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Archive for the ‘intellectual/developmental disabilities’ Category

Exclusion of student with DS from college class sparks concern

Friday, November 26th, 2010

Protest continues to mount over a decision by Southern Oregon University to exclude a non-credit student with Down syndrome from an introductory ceramics course. The decision comes almost 35 years after the enactment of federal legislation that opened public school doors to students with disabilities.

More than 700 people have signed an online petition urging the reinstatement of 20-year-old Eliza Schaaf. An online column by San Francisco school board member Rachel Norton on SFGate.com called the university’s decision “appalling.”

College officials abruptly withdrew Schaaf from the course last month, saying that she is not qualified to meet the academic standards necessary to participate. Alissa Arp, dean of SOU’s college of arts and sciences, wrote in a letter to Schaaf that her presence in the class had resulted in a “disruption of curriculum delivery and interfered with the teaching and learning environment for the instructor and other students.” Schaaf had attended Ashland High School and had been fully included in her educational career up until that time.

SOU dean of students Laura O’Bryan upheld the decision this week in a letter that referred to Schaaf’s enrollment as a “novel situation.”

“The non-admitted policy was not designed or intended to provide an avenue for participation to individuals who are not otherwise qualified for admission to SOU,” O’Bryan wrote.

Norton, a former member of the San Francisco Community Advisory Committee for Special Education, noted that Eliza’s family had apparently made a reasonable effort to prepare the university and assure that the young woman had an orderly transition to college life.

An excerpt from Norton’s column:

I hereby wish to invoke the power of the Internets to show Southern Oregon University how wrong-headed they are by failing to see the benefits (let alone the moral imperative) of including a person with a disability.

… 35 years after the signing of IDEA, students who have experienced inclusive environments throughout their K-12 educations are now knocking on the doors of colleges like yours. Eventually, they’re going to gain access. Wouldn’t it be better if you figured out a way to welcome them?

Related commentary:

An editorial from the [Medford, Oregon] Mail Tribune says Schaaf should be allowed to complete the course, but the editorial writers leave open the question of whether the university has an obligation to serve what they call an “unusual” student. An excerpt:

… While it is difficult from the outside to understand all the issues in this case – SOU isn’t talking about it – it’s clear that universities should be able to bar some students from some classes. Even students who graduate from high school have no intrinsic right to a college education: It’s for those who can meet the academic requirements of entry.
But the university does bear responsibility for making clear who can and can’t attend.

… [The family's] experience speaks not necessarily to whether Schaaf’s presence in the class was appropriate but to how well the university was, or wasn’t, able to handle an unusual student’s desire to enroll.

The university ought to let Schaaf finish out the term in ceramics – and then turn its attention to addressing that issue long-term.

Related coverage:

A website maintained by Eliza Schaaf’s family carries many messages of support.

Georgia settles ADA suit over confinement of people with disabilities

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

From the Los Angeles Times, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, AP/New York Times:

In a decision that is being hailed as a historic step toward enforcing the rights of people with disabilities, the state of Georgia has reached an agreement with the Justice Department to move many people with mental illness or developmental disabilities out of state psychiatric hospitals and into their communities.

The agreement, which settles a lawsuit alleging that the state was engaging in illegal segregation of people with disabilities, follows a federal investigation that found an “alarming frequency” of preventable deaths, suicides and assaults in the hospitals. From the LA Times:

As part of the agreement, Georgia will stop admitting people with developmental disabilities, such as Down syndrome and autism, into its state hospitals by July 1, 2011. The state will move all developmentally disabled patients from state hospitals to “community settings” by July 1, 2015.

The state must also expand community-based services for about 9,000 mentally ill patients.

“This is a monumental step forward for people with mental illness,” said C. Talley Wells, an attorney with the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, one of a number of advocacy groups that worked with the Justice Department under friend-of-the-court status. “No longer will people be confined in a state hospital who could be living much fuller lives in the community.”

More colleges welcome students with intellectual disabilities

Monday, October 18th, 2010

From AP/Boston Herald:

While college programs for students with intellectual disabilities were almost nonexistent as recently as a decade ago, there are now more than 250 of them spread across campuses in more than three dozen states and two Canadian provinces.

