Then, two days later, I participated in a Board of Directors committee meeting that has been assigned to search for a new Disability Right Network of Pennsylvania chief executive officer. Finally, my next day’s Pittsburgh Legal Journal included a notice for Tuesday’s Allegheny County Bar Association meeting of those interested in forming a Committee on Issues Affecting People with Disabilities. I concluded that this was all a sign that I should write a column on issues that attorneys, law students, and other legal professionals should be aware of under Title I (employment), Title II (public services) and Title III (public accommodations) of the ADA.
But this week also produced a very different pattern of disability-related new stories, from unlikely sources:
-- National Public Radio News posted on Twitter – at sundown on Yom Kippur, no less – an article entitled “Social Security Wrongfully Paid $1.3 Billion in Disability.” The underlying article, which was based on an AP story, said that the Government Accountability Office estimated that 36,000 individuals were both paid for employment and paid Social Security disability benefits from December 2011 to January 2013. However, the GAO used questionable methodology in arriving at its $1.3 billion estimate, and the underlying article pointed out that even that figure represented less than 1% of both beneficiaries and disability payments made during that time frame. Unforgivable headline, NPR News.
--Post-Gazette columnist Tony Norman must have thought he was shooting fish in a barrel when he wrote that the state of Iowa’s issuance of gun permits to the blind was carrying its state motto to “ridiculous extremes.” But the columnist seems to have been caught in the same absolutist trap talking about the ADA that some gun rights advocates are caught in talking about the Second Amendment. The ADA literally requires an individual with a disability to meet “essential eligibility requirements for … the participation in programs or activities provided by a public entity,” and therefore a state can defend the denial of a permit to a blind applicant on the basis that he or she is not “qualified.” Similarly, Justice Scalia’s opinion finding an individual right to own a firearm (District of Columbia v. Heller) states that the Second Amendment right is not unlimited.
“four-legged imposters” that people try to pass off (illegally in California) as service animals.-- Public accommodations (which include law offices) are generally required to modify policies, practices, and procedures to permit the use of a service animal by an individual with a disability. This week NPR News ran a story on service animals – not one focusing on all the task these animals perform for the benefit of the disabled but, instead, one talking about
So instead of writing this week about ways in which people in the legal profession can overcome barriers and succeed, I find myself defending persons with disabilities from accusations that they are dishonest, dangerous, and/or deceptive.
I could still write up suggested agenda items for that ACBA committee formation meeting, but I worry that my ideas will sound like they are coming from out of left field.
(Top image: Jupiterimages/Getty Images)