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

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

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The Supreme Court just ruled schools must provide more opportunities for students with disabilities.

The vote was unanimous.

Endrew F. V. Douglas County School District, argued how much educational benefit public schools must provide.

In 1975, Congress passed a federal law requiring  a “free appropriate public education” for children with disabilities.

Later renamed IDEA, this includes individualized education plan (IEP) and federal funds for these services.

Drew, a boy with autism, wasn’t receiving adequate education in public school so he was moved to a private school by his parents.


The school district refused to reimburse tuition as required by law.

The Denver Courts ruled in favor of the school district,  stating that Drew received a “benefit” that was “merely more than de minimis.”

Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s nominee for The Supreme Court said that “merely more than de minimis” is acceptable.

The Supreme Court accepted Drew’s parents’ challenge to that decision and ultimately rejected it.

The supreme court ruling stated 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.

“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.” -Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of RespectAbility.

“Every child should have access to the education and skills they need to succeed.”


Boy in wheelchair at the playground.

How to Make Playgrounds More Inclusive for Children With Disabilities

Playgrounds are a staple of childhood. They’re free, widely available and often reduce stress for moms and dads as they struggle through some of those tough days. The only problem is, not everyone gets to enjoy everything a playground has to offer. Playgrounds are only helpful to children who can access them, which makes it necessary to make sure playgrounds are inclusive to all children.

What Is the Difference Between Inclusive and Accessible?

One important point that needs to be made is that accessible doesn’t meant all children can enjoy the playground. In other words, accessible doesn’t mean inclusive. This is an important distinction because while playgrounds are more accessible these days than they used to be, they are still missing the mark.

In many cases, accessible means children with disabilities can get to the playground. In some cases, the playgrounds are compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), and some of the equipment is as well, but most of it is still unusable for many children.

ADA-Compliant Isn’t Enough

It’s a common misconception that playgrounds are inclusive as long as they are ADA-compliant. Being ADA-compliant isn’t enough to make the playgrounds usable for all children, and there needs to be awareness about this issue.

For example, some playgrounds may have accessible swings that are designed for children with disabilities, yet the playground is covered in rubber mulch that is impossible for wheelchairs to move through. The worst part? The rubber mulch is actually ADA-compliant.

To create a truly inclusive playground for all children, it’s going to take some understanding of disabilities and how children will use the equipment, as well as the recognition that ADA-compliant doesn’t meet the requirements of all.

Build Awareness

One of the best things you can do as a parent is educate those around you and build awareness to the issues your local playgrounds have when it comes to children with disabilities. Parents who haven’t experienced a child with disabilities will likely be very surprised to learn that in the United States, one in six kids has a developmental disability and about another 5 percent have some other disability.

Start Small

Help your town understand that while an all-inclusive playground is very expensive, it’s OK to start small and make changes that have a big impact. Something as simple as replacing the rubber mulch in the example above with something more wheelchair-friendly would really help the playground become more inclusive, since it already has special equipment in place.

Analyze Your Current Playground

Take a look at your current playground and determine what’s working and what’s not. Do you have accessible equipment already? Is it easy for disabled kids to play with the other kids? Can all children easily get to the equipment and enjoy it?

Make a list of strengths and weaknesses as you analyze the playground, and try to look at it from the point of view of a child with disabilities. If you are a parent with an able-bodied child, ask a parent of a disabled child to join forces with you and objectively look at the playground. Consider all types of disabilities and the physical limitations that child may experience on the playground.

When you are looking at your current playground, don’t forget to consider parents in the mix. Parents need to have a comfortable place to sit and watch their children and be out of the hot sun, or they won’t want to use the playground as much. A nice seating area with benches under the shade of a few trees will change the playground environment and make it much safer with parents standing by. And remember, some parents have disabilities too!

Make an Action Plan

Once you know which areas are causing the most problems to children with disabilities, you can begin crafting an action plan. Prioritize the issues your playground has in order of importance and budget. Be objective.

Write this plan up and send it to the officials in charge of the playground. They may not act on your proposal, but it does help them to see there is a problem and that the community intends to do something about it.

Begin Raising Funds

There are many grants available to help cities pay for inclusive playgrounds because they can be expensive. Do your research and determine what’s needed to apply for a grant in your area. Additionally, you can gather a group of parents together and start a fundraiser with all proceeds going to the new playground.

In some cases, you’ll have a lot of support from the area you live in, but in others you may not. The important thing is to do what you can, when you can, where you can, and you will be one step closer to getting an inclusive playground for all children.

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U.S. Capitol building.

