certain state laws enhance the power of the ADA, and should not be overlooked; for example, California’s Unruh Act provides that a violation of the ADA (and presumably the ADA Accessibility Guidelines, or “ADAAG”) constitutes actionable discrimination.

Joint and Several Liability for Commercial Landlords and Tenants for Access Impediments
Posted on March 30, 2011 by California Disability Rights Center
In general, landlords and tenants are jointly responsible for compliance with access laws, at least from the standpoint of third-parties (eg, disabled visitors to the property); however, they are free to shift the allocation of responsibility between them by contract. Of course, such a reallocation is only binding as between the landlord and tenant—a disabled plaintiff will generally have recourse against both of them, and if just one of them is sued, or found liable, s/he may have a claim against the other for indemnity and/or contribution (ie, a legal action to recover losses that are another’s responsibility).  The rationale for this policy is that it would be unfair to a disabled plaintiff if a landlord tried to avoid making access renovations by leasing only to tenants with limited resources or for tenants to avoid taking responsibility for removing access barriers over which they have complete control.
Penalties for ADA Violations
Posted on March 9, 2011 by California Disability Rights Center

Violating the American’s with Disabilities Act can result in serious costs and consequences for property owners. Penalties and legal remedies for violations include:

  • Injunctions. An injunction is a court order that requires a person to do something or refrain from doing something. In the context of the ADA, a property owner who is found in violation may be ordered to install ramps, modify entrances or otherwise comply with the ADA.
  • Actual and punitive damages. If a plaintiff can show that he or she suffered damages as a result of the violation, the owner may be ordered to pay money as compensation (actual damages). In some cases, the owner’s violations may be so flagrant or in such bad faith that a court will order him or her to pay extra money as punishment (punitive damages).
  • Civil penalties. The ADA itself sets monetary damages.

Up to $50,000 for the first violation;

Up to $100,000 for subsequent violations.

  • Attorney fees. In some cases, a property owner who violates ADA may be ordered to pay the plaintiff’s attorney fees.

For more info, see

ADA Access to Buildings and Businesses (Title III Public Accommodations) – Overview
Posted on March 4, 2011 by California Disability Rights Center

A federal law that requires most business and facilities to provide reasonable access and accommodation for all disabled customers, clients, and members of the public. This law, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), applies to almost all businesses that are open to the public, regardless of size. Below is an introduction to the ADA and its application to “public accommodations.”

The Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal civil rights law that prohibits the exclusion of people with disabilities from everyday activities, such as buying an item at the store, watching a movie in a theater, enjoying a meal at a local restaurant, exercising at the local health club, or having the car serviced at a local garage. To meet the goals of the ADA, the law established requirements for private businesses of all sizes. These requirements first went into effect on January 26, 1992.

In recognition that many small businesses cannot afford to make significant physical changes to their stores or places of business to provide accessibility to wheelchair users and other people with disabilities, the ADA has requirements for existing facilities built before 1993 that are less strict than for ones built after early 1993 or modified after early 1992.

Private Businesses that Serve the Public: “Public Accommodations”

Private businesses that provide goods or services to the public are called “public accommodations” under the ADA. The ADA establishes requirements for twelve categories of public accommodations, including stores and shops, restaurants and bars, service establishments, theaters, hotels, recreation facilities, private museums and schools, and others. Nearly all types of private businesses that serve the public are included in the categories, regardless of size. Existing facilities are not exempted by “grandfather provisions” that are often used by building code officials.

New Construction and Alterations

The ADA requires that newly constructed facilities, first occupied on or after January 26, 1993, meet or exceed the minimum requirements of the ADA Standards for Accessible Design. Alterations to facilities, spaces or elements (including renovations) on or after January 26, 1992, also must comply with the Standards. Renovations or modifications are considered to be alterations when they affect the usability of the element or space. For example, installing a new display counter, moving walls in a sales area, replacing fixtures, carpet or flooring, and replacing an entry door. However, simple maintenance, such as repainting a wall is not considered an alteration by the ADA.

ADA Title II: State and Local Government Activities
Posted on March 3, 2011 by California Disability Rights Center

Title II covers all activities of State and local governments regardless of the government entity’s size or receipt of Federal funding. 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 (e.g. public education, employment, transportation, recreation, health care, social services, courts, voting, and town meetings).

State and local governments are required to follow specific architectural standards in the new construction and alteration of their buildings. They also must relocate programs or otherwise provide access in inaccessible older buildings, and communicate effectively with people who have hearing, vision, or speech disabilities. Public entities are not required to take actions that would result in undue financial and administrative burdens. They are required to make reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures where necessary to avoid discrimination, unless they can demonstrate that doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of the service, program, or activity being provided.

Complaints of title II violations may be filed with the Department of Justice within 180 days of the date of discrimination. In certain situations, cases may be referred to a mediation program sponsored by the Department. The Department may bring a lawsuit where it has investigated a matter and has been unable to resolve violations. For more information, contact:

U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Disability Rights Section – NYAV
Washington, D.C. 20530

(800) 514-0301 (voice)
(800) 514-0383 (TTY)

Title II may also be enforced through private lawsuits in Federal court. It is not necessary to file a complaint with the Department of Justice (DOJ) or any other Federal agency, or to receive a “right-to-sue” letter, before going to court.

ADA Title I: Employment
Posted on March 3, 2011 by California Disability Rights Center

Title I requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide qualified individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from the full range of employment-related opportunities available to others. For example, it prohibits discrimination in recruitment, hiring, promotions, training, pay, social activities, and other privileges of employment. It restricts questions that can be asked about an applicant’s disability before a job offer is made, and it requires that employers make reasonable accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities, unless it results in undue hardship. Religious entities with 15 or more employees are covered under title I.

Title I complaints must be filed with the U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 180 days of the date of discrimination, or 300 days if the charge is filed
with a designated State or local fair employment practice agency. Individuals may file a lawsuit in Federal court only after they receive a “right-to-sue” letter from the EEOC.

Charges of employment discrimination on the basis of disability may be filed at any U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission field office. Field offices are located in 50 cities throughout the U.S. and are listed in most telephone directories under “U.S. Government.” For the appropriate EEOC field office in your geographic area, contact:

(800) 669-4000 (voice)
(800) 669-6820 (TTY)

Publications and information on EEOC-enforced laws may be obtained by calling:

(800) 669-3362 (voice)
(800) 800-3302 (TTY)

For information on how to accommodate a specific individual with a disability, contact the Job Accommodation Network at:

(800) 526-7234 (voice/TTY)

Private & Non-Profit Businesses
Posted on February 15, 2011 by California Disability Rights Center

State and federal law give people with disabilities the right to access everyday activities such as buying an item at the store, watching a movie in a theater, enjoying a meal at a restaurant, exercising at the health club and getting their car serviced.

If you own, operate, or lease to a business that serves the public you are subject to the ADA and other disability rights laws.

Non-profit and private businesses, sometimes referred to in the ADA, Title III as Public Accommodations, have obligations for existing facilities as well as when a facility is altered or newly constructed. They may also have obligations in employment, housing and other areas protected from discrimination.

Public accommodations include stores, shops, restaurants, bars, service establishments, theaters, hotels, recreation facilities, private museums and schools, to name a few.

Information on compliance can be found by following the links for each specific law.