Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Disability History Series - Part I

In honor of Disability Awareness Month, I would like to share with you the history of disability beginning with the housing of individuals with disabilities in institutions, referred to as institutionalization, and ending with what we see today in the 21st century. This trip we are taking is a difficult one, there is no doubt, but it is important to know where we came from so that we never go back there again. This series will be comprised of 4 parts:

Part I: Institutionalization, Eugenics and Deinstitutionalization 
Part II: Legislation and the Disconnect between Law and Life
Part III: Disability Awareness - who "they" are and the impacts disability has on individuals
Part IV: The Present and the Future

WARNING: This article talks about very abusive situations forced upon people with disabilities. Please be aware that it may be upsetting to some readers. The stories that follow are true and absolutely heart breaking. 


When we think of civil rights movements the plight of African-Americans, women's suffrage and gay rights immediately spring to mind. However, there is another group of individuals who have been fighting for their fundamental rights for even longer and who have not yet attained the respect of the general population. The history of the disabled population in the United States is a long and sad one.
Individuals who either were born with their disabilities or acquired them later in life from injury or disease were largely ignored and hidden away in institutions. What began as an attempt by a physician in the late nineteenth century to educate and train them quickly turned into a movement towards automatic institutionalization. A stigma never before felt by this population developed and they became the targets of chronic abuse by their families, the medical community, and society en masse. Not until the middle of the twentieth century, or thereabouts, were the disabled regarded important enough to be protected and supported. The civil rights movement of the disabled brought the atrocities and low living standards they bore to the forefront of society’s awareness. Through government legislation, improvements in medicine, journalistic exposés and a massive public outcry, deinstitutionalization was finally set in motion.
We will see, however, that often there is a lack of correlation between law rhetoric and the concrete application of policy. We see that legislation passed with the intent of assisting a whole class of people does not always work in the way it is expected to. Unintended consequences are not uncommon and are in fact quite the norm; what looks good on paper does not translate to affectability in real life. Furthermore, the way in which the U.S. political system is set up allows for loopholes to be built in to policies.
Disability awareness is important to understand how and why this population has suffered as a result of being segregated from the rest of society. An individual’s disability can have profoundly disastrous effects on a family and can lead to isolation, mental health problems that would otherwise not be present and abuse. Discrimination and stigmatization are the byproducts of a society based on the concept that everyone must be “normal”.
In order to make changes, we must first look back to see where things went wrong. We must then look at what has been done to change this and how we can continue defending the rights of those that may not have the ability to advocate for themselves, but deserve to have that protection just as much as non-disabled citizens.


Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe was a very important historical figure in the mid-19th century. An abolitionist and physician, he also advocated for the blind and "feeble-minded". He believed in the idea that these individuals could be educated and that they could serve a valuable function within society. He started a small school in his father's home by gathering a handful of local youths who were blind. It proved successful and soon outgrew the walls of his family's home. In 1832, he established the Perkins School for the Blind in Massachusetts. He was its first superintendent and continued to be so, tirelessly, until his death. He is also seen as the precipitator of what is now known as the institutionalization movement that began in the 1850's. 
The industrialization of society in the early nineteenth century called for a more-educated population. Those who did not do well in the newly developed public education system were labeled "feeble-minded". They were ridiculed and typically experienced horrific living conditions. Dr. Howe was sensitive to their lives and headed a legislative commission in 1846 to study their situation. In all, over 700 "idiots" were identified, half of whom Dr. Howe felt could be helped with teachers and education geared towards their specific needs. He believed they could be taught self-care and to do simple labor. In 1849, his dream was realized and the Massachusetts School for Idiotic Children and Youth was established in Boston with the use of public funds. Over the next ten years, similar schools were established in several states. These schools were intended to have a family feel to them. The objective was to teach the students skills they could use, such as farm or household chores, to earn a living when they returned to their original communities.
Although institutionalization began as a humanitarian effort, it soon took a turn in another direction. The communities from which these individuals came were not accepting of them upon the completion of their schooling. The feebleminded were viewed as a social burden and “normal” society felt they were better off living at the schools permanently. Dr. Howe staunchly opposed permanent institutionalization. In his final report to the trustees of the Massachusetts School for Idiotic Children in 1874 when he retired, Howe warned of the permanent segregation of the "feebleminded," insisting that they should be integrated into society. "Even idiots have rights . . . !” he wrote. It would be another half-century before others began to believe in this vision. The school eventually came under direction of Walter Fernald who was a supporter of segregating "idiotic" children from the rest of society. The tragedy that unfolded resulting from the incarceration of feeble-minded, mentally retarded, disfigured or otherwise abnormal individuals was set in motion.


