International Disability Rights News Service
Your quick, once-a-day look at disability rights, self-determination
and the movement toward full community inclusion around the world.

Wednesday, January 7, 2004
Year V, Edition 853

Today's front page features 9 news and information items, each preceded by a number (#) symbol.
Click on the"Below the Fold" link at the bottom of this page for 22 more news items.

"This settlement represents a positive first step in establishing the rights of people with disabilities, including seniors, to receive services in their homes and communities rather than in institutions."

--Kim Swain, from California's Protection & Advocacy, Inc., on a settlement with San Francisco that allows current and potential residents of Laguna Honda Hospital to explore community-based alternatives to the huge, city-run nursing home (Second story)

"Many fear that creating an environment where a potential for encouraging someone to end their life -- a life some perceive as having less value -- would be creating a slippery slope."
--From a statement by the Vermont Coalition for Disability Rights, which successfully fought a proposed "assisted suicide" law in their state. Lawmakers say they will not take up the bill in this session (First story)



Vermont Lawmakers Drop "Assisted Suicide" Bill

By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
January, 7, 2004

MONTPELIER, VERMONT--Vermont lawmakers announced Tuesday that they would not consider a bill designed to legalize physician-assisted suicide during the current session.

The bill, known as the "Death with Dignity Act", had 40 supporters in the House, but members of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee said they would not support it.

"I don't want to spend a lot of time on a bill that if it starts to move is going to draw rallies to the State House steps and cause an uproar, and then if it goes to the Senate is going to stand still," explained Rep. Thomas Koch, head of the House Health and Welfare Committee.

Vermont Governor James Douglas had also suggested that he would veto such a bill.

The decision to drop the proposal came after the Vermont Coalition for Disability Rights, which represents 26 disability rights groups from across the state, announced that it would appose the measure. The Vermont Medical Society, Vermont Right to Life Committee and Burlington's Catholic Diocese also opposed the bill.

"Many fear that creating an environment where a potential for encouraging someone to end their life -- a life some perceive as having less value -- would be creating a slippery slope," read a statement from the coalition, which suggested the debate should shift to improving people's lives rather than ending them.

The bill would have allowed terminally ill patients, with six months or less left to live, to ask doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of medication, which the patients would take themselves.

Supporters note that the proposal, similar to a law in Oregon, would have required a second doctor to confirm the diagnosis and order counseling if the patient appeared to be experiencing depression.

Disability rights groups have opposed attempts to legalize physician-assisted suicide because of the risk to people with certain disabilities whose lives are often considered "not worth living" in a culture that values productivity, mobility, and independence. People with disabilities are also often made to believe that they are a burden upon others, and that dying would be the loving thing to do.

Analyses of the several dozen people that physician-assisted suicide campaigner Dr. Jack Kevorkian "helped" to end their lives revealed that only a small percentage were actually in the final stages of terminal illnesses. Most had disabilities, feared having a disability, or said they did not want to "be a burden" on their family members.

"Jack Kevorkian: Dr. Death" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)



Laguna Honda Lawsuit Settled

By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
January 7, 2004

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA--Disability rights advocates in California are claiming a victory after a federal judge approved the settlement of a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of present and potential residents of Laguna Honda Hospital.

Ten residents of Laguna Honda originally sued the city of San Francisco, which owns Laguna Honda, and several state agencies in July 2000, claiming the agencies violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, the Nursing Home Reform Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, by not providing community-based services for those who want to live in their own homes instead of the huge nursing facility. The lawsuit cited the 1999 U.S. Supreme Court Olmstead decision, which ruled that "unnecessarily" institutionalizing people with disabilities is a form of discrimination.

The settlement, approved last month, requires San Francisco to develop an assessment and discharge planning system which allows current residents, along with those eligible for admission, to have the option of receiving supports and services in the community.

According to a statement by the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF), which co-counseled the suit, the city will start a Targeted Case Management Program to screen, assess, and develop individual service and discharge plans for class members, and provide ongoing case management. Staff and residents will receive training on community living alternatives. San Francisco will also open a Community Resource Center at the facility, and establish a Community Advisory Committee with participation from the Independent Living Resource Center of San Francisco (ILRCSF).

"The settlement helps put an end to an evaluation process that steers too many people into nursing homes," said attorney Michael Stortz of California's Protection & Advocacy, Inc.

