Being “Polite” Does Not Ensure Access

DREDF The Blog,, August 18, 2023

On October 4, 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in Acheson Hotels LLC v. Laufer, a case that will decide whether testers – disabled people who investigate compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – can sue businesses for discrimination when their rights under that law are violated.

DREDF filed a brief in support of Deborah Laufer, the disabled person who discovered that the hotel run by Acheson Hotels was out of compliance with the ADA. You can read DREDF’s brief here.

The hotel and its supporters argue that businesses are willing to comply with ADA requirements and do so voluntarily. All a disabled person has to do if they encounter an inadvertent barrier is ask that it be removed.


Acheson Hotels told the Supreme Court that “a simple phone call reminding a hotel owner of its obligations” is better and more effective than a lawsuit. “A polite phone call or email will frequently be more effective at persuading” a business to comply with the law, Acheson said. Its supporters the Retail Litigation Center and National Retail Federation similarly told the Court that businesses are “willing to make changes” to comply with the ADA and access issues can be resolved with a “quick” or “simple phone call.”


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We Can’t Afford to *Not* Make Our Cities More Accessible for People With Disabilities

Steve Wright,, July 25, 2023

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) turns 33 on July 26. For a third of a century, this landmark civil rights legislation has made it possible for people with disabilities to access public spaces and participate in their communities, in ways they couldn’t in the past. This has had a marked effect on our built environment and the way cities operate—in ways that benefit both people with disabilities and the general public, as a whole.

For instance, curb ramps where sidewalks connect to crosswalks are a major benefit of the ADA. Curb ramps are not just for wheelchair users, as they make mobility safer for elderly people and families pushing strollers. Curb ramps are good for the economy, as well, because they make for easy wheeled delivery of the millions of products delivered via e-commerce daily.

Likewise, buses that have ramps, lifts, or boarding platforms for ease of access are not just for those who use assistive mobility devices, but they also make boarding easier for small children, senior citizens, and urban dwellers schlepping home groceries and goods because they live car-free.

Sadly, the landmark civil rights legislation that makes these things possible—and is a game changer for more than 80 million people with disabilities in the U.S. and their families—could be watered down or all but dismantled.

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Thousands of NJ families frustrated by long wait for disability services


After more than eight harrowing months as a patient at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, 22-year-old Alex Guedes is scheduled to return home to Atlantic County in September. The house has ramps, lifts and other accommodations for Alex, who has Down syndrome, depends on a wheelchair and has complex medical issues that leave him unable to do almost anything for himself. His family will get extra state funding to pay for nursing help, but his mom Susan Coll-Guedes still expects much of Alex’s daily care will fall on her and other family members.

While each case is unique, thousands of New Jersey families, like Alex’s, are stuck in a kind of limbo as they try to get adequate services for loved ones who have disabilities and have complex medical challenges. Some are waiting for a safe group-home option when such housing capacity is already stretched thin. Others need help providing care at home, something that can be hard to find given a growing national nursing shortage. And many are frustrated by government regulations and budget limitations that they say restrict their options for accessing care.

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From Norman’s Desk

Is New Jersey Really an Employment-First State? Hmm?

NJ claims to be an Employment First state for people with disabilities, yet the proposed $12,000 annual premium for people making less than a six-figure salary makes me go “Hmm?”’.

The reasoning behind the proposed premium is, even more, exasperating in its logic. The policy wonks believe that once the high income limits become effective there will be this huge influx of people with disabilities suddenly getting high-paying jobs who also need long-term support services during the first year. Seriously?

Why aren’t these people working now under WorkAbility? Hmm, perhaps they are sitting around waiting for these positions to appear. Or perhaps people with disabilities face many more barriers to being employed. Which scenario is more rooted in reality?

The latest National Trend in Disability Employment (nTIDE) from NJ’s Kessler Foundation may help in defining the current reality of those other barriers.  Hmm, a seven-tenth of one percent increase over 30 days nationally.  Certainly, that is a positive trend for people with disabilities, but does it support the current thinking behind the premium proposal that, somehow, all these other barriers will disappear creating this stampede of people with disabilities obtaining gainful employment once these income limits are increased?

This reasoning ignores that the WorkAbility reform intended to allow people already working and on WorkAbility to have salary increases without endangering their long-term support services needed to work. High pay means paying more taxes, which may actually be a net savings to the program. Allowing the current WorkAbility recipients to get higher salaries does not increase the program’s costs. They stay the same no matter what the recipient is paid.

Yes, in the coming years, WorkAbility will get more people applying;  yes, a cost-sharing premium may be needed at some point. But let the people on the program now have a chance to increase their incomes before imposing this additional tax on us. It’s not equitable or fair, and it’s based on faulty assumptions.

Norman A. Smith, HCCP
Co-Founder/Associate Executive Director
Project Freedom Inc.
Past Chair, NJ Statewide Independent Living Council

Project Freedom receives $175,000 Housing for Everyone Grant from TD Charitable Foundation

Support from the TD Charitable Foundation to help with nutrition and wellness activities

Project Freedom Inc., the 39-year-old nonprofit developer of supportive and affordable housing designed for people with disabilities, was recently awarded a $175,000 Housing for Everyone grant from the TD Charitable Foundation, the charitable giving arm of TD Bank, America’s Most Convenient Bank®.