Our history is riddled with atrocities that the "hidden" population was subjected to. One such story begins with Fernald and the Massachusetts School. It was found that a large number of mentally impaired children being "treated" at this school actually scored in the normal range in their IQ tests (Walter E. Fernald State School). There were many reports of physical and sexual abuse which were not exclusive to this institution. Throughout the country, for the next fifty years, institutions initially intended to serve those that had a disability became overcrowded, horrific institutions referred to as "snake pits". States maintained these dilapidated monstrosities through "legislative penny-pinching" (Maisel, 1946) under the guise of public service when in actuality they cast aside the needs of those who needed the most assistance.
The abuse endured by this population stemmed from several causes. There was found to be severe understaffing and high turnover rates at all of the institutions investigated. The number of physicians, nurses and attendants available were far below the minimum state standards.  At a hospital in Warren, Pennsylvania, for example, the average daily patient load was twenty-three percent above what it was actually capable of handling (Maisel, 1946). There were four physicians – one for every 640 patients – when the official schedule called for 12 and any decent standard would require from 18 to 25 (Maisel, 1946).
The base pay of attendants, less than $900 a year, was far below the beginning pay rate of $1950 for prison guards even though the attendants' job was more dangerous and less pleasant (Maisel, 1946). Many doctors were incompetents, alcoholics and psychotics who could hold no position in well-run institutions where cure is the objective (Maisel, 1946). It was extremely rare to find a case of a doctor who was genuinely interested in curing or helping these patients; it was more of a case of keeping these patients "in line".
These factors, along with the stigma of being "feeble-minded", perpetuated the accepted practice of shutting away these people by any means necessary. Patients were confined to restraints for days and weeks at a time. These restraints consisted of thick leather handcuffs, locks and straps, and restraining sheets that were used to tie ankles, necks, and chests to beds, benches and chairs. In a high number of hospitals, chemical restraints were also used. Drugs that would normally only be prescribed and administered by doctors and nurses even in those times were being used haphazardly by untrained attendants. There was a reported case in a Pennsylvania state hospital of a man in his mid-20's who was over-sedated by attendants as their method of keeping him under control. He ultimately died because his sedation was not overseen by a doctor; rather, there was a "free hand" administration of drugs rampant in this particular hospital (Maisel, 1946).
Many hospitals did not properly feed their patients. The food served was likened to what could be found in garbage cans. At a New Jersey hospital an attendant noted that he had "seen cole-slaw salad thrown loose on the table, [and] the patients [were] expected to grab it as animals would…”(Maisel, 1946) There were many cases where the patients starved to death because of not receiving the minimum nourishment necessary to sustain life. Many could not feed themselves, and the shortage of workers meant residents often did not eat properly (Dugger, 1993).
Byberry Mental Hospital was an infamous institution known for its decrepit building conditions and treatment of patients. The wards were overcrowded to the point that the floors could not be seen through the rickety cots, while thousands more slept on the bare floors (Maisel, 1946). Hundreds of patients were not given a stitch of clothing and were forced to live in bare rooms with concrete floors. They were not given anything to occupy their days or even have chairs or beds to sit in. They lived in filth; the rooms smelled of urine and feces. Daylight was their only source of light and even that was filtered in through half-inch holes punched into steel-plated windows; cloudy days and nightfall meant hours and days of blackness with no relief. The cries of the insane echo[ed] unheard from the peeling plaster of the walls (Maisel, 1946).
Willowbrook State School was a New York state-supported school for children with mental retardation from the 1930's through 1987. An exposé in 1972 showed that it, too, was overcrowded, housing over 6,000 children when the mandated maximum was 4,000. It became known as a warehouse for New York City's mentally disabled children (Willowbrook State School). As many as sixty extremely disabled people were packed into one big locked room during the day, for years on end, with only a few attendants to supervise (Dugger, 1993). A close investigation showed patients were forced to live with inadequate sanitary facilities which virtually guaranteed the spreading of disease.
A researcher from New York University, Dr. Saul Krugman, proposed research that appeared promising in distinguishing between strains of Hepatitis and in developing a vaccine (DuBois). However, his study design involved feeding children local strains of live Hepatitis – deliberately infecting them (DuBois). The claim was, only children whose parents gave informed consent were used in the questionable study. However, critics asserted that the dangers of the experiment were downplayed to parents. Also, because the school was overcrowded, the only rooms available were in the experimental wing which left parents with no options other than to consent to subjecting their children to the study (DuBois). A public outcry brought the study to a halt but not until hundreds of non-infected children were made sick and were physically abused by members of the school's staff (DeBello, 2008). The grandmother of a patient there recounts seeing the condition of her four-year-old granddaughter who was admitted there, "You could smell her. Her little toes would be so chafed I had to pull them apart. I had to cut her hair short it was so matted." (Dugger, 1993)


Eugenics is another despicable part of the history of the disabled community. This trend, which had its inception towards the late 1800’s, attempted to improve the quality of American citizens by implementing restrictive social policies that discouraged marriage and/or reproduction of individuals who were presumed to have inheritable undesirable traits. This movement sought to link social ills such as crime, prostitution, poverty, juvenile delinquency and promiscuity to people with cognitive disabilities (Snyder & Mitchell 624-625). It is also in this movement the term “feeblemindedness” was created. There was a tiered hierarchy of defectiveness developed in order to be able to categorize different levels of feeblemindedness. Idiots referred to individuals with a mental age of two years or less; imbeciles represented those with an arrested mentality of three to seven years; and morons referred to those attaining a mental age of no more than twelve years of age (Snyder & Mitchell 624-625).  
Using this pseudo-science as a rationale, prominent figures of the early twentieth century attempted to purify the American race by passing legislation legalizing compulsory sterilization of individuals believed to be "feeble-minded", epileptic, or otherwise “socially inadequate” individuals. Because this latter criterion was so broad the number of people who were at risk of falling into this category was almost infinite. Those who were institutionalized were almost guaranteed to be sterilized. Approximately 60,000 Americans were sterilized due to compulsory sterilization of institutionalized patients. Although it was a topic of interest throughout the world, the United States was among the less than a handful of countries most involved with this pseudo-science.  Between 1907 and 1937 thirty-two states required sterilization of various citizens viewed as undesirable: the mentally ill or handicapped, those convicted of sexual, drug, or alcohol crimes and others viewed as "degenerate"(McCarrick & Coutts, 2010).
The most infamous case of eugenic sterilization was that of young Carrie Buck. Shortly after her birth, her mother was placed in an institution for the feebleminded. Carrie was raised by foster parents and attended school until the sixth grade. At 17, she became pregnant. Her foster parents committed her to an institution on the grounds of feeblemindedness and promiscuity. She gave birth to a daughter who was adopted by her foster parents. The child died at the age of eight due to complications resulting from the measles. Soon after being committed, Carrie was picked as the first patient to undergo forced sterilization after the enactment of the Eugenical Sterilization Act in Virginia. Officials claimed that Carrie and her mother shared the hereditary traits of feeblemindedness and promiscuity therefore Carrie was the "probable potential parent of socially inadequate offspring." (Lombardo) In Buck v. Bell (1927) the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the sterilization law, with Justice Holmes infamously proclaiming in his opinion “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” Carrie Buck, along with her daughter, Vivian, was sterilized.
But this “justice” was in actuality an abuse of government and law which by extension was abuse of “degenerate” citizens. Carrie was not promiscuous; she was raped by a nephew of her foster parents who sought to cover up the family embarrassment by institutionalizing her. At her trial, “experts” who had never even met with Carrie testified to her feeblemindedness and moral inadequacies (Lombardo). Not only was her defense attorney childhood friends with the prosecuting attorney, he was also a longtime supporter of sterilization and a founder of the colony to which she was committed (Lombardo). School report cards showed that Carrie had passed each year with very good marks and Vivian had made the honor roll (Pitzer, 2009). She and countless others were the victims of corrupt individuals who used their education and standing in society to abuse the judicial system in order to reach personal political ends.
Fortunately, we have seen the end of compulsive sterilization albeit more than a little late for the more than 65,000 people in the United States alone who were forced to endure this procedure. The Nazis’ cited the American eugenics ideology as their model behind their “ethnic cleansing”. The systematic murder of over 250,000 disabled people between 1939 and 1945 helped to finally dilute the fierce support for engineering a master human race here in the U.S.



