Regional News in Review – November 2009

U of M students fight for access University of Minnesota building Scott Hall has multiple stairways and lack of ramps […]

U of M students fight for access

University of Minnesota building Scott Hall has multiple stairways and lack of ramps that make it inaccessible for students with mobility disabilities, including those using walkers, canes or wheelchairs. Areas of study located in Scott Hall include American studies, American-Indian studies, African-American and African studies and Chicano studies.

If a student with a disability has a class scheduled in Scott, an issue facilities management said has happened in the past, the University will work with facilities management and professors to move the course to an accessible building.

But this move can cause great stress for the professor and fellow students and put unnecessary pressure on the disabled student, causing the student with a mobility disability to feel targeted or excluded. The Disabled Student Cultural Center (DSCC) is lobbying the Board of Regents to put funds toward making Scott Hall accessible to all students on campus-including those with disabilities.

DSCC has approached the board with the issue of Scott Hall accessibility for the past three years, and most recently one year ago, but each time received no action. Other Scott Hall resources, such as teacher office hours, cannot be moved. The University does eventually want to make Scott Hall accessible to students with disabilities, but it would like to wait until the building undergoes a full renovation, facilities management Associate Vice President Mike Berthelsen said.

Because the building is of historic value to the University, Berthelsen said it will definitely remain a part of campus. However, due to the building’s old age, Scott will need major renovations, a project that won’t happen for at least another six years.

One of the reasons for the delay is the more than $2 billion in facility needs over the next 10 years the University expects to incur, Berthelsen said, estimating that making Scott Hall fully accessible with “substantial” ramps and an addition for an elevator would cost around $1 to $2 million.

“When we have limited money, we need to target our biggest needs,” Berthelsen said. “The Scott Hall renovations just haven’t gotten to the top of the list yet.”

Scott Hall does have a handicap accessible ramp to the building from the street, but that ramp leads directly to stairs. The back door, which opens to the street, leads to a room with yet another flight of stairs, allowing students with mobility disabilities to only access stairs.

“We have one of the best disability services departments in the U.S.,” said DSCC co-director of programming Alex Kaminsky, one of the authors of the letter going to the Board of Regents. “But these changes are imperative and the conditions are unfair.”

The letter presented to the Board of Regents asks the University to address inaccessibility issues before looking at renovating accessible buildings such as Folwell.  [Source: Minnesota Daily, Inclusion Daily Express]

 

New affirmative action plan OK’d

The Minneapolis City Council approved a new Affirmative Action plan for Minneapolis City government Oct. 16. The plan will direct the city’s efforts to develop and maintain a diverse, result-driven organization that reflects the communities it serves. Development of the plan had been controversial because of concerns about budget cuts and the city’s ability to investigate and respond to complaints.

“We needed this new affirmative action plan and I’m pleased that it’s now in place,” said Mayor R.T. Rybak. “In the days of old, affirmative action plans were mostly about compliance, but here at the City of Minneapolis, we can do better than just comply, and that’s why this plan is designed to help make the City of Minneapolis better reflect the demographics of the diverse communities it serves.”

“The City of Minneapolis is an employer that strives to hire, develop and retain an excellent workforce,” said City Council Member Paul Ostrow, chair of the Ways and Means committee. “We do that by having an environment that welcomes a diverse group of employees and city departments that are accountable to their management and hiring practices.”

The city has built diversity measurements into its business planning process and Results Minneapolis discussions. Cultural competence is now part of the City’s leadership selection process and performance reviews and elements of diversity have been integrated into all trainings offered by the Human Resources Department.

The City’s Human Resources department led the effort to revise the existing Affirmative Action plan and worked with elected officials, department leaders and community groups over several years to ensure that a broad range of voices were included in the plan’s development.

The entire Affirmative Action Report is available on the City’s Web site at www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/council/2009meetings/20091016/docs/AffirmativeActionPlan_PLAN.pdf   [Source: City of Minneapolis]

 

Fees granted in Target case

Citing class counsel’s efforts in settling a case that established for the first time that equal access to a store’s facilities by disabled persons extends to Internet commerce, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted the plaintiffs’ motion for reasonable attorneys’ fees. The fee award was announced earlier this fall.