Experts say the change has come about in response to demand from the first generation of students with disabilities who got full access to education in their local school districts, a right guaranteed under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

New federal funding rules, which will allow students with intellectual disabilities to receive grants and work-study money, are expected to prompt the creation of even more programs.

Disability advocates say the programs will help students get better jobs, even if they do not earn degrees. Critics call the programs a waste of tax dollars, and charge that they devalue the college experience of students without disabilities.

For more information, see Think College at the Institute for Community Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Columnist: Documentary dismantles stereotypes about DS

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

Boston Herald columnist Lauren Beckham Falcone on HBO’s documentary about a young married couple with Down syndrome:

“Monica & David” is more than a love story; it is a reverential, nuanced movie that shows that people with developmental disabilities want the same things everyone wants out of life: Love. Work. Companionship. Independence. These things aren’t the exception. They’re the expectation.

“Monica & David” airs today on HBO.

Other coverage of the movie’s HBO premiere:

Matthew Gilbert in the Boston Globe:

Reader, I cried … Monica & David” gracefully presents the world of people with Down syndrome at a crossroads, as embodied by these two individuals and their sweet, life-affirming love.

Ellen Gray in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

If you make it through the first 10 minutes dry-eyed, you’ll want to see an ophthalmologist.

ABC News: HBO film asks provocative questions about sex, children

‘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.

‘Pennhurst Asylum’ attraction opens in former Pa. institution

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

From the Philadelphia Inquirer, Delaware County [Pa.] Daily Times, AP, with historic photos from Philly.com:

Pennsylvania’s historic Pennhurst Center, once the focus of landmark litigation that sparked nationwide changes in treatment for people with intellectual disabilities, opened last night as a Halloween-themed haunted house attraction over the protests of disability rights advocates.

Advocates had unsuccessfully sought an injunction to prevent the opening of the “Pennhurst Asylum” show on the grounds of the property, once known as Eastern State Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic.

Even before the injunction was denied on Friday afternoon advocates called for a boycott of the attraction, which references historic abuse and neglect of the institution’s patients and features a “registration nurse” who tells visitors what the asylum’s “doctor” has planned for them. (See video here.)

The crumbling facility was closed in 1987 in the wake of a federal lawsuit alleging years of abuse and neglect. The suit, which spawned years of appeals and three U.S. Supreme Court rulings, alleged that residents had been beaten by nurses, strapped to beds, left naked or alone and drugged into stupors. At the time, the closure of the 600-acre facility was hailed as a civil rights victory.

Pennhurst property owner Richard Chakejian said said he and his crew are “just trying to pull off a fun, orderly event and we’re excited about that.”

House OKs ‘Rosa’s Law’

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Would eliminate term ‘mentally retarded’ from federal law

Press releases from Sen. Barbara Mikulski, The ARC of the United States:

Acting unanimously, the House of Representatives last night approved a bill to remove the terms “mentally retarded” and “mental retardation” from federal education, health and labor laws. The measure, called “Rosas’ Law” in honor of a Maryland girl who has Down syndrome, has already passed the Senate and is expected to be signed into law by President Obama.

“This law is about families fighting for the respect and dignity of their loved ones,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), one of the measure’s sponsors. “This change will have a positive effect on more than 6 million Americans.” She said the law will make the language of federal law consistent with that used by the Centers for Disease Control and the United Nations, and will not affect any services, rights, responsibilities or educational opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities.

Rosa’s law substitutes the terms “intellectual disability” and “individual with an intellectual disability” for the earlier terms, now considered outdated and stigmatizing by many self-advocates and their families. It does not cover entitlement programs, which include SSI, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Peter V. Berns, CEO of The ARC of the United States, hailed the measure’s passage as “another historic milestone in our movement.”

“We understand that language plays a crucial role in how people with intellectual disabilities are perceived and treated in society,” Berns said in a statement. “Changing how we talk about people with disabilities is a critical step in promoting and protecting their basic civil and human rights.”

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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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