The population of people with intellectual disabilities in public institutions peaked at 194,650 in 1967 (Community for All Tool Kit, 2004). Starting around the 1970’s, we began to see the deinstitutionalization of what is regarded as the disabled population. Between 1970 and 1984, 24 institutions in 12 states were closed, by 1988, 44 institutions in 20 states had been closed, and by 2000, there were 125 closures, or planned closures, in 37 states (Community for All Tool Kit, 2004). One reason for this new trend is that in the first half of the 1940’s, psychiatrists treating war veterans for combat-related mental illnesses began to realize that treatment for mental illnesses in civilians would be best treated outside traditional institutions (United States). Also, conscientious objectors during World War II refused to serve in the military based on religious and moral reasons. As alternatives, roughly two to three thousand were sent to work in institutions and asylums that were understaffed (Deinstitutionalization). They witnessed firsthand the abuse suffered by the institutionalized and began to log their experiences. If not for them, the reality of institutional life described earlier would likely not have been brought to the forefront of people’s awareness. In 1946, Life magazine printed an explosive account, “Bedlam 1946: Most U.S. Mental Hospitals are a Shame and a Disgrace”, that depicted the atrocities endured by the institutionalized. This particular exposé was based on photos and information gathered by the conscientious objectors and on the firsthand witnessing of the reporter Albert Q. Maisel.
At the same time the exposé was published, a public campaign to improve the living situations and overall care and treatment of people with mental illness was launched by the National Mental Health Foundation (NMHF), an extremely influential entity to the cause. Articles announcing prominent figures such as former Supreme Court Justice Owens and Eleanor Roosevelt as supporters of this movement were sent to newspapers across the nation (Taylor, 2003). Mrs. Roosevelt even met with the Conscientious Objectors personally and supported them through her national newspaper column, “My Day” (Taylor, 2003). Throughout the late 1940s and into the 1950s, NMHF conducted aggressive public awareness campaigns to change public attitudes toward people with mental illness (Taylor, 2003).
A social movement sprung to life. More and more exposés in the following years peeled back the layers of secrecy shrouding these abominations of our country’s history such as the one at Willowbrook Hospital by Geraldo Rivera. Furthermore, doctors and parents outraged over the treatment of patients in this institution began going public. They picketed the administration building, blocked traffic on the street and talked to reporters (Dugger, 1993). Communities were shocked to learn of the horrific environments the disabled were being forced to live in. Public sentiment towards the disabled began to change.