The Target case has worldwide implications for visually impaired persons who want to have better access to Internet sites. The case has wound its way through the court system for several years.

The National Federation of the Blind and individual members of a national class and a California subclass of blind persons sued Target Corp. The plaintiffs alleged that the inaccessibility of Target’s Web site for blind persons denied them full and equal access to Target stores in violation of California law and the Americans with Disabilities (ADA).

The parties reached a settlement. Target agreed to modify its Web site to meet accessibility guidelines. Target also established a $6 million settlement fund. The plaintiffs filed a motion for $2,321,050 in attorneys’ fees plus costs. The district court determined that some reduction in the fees was necessary.

The district court granted half of all hours spent litigating the plaintiffs’ unsuccessful motion for preliminary injunction because some parts of the evidentiary record were used to support the motion for class certification. The district court determined that an award of half of the hours spent on counsel’s media work was appropriate. Although press conferences and public relations work publicized the case and helped identify additional class members, the media work enhanced class counsel’s reputation considerably.

The plaintiffs’ efforts resulted in a damages fund and prompted Target to make substantial changes to its Web site. Other retailers immediately revised their Web sites following the plaintiffs’ lawsuit. Most significantly, the case established that equal access to Internet commerce is guaranteed under California law and partially protected by the ADA.

The nonprofit law firm Disability Rights Advocates filed the suit on behalf of blind UC Berkeley student Bruce Sexton, Jr. and the National Federation of the Blind of California.

Specifically, the plaintiffs said the website lacked “alt text” tags, which are words that can be written into Web page code along with graphic images so that computerized screen readers can describe those images out loud to blind web surfers. The Web site also lacked image maps, which allow blind users to move to different places on the site, and required users to use a mouse to complete any transaction, which means that they must have a sighted person help them.

Target’s lawyers had asked the court to dismiss the case, arguing that the federal and state civil rights laws only apply to physical premises and not the Internet.

The suit asked the court to force Target to stop violating the laws, to declare that Target was operating its Web site in a manner that discriminated against users who are blind or have vision-related disabilities, and to pay damages to the plaintiffs.  [Source: Inclusion Daily Express, allbusiness.com]

 

Sandford free from treatments

Supporters of Ray Sandford, a Columbia Heights man forced to undergo electroshock treatments, was awarded a change in guardianship in October. That officially means the end of his forced electroshock treatments.

Sandford’s new guardians support his right to say “no” to intrusive procedures such as electroshock.

“I’m a bit overwhelmed. This is wonderful! I’m very thankful. Without your help I probably would still be sitting somewhere getting more forced electroshock. So thanks a lot to and your group. Praise and thank the Lord, amen!” said Sandford.

David Oaks, Director of MindFreedom International, said, “Ray’s courage and laser focus led to a campaign that proves the ‘mad movement’ is alive and well. The sheer level of people power had to break through.”

On Oct. 27, 2008, Sandford first contacted the MindFreedom office. He had asked his local library about organizations that support human rights in mental health. The reference librarian gave him MindFreedom’s phone number.

He said that every Wednesday morning he was escorted from his group home to a hospital for another involuntary forced electroshock, under court order.

MindFreedom International investigated and kicked off a public campaign that became global. Issuing 21 alerts, MindFreedom’s campaign activated thousands of people who peacefully but passionately contacted elected officials, held protests, mailed Sandford stationery supplies, won extensive media coverage, visited him, and much, much more. At least one elected official said they felt “inundated.”

But MindFreedom also found that his oppression was systemic and deep. MindFreedom volunteers identified and listed on the MFI Web site more than 30 agencies and individuals receiving taxpayer money to supposedly help Standford. Only a few agencies helped Sandford, and most actually opposed his rights.

Sanford’s last forced electroshock was April 15. A May treatment was canceled. His psychiatrist quit because he said his insurance company was concerned about all the public attention. MindFreedom helped Standford find a new psychiatrist supportive of his human rights. The Sandford family made a YouTube video explaining his plight and hired a new attorney. Several concerned Minnesota agencies formed an “ECT Work Group” to change the law in Minnesota. The history of the successful campaign is at www.mindfreedom.org/ray  [Source: MindFreedom]

 

Medicaid cuts at center of lawsuit

The state of Minnesota has not met its legal requirements to assure Medicaid patients receive access and quality of care at least equal to patients in the general public, according to a lawsuit filed in federal courts last month by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS), the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA), the Minnesota Pharmacists Association, the Minnesota Retailers Association and numerous businesses.

