Supreme Court of the United States.

Supreme Court Rules Schools Must Provide More Opportunities for Students With Disabilities

Lauren Appelbaum is the communications director of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday in favor of higher educational standards for children with a disability in one of the most important education cases in decades.

The case, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, argued just how much educational benefit public schools must provide. While some lower courts had ruled the need for a “meaningful” educational benefit, others required only a bit more than de minimis – the bare minimum.

During the hearing, the Supreme Court discussed nine different levels of standards of education. They ruled unanimously (8-0) that schools must do more than provide “merely more than de minimis” education for students with a disability and instead provide them with the opportunity to make “appropriately ambitious” progress.

There are roughly 6.4 million students with disabilities between ages 3 to 21. Roughly 13 percent of all American students are students with disabilities, making this case important for a wide group of students.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion, stating that a school must offer an individualized education program that is “reasonably calculated” for each child’s circumstance in order to meet its obligations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

“It cannot be right that the IDEA generally contemplates grade-level advancement for children with disabilities who are fully integrated in the regular classroom, but is satisfied with barely more than de minimis progress for children who are not,” the opinion read.

The “merely more than de minimis” language has been used in other special education cases in the lower courts, including by Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court. Gorsuch answered questions on the new ruling during his hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday.

The Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, a national legal advocacy organization advancing the rights of people with mental disabilities, often advocates for students with disabilities to receive the educational opportunities other students receive.

Prior to the decision, Ira Burnim, Legal Director of the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, said: “We hope that the Supreme Court will issue a decision in Endrew F. that recognizes that an ‘appropriate’ education for students with disabilities is one that reflects the expectations we have for all students.”

Each year nearly 400,000 students with disabilities leave school – almost 40 percent without a high school degree. Only 65 percent of students with disabilities complete high school, which is a key contributor leading to just 1-in-3 Americans with disabilities having a job, causing many people with disabilities to live a life of poverty.

This, in turn, leads to high costs of government benefits for those not working, plus the increased risk of falling into the school-to-prison pipeline. Indeed, there are more than 750,000 people with disabilities behind bars in our country today, most of whom are illiterate.

“As someone with a disability, who also knows what it means to parent a public school student with multiple disabilities, I am thrilled with this decision,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of RespectAbility, a nonprofit fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities. “School for students with disabilities today can be a disaster. Our family had to move so that our children could go to a great public school that does the right things for students with disabilities. However, most people do not have the flexibility to pick up and move to a different school district. Every child should have access to the education and skills they need to succeed. This Supreme Court decision can mean that students with disabilities can succeed, just like anyone else.”

In 1975, Congress passed a federal law requiring school districts to provide a “free appropriate public education” for children with disabilities, which includes individualized education plan (IEP) for students to be included in public schools. The law also provided federal funds for these services. The act was renamed IDEA in 1990. Unfortunately, IDEA has never been fully funded, leading to some school districts struggling to keep up.

Endrew F. (Drew), a boy with autism, was not improving in his public school, so his parents sent him to a private school where he progressed at a much quicker pace. Under IDEA, parents can receive tuition reimbursement from the school district if their child does not receive enough “educational benefit” from public schooling. Drew’s parents were denied, leading to this case.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, in Denver, ruled that the school district was required to provide Drew only with an education that gave him a “benefit” that was “merely more than de minimis” – and that the school district had done that. The Supreme Court accepted Drew’s parents’ challenge to that decision and ultimately rejected it.

In the Supreme Court, the Bazelon Center and the law firm Kellogg Huber Hansen filed a “friend of the court” or “amicus” brief on behalf of six former U.S. Department of Education officials responsible for implementing the IDEA. The brief explained that with advances in special education practice, the great majority of students with disabilities can perform as well in school as other students, and that schools across the country are implementing these practices today to help students with even significant disabilities, like Drew’s, achieve proficiency in math, language arts, science and other subjects. These educational advances, the brief argued, are the foundation for the changes Congress made to the IDEA in 1997 and 2004 to ensure that public schools provide students with disabilities the individualized instruction and supportive services they need to learn and meet the grade level standards to which other students are held.