To the Republicans Voting on My Health Care, From an Employed Person With a Disability

Dear Congressional Republicans,

My name is Karin, and I’m just an ordinary citizen from Mike Pence’s home state of Indiana. But I’m writing to you today regarding the American Health Care Act because my job, my home, my very life depends on you voting against this bill.

First of all, I think you should know I was raised in a Republican household, although in all honesty, I’m not one today. But my parents taught me certain values they said were core to your party. Personal responsibility. Education. The belief that I can achieve my dreams if I work hard enough. I’m proud to say I’ve succeeded at most of those. I have a Master’s degree and a job I love. I have my own home and four beautiful dogs. I was raised to keep working hard and never give up, so that’s what I’ve done.

There are some things you might not like about me — I’m gay, and I voted for your arch-nemesis, Hillary Clinton. But I favor financial responsibility when it comes to government, and a balanced budget. We just disagree on the priorities. I’m also a big supporter of employment. I don’t believe in judging people who receive government benefits, but I believe there’s a lot we can do to bring more people into the workforce and make having a job more rewarding.

But here’s the problem, Republicans. Your health care plan will do the exact opposite of solving these issues. And it would actually cost more money, hurt those who can’t work, and put a lot of people out of work, including me.

I’ve told you quite a bit about my life so far, but I’ve left out one important detail. I have a disability. My brain was damaged due to lack of oxygen during birth and I have cerebral palsy. It’s not mild, either — I use a power wheelchair and need help with getting out of bed, dressing, and many other tasks of daily living. Doctors believed I wouldn’t achieve much in life, but my parents refused to accept that, and so do I. Through sheer determination I got to where I am, and I want to keep moving up. But I can’t, not without your help.

I am able to work, and indeed live, because of Medicaid home and community-based services (HCBS) via a Medicaid waiver. Don’t know what that is? It’s a program that allows those of us with disabilities to live in our own homes and get the care we need to survive and thrive. It means I can hire people I choose to care for me and fire people who don’t do their job. It means I can live my life like everyone else instead of having to be in a nursing home. And by the way, it saves you money. Yet it’s on your chopping block.

The issue begins with how Medicaid prioritizes funding for long-term services and supports. Currently, all state Medicaid programs are required to cover institutional care, but home and community-based services are optional. So even though the Supreme Court ruled in Olmstead that people with disabilities have the right to live where we choose, many states lagged behind — until the ACA. The ACA includes Community First Choice, a provision that offers additional federal funding to states to provide in-home personal care services. Eight states have utilized the funding; according to the AARP, a survey of just four shows that they’ve served over 500,000 people so far. But the AHCA would repeal parts of the ACA, including Community First Choice. And block grants would result in less funding, meaning states are likely to cut “optional” home care services, even though it will cost them more in the long run.

If you cut home and community-based services, people like me will end up in nursing homes, and the government will have to pay for our care there instead of our care at home. Nobody wants to be trapped in a nursing home. Would you, especially at the age of 40? If I was forced into a nursing home, I would be imprisoned for committing no crime, simply for being born with a disability and — gasp — wanting to live the American dream. But to make a point you’ll like even better, nursing homes are expensive — twice as expensive as home care. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, in 2015 the median cost per person of living at home with home health aides was $45,760. The median cost of a nursing facility was $91,250. That’s a massive cost difference and an opportunity to do your party’s favorite thing — cut government spending. Just imagine how much money you could save by reducing the nursing home population and helping millions of people stay in the community with their families and friends.

At the beginning of this letter, I talked about work and mentioned I have a job. This may surprise you, but many people with disabilities, including many receiving Medicaid, want to and/or do work. There are various work incentives that allow us to have a job and keep our benefits — but they are overly complicated and frequently at risk because of changes to the law such as what you’re proposing. Currently, I’m on Indiana’s MEDWorks program for working people with disabilities, which allows me to make a modest income every month and deduct my disability-related expenses from my countable income. I pay a small monthly premium and can keep the home care I need to survive. But these programs are at risk too, and we could be forced to choose between our job and being able to do things as basic as getting out of bed and using the bathroom. What kind of choice is that?

Your AHCA allows states to require Medicaid recipients without disabilities to work. While I agree this rule shouldn’t be applied to people with disabilities, as some people can’t work at all, you could save money by making it easier for those of us who can work to do so. It’s frustrating that I can’t work as much as I want without going over income limits, and have to rely on Medicaid to pay for my home care. I should be in the middle class, but I can’t be because I’d lose Medicaid HCBS. Without Medicaid, the cost of my care exceeds my yearly income. Aside from a high-priced lawyer or business executive, there’s no job I could do that would allow me to live and pay for my caregivers. So beyond a certain point, I’m essentially punished for working.