The powerful philosophy of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s opened up the eyes of the United States government. By this time important political figures, such as Senator Robert Kennedy and President John F. Kennedy, were formally denouncing the revolting circumstances of the nation’s asylums and called for federal policy changes in the treatment of those with mental illnesses. Rosemary Kennedy, one of the President’s sisters, was described as slow and possibly dyslexic and mentally retarded. Her family chose to place her in an institution. Perhaps this was the strongest motivator in the Kennedys’ fight for equal rights for the disabled. “The time has come for a great national effort,” stated President Kennedy (Kennedy, 1963).
In his first year in office, President Kennedy established the President’s Panel on Mental Retardation. Six task forces were created and charged with conducting an “intensive search for solutions” to the problems experienced by people with mental retardation (Minnesota Governor). The 1962 report of the Panel on Mental Retardation heralded the beginning of federal involvement and fiscal aid to states (Minnesota Governor). The report contained 112 recommendations under the headings of research…a new legal and social concept of mental retardation, increased educational opportunities to learn about mental retardation, and public education and information programs (Minnesota Governor).
The Community Mental Health Act of 1963 (CMHA) was legislation passed by Kennedy’s administration which played a large part in the deinstitutionalization trend. The CMHA provided grants to states for the establishment of local mental health centers, under the overview of the National Institute of Mental Health (Community Mental Health Act). In 1965, an Intermediate Care Facility (ICF) program was set up for the elderly and disabled adults under the Social Security Act (Lakin, Larson, Salmi, Scott, 2009).
Three outcomes were intended by proponents of this legislation: 1) to provide substantial federal incentives for upgrading the physical environment and the quality of care and habilitation being provided in large public ID/DD facilities; 2) to neutralize incentives for states to place persons with ID/DD in nonstate nursing homes and/or to certify their large state facilities as SNFs; and 3) to provide a program for care and habilitation (“active treatment”) specifically focused on the needs of persons with ID/DD rather than upon medical care. Although the population of state facilities continued to decrease on a yearly basis states overwhelmingly certified their public institutions to participate in the ICF program (Lakin et al., 2009).
Proponents of community based services used statistics generated by the ICF program to propel their argument. They argued that the program provided an incentive to maintain large state facilities by offering federal funding. Funds that could have been diverted to develop and support community services and programs were instead used to renovate large facilities in order to receive these federal funds. This model also promoted a single standard for care for ICF residents regardless of the nature of their disability or degree of capacity for independence.
Section 2176 of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (OBRA) of 1981 created the Medicaid Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) waiver program. This was passed in order to provide non-institutional services to individuals who are disabled that were in or at risk of being placed in institutions. However, many in the advocacy field began to get a sense that there were many more people with ID/DD living in nursing homes than were appropriately served in them (Lakin et al., 2009). Congress attempted to rectify the situation by passing the OBRA of 1987 which restricted the criteria for patients permitted to enter a Medicaid approved nursing facility to ensure that only individuals needing the nursing and medical services offered would be admitted.
The OBRA of 1986 proved to do very little as the barrage of court cases of the 1990’s suing facilities in violation proved. There have been court cases over the course of the last half century that has given rights to those who are disabled and their families. There have also been cases in which people or entities have been found guilty of discrimination based on disability even after legislation has been passed in order to end this type of discrimination.
A landmark example is the Olmstead decision (Olmstead v. L.C and E.W). In 1999, two women, institutionalized by the state of Georgia, fought for their right to live in their own home in their community without losing government benefits. Georgia claimed that by allowing these women to move into the community, it would lead to the closing of state-run facilities and disrupt government funding to individuals in these facilities. However, the Supreme Court found that forcing individuals to remain in institutions in cases where their attending physicians felt it was unnecessary violated their rights as written in Title II of the ADA. The 'integration mandate' of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires public agencies to provide services "in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of qualified individuals with disabilities." (Supreme Court Upholds ADA 'Integration Mandate' in Olmstead decision) The Court noted that confinement in an institution severely diminishes the everyday life activities of individuals – including family relations, social contacts, work options, economic independence, educational advancement, and cultural enrichment. (United States, 2000) It further found that it was a violation of a person’s rights as written in Title II of the ADA to force them to be institutionalized in order to receive their Medicaid benefits. Medicaid is the largest health insurance program used by low-income persons with disabilities. Approximately twenty percent of the American population with severe disabilities has no other health coverage. This means that Medicaid serves over five million consumers who have no other way of covering their life-sustaining needs. This ruling increased the momentum of deinstitutionalization and began a trend towards home and community-based services (HCBS) (Stroman, 2003).
However, it was apparent that not enough had been done. Society made disabled people "invisible by shutting them away in segregated facilities" Rep. George Miller (D.-Calif.) said in a Congressional debate on the ADA bill in 1989. (Supreme Court Upholds ADA 'Integration Mandate' in Olmstead Decision) Out of sight, out of mind had been a long time standard for how to “deal with” individuals with mental and physical disabilities. Medicaid has been referred to having an “institutional bias” because it has historically preferred nursing-home facilities, such as ICF’s, to community-based long term care (LTC).  In 2005, Medicaid paid $101 billion for LTC services, the majority of which was for institutional care (63 percent). (Coffey, 2008) In 2008, nationally, HCBS recipients made up 84.9 percent of the total HCBS and ICF recipient population but used only 65.1 percent of total HCBS and ICF-MR expenditures (Lakin et al., 2009). The per-person expenditures for recipients of HCBS services were lower in every state than those for ICF recipients (Lakin et al., 2009).
The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (DRA) helped to further deinstitutionalization by making very significant changes to state Medicaid coverage of long-term care services. States now have the option to provide home and community based services (HCBS) as a state plan benefit (Coffey, 2008).
States can provide HCBS benefits in three ways:
·         An optional 1915(c) HCBS waiver
·         A mandatory home health benefit
·         An optional state plan personal care services benefit
Since its inception, the number of people requesting HCBS has steadily risen. In 2006, 280,176 individuals were on a waiting list for HCBS services, up from 206,427 individuals in 2004 (Crowley & Risa, 2003).
            The DRA also enacted the Money Follows the Person program (MFP) which is a program intended to help individuals currently receiving services in institutions transition into their communities and allow them to self-direct their care plan. The government provides a cash incentive for states to expand their HCBS program funding. The Medicaid dollars will “follow the person” so that these individuals will be able to retain their Medicaid coverage and have it delivered through HCBS programs. It already matched at least half of state Medicaid expenses. Under MFP, states will receive an enhanced match for the HCBS services provided for the first twelve months to each individual transitioned under the program (Coffey, 2008).
 A state plan option allows for states to provide HCBS waiver services without needing to get a waiver for individuals with disabilities up to 150 percent of the poverty level. As promising as these options appear to be, they are very narrow in scope and do not allow for all of those who wish to live in their communities to do so. Furthermore, few states have taken up the state plan option to date (Crowley & Risa, 2003).
 However, there is still an institutional bias in the Medicaid system. What this means is that the way Medicaid has been set up promotes the institutionalization of individuals as opposed to home and community based services (HCBS). In June 2008 an estimated 51.8 percent of HCBS recipients received services in settings other than the home of natural or adoptive family members (Lakin et al., 2009). While there has been a trend for wanting deinstitutionalization the numbers show that a large number of disabled individuals have no choice but to enter an institution. In 2005, 59 percent of Medicaid spending on long-term care and support services was spent on institutions whereas the national average of the same type of spending on home and community based services was only 37 percent (Crowley & Risa, 2003).

There is currently a large movement towards person-centered planning, where the individual chooses what to do, where to go and who to be with. We will discuss this further in Part IV. Next week, Part II, we will look at legislation that has been passed in the areas of accessibility and education. 

Photo credits:

DeBello, Vanessa. "History." Willowbrook State School – A Voice Behind the Wall. Blogspot,
      03 October 2008. Web. 4 May 2011. <

DuBois, James. "Hepatitis Studies at the Willowbrook State School for Children with Mental
      Retardation." Ethics in Mental Health Research. Saint Louis University and Missouri
      Institute of Mental Health, n.d. Web. 20 May 2010.

Dugger, Celia. "Big Day for Ex-Residents Of Center for the Retarded." New York Times (1993):
      n. pag. Web. 14 October 2010. <

Maisel, Albert. "Bedlam 1946: Most U.S. Mental Hospitals are a Shame and a Disgrace." Time
      Life Magazine. 6 May 1946: Print.

Pfeiffer, David. "Samuel Gridley Howe and 'Schools for the Feeble-minded'." Ragged Edge
      Online. Advocado Press, 2003. Web. 4 September 2010.

"Samuel Gridley Howe." Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography,
      2001. Web. 14 September 2010.

“Willowbrook State School.” In Wikipedia. Retrieved 5 Oct. 2010.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Sheltered Workshops: A Thing of the Past in Vermont

Workshops - Yay or Nay?

There is a great debate taking place on whether or not sheltered workshops should still be an option for people with disabilities who are out of school. Read my pros and cons on workshops here. One of the main arguments people have against closing down workshops is the fear that the individuals working there will have no place to go since businesses don’t tend to hire people with disabilities. The numbers seem to back that up since the unemployment rate of people with disabilities is twice that of people without disabilities, according to the Department of Labor (as of August 2014). You can find more informationon that here.
However, the state of Vermont is an example of contradiction to this argument. According to this article :

“The sheltered workshops that are still prevalent across much of the country were shut down in Vermont more than a decade ago. And now, the employment rate of people with developmental disabilities in the New England state is twice the national average.” (emphasis added)

Inclusion in play and work
How did Vermont do it?