Project Freedom is one of 37 non-profit organizations selected from more than 450 applicants to receive a Housing for Everyone grant as part of the TD Charitable Foundation’s signature grant initiative that has helped support organizations that are focused on providing affordable housing and affordable housing services since 2005.

In recent years the housing affordability crisis has continued to be a financial burden on families. As individuals and families across the country struggle with inflation and an exponential rise in rental costs, affordable housing providers face increased hardship given the growing demand for affordable rental units and emergency rental assistance.

The grant will support Project Freedom’s organic farm program that brings fresh, New Jersey-grown food to each of its seven Mercer complexes.  In addition, the organization also runs wellness programs.

“We are honored to receive this grant from TD Charitable Foundation,” said Tracee Battis, Executive Director of Project Freedom. “TD Bank has been involved with developing many of our affordable housing complexes.  Now this grant will further assist our tenants with disabilities.”

“This funding, along with food donations from community support agencies and community-minded stores, helps our tenants fight the high cost of food,” added Norman A. Smith, Co-Founder and Associate Executive Director of Project Freedom. “Through our support partners, we bring a variety of foods, baked goods, and organically grown produce to our tenants many of whom have disabilities.”

Through the 17th annual Housing for Everyone grant competition, the TD Charitable Foundation awarded $7 million across the Bank’s Maine-to-Florida footprint and Michigan to help support affordable housing organizations that focus on preserving affordable rental housing in their work to deliver rental assistance, rehabilitating affordable rental housing properties, and build organizational capacity to address resident sustainability for the long-term.

Since 2005, the TD Charitable Foundation has given more than $49 million dollars to non-profit and charitable organizations through the Housing for Everyone grant competition and helped support more than 550 affordable housing projects and initiatives.

The Housing for Everyone grant competition supports TD’s longstanding commitment to community enrichment through TD’s corporate citizenship platform, The TD Ready Commitment, which actively promotes inclusivity, economic vitality, and environmental well-being enabling people of all backgrounds to succeed in a rapidly changing world.


About Project Freedom Inc.

Project Freedom Inc. (PFI) is a 39-year-old organization dedicated to empowering people with disabilities to live independently through housing and related support services.  People with physical disabilities and other advocates started the organization.  They saw the need to build a barrier-free apartment complex with support services to meet their collective needs. Project Freedom has built 757 affordable and accessible apartments in five counties.  

About the TD Charitable Foundation


The TD Charitable Foundation is the charitable giving arm of TD Bank, America’s Most Convenient Bank®, one of the 10 largest commercial banking organizations in the United States. Since its inception in 2002, the Foundation has distributed over $300 million through donations to local nonprofits from Maine to Florida footprint and Michigan. More information on the TD Charitable Foundation is available at

People with Disabilities Need SMUP Designation. What is SMUP?

The National Council on Disability (NCD), a presidentially-appointed council, has written that the foundation of a person’s ability to live, learn, work, and earn, is to have and maintain good health that encompasses mental, physical, and overall well-being.  But there are great disparities in the health care system for people with disabilities to prevent this. To begin to correct some of these disparities, the NCD calls for us to be designated SMUPs.  These are not little blue people! 

Let’s look at why the NCD wants this designation before explaining what SMUPs are.

“For people across all categories of disabilities, attaining and maintaining good health has been elusive,” the NCD wrote in a recent report. The “unwelcoming healthcare system….for decades has failed 26% of the United States population, so much so that people with disabilities utilize the healthcare system for disease management instead of disease prevention.” People with disabilities “can even view the healthcare system as a source of potential harm.”

“It is a paradigm that exists as a result of avoidable systemic barriers within our healthcare system,” stated the NCD.

Some of NCD’s findings are:

If you are a person with a physical, intellectual, or developmental disability, your life expectancy is less than that of someone without disabilities.

You are more than three times as likely to have arthritis, diabetes, and a heart attack.

You are five times more likely to report a stroke, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, and depression. 

You are more likely to be obese.

You are significantly more likely to have unmet medical, dental, and prescription needs.

If you are a woman with a disability, you are likely to receive poorer maternity care and less likely to have received a Pap smear test or a mammogram.

If you are a pregnant woman with a disability, you have a much higher risk for severe pregnancy- and birth-related complications and eleven times the risk of maternal death.

If you are an adult who is Deaf or hard of hearing, you are three times as likely to report fair or poor health as compared to those who do not have hearing impairments.

If you have an intellectual disability, it is the strongest predictor for COVID-19 infection and the second strongest predictor for COVID-19 death.

If you live in a rural area, your disability appears to further worsen barriers to accessing healthcare.

These disparities are exacerbated if you are a person with a disability and a person of color.

NCD’s proposed solution to combat the institutional barriers in the health care system is NCD’s Health Equity for People with Disabilities Framework.

