Category Archives: Legislation

Autism CARES Act Signed into Law – Transition to Adulthood a Major Focus

The Autism CARES Act, signed into law by President Obama, allocate 1.3 billion dollars over the next five years to autism research, early detection, and intervention, with an emphasis on transitioning to adulthood. It will also focus on life skills, employment, housing, and transportation.
Read more here.

ADA Celebrates 24th Anniversary

Independence was celebrated in many ways during July. People with Disabilities and supporters celebrated the anniversary of a law that has provided more opportunities for independence in their lives.

This month marks the 24th anniversary of the Americans with  Disabilities Act.

On July 26th 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law. The ADA, he declared, was “. . .the world’s first comprehensive declaration of equality for people with disabilities.” Its impact was monumental. From employment and transportation, to government services and telecommunications, the ADA promised equal access and equal opportunity for people with disabilities from all walks of life.

For twenty-four years the ADA has ensured people with disabilities protection from employment discrimination, equal access to public places like schools, businesses, and government buildings, and access to communications technology enabling the free transmission of ideas and information. And as a result, more people with disabilities than ever are able to achieve their potential. In the words of Bob Williams, former Associate Commissioner for Social Security’s Office of Employment Support Programs, “The Americans with Disabilities Act works.”  Mr. Williams was a leader in the fight to pass the ADA and witnessed the signing ceremony.

Read the article here.

Technology, Equality and Accessibility in College and Higher Education (TEACH) Act

A bill that was initally introduced in November 2013 by U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman Thomas Petri (R-Wis.) is being re-introduced by United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), as “bipartisan legislation that would help strengthen the accessibility of educational technologies for college students with disabilities” according the Senator Warren’s website.

Senator Warren spoke at a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing on February 27, 2014 to announce the introduction of the legislation:

A summary of the previously introduced bill by rep. Petri states:

Technology, Equality and Accessibility in College and Higher Education Act or the TEACH Act – Directs the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board) to develop accessibility guidelines for electronic instructional materials and related information technologies in institutions of higher education (IHEs).

Requires those guidelines to: (1) include performance criteria to ensure that electronic instructional materials and related information technologies are accessible to the blind and disabled; (2) be consistent with the standards for technical and functional performance criteria issued pursuant to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; and (3) be, to the extent practicable, consistent with national and international accessibility standards for those materials and technologies.

Directs the Access Board to review and, as appropriate, amend the guidelines every three years to reflect technological advances or changes in electronic instructional materials and related information technologies.

Deems IHEs that use electronic instructional materials and related information technologies that comply with the guidelines to be in compliance with nondiscrimination provisions under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

Read the text of the legislation here.

Read the fact sheet on the legislation here.

Changes to the Workforce Investment Act: Information and Call to Action

This PACER (Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights) alert was excerpted from the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition E-News, which can be found at http://www.ncset.org/enews/.

PACER Legislative Alert – Supporting Youth With Disabilities

Congress is considering changes to the Workforce Investment Act and the federal Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Program that assists youth and adults with disabilities to get the education and training they need to obtain and retain a job. While Congress is trying to strengthen the VR services that students with disabilities would receive as they transition out of high school, some possible changes would hurt families of youth with disabilities. PACER is asking families and others to call their representatives to make the following points critical to families and youth:

(1) Oppose moving the Vocational Rehabilitation and Assistive Technology programs out of the Department of Education (the Senate version of this legislation seeks to move Vocational Rehabilitation to the Department of Labor and the Assistive Technology program to the Department of Health and Human Services, but separating these programs and moving them out of the Department of Education would disconnect them from a culture valuing parental involvement and the other programs that support students with disabilities, and such a move would damage the strong family connections and important services provided to youth and adults with disabilities by providing such services together in Department of Education);

(2) Strengthen competitive employment awareness provisions (ensuring that young adults with disabilities transitioning from high school to employment are aware that jobs which pay the minimum wage and higher are available is an important aspect of providing individuals the opportunity to reach their potential, and the bill could be strengthened by ensuring that there are no exceptions to making sure young adults are made aware of the possibility of working in a competitive workplace, in addition to the non-competitive, often less than minimum wage, work possibilities).