The University of Vermont received a grant to build programs for integrated employment in the 1980’s. They worked with state disability agencies and its success over time was enough for Vermont to realize that sheltered workshops were not how the state wanted their citizens with disabilities to be treated. Workshops were phased out over a 4-year period: new entries into workshops were no longer allowed and their funding was incrementally cut.
Of course there were fears from the families who would be directly affected by this and rightly so. As parents, we want our children to be safe and secure, accepted by peers and part of something bigger than themselves. Could these desires be realized if workers with disabilities don’t have contact with others who are also disabled? Is there a job out there they could actually do and feel good about doing? Would society in general accept them?
It turns out, the answer is yes! In Vermont, about 80% of the people who used to be in workshops found employment in an integrated setting. The rest found other community-based services. According to the article, “In fiscal year 2013, the average wage for supported employees was $9.26, more than 50 cents above the state’s minimum wage and $2 above the federal minimum wage.” How incredible is that?!
And Vermont shows no signs of slowing down. It has increased its numbers of employed disabled individuals yearly. To continue their success rate, ongoing support is available in each county and doesn’t fade over time, which is common in most other states. There are also education programs with businesses that ease fears and answers questions for potential emplo

Looking to the future

Some argue that the reason Vermont was able to be so successful is because it’s a small state. But isn’t that a cop out? As a parent to a teenager whose CP severely impacts her, I worry about her future all the time. What will she do when she ages out of school? Today, I can’t picture a job where she can be independent because of the extremity of her physical disability but who knows where we’ll be in terms of technology and employability six years from now? My greatest hope is that all states work towards achieving the successful model Vermont has realized so that our community has as many options as it can.

Let’s not continue to set the bar so low for our people!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Wells Fargo seems to have humans with hearts running it!

Wells Fargo has agreed to cancel her eviction and is in talks with her attorney. There have been numerous calls and letter of support as well as donations to help Sandra. Her attorney is setting up a fund for her. If you care to help, you can call 203-324-7744 or email Sandra Weiler at


So far, cerebral palsy and cancer hasn't stopped Sandra Weiler. Will Wells Fargo follow suit? Could it be that the banking industry is doing the right thing? Taking what seems to be a "human-centered" approach rather than a "dollar-centered" approach, Wells Fargo has agreed to review a particular case and put their decided eviction of Sandra Weiler, a woman with cerebral palsy, on hold.

At first glance, automatic assumptions would run rampant through many people's minds about how this woman ended up getting an eviction notice. Things like "government assistance" and "moocher" might occur to some people (ok, LOTS of people) reading this.

But before you make up your mind, let me tell you that the woman you see in the still of this video has her PhD, has owned a daycare and is a special education teacher who currently teaches at a university in Connecticut. She was also fighting cancer and has recently lost her medical coverage.

Yes, I know banks are in it for the money but aren’t there times where a person could actually just be going through a rough patch and be given an extension? I’m so glad Sandra Weiler was given an extension and I hope that Wells Fargo will allow her to stay in her accessible home which she has customized to her particular needs to give her the independence every human being deserves!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

More 411 on the ABLE Act

In May, I posted "ABLE Act - Savings For People With Disabilities" which explains what the ABLE Act is and why it's so important to the disability community. I just came across this other article that also explains what it's about in very real terms. I wanted to share it because I can't stress enough how important it is that this piece of legislation become a reality! Here's the link to "How Medicaid Forces the Disabled to be Poor"

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Sheltered Workshops: A Good Thing Or A Bad Thing For People With Disabilities?

Workforce Investment Act

Currently, most students with disabilities are referred to sub-minimum wage jobs (often times substantially less than the $7.25 minimum wage rate) at workshops when they graduate from high school. There is new legislation under consideration in both Houses of Congress that would alter their pathway into the workforce. Under Section 511 of the Workforce Investment Act, people under 24 years of age could not be employed by workshops unless they have sought employment in other settings first. This legislation also requires that state vocational rehabilitation agencies provide “pre-employment services” to students at schools in their area.


There are many who are supportive of passing this legislation. They believe it will re-route youth into more fulfilling career paths who may have otherwise been automatically steered toward subminimum wage employment. Christopher Danielsen, a spokesman for the National Federation of the Blind, is quoted as saying that this proposal is an “important first step toward eliminating wage discrimination against people with disabilities.”

However, there are those who fear the passage of this legislation will only hurt the disability community. Parents and caregivers of individuals with severe cognitive and developmental disabilities feel that sheltered workshops are the only option for certain individuals because of the limitations their disability puts on them. By taking away the option of workshops, Congress is taking away these individuals’ ability to “have something to do”, be out in society, make friends and have a sense of self-worth.

Forward RISE Logo
I’d be interested to see exactly how this would work. In my opinion, this proposal has great potential for getting people with disabilities into society in a very real way. At Forward RISE, we are committed to inclusion, and the passage of a proposal like this is a great step towards this goal. There is a significant segregation between the two communities of people with and people without disabilities and the only way to fix this is through real inclusion. State vocational rehab agencies can begin their work with students when they reach high school age so that they can prep for transition to life after school. This school in New Jersey has a great program for its students with developmental disabilities that offers real-life skills and industry certifications to help them land a job or to succeed in college. 

When I was in high school, I remember taking a questionnaire that narrowed down my interests into possible career paths. There could be a modified version of this for people with disabilities. If a person only has one option – sheltered workshops – they will never learn if they have the potential to do something different.
Why is this so important? We have to consider the bar that we set for people with disabilities. Are we setting the bar too low by assuming that the best place for anybody with a disability is a sheltered workshop? I say yes! Too often, assumptions are made on people with disabilities. It is presumed that they are incapable of making decisions, keeping a schedule or following directions, let alone having higher-thinking qualities needed for employment. Destination Desserts changes the game by assuming that people with disabilities do have the ability to hold down a job outside of a sheltered workshop. 

But we also have to realize that there are certain individuals for whom sheltered workshops would be the best environment. Taking away that option completely would devastate many individuals and families who rely on these places.