“There is tremendous good news for employers and taxpayers in this decision as well because people with disabilities can also be tremendously talented,” Mizrahi added. “When they get the schooling they need, people with disabilities can bring unique insights, innovations, characteristics and talents to workplaces that benefit employers, staff and communities. CEO Charles Schwab is dyslexic, as is Richard Branson. Google, SAP and other employers have found that people with Autism can be gifted in STEM jobs. Also, companies like Walgreens, Walmart, AMC and Marriott – and healthcare and eldercare institutions – have found that hiring people with disabilities is a great talent recruitment strategy for onboarding loyal and successful employees. Scientist Stephen Hawking, a genius who is unlocking the secrets of the universe, and Sheldon Adelson, a Las Vegas billionaire and job creator, are both wheelchair users. Hotel magnate Steve Wynn is legally blind, and Arthur Young, the co-founder of Ernst & Young (now known as EY), was deaf. So this Supreme Court decision is great for our economy as well.”

Invisible disabilities can be just as life-affecting as visible disabilities. One-in-five people have brain-based learning and attention issues like dyslexia, ADHD and auditory processing disorder. Even though they are as smart as their peers, far too many experience failure early in school and begin a downward spiral that lasts a lifetime.

Individuals with disabilities also are largely underrepresented in higher education. There are 1.2 million people with disabilities ages 16-20 in the U.S. Among people age 25 and older in 2014, only 16.4 percent of those with a disability had completed at least a bachelor’s degree. In contrast to this, 34.6 percent of people with no disability had completed at least a bachelor’s degree in the same year.


This Man Is Giving a Voice to People With Disabilities From All Over the World

Watercolor illustration of a young woman.

How to Advocate for Yourself as a Young Adult With a Disability

Regrets. We all have them. Things we wished we hadn’t done. Or things we wished we had. Today I wanted to talk about an experience I had in college and what I wish I would have done differently.

Our church denomination makes bulletins that follow the lectionary for the entire church. However, not all churches in our denomination use these bulletins. The church I grew up in does not. They make their own. The denominational newsletters more often than not use photographs of stock images, etc. to convey the message of a particular Sunday. Sometimes pictures used would be of a church in the area or some such.

While on summer break from college one year, I attended my parents’ church (the church I grew up in). A member approached me after services one Sunday with an idea. He had been picked by our denomination to produce a concept for a new set of newsletter covers to be distributed to churches denomination-wide. The scripture used would be Luke 14:12-14:

“Then Jesus said to the man who had invited Him, “When you host a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or brothers or relatives or rich neighbors. Otherwise, they may invite you in return, and you will be repaid. But when you host a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, and you will be blessed. Since they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Now of course we don’t use words like “lame” and “outcast” to describe people with disabilities anymore. Those words are terribly outdated and offensive. Thankfully other translations of the Bible use more appropriate wording that doesn’t change the meaning of the original passage.

But semantics isn’t the point of this blog. I want to focus on my conversation with this producer.

After he approached me to ask if I wanted to be a part of the photo shoot, he described his idea. I would
sit in my wheelchair in the front row of the church next to all the other disabled people from our church. Then we’d hold hymnals and pretend it was a regular church service as photos were being taken.

As a young adult, I instantly had a few misgivings about this concept, but didn’t immediately decline to
participate. The first of which was that all the disabled people in our church didn’t sit together in a group. Not that we all didn’t like each other, we just chose to sit with our families.

The second misgiving was that at the time, I didn’t use my wheelchair during church. Just crutches. I suggested I use only my crutches for the photo shoot. After I mentioned this concern and the follow-up suggestion, the producer looked at me a bit smugly and said, “Just pretend you are acting! You are playing a role!”

Um, what?

Now 37-year-old me would have laid down a litany before him of why that statement was offensive and too rude to even say aloud. But 21-year-old me just stood there in disbelief, wondering how anyone could think that suggestion was OK. And in a move that has haunted me every day since, I decided to go through with the photo shoot.

After it was over, I ran into the bathroom and cried, feeling so ashamed that I hadn’t spoken up and told him I wasn’t going to participate because it was an offensive idea. The idea that I could pretend to be disabled.

My life is not pretend. Every day I wake up in a disabled body and go about my day. It is not an act. And years later, I wish I had stood up for myself and told the producer that what he was doing was damaging and exploitative.

So what should you do when you are young and a situation like this happens? I have a few options for you. Things I wish I would have said:

1. “No.” Just simply say no. Don’t feel pressured to give a further explanation. You don’t owe anyone an explanation.

