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Obit: Paul Steven Miller, law professor and disability advocate

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

From the New York Times:

After graduating at the top of his class at Harvard Law School in the 1980s, Paul Steven Miller was rejected by more than 40 law firms before he was able to find work. The reason: Miller was born with achondroplasia, a form of dwarfism. One hiring partner told him that clients would think the firm was running a “circus freak show” if they took him on.

Miller, who went on to become a law professor, advisor to presidents and leader in the disability rights movement, died Tuesday of cancer. He was 49, and was widely recognized as an expert on the intersection of disability law, employment discrimination and genetic science.

An excerpt from the New York Times obituary:

Drew Hansen, an adjunct lecturer who taught with Mr. Miller, said his colleague had long been concerned about the carrying out of the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act. “He believed that judicial interpretations of the A.D.A. were more restrictive than they had been of civil rights laws because there was not a similarly visible mass social movement,” Mr. Hansen said.

In recent years, Mr. Miller focused on tensions between disability rights and genetic science. In a paper titled “Avoiding Genetic Genocide,” Mr. Miller criticized scientists for what he saw as their eagerness to use genetics to produce “perfect” humans.

“Good health is not the absence of a disability,” he wrote. “Scientists caught up in the excitement of genetic discovery can forget that life with a disability can still be a rich and fulfilling life.”

Earlier posts here.

See also: Miller presentation at Georgia State University College of Law: “Good Intentions and Eugenics: Avoiding Genetic Genocide.” With audio.

UPDATE

See also:

‘Monica & David’ premieres Thursday on HBO

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

For couple with Down syndrome, does love conquer all?

Newsweek calls this Tribeca-award-winning documentary “a triumph” and “a refreshing and rare story for television.” It’s a chronicle of the courtship, marriage, and happily-ever-after of Monica and David, two young people who have Down syndrome.

The Washington Post calls it “a moving affair, a film that can inspire tears of joy within the first five minutes.”

At a time when characters with disabilities are almost unseen on TV, filmmaker Ali Codina provides an intimate portrait of these two as they struggle to balance their desires for independence with their need to rely on others for assistance. The pair live with family, and have not been able to find work.

Codina tells the Miami Herald that she hopes the film will help build public awareness and acceptance of people with disabilities .

“That was always my goal throughout the making of the film: To get it to the largest audience possible who may know very little about disabilities,” Codina says. “Once the viewer connects with the love story, you can start dealing with broader issues, such as addressing the fact that we don’t often acknowledge adults with disabilities as adults. We treat them as children. I also hope people who see Monica & David start to think differently about employment for the disabled. It’s a pretty tough reality in terms of what’s available for them.”

… “Monica & David is one of the greatest love stories of all time,” says Anthony K. Shriver, founder and chairman of Best Buddies. “I am also hopeful that it will be a wake-up call for all of us about the endless love, passion and ability that all individuals with intellectual disabilities possess.”

More coverage in the Denver Post. The movie’s home page is here.

Earlier post here.

Harris poll: Businesses don’t welcome people with disabilities

Monday, October 11th, 2010

From Business Week/HealthDay; National Organization on Disability press release:

A new Harris poll finds that few American companies hire job seekers with disabilities or take steps to provide a welcoming work environment for them, even though many of these companies say that hiring people with disabilities is important.

The national poll of 411 senior executives and human resource managers found that 70 percent of respondents’ companies have diversity policies or programs in place, but only two-thirds of those with programs include disability as a component.

Only 18 percent of companies offer an education program designed to integrate people with disabilities into the workplace, and only 19 percent of companies have a specific person or department that oversees the hiring of people with disabilities, compared with 40 percent in 1995.

The release of the poll was timed to coincide with National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

Study: Lack of characters with disabilities on TV

Friday, October 8th, 2010

From The Hollywood Reporter, IAMPWD.org:

A new report on minority representation on broadcast television finds that scripted characters with identifiable disabilities will represent only one percent of all scripted series regular characters  on the five broadcast networks this fall. That’s just six characters out of 587. Of those six, only one is played by an actor who actually has a disability.

The report issued by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) examined all series regular characters expected to appear on the 84 announced scripted series airing during the 2010/11 broadcast network television season. Called “Where We Are On TV,” the annual report in the past has noted characters’ gender, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity. For the first time this year, a disability category was included.

“Among people with disabilities, where we are on TV has always been a mystery, and as this report clearly shows, mostly invisible,” said Anita Hollander, chair of the Tri-Union Inclusion in the Arts & Media of People With Disabilities (I AM PWD) Campaign of Actors’ Equity Association, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) and Screen Actors Guild.