The phone numbers of Congressional Representatives can be found at the website.

http://house.gov/representatives/find/

U.S. Government Hiring More People with Disabilities: Still Not Meeting Goals

Posted in the Baltimore Sun (February 8, 2014)

While more people with disabilities are being hired by the U.S. Government, under the call by President Obama to for more diversity and inclusion in the federal government, the goals for employment are still not being met. Employer attitudes are a significant barrier to reaching the goals.

More individuals with disabilities worked for the federal government in 2012 than any time since at least as far back as 1980, the Office of Personnel Management reported recently, and the percentage of workers with disabilities hired each year continues to grow.

Advocates call the progress commendable, but say more can be done to bring down the nearly 12 percent unemployment rate for disabled workers.

The OPM reported that individuals with disabilities accounted for nearly 12 percent of the federal workforce, or about 220,000 people in 2012, up from 7 percent in 1980.

Obama issued an executive order in 2010 directing government agencies to redouble their efforts to recruit, hire and retain individuals with disabilities. That year, disabled workers made up about 10 percent of the federal workforce.

….Mark Perriello, president of the American Association of People with Disabilities, said agencies need to train hiring managers about how to interview individuals with impairments and dispel misconceptions about bringing them on staff.

One misconception, Perriello said, is that disabled workers need expensive accommodations in order to work. He said the average cost to accommodate a person with a disability is $35.

Read the article here.

Proponents of ABLE Act Speak out

Advocates of the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2013 (ABLE Act) are speaking out in an effort to get it signed into law:

“My name is Sara Wolff. I am a 31 year-old from Moscow, Pennsylvania, who happens to have Down syndrome but that doesn’t stop me from achieving “my” better life. I work as a law clerk and also at Keystone Community Resources in the Office of Advocacy. I am a board member of the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS). I’m calling on Congress to pass the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act (S. 313/H.R. 647), a bill that will help individuals with disabilities to save for their futures.

I’m 31 years old, and I happen to have Down syndrome. I have two jobs, and lead an independent life, however, when my mom died suddenly last year, things got a lot harder for me and my family. I want to support myself and save money for my future, but if I save more than $2,000, I’ll lose the benefits I depend on like Medicaid and Social Security.

That’s because of a law that says that people with disabilities like me can’t have more than $2,000 in assets or we risk losing the benefits we need to live. For me, living on my own, that means I can’t even save enough to put down rent and a security deposit on an apartment. This law keeps me dependent on other people, and that’s really scary now that my mom is gone.

But, there is a solution: the ABLE Act.

When the ABLE Act passes into law this year, it will change my life forever. I lost my mother this past year, Connie, to a sudden, rapid illness. With my whole life ahead of me, I need an ABLE account to plan for my future. And, I am not alone, like most individuals with disabilities, people with Down syndrome and other conditions are out living their parents.

Read the rest of the post and view the petition here .

This video from Our Special Voice explains the ABLE Act in a little more detail:

Massachusetts legislation would offer funding and regulations for transition services

Posted in the Daily Free Press, Boston, January 22, 2014

David’s future could have been an easy case.

The 21-year-old from Amherst was never confused about his future. He never decided to veer off his chosen track: to work on cars. He did not gravitate toward an inaccessible or risky career. He had no interest in being an artist, a doctor or an actorHe wanted to work on cars, and his Autism Spectrum Disorder did not have to get in the way of that dream.  

David, who chose to partially remain anonymous, is one of many young adults who went through the Massachusetts statewide special education program, which provides specialized curriculum, counselors and activities to students with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

Beginning in preschool, students meet counselors and advisors that help them learn skills they can use to live independently. Once these young adults approach their graduation date, they begin to discuss placement options with their parents and school counselors in Individualized Transition Planning meetings. These meetings are designed to help students find their places in the world once they leave the public school system, whether that places is in a sheltered workshop, a college environment, a Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission Independent Living Program (MRC), or at home with Department of Developmental Services checks.

Nonetheless, the funding for and the organization of this program leave many young adults like David with few-to-no options.

….Read more about David here.

Two bills in state legislature may improve conditions for youth with developmental disabilities: The Bridges to Success bill regulates the Individualized Transition Meetings, forcing representatives from whichever adult services agency the student and counselors choose to attend the ITP meetings. This requirement ensures the chosen option for the student is a good fit. It also forces schools to begin ITP meetings at least two years before graduation, so more students avoid the pre-graduation rush that David tried to avoid. Finally, it institutes more community programs for adults with disabilities, so various new graduates can meet and talk to others about how to become self-sufficient.