If you’d like to give an explanation, say:

2. “I don’t feel comfortable pretending that way.”

3. “Doing this would make me feel exploited.”

Being asked to do something you don’t want to do or feel uncomfortable doing can be awkward. But advocating for yourself in these situations can help others to understand your point of view.

Follow this journey on Be Anxious About Nothing.

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Wheelchair going off-roading.

What My Wheelchair Has Done for Me

Wheelchairs are very expensive pieces of equipment. My first privately owned chair came to almost £2500 and my most recent one added up to £3800. To some, these figures may come as a surprise but to others, it’s nothing new.

My wheelchair became my legs at around the age of 7. It gave me the independence my legs failed to provide me with. Today, it provides me with the independence I’ve always dreamed of. It gets me out of the house, transports me around my university campus and whizzes me up and down the basketball court.

Who’d have thought four wheels could make the world of difference in someone’s life? What can a chair do for someone?

My wheelchair has supported me through the happiest of times as well as the darkest of times.

My wheelchair has helped me to collect awards.

Soaking up the sun in Barcelona.
Soaking up the sun in Barcelona.

My wheelchair has kept me stable when making public speeches and lectures.

My wheelchair has guided me over long grass, bumpy pavements and wet sludge to enable me to complete the Race for Life.

My wheelchair has helped me to play snooker and pool… and on rare occasions, helped me to win!

My wheelchair has kept me upright when I’ve been out at parties, when maybe I should have been on the floor.

My wheelchair has helped me get to lectures and kept me comfortable.

My wheelchair has helped me to navigate in between the mass of slow walkers.

My wheelchair has taken me up hills and launched me back down them too.

My wheelchair has helped travel up 13 floors of a hotel.

My wheelchair has gotten me into an airplane and back out again.

My wheelchair has taken me to some of the most beautiful countries in the world, glided me over the sand and sat with me in the sea.

My wheelchair has gotten me up and down curbs.

My wheelchair has helped me dance on the dance floor.

My wheelchair has helped me provide the children in my care with a positive perspective of disability.

My wheelchair has shoved me down steps.

My wheelchair has gone through streams at my local park.

My wheelchair has gotten me stuck in the mud.

My wheelchair has left some amazing tire tracks in the glistening snow.

My wheelchair has helped me get out of some dangerous situations.

My wheelchair has transported me down to operating rooms and back again.

My wheelchair has taken me from one end of the basketball court to the other.

My wheelchair has whizzed me around the children’s classrooms when supporting them with their English lessons.

My wheelchair has enabled me to join in during physical education lessons.

My wheelchair has reminded me in times of self-doubt that I can do it.

My wheelchair has experienced the wonderful times, the scary times, the hurtful times, the joyful times and the saddest of times.

My wheelchair has never let me down… well, almost never. We’re a double act.

I can only ever rely on my wheelchair to get me through this life… so to me, my chair is my world.

I may go through quite a few of them in my lifetime, but each one will come on a personal journey with me. Let’s make it a memorable one.

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Livi Rae ads featuring models of different shapes and sizes

Livi Rae Lingerie Refuses to Take Down Ads Featuring Disabled and Plus-Sized Models

Livi Rae Lingerie, a lingerie company in Kennesaw, Georgia, is fighting back after it was told to remove its storefront ads which feature a model with a disability as well as plus-sized models. The company, which is know for its diversity, sells products for a variety of different body types including those who have had mastectomies as well as those with prosthetics and other disabilities.

The store’s current ad features Stacey Shortley, a model with multiple sclerosis who uses a wheelchair; Tisa Edge, an African-American model and plus-size models Marie Layne and Bubble Bordeaux.

On Monday, the company shared a post to its Facebook page stating, “Our landlord’s told us to take down our latest campaign off of our windows because they deemed it ‘in bad taste.’ There’s not a thing wrong with our windows and we’re fighting to keep them up!”

To help get the word out, Livi Rae Lingerie invited followers to show their support using the hashtag #NoShameLivirae. “We’ve never had to clear an ad with the management property in the past. We were told that the ad is in ‘poor taste,’ but no one has explained what that means,” co-owner Cynthia Decker told Yahoo Style





“We absolutely are not taking down our windows. We poured out our heart and souls along side these everyday women who bared their bodies to help women feel better about themselves,” the store’s other owner, Molly Hopkins told The Independent.