The six series regular characters with disabilities listed by the report were: The title character on House (Fox), who uses a cane; Dr. Remy “Thirteen” Hadley on House (Fox) who has Huntington’s Disease; Artie Abrams on Glee (Fox), who uses a wheelchair; Saul on Brothers & Sisters (ABC), who is living with HIV; young Max Braverman on Parenthood (NBC), who has Asperger’s syndrome; and Dr. Albert Robbins on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (CBS), who has a prosthetic leg.

Of the six, only one is played by an actor with an identified disability: Robert David Hall, who portrays Dr. Robbins on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

The survey found more participation by actors with disabilities in continuing network guest roles, including two women with Down syndrome who appear on Fox’s Glee.

“Compared to series regulars, there is definitely more gender variety and more authenticity in casting recurring characters,” said Hollander. “This suggests that producers and writers are showing a guarded interest in being inclusive of characters with disabilities being portrayed by actors with disabilities.”

Earlier posts here.

Job prospects dismal for people with disabilities

Friday, August 27th, 2010

From the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post ‘Federal Eye’ blog,  and the Kansas City Star:

In its first detailed look at employment for workers with disabilities,  the federal government reports that these workers are far more likely than people without disabilities to be out of work or working only part-time.

According to the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, just 19.2 percent of all Americans with disabilities are earning a paycheck, compared to 64.5 percent of Americans without disabilities. Of those with disabilities who are working, nearly one third are employed only part time.

The BLS also reported that the average unemployment rate for workers with disabilities was 16.4 percent as of July, up sharply from 14.5 percent last year. For those without disabilities, the unemployment rate last year was 9 percent. About 8 in 10 persons with disabilities are not considered part of the labor force because they aren’t looking for or holding a job. That compares to 3 in 10 people without disabilities.

Kathy Martinez, assistant secretary for the Labor Department’s office of disability employment policy, says some employers are hesitant to hire disabled workers because they fear added costs to provide special accommodations or additional training. In some cases this could be considered discrimination, which is illegal. “The biggest barrier for us is attitude and fear-the misconception of what hiring people with a disability might mean,” she said.

… That the overall jobless rates tend to be higher among workers with disabilities is partly a symptom of the recession and partly the result of a system that places income support – such as disability benefits – over employment assistance, said Andrew Houtenville, an economist and the research director of the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire.

“We have really low expectations for the population with disabilities as a system,” said Mr. Houtenville. “We want to provide people with financial support…but we have to do a better job providing employment services in a very timely fashion.”

Judge slashes fine in Iowa abuse case

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

By Clark Kauffman in the Des Moines Register, Associated Press:

An administrative law judge has ruled that a Texas company accused of abusing and underpaying workers with intellectual disabilities need only pay  a fine of $174,660, or 15 percent of the fine proposed by an Iowa state agency. Either side can appeal the ruling.

Judge Jeffrey Farrell concluded that the company had been acting in good faith, and had complied with the law for the first 40 years it did business. The company, Henry’s Turkey Service, has been accused of housing its workers in unsafe conditions in a delapidated bunkhouse, and paying them only about $65 per month regardless of the hours they worked.

Iowa Workforce Development, the agency that enforces state labor laws, had proposed a fine of $1,164,000.

Earlier posts here.

See also:

4 Atalissa men’s welfare doubted — by Clark Kauffman in the Des Moines Register.

Four of the mentally retarded men who worked for Henry’s Turkey Service in eastern Iowa are now the focus of an escalating battle involving mental health advocates, the Texas attorney general and the family that founded Henry’s.

“These men are still being held hostage by the family that ran the Atalissa bunkhouse,” said Sylvia Piper of Iowa Protection and Advocacy.

Survey: ADA has not improved quality of life

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

From USA Today:

A survey commissioned by the Kessler Foundation/National Organization on Disabilities finds that the ADA has not made meaningful progress in improving the quality of life for people with disabilities.

The survey shows that more must be done to help people with disabilities get ahead, said Carol Glazer, president of the National Organization on Disability.

“While education has improved considerably, joblessness has not. We as a nation must figure this out,” she said.

Among the survey’s key findings:

• People with disabilities still lag in key areas such as employment, access to health care and social interactions;

• 21% of disabled working-age Americans had a job in the past year, versus 59% for those without disabilities;

• 19% of people with disabilities said they did not get the medical care they needed in the past year, with lack of insurance coverage cited as the top reason;

• 48% of people with disabilities eat out at a restaurant twice a month, compared to 75% of those without disabilities; and

• 34% of disabled people say inadequate transportation is a problem, compared to 16% of those without disabilities, a gap that has widened 5 percentage points since 1986.

Related post here.

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More than 50 million people in the United States have disabilities, a number that is growing rapidly as the population ages. Experts say disability will soon affect the lives of most Americans. This website attempts to aggregate news and commentary about disability, and to document the efforts of people who are seeking new ways to address familiar challenges.

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