When First DataBank and Medi-Span reduced the published drug-cost benchmark known as “average wholesale price” (AWP) in September, the Social Security Act required states to adjust reimbursement as a result of these reductions. The lawsuits challenge the states’ failure to take action to prevent pharmacies from being reimbursed at below cost for prescription drugs under state Medicaid programs. Pharmacy reimbursement at below cost may result in pharmacies leaving the Medicaid program to maintain their business’ viability, reducing hours and services, or closing altogether, thereby threatening Medicaid beneficiary care and access. The AWP reductions arise from the settlements coming out of the First DataBank and Medi-Span fraud and conspiracy lawsuits.

In addition to violating the Social Security Act, the pharmacy organizations also maintain that states must obtain approval by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services for changes to reimbursement, and that the cuts resulting from the AWP reductions were not approved as required. Also, these cuts run contrary to the states’ certifications that current reimbursement is the states’ best estimate of actual acquisition cost, as required by federal law. The plaintiffs also raised some state-specific claims.

“Pharmacies provide vital medications and services to Medicaid patients that improve and save lives, and help prevent higher long-term healthcare costs. Some private payers and some states already have taken action to adjust reimbursements appropriately, to maintain the quality and accessibility of pharmacy patient care and its benefits. Federal Medicaid law obligates the states, including Minnesota, to do the same,” said NACDS President and Chief Executive Officer, Steven C. Anderson.

“The failure to act by Minnesota has produced a perverse outcome whereby underserved patients who need access to health care the most, will get it the least,” said NCPA Executive Vice President and CEO, Bruce T. Roberts, RPh. “Independent community pharmacies frequently serve urban or rural areas where a disproportionate share of Medicaid beneficiaries live. In some of these communities, the pharmacy is the only health care provider for miles around. Left unchecked, these unfair cuts could push some community pharmacies to the breaking point. Even in tough budget times, the reductions are short-sighted. Faced with diminished pharmacy access, Medicaid patients will turn to more expensive doctor’s offices or emergency rooms-driving up costs to the state.”

“MPhA is deeply disappointed in the decision of the Department of Human Services to not exercise its authority and responsibility to assist pharmacies in what will be a devastating blow to their ability to provide services to their patients,” said Julie K. Johnson, Pharm.D., Executive Vice President and CEO, Minnesota Pharmacists Association.

“The pharmacy members of the Minnesota Retailers Association have had a long and positive working relationship with the Department of Human Services. Our Association joins this lawsuit not as a first option but as our only option,” said Bruce W. “Buzz” Anderson, President, Minnesota Retailers Association.  [Source: National Association of Chain Drug Stores]

 

Charges filed in assault on dog

A 46-year-old Minneapolis woman was cited for animal cruelty after intentionally kicking a six-year-old dog guide in the jaw, according to Minneapolis Police. The incident happened in late September inside of the Target store on Nicollet Mall.

Lynnette Lijewski and her service dog, Brook, were making a routine trip to the store when the incident happened. “It goes beyond cruelty to the animal,” said Sgt. Jesse Garcia, a police spokesman. “It’s cruelty to the owner. … It takes cruelty to a new level.”

Lijewski said she had walked through one set of doors at the Target, 900 Nicollet Mall, when she felt Brook’s legs go out from under her. Blind since birth, Lijewski said she could tell Brook righted herself, and she began to check the dog when a girl came up and told her a woman with gray hair just kicked Brook.

“The woman went out of her way to do it. We weren’t in her path,” Lijewski said. They alerted store staff and security, who called police. They reviewed video from the store and found the suspect, who was still in the area.

Lijewski took Brook to a vet to be checked. “This dog is my eyes,” said Lijewski, who said Brook is her fifth service dog in 25 years. “Her job is to keep me safe, but it’s my job to keep her safe.”

She also credited the Target staff and Minneapolis police. “Everything that could be done right was done right,” she said. “And they took it seriously, which is so important.”  [Source: Star Tribune]