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Samples of recent stories

Disabilities and . . .
Jack Kevorkian
'Ashley Treatment'
Hurricane Katrina
Terri Schiavo
"War on Terror"
Sept. 11, 2001
Top disability rights stories . . .


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Other years:

These are the events that I think have had, or will have, the greatest impact on the largest number of people with disabilities and their allies.
They are not in any particular order:

Terrorists Attacks Claim Thousands Of Lives
On September 11, 2001, hijackers took over four airliners and used them to murder thousands of innocent people in Pennsylvania, New York City, and Washington DC. An unknown number of people with disabilities and their friends and loved ones died in the attacks. The disability community responded immediately with messages of unity and support for the friends and families who lost loved ones. Since the attack, attention has been drawn to the safety of people around the world, and in particular to those of us who have disabilities, when it comes to evacuation plans, building design and airline safety.

Stephen Hawking Visits India
The British physicist was invited to visit India to speak at universities. But officials became embarrassed when they realized that many of the sites to which they had invited Hawking were not accessible to him. The fact that they had to have people carry the famous scientist, who has ALS (otherwise known as Lou Gehrig's Disease) and uses a wheelchair, sparked new interest in making public facilities accessible to people with disabilities.

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Statue Has FDR In His Wheelchair
In January, President Clinton unveiled a life-size bronze statue of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, depicting him as he was for much of his life in the White House -- seated in the wheelchair he designed for himself. The statue is at ground level and greets all visitors to the FDR Memorial. During his presidency, few knew that FDR used a wheelchair, leg braces and crutches after he had contracted polio.

President Bush Launches New Freedom Initiative
In February, President Bush announced his New Freedom Initiative which would pump nearly $1 billion toward, among other things, improving access to employment, education, housing and assistive technologies. In June, he signed an Executive Order directing federal agencies to work with states to make sure they comply fully with the Supreme Court's ruling in the Olmstead decision. The executive order also expands the scope of Olmstead to include all disabilities. In July, Bush launched the Interagency Coalition for Community Living along with a community living initiative involving several agencies within his administration.

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Robert Latimer Must Spend Ten Years In Prison
Canada's highest court ruled in January that Robert Latimer must serve no less than 10 years of a life term for murder. In 1993, Latimer admitted killing his daughter, Tracy, because of her disabilities. In December, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association presented a petition with 60,000 signatures to the office of Solicitor General requesting clemency for Latimer. They were turned down.

Special Education Figured Big In Jeffords Defection
Vermont Senator James Jeffords, a long-time supporter of education for children with disabilities, shocked both political parties when in May he decided to leave the Republican party, thereby single-handedly shifting the balance of power in Congress. While his decision was based on a number of factors, Jeffords has been vocal about his dissatisfaction at the GOP for not pushing for more funding for special education.

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ADA Wins One, Loses One At Supreme Court
Casey Martin v. PGA Tour:
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in May that professional golfer Casey Martin should be allowed to use a golf cart as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Martin has a disability that makes it painful and dangerous for him to walk the long distances the PGA Tour requires during tournaments. He asked for and was denied the use of a motorized cart to move about the course as a work place accommodation under the ADA. Martin sued the PGA Tour in 1997.
Alabama v. Garrett & Ashe: The Americans with Disabilities Act was struck a blow in February when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Congress overstepped its bounds when it decided to allow state workers to use the ADA to file discrimination lawsuits against their employers.

Mental Retardation and the Death Penalty On Trial
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide whether or not executing convicts who have mental retardation violates the Eighth Amendment's protections against "cruel and unusual punishment". The same court spared John Paul Penry for a second time, because of confusing instructions given to the jury that sentenced him to death. Several states that have a death penalty voted to ban it for convicts with mental retardation.

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France's High Court Supports Wrongful Birth Lawsuits
In separate cases France's high court of appeals ruled that the parents of children with disabilities, including a boy who has Down syndrome, should be compensated because the parents were not given the option to have them aborted before they were born.

Death Row Inmates Were Improperly Convicted
In Illinois, Florida, Oklahoma, Virginia, Missouri, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania death row inmates with mental retardation were spared execution when evidence showed that they were improperly convicted of the crimes. Some were cleared when other inmates gave more accurate confessions. Others were cleared when DNA evidence showed they could not have committed the crimes.
Some of the death row inmates with mental retardation who were cleared had confessed to investigators, bringing into question the tactics used by police to gain those confessions.

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Section 508 Makes Information Technology Accessible
On June 21, 2001, new accessibility guidelines went into effect for U.S. government agencies. These guidelines are part of Section 508 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, which were revised in 1998. They require all electronic and information technology products and services that federal agencies buy to meet new accessibility standards. This includes computers, fax machines and millions of government Internet Web pages.

Activists Demand Equality And Action
From Austin, Texas to St. Petersburg, Russia, and from Baltimore, Maryland to Hubli, India, disability rights activists gathered in different places around the world, to lobby for changes in how people with disabilities are perceived and treated. The National Disabled Students Union formed in response to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling against Pat Garret (see above). A few weeks later, hundreds of students from college campuses across the U.S. staged a nation-wide "Leave Out" in protest. ADAPT staged protests in Washington, DC and in San Francisco, California demanding government move money to community supports instead of the current bias toward institutions and nursing homes.

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Assisted Suicide Events In The News
Attorney General John Ashcroft Unveils Drug Policy That Stops Oregon's Assisted Suicide Law
Court Rules Jack Kevorkian Must Stay In Prison
California Court Sides With Florence Wendland, Weeks After Her Husband Dies

Heroes, Role Models, Leaders Who Moved On
Gunnar Dybwad, Heidi Van Arnem, Colleen Fraser, Dale Evans were among those who passed away this year. Also, an unknown number of people with disabilities died in the World Trade Center towers when they were struck by hijacked jets on September 11.

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