The plaintiffs in the case included Protection & Advocacy, Inc., Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, Inc., and the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law.

In October of 2001 hundreds of disability rights activists gathered in San Francisco to protest the city and county's decision to rebuild Laguna Honda. The 135-year-old facility is the oldest nursing home in California and the largest in the United States with 1,200 beds.

Press release: "California Settlement Takes First Step Toward Olmstead Compliance" (Bazelon Center For Mental Health Law)
"Laguna Honda Hospital" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)



J.D.S.' Aunt Applies For Guardianship, Sues State And Group Home Operators

By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
January 7, 2004

ORLANDO, FLORIDA--The aunt of a woman who last year unwittingly became the center of Florida's abortion debate has applied for legal guardianship of her niece, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

Dorothy Willis Quizon has filed a petition to become guardian of the 23-year-old woman known through court documents as J.D.S.. Along with the petition, Quizon filed a suit against an unnamed Department of Children & Families employee, the operator of the Orlando group home where J.D.S. spent most of her life, and the husband of the group home's operator, who has been charged with raping J.D.S.

J.D.S., who has cerebral palsy, autism and mental retardation, gave birth to a baby girl in September. Authorities had learned of her pregnancy in April, several months after she was raped in Hester Strong's group home. Police later charged Strong's husband, 75-year-old Phillip, with rape when tests matched the infant's DNA with his.

The suit accuses the DCF employee of violating J.D.S.' civil rights, Phillip Strong of battery and rape, and both Phillip and Hester Strong of negligence. Any financial damages would be placed in a "restrictive guardianship account for the sole use and benefit of J.D.S.", the paper noted.

A judge appointed a guardian to J.D.S. in June, and criticized the Florida Department of Children & Families for failing to take her through the guardianship process when she turned 18.

J.D.S.' situation became national news in June when Governor Jeb Bush attempted to have a guardian appointed for the fetus to prevent it from being aborted. His efforts were rejected by the courts because state law does not recognize a fetus as a person, regardless of the mother's disability status.

In late September, J.D.S.' birth mother came forward asking to be the guardian for her daughter and newborn grand-daughter. Known in court documents as "G.D.S.", she had reportedly abandoned her daughter nearly 20 years earlier. G.D.S. is not named in the recent petition for guardianship. No reason was given, however, the paper noted that she was recently in a drug treatment center.



"Businesses Bring Joy And New Life To disabled"

January 7, 2004

TOLEDO, OHIO--Monday's Newark Advocate featured a story about an Ohio program that is helping people with developmental disabilities to escape the drudgery of sheltered workshops and become their own bosses.

The program offers clients cash payments -- instead of traditional services -- if they use it to start their own businesses.

According to the story, the program presents a "win-win" situation for everyone.

Those who participate in the program seem much happier. It has also saved tax-payers thousands of dollars.

One Lucas County official said this has challenged the system to change how it views services.

"Now we're asking clients what they want and how we can provide it for them," said John Pekar, superintendent of Fairfield County MRDD and past president of the Ohio Self Determination Association.

Entire article:
"Businesses bring joy and new life to disabled" (Newark Advocate)



Jennifer Norris Pleads Guilty In Son's Death

By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
January 7, 2004

ANDERSON, INDIANA--Nearly a year after the body of 8-year-old Mark Adrian Norris, Jr was found in the burned remains of his home, his mother has pleaded guilty to neglecting him.

Jennifer L. Norris, 27, had been scheduled to go to trial next Monday on the charge of criminal neglect of a dependent resulting in serious bodily injury. According to the Associated Press, she pleaded guilty to the charge with no plea agreement. Her sentencing hearing is scheduled for February 2.

Mark's body was found by firefighters on January 21, 2003 after the home in Elwood had been destroyed. Autopsy results confirmed that Mark, who used a wheelchair because of his cerebral palsy and had epilepsy, died of pneumonia at least one day before the fire. Toxicology tests found evidence that he was malnourished and had not been given prescription medicine needed to treat his seizures.

Investigators had suspected that the fire was set deliberately to cover up Mark's death. No evidence has been found for them to charge Norris with arson.

Mike Warrum, the social worker with the state Division of Family and Children who was assigned to Mark's case, is scheduled to go on trial on a neglect charge next month.