So what could fix this? It’s simple. Require private insurance to pay for home and community-based services. I have a secondary insurance policy through my father, and could get insurance through my employer if I increased my hours. If private insurance policies had to cover in-home care, I probably wouldn’t need Medicaid at all, and neither would millions of other people with disabilities who work or have a parent, partner, or spouse with private insurance.

I know many of you get campaign funds from insurance companies and wouldn’t want to cut into their profits, but the number of people requiring HCBS is relatively small, so the cost increase spread over the whole privately insured population is low. We’d be looking at a few more dollars per month per person — a lot less than the AHCA which would raise premiums by an average of 13 percent.

You and I may part ways on who should pay the extra few dollars — I think we should charge the rich folks 20 bucks a month and the rest of us should only pay an extra buck or two. But in the long run, we’d all benefit. Many people with disabilities would be able to go back to work or work for the first time. Many jobs would be created in the home care field, better jobs than those in nursing homes. People coming out of nursing homes would enrich our economy as they pick out furniture for their new apartments, buy gifts for their families, and pay taxes. They would enrich our culture with their unique perspectives. They would have the chance to be part of America.

I don’t believe we should attach a monetary value to human life, but if we can improve people’s lives and save money, everybody wins. Republicans. Democrats. Everybody. So please vote no on the AHCA, and let’s go back to the drawing board. I’m not an accountant, and unlike Donald Trump, I’ve always known this health care stuff is complicated. But I believe if we support people to live in their communities, we will strengthen families, improve health outcomes, increase employment, and reduce costs. So let’s make it happen.

Follow this journey on Free Wheelin’.

Editor’s note: This story reflects an individual’s experience and is not an endorsement from The Mighty. We believe in sharing a variety of perspectives from our community.

Image via Pixabay.

The Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., United States.

Dear Congress, Please Protect Medicaid for People With Disabilities

Dear Congressional Republicans,

My name is Brooks Fitts, and I’m a 19-year-old from Raleigh, North Carolina. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to go on one of my favorite rides at Disney World, Soarin’. As I climbed aboard and began my ascent into the sky, I began to wonder what would happen if we gave everyone the chance to soar.

What do I mean by that? Well, a report by the independent Congressional Budget Office that was just released indicates that there will be 14 million fewer insured Americans by 2018. Various analyses have also shown that the elderly and disabled will suffer disproportionately under your healthcare proposal, and the rich will benefit. This proposal also slashes Medicaid expansion, something that personally irks me. I was a product of Medicaid. I received braces and insulin thanks to Medicaid. I was the first person in North Carolina to get an OmniPod insulin pump through Medicaid, and I want to be sure everyone in my great state gets the healthcare they need.

While I was on Soarin’, I couldn’t help but think about how your plan would prevent the most vulnerable from reaching their full potential, from soaring to new heights. When the disabled, elderly, and poor succeed, everyone succeeds. Healthcare is a right, not a privilege.

If possible, I would be more than honored to testify in front of Congress and let every representative know how life-changing Medicaid has been for me. It’s beyond time we let every American get the care they deserve, so they can soar to new heights.

Editor’s note: This story reflects an individual’s experience and is not an endorsement from The Mighty. We believe in sharing a variety of perspectives from our community.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Image via Thinkstock.

Nike Launches Improved Accessible Sneaker With Lebron Soldier 10 FlyEase

In 2015, Nike released the Zoom Soldier 8, its first shoe designed specifically for people with disabilities. Nike followed the Zoom Soldier 8 with three more shoes featuring its FlyEase system, and now, has redesigned its Lebron Soldier 10 FlyEase to be even more accessible for people with disabilities.

“Of all the shoes we’ve ever made, this may be the easiest one to get into,” Tobie Hatfield, Nike’s senior director of athlete innovation, said in a press release.

Gif of a Nike shoe opening

Nike’s FlyEase system was developed in response to a letter the company received from Matthew Walzer, a teenager with cerebral palsy. “My dream is to go to the college of my choice without having to worry about someone coming to tie my shoes every day,” he told Nike. “As a teenager who is striving to become totally self-sufficient, I find this extremely frustrating and, at times, embarrassing.”

White Nike Sneakers

The Lebron Soldier 10 FlyEase uses the FlyEase lace-free entry system but has its signature zipper featured at a flatter angle, allowing the user to easily pull the zipper around the ankle. The shoe also expands the mid-foot and heel opening and includes extra room for people who use orthotics, braces, AFOs or prosthetics.

In addition to creating shoes for people with disabilities, Nike launched the Nike Ease Challenge to inspire more innovations in accessible footwear. The challenge is open to all and asks people to come up with designs that allow people to easily put on, secure and take off their shoes. The challenge winner will be announced next month.

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.

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