Long Island Bus Cuts–Public Hearing March 23

Call to Action


Everyone who has any family members or friends who are disabled or elderly must attend this public hearing  at Hofstra University March 23, 2011 at 3PM to protest the plans to cut 25 of Long Island’s bus routes and 20% of Able-Ride’s service cuts.

Cuts unfairly target Long Island’s Disabled Riders


The MTA is set to vote in April on its plan to cut 25 , or almost half, of its Long Island bus service routes in July.  The MTA is claiming, and perhaps rightfully so, that it is unfair that Nassau County only contributes $9.1 million to the Long Island Bus annual budget of $141 million.  In contrast, Suffolk County contributes $24 million to its $48 million bus budget.

These service cuts would strand 16,000 riders, many of whom are disabled, and unable to afford taxis.  Currently, the bus services more than 100,000 riders each day.

My daughter takes three buses in each direction to get to her classes at Nassau Community College.  It already takes her more than two hours each way.  Last semester she took an evening course and often missed the last bus and had to take a taxi to get home.

Disabled to Lose Able Ride Buses


According to Newsday, as many as 18%, or 200 of Able-Ride’s 1130 daily riders will no longer be eligible for door-to-door service if the proposed cuts are made.

I urge everyone to attend the public hearings at Hofstra University March 23, 2011 at 3PM.  You can take the N46 or the N47 bus lines to get there.

Special Education Success at School for Disabled

The Henry Visconti School, a New York State supported special education school that prides itself on treating its students with dignity and respect, was recently praised in the New York Times for allowing severely disabled students to succeed in school through the use of technology and on-site medical care.

According to the school website, the Henry Viscardi School is a teaching community of students, parents, teachers, staff, and volunteers dedicated to empowering students with physical disabilities and health impairments to enable them to be active, independent, self sufficient participants in society.

I’m proud to know this school exists in our neighborhood, and is a fine example of how our tax dollars are spent to help the special needs community.

What’s in a Name? Rosa’s Law Passed

Federal statutes will no longer use the term “mental retardation” instead substituting the phrase “intellectual disability.”  President Obama officially signed into law this October a bill that has spent months wending its way through Congress.

Who is Rosa?

Rosa is a now 9-year old Maryland girl with Down’s Syndrome.  Her mother took issue with the school calling her daughter retarded.  “There hasn’t been one ounce of opposition. People had already gotten rid of the term, except in slang,” Rosa’s mother, Nina Marcellino said.

Why is the Language we use Important?

Peter V. Berns, CEO of The ARC (the battle to abolish the term “retarded” has been going on for decades, and in the 1980s families and people with developmental disabilities changed the name of Association for Retarded Citizens to ARC.) “We understand that language plays a crucial role in how people with intellectual disabilities are perceived and treated in society,” Berns said in a statement. “Changing how we talk about people with disabilities is a critical step in promoting and protecting their basic civil and human rights.”

Will New York Ever Become Politically Correct?

As I have said before, New York is one of the few states that have not yet removed the phrase “retardation” from one of the largest organizations of its kind: the Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (OMRDD).

It is time New York joined the Federal government and 44 other states in removing this arcane language.

Jennifer Aniston, Politically Incorrect?

In the latest controversy this year over the use of the word retard or retarded, Jennifer Aniston used the word “retard”  self-deprecatingly on Regis and Kelly Live while describing how she plays dress-up for a living. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a retard as a mentally disabled person.  From Wikipedia:  Mental retardation (MR) is a generalized disorder, characterized by significantly impaired cognitive functioning and deficits in two or more adaptive behaviors with onset before the age of 18.  However, every school kid knows it is a hurtful insult meaning stupid and weird.

The Special Olympics Movement issued a statement in response: “Special Olympics is always disappointed when the R-word is used, especially by someone who is influential to society,” the statement reads. “The pervasive use of the R-word, even in an off the cuff self-deprecating manner, dehumanizes people with intellectual disabilities and perpetuates painful stereotypes that are a great source of suffering and negative stigma.”

The organization added, “We hope everyone will take our pledge to stop using the R-word and promote the inclusion and acceptance of people with intellectual disabilities at www.r-word.org.”

Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and Stephen Colbert

Earlier this year, Sarah Palin called for Rahm Emanuel’s firing after it was reported that he’d called  liberal groups opposed to health care reform “f*cking retards,” but she then defended Rush Limbaugh’s use of the same word as satire.  Stephen Colbert later weighed in to Palin’s defense of Limbaugh.

Ian Birrell’s thoughtful commentary asks “When did people with disabilities cease to matter in the battle against bigotry?”  His article enumerates the many uses in popular culture, from the 17 slurs in Tropic Thunder to the Black-Eyed Peas’ song “Let’s Get Retarded.”

