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 28, 2004
Year V, Edition 866

Today's front page features 8 news and information items, each preceded by a number (#) symbol.
Click on the"Below the Fold" link at the bottom of this page for 31 more news items.

"Fulfilling one's desire for a partner is a human right in my opinion. And helping people take a step in that direction is a major concern of mine."

--Bernd Zemellas, who runs a matchmaking service for people with mental disabilities in Alsterdorf, Germany (Third story)



Wal-Mart Suit Can Move Forward, Judge Says

By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
January 28, 2004

WILTON, MAINE--A woman's employment discrimination suit against Wal-Mart may proceed, a federal judge has ruled.

Joanne DiDonna filed suit against the retail giant claiming the store in Farmington, Maine violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Maine Human Rights Act by failing to accommodate her disability, the Lewiston Sun Journal reported Wednesday.

DiDonna, 46, began working as a universal product code associate for Wal-Mart in January 1993. Four years later, she started noticing symptoms of muscular dystrophy. By 2000 she was experiencing weakness in her legs, shoulders and arms, and was having difficulty walking or standing for longer than 15 minutes at a time.

That year, Wal-Mart decided to consolidate two positions, one of which belonged to DiDonna. The manager gave the new job to another employee that did not have a disability, even though Wal-Mart's own policy states that when two candidates are qualified for a position, priority is to go to the employee with a disability.

Wal-Mart did offer DiDonna other positions -- including cashier, accounting office and team leader positions -- none of which she could perform, even with accommodations. She eventually resigned and decided to file suit.

DiDonna went to the Maine Human Rights Commission, which upheld her position and referred the matter to private counsel for litigation. She also got help from the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which issued a right to sue letter.

Wal-Mart denied DiDonna's allegations and asked the federal judge, who was not named in the article, to grant a summary judgment. The judge denied Wal-Mart's request, thereby allowing DiDonna's lawsuit to proceed.



Pro-Institution Groups Look For "Consensus" On Fernald's Fate

By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
January 28, 2004

WALTHAM, MASSACHUSETTS--Groups that want to keep people with developmental disabilities housed at Fernald Developmental Center are trying to get other groups to agree on a plan to build a segregated "community" on the current institution campus.

During a public forum in Waltham Tuesday night, Marie Daley, a member of the Fernald Working Group and the Fernald Development Center Land Reuse Committee, said that the discussion now is one of addressing "how much housing and how much open space" would exist on the 190-acre campus after the 156-year-old facility is closed.

According to the Daily News Tribune, George Mavridis, immediate past president of the Fernald League for the Retarded, is recommending the state divide the campus for what he calls "alternate use" to allow the residents to continue living on the campus.

"Instead of waiting (for the residents to leave) the state could make a little money and get in on the property today," said Mavridis, who has been a state coordinator for the Voice of the Retarded, a national group that fights the closures and downsizing of institutions and has opposed community living alternatives.

On February 25, 2003, Governor Mitt Romney announced that Fernald -- the oldest publicly-funded institution housing people with developmental disabilities in the Western Hemisphere -- was to be closed by October 2004 as a cost cutting measure.

Since then, Fernald employees and parents of institution residents have managed to enlist support from local leaders to put off the closure and slow the moves of residents to a mere trickle. In the past eleven months, a total of 11 of the original 302 residents have been moved -- all to other state-operated facilities in Massachusetts.

The institution was founded by social reformer Samuel Gridley Howe in 1848. Originally called the "Massachusetts School for the Feeble Minded", the facility was renamed the Walter E. Fernald State School in 1925 after its first resident superintendent.

Arc Massachusetts and other organizations have been pushing since 1990 for the state's six facilities to be shuttered. Most have not admitted new residents for more than 25 years because of court orders following complaints of overcrowding.

"Fernald group is closing on plan: Options abound while panel seeks consensus" (Daily News Tribune)
"Fernald Developmental Center -- Oldest Institution In the Americas" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)



Matchmaker Works To Fulfill Right To Love And Be Loved

January 28, 2004

ALSTERDORF, GERMANY--Since 1998, Bernd Zemellas has operated "The Treasure Chest", a matchmaking service for people with mental disabilities.

His service has attracted 300 clients, 80 of which have been successfully paired with a partner. Two couples have married.

Zemellas told the news service Deutsche Welle that he sees little difference between his and other dating services.

"Fulfilling one's desire for a partner is a human right in my opinion. And helping people take a step in that direction is a major concern of mine."

Society tends to think of people with mental disabilities as being like children -- naive and asexual. Zemellas said he is working to change those stereotypes.

Related article:
"A Dating Service that Breaks Taboos" (Deutsche Welle),,1441_A_1099330_1_A,00.html



Paper Focuses On "Right to Die" vs. "Right to Live" Debate

January 28, 2004

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA--The Bulletin on Wednesday focused on the legal, ethical and moral questions surrounding the practice of removing life support and feeding tubes from people with severe brain injuries or other disabilities.

The three articles note that society will have to deal with these issues increasingly as technology continues to find ways to help us to live longer.

Related articles from The Bulletin:
"Death watch: The dilemma of the off switch"
"Patients in limbo"
"When the brain stops"



FBI Specialist Honored For Work With Employees And Suspects With Disabilities

January 28, 2004

CLARKSBURG, WEST VIRGINIA--The following six paragraphs are excerpts from a story that ran Wednesday in the Clarksburg Exponent Telegraph:

(Trudy Lou) Ford recently received the FBI Director's Annual Award for Outstanding Service to a Disabled Employee or by a Disabled Employee. She frequently travels around the country helping the FBI communicate with disabled employees or suspects.

Ford can hear perfectly well. Yet before she was able to speak English, she could speak sign language.

Both of Ford's parents were deaf, and the doctor told them to leave the television on all day so that she would learn to speak English.

"Growing up I didn't know any different," Ford said. "Any baby would learn sign language first. Babies express with their hands before they can learn to talk."

"I am what they call as close to being a part of the deaf community as possible, without actually being deaf," Ford said.

When she got the job with the bureau in 1999, Ford was able to put her unique skills and perspective into the deaf world to use.

Entire article:
"Local FBI specialist honored for her work with the disabled" (Clarksburg Exponent Telegraph)



Autism Society of America

The Autism Society of America was founded in 1965 by a small group of parents working on a volunteer basis out of their homes. Over the last 35 years, the Society has developed into the leading source of information and referral on autism. Today, over 20,000 members are connected through a working network of over 200 chapters in nearly every state. Membership in ASA continues to grow as more and more parents and professionals unite to form a collective voice representing the autism community.



Quote worth noting:
"We want people to feel with us more than to act for us."

--George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), British writer, (1819-80)


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