As with anything, change can be scary and difficult, especially when we are talking about a community with such a varied group of people. This proposal can be the beginning of the desegregation of disabled and able-bodied people. I can’t wait until the word “inclusion” is no longer a part of our conversation because at that point, it will just be.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Bullied Boy Gets Charged After Recording Bullies In Action

A 15-year-old boy with a comprehension delay disorder, ADHD, and an anxiety disorder complained to his school and parents that there were bullies who were intimidating him and physically attacking him yet the school failed to intervene on behalf of their student. He decided to take action and use his school-issued iPad to record an incident with the (rational) thought that if he had proof he could stop the bullying. Boy, was he wrong! Instead what happened was he, himself, was charged with disorderly conduct for secretly recording individuals who didn’t give consent to being recorded! If you’re thinking, “Surely this can’t be happening now, in today’s society” you are very wrong, my friend. He was just found guilty on March 19, 2014. You might also be thinking, “This must have happened somewhere outside of America because this type of unfairness would not be allowed in an advanced country such as ours”, and you would be wrong on this account, as well. This happened in the great state of Pennsylvania, one of 12 states that require the consent of all parties when making a recording. The bullies have never been punished.

Thankfully, the DA eventually decided not to pursue this case and dropped the charges after it gained public attention. But there is something seriously wrong with Lt. Robert Kurta, the officer who made the decision to file a citation against the teen, and the legal system if a teen who isn’t being protected by their school takes matters into their own hands in a non-violent way. You can watch an interview of the teen here.

Thanks to The Mobility Resource for bringing this story to my attention.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

ABLE Act - Savings for People With Disabilities

The Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act was introduced in Congress in February 2013 and it has recently been analyzed by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), a nonpartisan federal agency that that provides budget and economic information to Congress. If and when it is finally passed, it can make a huge positive impact on the lives of people with disabilities.

ABLE Act – What it means
The ABLE Act would amend the IRS revenue code in such a way that would allow savings accounts to be set up for individuals with disabilities much like the college tuition accounts known as “529 accounts” that have been around since 1996. The money accrued in that account is not considered taxable income to the individual and their eligibility for SSI or Medicaid is not at risk, which are often times the only income and medical coverage people with disabilities have. 

A real life example:
Tony’s sister has a beautiful little girl who was born with cerebral palsy. Little Maggie is the light of her mother’s eye but she has a long road ahead of her. Tony sees how much it costs to get the equipment Maggie needs and deserves in order to be included in the rest of the family’s daily life. Maggie’s mom works very hard but can’t possibly cover all the expenses on her own.  Medicaid only covers the very basics and even those things are often a fight to get. Tony decides to help out by setting up an ABLE account for Maggie’s needs. He knows it won’t count as income to Maggie’s household so there’s no risk that the SSI and Medicaid Maggie and her family rely on will be affected. Family members & friends regularly deposit money in Maggie’s account for holidays & birthdays and Maggie’s mom is able to pay for the expenses that Medicaid doesn’t cover.

Key Characteristics

  • Anybody (including the individuals with disabilities themselves) can set up an ABLE account and multiple accounts in different states can be set up for one individual
  • Qualified expenses include education; housing; transportation; employment support; health, prevention, and wellness; miscellaneous expenses (such as financial management or legal fees); assistive technology and personal support services
  • Earning and distributions from the account would not count as taxable income to the owner
  • Contributions would be made using cash from the contributor’s after-tax income
  • Assets in these account would be disregarded when determining the individual’s eligibility for most federal means-tested benefits such as medical coverage
  • The first $100,000 would be disregarded when considering the eligibility for SSI

ABLE Act – Impact on SSI
In order to quality for SSI, an individual cannot have more than $2,000 in assets (for couples it’s $3,000). If their assets exceed this maximum amount, they must spend down the excess before they can qualify. Think about what this means! A person with disabilities cannot have a “rainy day” fund or a savings account for fun vacations like the rest of society. Doesn’t every financial expert say that we should have at least 6-8 months of expenses saved in case of an emergency? I guess people with disabilities don’t have emergencies like people without disabilities! Why would they need to have money saved up? The reality is, people with disabilities have higher medical expenses but are expected to live in poverty before they can qualify for government assistance which covers the very, very basics! And I hope that you, dear reader who doesn’t have a disability, will not become disabled due to an accident or illness because any money you’ve worked so hard to save up until then will have to be handed over until you have almost nothing left.

Another real life example:
Joe has always been a hard worker. He got his first job as a cashier at age 16 and was taught to save by his parents. By the time he turned 26, he managed to save over $15,000 in a savings account. For his 27th birthday he and his friends decided to go bungee jumping. That decision cost him his legs. After a freak accident, Joe became paralyzed from the waist down. He had to stop working because of his injuries and no longer had medical coverage. He applied for SSI and Medicaid but because he had so much money saved – money he was saving to buy himself a home – he didn’t qualify. Joe had to spend all that money he worked so hard for before he could find any assistance. A man who was independent and always worked for the things he wanted now had almost no money left and had to depend on the government for what little they could do for him.

Support is growing
Thankfully, the list of people and organizations that are behind the ABLE Act is steadily growing. The passage of this Act is crucial to people with disabilities and their loved ones.  

Congressman Crenshaw states it well: 
"No longer would individuals with disabilities have to stand aside and watch others use IRS-sanctioned tools to lay the groundwork for a brighter future. They would be able to as well, and that's an accomplishment we can all be proud of."

To see if your state’s Representatives and Senators support the ABLE Act you can check the following websites:

It’s time for the government and certain populations in our society to expect those with the least to give the most!

Equality for all, ALWAYS!

Be sure to Like me on Facebook at theSeed and at Forward RISE

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Fundraising Event in NY - Proceeds to Benefit People With Disabilities

Forward RISE, a nonprofit committed to the inclusion of people 
with disabilities, is sponsoring a fun afternoon of 
bowling at East Islip Lanes (NY). 
Check out our website at
Like us on Facebook at Forward Rise Facebook

WHEN:    May 17, 1 pm

WHERE:  East Islip Lanes                                                    

               117 East Main St.                 
               East Islip, NY 11730 
COST:     $25 for 2 games & shoe rental, lunch, 
               unlimited soda and coffee & dessert

There will also be a 50/50 raffle and the highest score wins a prize!

All proceeds will go towards workshops and events that 
promote the acceptance of people with disabilities.