Government Use of Terminology

The term is currently under attack by educators and other professionals, believed to cause stigma in both the intellectually and developmentally disabled, and their loved ones.

New York is one of the few states that have not yet removed the phrase from the Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (OMRDD). 44 other states have chosen to use the term intellectually disabled.

Rosa’s Law, a bipartisan bill passed by the Senate earlier this year, and currently being considered in the House of Representatives, would amend language in federal law to remove the term “mental retardation” from federal health, education and labor laws.

Federal Help for Mentally Ill NY Youth in Custody

“Until now, the state did not have a single full-time psychiatrist on staff to treat youthful offenders.”  This is the most startling sentence in this NYTimes article detailing the settlement which allows the federal government to oversee four of New York’s juvenile prisons.

New York’s juvenile prisons are the place where troubled kids are locked away to become even more troubled adults.  Children whose parents have lost control of their children can petition the court to have their children declared Persons in Need of Supervision (PINS).

Most of the children in the juvenile prison system are foster children. Many have endured abuse.  The majority of them are on psychotropic medication (via New York Magazine).  Most of the residents of these prisons are diagnosed with a variety of mental illnesses, yet up until now there has not been a single psychiatrist on staff.

The settlement was reached several years after a 15 year old emotionally disturbed youth died after being forcefully restrained by guards.  Investigators reported numerous incidents of injuries after physical force was used to discipline the children, including reports of broken bones, broken teeth and concussions.

Hopefully, besides employing full-time psychiatrists, psychologists and mental health professionals to oversee medication regiments and counseling, the state will continue to shut down these prisons and replace them with smaller centers near the families of the children.

My heart aches for these children.  Given a substandard education and an indifferent upbringing, warehoused with no counseling, they are given no hope of a better future.  Hopefully, the settlement reached today placing these prisons under federal oversight, limiting the amount of physical force guards may use and shutting down and replacing these warehouses with smaller community residences will go a long way to alleviate their suffering and give these children a chance to become productive members of our community.

Improving I.Q. for Autistic Toddlers

An exciting new study has shown that an intensive behavioral intervention raises the I.Q. level of toddlers diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).  This study, reported by Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, compared 48 children diagnosed with ASD by placing the children in one of two controlled groups.

Early Start Denver Model (EDSM)–for Young Children with Autism

According to Pediatrics, the study assigned the children into one of two groups:

  1. ESDM intervention, which is based on developmental and applied behavioral analytic principles and delivered by trained therapists and parents for 2 years; or
  2. referral to community providers for intervention commonly available in the community.

The results showed much greater gains for the intensive EDSM intervention as opposed to the community intervention.

An Interview with the Studies’ Author

The NYTimes Health section blogged about this study recently.  Tara Parker-Pope interviewed one of the developers of this new intervention, Sally J. Rogers, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of California, Davis.  Dr. Rogers describes the new intervention as playful and interactive as opposed to adult instructional and further discusses how this new method might work with an autistic child.  The full interview can be found here.

The Book

Early Start Denver Model for Young Children with Autism: Promoting Language, Learning, and Engagement became available at the end of December.  Additionally, many of the resources can be found online at  The Early Developmental Studies Lab. I can only hope that the reality lives up to the promise.

Are Schools Prepared for an Increase in Autism-Related Special Needs?

The reported rate of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) has significantly increased and is now expected to affect 1% of children ages 3 to 17, or approximately 1 in every 100 children, according to two recent major studies.  Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and a study published in the journal Pediatrics indicate that the reported rate has increased from previously reported levels of 1 in 150 persons.  Even more alarming, boys are four (4) times more likely to have ASD than girls of the same age, which means that the likelihood of having a boy with ASD is around 1 in 60, a staggering number.  The second government study conducted by the Health Resources and Services Administration used data from the 2007 National Survey of Children’s Health.

Some researchers urge caution when interpreting the new numbers, suggesting that the reported increase is due to increasing awareness of the symptoms, as opposed to an actual increase in diagnoses.  Additionally, according to the children’s parents, many of the reported cases are mild forms of the disorder. Controversial author David Kirby questions this theory at the Huffington Post.  He asks if the actual rate of autism in children has not increased, how is it possible that as adults we have not noticed that 1 in every 60 adult males we come across has some form of ASD?  Kirby adds anecdotal evidence from long-term teachers and special education administrators who cite their long years of experience in refuting the notion that reported increases in autism related disorders are merely a function of greater awareness.