Through its research, collaboration with experts, and consultation with members of the disability community, NCD’s findings reveal five primary policy issues to build upon the advancement of health equity for people with disabilities.  Drumroll, please!

They include:

  1. Designating people with disabilities as a Special Medically Underserved Population (SMUP) under the Public Health Services Act;
  2. Designating people with disabilities as a Health Disparity Population under the Minority Health and Health Disparities Research and Education Act;
  3. Requiring comprehensive disability clinical-care curricula in all US medical, nursing and other healthcare professional schools and requiring disability competency education and training of medical, nursing and other healthcare professionals;
  4. Requiring the use of accessible medical and diagnostic equipment; and
  5. Improving data collection concerning healthcare for people with disabilities across the lifespan.

The first component requires congressional action in terms of passing legislation.  Of course, that rang my advocacy alert bells. 

To achieve health equity for people with disabilities, it is critical that people with disabilities be legally identified as a Special Medically Underserved Population (SMUP) under the Public Health Service Act, with the corresponding benefits associated with that designation.  Medically Underserved Population designations require population groupings based upon geography. This is not an applicable means of providing equitable healthcare to the national community of people with disabilities. To get around this technicality, people with disabilities must be designated by Congress as a Special Medically Underserved Population through a revision of Section 330 of the Public Health Service Act.

A copy of NCD’s latest report on this issue, where all of the above information was excerpted. can be found here.

I will be following this issue and will be connecting with Project Freedom’s congressional contingent (Reps. Chris Smith, Andy Kim, and Jeff Van Drew: Senators Robert Menendez and Corey Booker) to make them aware of this issue.  Watch for future updates. 

“Work Until You Die” Is Not a Retirement Plan

By Rebecca Cokley, The Nation, March 10, 2023

The disability community is reeling this week over the passing of Judith Heumann. Judy, a polio survivor, spent most of her 75 years advocating for the rights of people with disabilities, in school, in employment, in foreign policy, in the United States and globally. She served in both the Clinton and Obama administrations, and pioneered roles at the World Bank and the Ford Foundation. But the reality is that Judy, like so many disabled people, had to work until her death to maintain the quality of life that she needed to stay in the community and avoid being forced against her will into an institution or nursing home.

As Rebecca Vallas at the Disability and Economic Justice Collaborative says, “Disability is a cause and consequence of poverty.” Rules and regulations regarding Social Security, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Workforce Investment Act, and Medicaid govern every decision people with disabilities can make about their economic status, from what college to attend to whether to marry.

Research from the National Disability Institute shows that households with a person with a disability that their ability to work have approximately $17,000 in additional annual expenses than a comparable household without a person with a disability. People with disabilities experience poverty at twice the rate of nondisabled people. The disability community experiences higher levels of homelessness, food insecurity, and unemployment than people without disabilities. And before the global pandemic, more than 10,0000 people with disabilities died in one year while waiting for benefits approval. Not surprisingly, these statistics become even more stark when incorporating race, gender, and 2LGBTQIAP identities.

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Nation’s Disability Services At Breaking Point, Report Finds

by Michelle Diament., March 2, 2023

After warning for years of an impending collapse in the disability services system, advocates say that the crisis is here with a new report painting a dire picture of the situation across the country.

Programs are closing, people with developmental disabilities are being turned away and providers are failing to meet federal requirements, according to the analysis out this week from United Cerebral Palsy and the American Network of Community Options and Resources, or ANCOR.

The annual report known as the “Case for Inclusion” assesses 80 indicators of how well states are supporting individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the community.

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Employment Of People With Disabilities Hits Record High

by Shaun Heasley,, March 3, 2023

he employment rate for Americans with disabilities has reached an all-time high, federal officials say.

Among people with disabilities nationally, 21.3% had a job in 2022. That’s up from 19.1% the previous year and represents the highest rate on record since the government began tracking such data in 2008.

The snapshot of disability employment last year comes in a new report issued by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. The agency collects data on people with disabilities in the job market as part of its Current Population Survey, which polls 60,000 households each month about employment and unemployment.

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Disabled Voters Struggle for Help With Ballots Amid Confusion

Five months after a federal court reaffirmed that voters with disabilities are entitled to receive help with their ballots, not all local Wisconsin election officials are clear about the rules on helping residents to vote.

 By Mitchell Schmidt, The Wisconsin State Journal, Feb. 21, 2023 

(TNS) — It’s been more than five months since a federal court reaffirmed that voters with disabilities are entitled to receive help mailing or delivering absentee ballots, but lingering confusion among some local election officials has left some voters facing continuing barriers to their right to vote.

“What’s especially concerning is that we have heard and seen examples from several municipalities where the clerk actually included instructions along with the absentee ballot that said only the voter can return their ballot,” Disability Rights Wisconsin spokesperson Barbara Beckert said earlier this week. “Most voters are going to see that and accept that, ‘Well, I guess I can’t have someone assist me with returning my ballot so I guess I’m not going to be able to vote.'”

The federal Voting Rights Act allows voters with disabilities to receive assistance as long as the person helping them isn’t the voter’s employer, an agent of that employer, or an officer or agent of the voter’s union.

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