Customers and fans shared the company’s sentiment, sharing its hashtag on social media.




Thanks to an “overwhelming response from customers and fans,” Livi Rae Lingerie announced its management company is letting it keep its ad campaign.

Boy holding sign that reads "No one should lie on a toilet floor."

Why I'm Campaigning for Changing Places Toilets During Disability Awareness Month

March 10-12, 2017 marks Disabled Access Day in the U.K., and March is Disability Awareness Month in the U.S. It’s a great opportunity to shout about all the great accessible places we know and love, but it also gives us a platform to highlight all the problems the disabled community faces because of inaccessibility.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines inclusion as meaning “everyone should be able to use the same facilities, take part in the same activities, and enjoy the same experiences, including people who have a disability or other disadvantage.

Without accessibility, there is quite simply no inclusion.

Until I became a mother to a disabled child, accessibility wasn’t something I really thought of much. This isn’t something I’m proud of. In fact I’m quite ashamed. It just didn’t cross my mind because I never had to deal with it. A classic case of ignorance is bliss. But there are so many issues disabled people and carers face because of lack of access.

One issue that affects my family is a lack of accessible toilets, so I campaign for Changing Places toilets. For those who don’t know, a Changing Places toilet is slightly larger than a typical disabled toilet with an adult-sized changing bench and a hoist. My 5-year-old son Brody is still in diapers, and there is never anywhere I can safely change him when we are out now that he is too big for a baby changing table.

In Scotland where I live, a wonderful charity called PAMIS forms part of the Changing Places consortium. Thanks to PAMIS, campaigners around the country and of course mindful businesses who understand the importance of social inclusion, there are now 144 Changing Places in Scotland. And there are 938 in the UK in total.

However, while this is great, we need a lot more.

So on Disabled Access Day, I’d like to educate and make you aware of some typical scenarios faced by disabled people and their families simply because of a lack of Changing Places toilets.

  • Loved ones changed on unhygienic toilet floors because there simply isn’t any other option.
  • Children changed in cold and uncomfortable car boots (trunks) in front of passers-by, stripped of their dignity.
  • Families leaving days out together because there is no fully accessible toilet facility.
  • Children missing developmental opportunities to become toilet trained because they can’t use a toilet when they are outside of their home as they require one with a hoist.
  • Disabled people avoiding places – the supermarket, their local shopping center, parks, places of interest – and staying at home because they cannot go to the toilet in a safe and dignified manner.
  • Children missing out on play and learning opportunities that other children can access purely because there is no toilet suitable for them.
  • Disabled people avoiding drinking while going out so they do not need to go to the toilet, risking dehydration and urinary infections.
  • Disabled people medicating themselves in order to prevent needing to go to the toilet while waiting at hospital appointments (many hospitals don’t even include Changing Places).
  • Disabled people who can use a toilet with a hoist needing to wear a diaper/adult pads because there are no hoist-assisted toilets.
  • Children with feeding tubes and tracheostomies, which are supposed to be kept clean, being changed in unhygienic places.
  • People who intermittently catheterize having to do so in unhygienic places when ideally they should be done in as sterile an environment as possible in order to minimize the risk of urinary infections.
  • Disabled people being put at risk of pressure ulcers due to a lack of hoisting equipment.
  • Risk of significant injury to the disabled person if they are dropped by their parent or carer.
    Parents and carers sustaining back injuries due to moving a disabled person to change them or lift them onto a toilet without a hoist.

That’s a big list, isn’t it? All because of just one accessibility issue faced by families like mine.

While we listen to politicians and businesses boast about social inclusion, it simply doesn’t exist without these facilities.

I won’t give up campaigning for my child to have the basic human right of access to a toilet when we’re out and about. Why should he be excluded? Why shouldn’t our family be welcomed everywhere like all other families? But I must admit I find it draining.

I appreciate that it is not possible for smaller businesses to have these facilities, and sometimes it may just not be practical. But there is no reason why big organizations, like shopping centers, supermarkets, theme parks, airports and train stations shouldn’t have them.

The truth of the matter is that there is a cost to my child’s inclusion and a cost to his dignity. And there shouldn’t be.

It’s sad that in 2017, inclusion and dignity is something we still have to fight for.

Learn more at Changing Places.

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