As many parents and professionals know, autism and related disorders such as Asperger’s and pervasive development disorder can be a frustratingly difficult diagnosis to make as it can only be made based on behavior instead of by more objective means such as a blood testing.  These behaviors include difficulties with social interaction and communication and are often accompanied by repetitive behavior.

However, whether the increase is due to better reporting or an actual upsurge, better informed parents and doctors mean more parents demanding educational and other services.  As this population ages, there is no doubt that both the government and private sectors must be prepared for an escalation in demand for supportive housing, employment, social and financial support.

According to CNN and the Associated Press, Dr. Tom Insel, director of the National Institute of Health, stated that the federal government is increasing resources to address autism and related disorders, adding millions of dollars for autism research, screening and treatment and adds that President Barack Obama has made autism research a priority.

It is more important than ever to plan for the future of our disabled children.  We should not depend solely on government support to financially support our disabled children, whether diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder or any other type of disability.  Just as our federal and state governments need to prepare financially for the influx of disabled children into the school and health care systems, parents need to make estate planning a priority to ensure the financial well-being of the disabled population as soon as possible.

Reaching out to the Disability Community-An Important Government Resource

Recently, the federal government moved to the technological forefront with its launch of Disability.gov.  This relaunched website fulfills its stated purpose of Connecting the Disability Community to Information and Opportunities.  Disability.gov successfully uses social media tools to reach out to visitors and encourage interaction.  There are online discussions and a user-friendly way to get answers to questions about such topics as finding employment and job accommodations for disabled individuals.

The new website was launched in conjunction with the 19th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and integrates content from 22 different federal agencies.  According to Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis, “Far more than just a directory of federal resources, Disability.gov is a meeting ground for Americans to learn, respond and communicate about a wealth of critically important disability-related topics.”

Despite the numerous topics, and thousands of links to federal agencies, educational institutions  and nonprofit organizations, I found getting around the new site easy and enlightening.  A recent interview on Special Needs Truth ’08 between Mark Miller and Kevin Connors, the site’s program director and Department of Labor employee, highlights the difficulty of coordinating the numerous agencies that contribute to the success of the website.

Whether you are a disabled person, family member, caregiver, employer, educator, veteran or simply interested in more information about disabilities, this site is a must follow.

Twitter Updates

One way of receiving information and updates is to follow Disability.gov on Twitter.  Each day, the site tweets new resources and information on one of seven disability-related topics:

  • Monday–benefits and housing resources
  • Tuesday– technology and transportation resources
  • Wednesday– education resources and info
  • Thursday-health related resources
  • Friday–veteran and employment resources
  • Saturday–independent resources
  • Sunday–emergency preparedness resources

Additionally, the site frequently tweets favorite empowering quotes.  Recent ones include:

Ted Kennedy: “The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die.”  and Helen Keller: “Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing at all.”

The Government Blogs About Disability Too

Numerous contributors blog about both the resources mentioned above and other topics of interest to disabled individuals and veterans.  One post recently contained a fact sheet for people with disabilities who want to start a business and included resources across the country for people that want to become self-employed.  Another blog specifically targets Youth Programs and recently highlighted a program for Project Search.  Other discussions center around mentoring and intern programs for disabled young people.

According to Kevin Connor, the redesigned website was “tested using a variety of assistive technology software and on various machines with the many different browsers that are available”  to make the site not only accessible, but usable by its many visitors.

If you have not yet visited Disability.gov, I encourage you to take a little time to get acquainted with the various features and tools.  I assure you it will be time well-spent.

Disabled Students Paddled More Often in School

According to a study just released, disabled students are subjected to corporal punishment at a far higher rate than other students.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch collaborated on the report entitled “Impairing Education: Corporal Punishment of Students with Disabilities in US Public Schools.”

According to the report, at least 41,972 disabled students were subjected to corporal punishment during the 2006-2007 school year in the 20 states where it is still legal.  And those were only the reported cases. It is likely that many of these discipline measures go unreported.

While “paddling” is the most frequent form of physical discipline, the ACLU and Human Rights Watch discovered numerous instances of  disabled students suffering “beatings, slapping, pinching, being dragged across the room, and being thrown to the floor.”

Even worse, the study found that some of the students were being punished for conduct due to their disabilities, including symptoms like repetitive behaviors such as rocking and tics exhibited by students with Tourettes Syndrome.

The two agencies are calling for a complete ban on corporal punishment.  They are further recommending that the U.S. should comply with international human rights law which holds that corporal punishment only be allowed when absolutely necessary to protect a child.

I would further recommend that Congress stop giving federal money for education to those states which have not yet banned this abusive practice.

It is outrageous that educators be allowed to physically and legally abuse our children.