The second bill, Passage to Independence, provides an extra $23.4 million to the Department of Developmental Services to provide more options for people with developmental disabilities who are transitioning out of the school system.

Both of these bills heard testimony on Nov. 5 and are still awaiting judgment in committee. Many young adults with disabilities from across Massachusetts came to testify on behalf of both bills.

Read the rest of the article here.

The AGE-IN Act

The Assistance in Gaining Experience, Independence, and Navigation Act of 2013, or the  Age In Act , is a bill that was introduced in June, 2013 by Sen. Robert “Bob” Menéndez [D-NJ].  It is currently in the “referred to committee” status.  The bill’s aim is:

To amend the Public Health Services Act to provide research, training, and navigator services to youth and young adults on the verge of aging out of the secondary educational system, and for other purposes.

A July, 2013 post on Sen. Menedez’s website further explains the bill, which is specifically aimed at providing more services to young adults with autism who age out of the public school system:

 In an effort to expand the nation’s understanding of – and services for – young adults and their families living with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), U.S. Senator Robert Menendez today unveiled legislation that would provide federal funding to research and evaluate services currently available for young people “aging out” of existing education and support systems, develop a national strategic action plan, and provide training grants to put the plan into action in helping transitioning youth to lead productive, independent lives.

The Assistance in Gaining Experience, Independence and Navigation (AGE-IN) Act of 2013 will address the needs of  aging-out youth with ASD in two phases:  The first phase is designed to identify the most effective interventions and existing support service infrastructure in order to develop a comprehensive training plan;  The second phase puts this plan to action by providing grants to existing entities – such as University Centers of Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Education, Research and Service – to train a new generation of Transition Navigators.  Transition Navigators will be trained to provide interdisciplinary and comprehensive services to address the needs of transitioning youths including providing services aimed at accessing continuing education (including vocational training) and competitive employment, but also in obtaining life’s other necessities such as health care, housing, transportation and community integration….

Menendez’s bill is designed to conduct research, develop techniques and implement training for support services that will help ensure young adults with ASD have the opportunities to make the transition to adulthood a success.

Read the entire post here.

Sen. Menedez’s speech at the unveiling of the AGE-IN Act:

Read more about and track this bill here.

Best Kept Secret (PBS Documentary)

“Best Kept Secret” is a documentary film (PBS, fall 2013) that chronicles a teacher’s journey in transition her students with autism to adulthood.

At a public school in Newark, N.J., the staff answers the phone by saying, “You’ve reached John F. Kennedy High School, Newark’s best-kept secret.” JFK provides an exceptional environment for students with special-education needs. In Best Kept Secret, Janet Mino, who has taught a class of young men for four years, is on an urgent mission. She races against the clock as graduation approaches for her severely autistic minority students. Once they graduate and leave the security of this nurturing place, their options for living independently will be few. Mino must help them find the means to support themselves before they “age out” of the system.

Since the film’s release, filmmakers scheduled a congressional showing to further the progress of the Age In Act and teacher Janet Mino continues to develop programs to improve transition services for youth with autism.

Read more about the film here.

Download the film on iTunes here.

 

Pennsylvania program helping youth with disabilities prepare for adulthood

The United Way of Allegheny County’s “21 and Able” Program is  Entering its Third Year Helping Bridge Gap from Youth to Adulthood for Those with Disabilities.

In the first two years of 21 and Able, the effort has worked on public policy and has continued to work with local, state and national partners on potential changes. In 2013, a new pilot program was launched that seeks to help people with disabilities better fit into companies. Giant Eagle, The United Way, Allegheny County and Blind & Vision Rehabilitation Services have partnered on the Career Transition Liaison Project.

“The career transition liaison is embedded into the company,” said Mary Esther Van Shura with Allegheny County. “The reason for doing that is frequently when individuals are in corporations or in any business it’s not just knowing the technical aspects of the job, but also the culture.”

The career liaison will reach out to various school districts and will work with employed individuals to ensure their success in the company. Since the project’s start in August five young people with disabilities have been hired by Giant Eagle in positions such as meat wrapper, front end clerk, bakery clerk and produce clerk. Giant Eagle is in the process of screening 14 additional students from 11 area schools. The idea came about from the embedded journalist model.

Continue reading here.