Tickets are now on sale!!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

New York Gets Inspired - Work Incentive For People With Disabilities Passes the Senate


Inspire NY is a tax incentive spearheaded by Senator David Carlucci (D) that encourages businesses to hire people with developmental disabilities. It just passed the Senate! This legislation helps thousands of New Yorkers gain a sense of belonging and inclusion in their own community. Businesses will receive up to $5,000 for hiring each full-time employee and up to $2,500 for hiring each part-time employee.

Follow Senator Carlucci on Facebook at

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Disability Awareness Month - 5 Influential People of the Civil Rights Movement For People With Disabilities

For Disability Awareness Month I’ve put together a list of five influential people of the disability rights movement in the United States. This is just a short list of some people who have made a tremendous impact on how people with disabilities are able to live today.


Hellen Keller
 1. Hellen Keller – Born in 1880, Helen was struck by a mysterious illness called “brain fever” by a family physician at 18 months and became deaf, blind and mute. At the age of 7, her parents found a young teacher who would teach Helen how to communicate and they would become life-long friends. Helen graduated from Cambridge School for Young Ladies and went on to become a well-known speaker doing lectures and working on behalf of people with disabilities. She testified before Congress, advocating for an improvement in the welfare of the blind. She co-founded Helen Keller International to combat the causes and consequences of blindness and malnutrition. In 1920, she helped found the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Helen tackled many social issues including women’s suffrage, pacifism and birth control. She traveled to 35 countries on five continents, including a five month trip across Asia at the age of 75 in order to improve the lives of people with disabilities. She died in her sleep in 1968, just a few weeks before her 88th birthday.

Gini Laurie
2. Virginia “Gini” Grace Wilson Laurie – She is considered one of the “grandmothers” of the independent living movement. A year before her birth in 1913, two of her sisters died from poliomyelitis and her brother was left severely disabled. As an adult, she volunteered with the Red Cross in the Cleveland Toomey Pavilion rehab center during the 1949 polio epidemic. In 1958, she took the unpaid job of editor of the Toomeyville Gazette, a newsletter put together by patients who recovered at the rehab center after contracting polio. The Gazette published articles on legislation, activism and what would become known as the independent living movement. In 1970, Gini wrote an article in the newly-named Rehabilitation Gazette where she stated plainly that for people with disabilities, the most important thing “is the right to freedom of choice to live as normal a life as possible within the community…Segregation is unnormal.” In 1977, she wrote Housing and Home Services for the Disabled: Guidelines and Experiences in Independent Living”. It pointed to the fact that it is more cost-effective for people with disabilities to live in their community than being put into institutions or nursing homes, an important point still being driven in the disability movement today. She died in 1989 of cancer.

Ed Roberts
3. Ed Roberts – After contracting polio at age 14 and living in the hospital for two years, Ed was finally able to move back home. But things were very different. Because of the polio, he was only able to move two fingers and slept in an iron lung. His struggle against discrimination began immediately when school administrators did not allow him to attend school with his classmates. They felt it was best to have teachers instruct him privately at home. The family fought back and they won him the right to attend school with his classmates. After graduating from a junior college, he had to go through another battle in order to be allowed to attend the University of California in Berkeley. He eventually won this fight as well and went on to study Political Science. Because of Ed, more disabled students were allowed to attend Berkeley and they eventually formed a disabled student organization on campus. Their focus was to make the university more accessible and provide trainings on daily support techniques. In 1972, Ed helped the group form the first Center for Independent Living which was considered radical at the time because it was run by people with disabilities rather than medical professionals. He became the first person to serve as the Director of California’s Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. In 1981, he and Judy Heumann and Joan Leon started the World Institute on Disability (WID) which studies legal rights issues for people with disabilities around the world. Often referred to as “the father of the disability rights movement”, he was president of WID until his death in 1995.

Justin Dart
4. Justin Dart – At the age of 18, Justin contracted polio which left him unable to walk. He came from a wealthy family in Chicago and in 1967 he and his wife devoted their lives to helping people with disabilities. On his own dime, they travelled the across the United States in the early 1980’s which was quite an undertaking because many places were not wheelchair accessible. Universal design was just beginning to be implemented in larger cities but in smaller ones, it was practically unheard of.  What was learned through conversations during this tour was the basis for a policy that called for national rights for people with disabilities. It would eventually become the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. Because of the national dialogue that took place during this time and the subsequent passing of the ADA, Justin Dart is considered to be “the godfather” of the ADA. In 1995, he founded the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) along with others. At the age of 71, he died in 2002 from congestive heart failure related to complications of post-polio syndrome.

Wade Blank
5. Wade Blank – emulating the great Dr. King, Wade began a movement in the 1970’s within the disability community in Denver, Colorado that would give rise to ADAPT, a national grass-roots community that organizes disability rights activists to engage in nonviolent direct action. A former minister, he saw the sad living conditions of individuals with severe disabilities in nursing homes and took it upon himself to make changes. He not only moved people from institutions into independent living centers but these very same people became co-protestors in his fight against the discrimination built into the public transportation system. They waged the first sit-in of their kind and surrounded a bus with their wheelchairs in Denver. The group quickly expanded to other cities around the US, holding demonstrations fighting for accessibility in public bus systems. His group’s national recognition paid off as accessible public transportation was included in The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a landmark law passed in 1990. He continued to be a leader in the civil rights movement of people with disabilities until his death in 1993.


Without these role models and others like them, people with disabilities would not have the right to a free and public education, public transportation and barrier-free public places, among other civil rights. Although there is still much work to be done, it is uncontestable that the foundation laid down by these pioneers sparked a movement that is still growing today.

Can you think of any others who have made a major impact on the lives of people with disabilities?

Saturday, March 8, 2014

International Women's Day - 8 Ways We Can Treat Ourselves Better Immediately

March 8 is International Women’s Day around the globe. It started back in 1911 and has been getting stronger ever since. We all know we should be sleeping 7-8 hours a night, exercising and surrounding ourselves with happy, loving people. But let’s face it, sometimes we’re lucky to get 4 good hours of shut eye and our closest friends are doing all they can to share their misery. So what else can we do to realistically make a positive impact on our daily lives as busy women?

In honor of International Women’s Day, I have put together a list of 8 tips for us women to live a healthier life.