"The Death of Mark A. Norris, Jr: Was fire a cover-up for his death?" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)



New Zealander Heads Up Universal Design Initiative

January 7, 2004

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND--The following three paragraphs are excerpts from a story in Tuesday's Stuff Online:

Using an ATM, surfing the internet or driving a home entertainment system...electronic technology is increasingly a part of everyday life. Making access to technology easier - especially for people with special needs - is the challenge Neil Scott has succeeded in tackling.

He's the Kiwi behind the Archimedes Project...Stanford University's barrier-breaking initiative to make information universally accessible by developing human interfaces with computer based technology. Hailed as one of the top five innovators in the United States by Discover Magazine, Neil designed the award winning Total Access System (TAS) which enables disabled people to use any computer and a range of other electronic devices through technology such as speech recognition, head tracking and eye tracking. For instance, a paraplegic person might use speech recognition to enter text and a head tracking system instead of a mouse.

Neil's strategy is to focus on what users want, rather than the tools they use to get it. "When someone buys a drill, they're buying a hole. In this case, access to IT is the means to an end...making it possible for disabled people to work and go to school, to participate as fully as possible in society."

Entire article:
"Getting Smart" (Stuff),2106,2776270a9793,00.html



N.O.D.: National Organization on Disability

The mission of the National Organization on Disability (N.O.D.) is to expand the participation and contribution of America's 54 million men, women and children with disabilities in all aspects of life. By raising disability awareness through programs and information, together we can work toward closing the participation gaps.


# EXPRESS EXTRA!!! From the Inclusion Daily Express Archives -- Three years ago:

Condemned Man Spared by "Missing" Evidence

By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
January 5, 2001

TULSA, OKLAHOMA--For reasons not yet explained by officials, evidence from a 1985 murder showed up mysteriously late Wednesday, less than 24 hours before the man convicted of the crime was scheduled to die. The items -- a bloody sock, a pair of overalls, and a pocket knife -- were discovered in a evidence locker.

They had been missing for the last four years.

In light of the discovery, Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin granted a 30-day reprieve to Robert William Clayton, 39, who was to be executed on Thursday, in order for the evidence to be examined and tested by DNA experts. It was the first stay of execution granted in Oklahoma in over ten years.

Clayton, who reportedly has mental retardation and scored 68 on IQ tests, was convicted in the stabbing death Rhonda Kay Timmons, 19, at the Tulsa apartment complex where he was a groundskeeper. During the 1987 trial, prosecutors alleged that Clayton's sock and overalls contained traces of Timmons' blood. The overalls had been washed, but blood found on the sock had the same blood-type as Timmons. Experts were unable to determine whether the blood on the knife was from a human or from an animal.

When a 1996 state law allowed evidence to be tested using DNA technology, none of the items could be found. Why the evidence turned up on Wednesday is unclear. Clayton's defenders believe DNA testing of the sock and knife will clear the man who has been on death row for 14 years. Fallin's order for the stay of execution will allow the testing to begin immediately.

Investigators in the case say Clayton confessed to "flipping out" and killing Timmons. Clayton denies that he gave any such confession.

The discovery brings into further question how states handle death penalty cases, particularly those involving defendants believed to have mental retardation. Clayton's reprieve came the day after Albert Burrell, a death row inmate who scored 68 on IQ tests, was released from Louisiana State Penitentiary. Burrell was cleared of the 1987 murder of an elderly couple, when DNA tests found that blood found at the crime scene did not belong to Burrell or his alleged accomplice.

Last October, DNA tests cleared a Virginia death row inmate Earl Washington Jr, 40, of raping and murdering a woman in 1982. Defense attorneys believe Earl Washington, who reportedly has an IQ of 69, had been pressured by police to confess to committing the crimes.

Advocates for people with disabilities point out that people with mental retardation are at a disadvantage because, among other things, they may not understand their rights, confessions are easily forced from them, and they have poor legal representation. Before the decision Oklahoma was scheduled to execute eight people this month, which would have matched a monthly record for executions set recently in Texas.

Still scheduled to die by lethal injection on January 11 is Wanda Jean Allen, who reportedly has an IQ of 69, considered by many to be in the mild range of mental retardation.

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