1.       Eat less salt – Half of women over the age of 45 have high blood pressure and a lot of that is due to a high salt consumption. Rather than flavoring your meals with massive amounts of salt try other seasonings like garlic powder, adobo, oregano, rosemary seeds or cumin. A bonus to an aromatic dish is that by filling multiple senses (taste, sight AND smell) you tend to eat less in one sitting!
2.       Increase blood supply to your heart and lungs – Every night before going to sleep, hang your head and shoulders over the edge of the mattress. This opens up your chest, increasing the blood supply to the area and as a bonus can help with bad posture gained from sitting hunched over a desk at work.
3.       Rinse your mouth after drinking soda – We’ve all heard that we should eliminate or limit the amount of carbonated beverages for other health reasons but have you considered what the sugar does to your teeth? Rinsing with water will wash away the acids that erode tooth enamel.
4.       Walk extra steps each day – Instead of using the elevator, take the stairs. Instead of circling the parking lot for the closest spot possible, park far away from the store. Instead of sitting on the couch after a large meal, head outside even if it’s just to take the trash down to the curb.
5.       Change up your look – Did you have the same hairstyle at your 20th high school reunion as you did when you graduated? Too often, women try to hold on to their youth by never changing their look when in fact, it does the opposite – it dates you. Try a new look for the spring. If you wear it wavy, try a sleek look. Brunettes can try out a few face-framing highlights and blondes can add in some low-lights. A new hair style just may re-energize your spirit!
6.       Wear a hat – Using a facial moisturizer with SPF 30 and sunblock on the rest of your body is a good start to protecting yourself from harmful UV rays but what about your scalp? That skin is just as prone to skin cancer as any other part of you so show it some love by protecting it with a cute sun hat or baseball cap.
7.       Apply lip balm – To piggy back on the last tip, your lips are also often neglected in the sun-protection beauty regimen. There are some great balms containing SPF 15 these days so pucker up and keep those luscious lips kissable and free from dry cracks.
8.       Treat your eye-area gently – This is the most delicate part of your face and shows aging the quickest. Cleanse with care – always blot, never rub! Always use your ring finger to apply moisturizer and concealer because it uses the least amount of pressure.

Now go out and have a great day!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Top 5 Visitable Cities - Places Where People With Disabilities Have Great Accessibility

Vacations are enjoyed by millions of people all over the world but some people with disabilities can find planning a vacation a bit daunting because of disability issues. Some may even think it’s impossible. I say, with proper planning, you can have a great vacation to remember. Here is a list of the top five most accessible places to visit in the world.

Berlin, Germany
1. Berlin, Germany
It was awarded the “Access City of the Year” in December 2012 by the European Commission due to its aggressive and forward-thinking plan of creating a fully accessible public transportation system. Its plan also includes broadening sidewalks and using tactile guidance systems at road crossings. By the year 2020, the government plans on Berlin being 100% accessible. A large majority of museums in Berlin are already accessible as are most of the more well-known hotel chains but be sure to ask when making reservations what accessible features are currently available. You can search for places to visit at Visit Berlin for People with Disabilities

Vancouver, British Columbia
 2. Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
One of the most diverse cities in the world, Vancouver offers visitors a wide variety of cultural foods and experiences. With its great public transportation system – buses are equipped with wheelchair ramps and the Sky Train and SeaBus are also accessible – visitors have a variety of choices when deciding how to get to where they’re going. Vancouver International Airport is one of the world’s most accessible airports. Some barrier-free features include amplified handsets at service counters, low-mounted information monitors, services for the deaf and accessible washrooms. Travelers can rent vehicles with hand-controls or use the Airporter shuttle bus service to get to their hotels. For more information on where to go and what to do, go to Accessible Vancouver.

San Diego, California, United States
3. San Diego, California
When you think “California” you should also think “beach”! With its mild climate you can enjoy 70 miles of beach when visiting this city year-round. At at least fifteen San Diego beaches, beach wheelchairs are available for people with disabilities at no charge. Some even offer motorized chairs. To find a list of beaches with phone numbers check out CaliforniaCoastal Commission. You can also take accessible sightseeing tours via bus, boat or old-fashioned trolley. Go to to plan your trip. 

4. Denmark
Yes, the whole country. While all Scandinavian countries are very disability-friendly, Denmark stands out because of its “Accessibility For All” program. This is a tourism labeling system for hotels, attractions, restaurants and other places you might want to visit while there. You can search for places and other things accessible using and narrowing it down by city, type of place, disability and more. You can also find more tourism information at 

London, England
5. London, England
England might call to mind old tradition but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t modernized its accommodations for people with disabilities. The subway system, called the Tube, has some stops that are not wheelchair accessible so if you’re planning on traveling that way be sure to research ahead of time to find the stops that are accessible. However, the large majority of their buses are accessible and their taxis are required by law to be accessible. You can find accessibility information at Transport For London. Many of London’s most popular sight-seeing stops are free or offer a discount for people with disabilities. There are some places that even allow one care giver in at no charge.

Special Mention:
Morgan’s Wonderland in San Antonio, Texas – A recreational park that provides a beautiful environment free of economic barriers that all individuals, regardless of disability can enjoy. It boasts many attractions such as a sensory village, picnic area, playground and sandpit and a carousel that is accessible to all including wheelchair users. Tickets can be purchased online and are very reasonably priced. Individuals with disabilities and children under 2 get in for free. Visit their site at Morgan’s Wonderland.


So now that you have some ideas of where to go, let’s go over a few tips on how to travel with a disability:
1.  Plan ahead! Give yourself as much time as possible to research where you are going. Here are some questions you should ask:
·         Is the destination airport accessible? Who can help you find the right accommodations?
·         Does the hotel have a no-step entrance; rooms on the first floor; wide hallways/doorways; grab-bars or roll-in showers? Do they have other accommodations such as interpreters or amplified handsets?
·         Is the local area disability-friendly? How will you be getting to local attractions and sites?
2. Bring a letter from you doctor - Preferably on a letterhead, a doctor’s note explaining your condition and necessary treatments could help you if you become ill or injured. Make sure the doctor’s contact information is on the letter.
3. Be specific - Not everybody will know what your particular disability entails or requires. When makin queries be very clear about what your needs are.
4. Know about emergency services - In the US, 911 is the universal emergency phone number. What about in other countries? Be sure to know what to do if you have an emergency.

Remember, being prepared for the worst allows you to enjoy your time better. Here are some travel sites geared toward helping people with disabilities:

Happy vacationing!