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Friday, January 30, 2015

Justice Department orders Texas County to improve accessibility to "civic life"

The Justice Department today (Jan. 30) announced a settlement agreement with Nueces County of Texas to improve access to all aspects of civic life for people with disabilities.

he agreement was reached under Project Civic Access, the Justice Department’s wide-ranging initiative to ensure that cities, towns and counties throughout the country comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Under the agreement, the County will take steps to improve access for people with disabilities, such as: physically modifying facilities surveyed by the Department so that parking, routes into the buildings, entrances, service areas and counters, restrooms, and drinking fountains are accessible to people with disabilities; posting, publishing and distributing notices to inform members of the public of the provisions of the ADA and their applicability to the City’s programs, services and activities. 

Notably, under the terms of the agreement, the County will ensure that its websites and all online services, including those websites or online services provided by third parties upon which the County relies to provide services or content,comply with, at minimum, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) version 2.0.  The County will also officially recognize the Texas telephone relay service as a key means of communicating with individuals who are deaf, are hard-of-hearing, or have speech impairments and train staff in using the relay service for telephone communications; and, develop a method for providing information for interested persons with disabilities concerning the existence and location of the County’s accessible services, activities and programs.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Service dogs must be allowed in public schools, feds say

The Department of Justice filed a Statement of Interest today (1.26.2015) in a Florida case to clarify that the Department's Title II regulation. The statement says the DOJ generally requires public entities, such as schools, to permit individuals with disabilities to use their service animals, subject to specific exceptions. This regulatory framework furthers Congress's intent to honor individuals' choices to be accompanied by their service animals wherever feasible and to respect such individuals' autonomy and self-determination.
To find out more about this Statement of Interest or the ADA, call the Justice Department's ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 or 800-514-0383 (TDD), or access its ADA website at

Fewer people in Michigan control more of the wealth

The top 1 percent in Michigan took home 25 times more than the bottom 99 percent in 2012, according to latest analysis published Monday by the Economic Policy Institute for the Economic Analysis and Research Network.
Researchers Estelle Sommelier and Mark Price update their analysis of IRS data to show inequality is rising throughout the United States.
Between 1979 and 2007, the top 1 percent of taxpayers captured an increasing share of income in every state. While incomes at all levels declined as a result of the Great Recession, income growth has been lopsided since the recovery began.
From 2009 to 2012, top 1 percent incomes grew faster than the incomes of the bottom 99 percent in every state except West Virginia. In Michigan, the top 1 percent captured 82 percent of income growth in the period following the Great Recession.
“This is clear evidence why the economic recovery has not been felt by most families in Michigan -- only those who were already doing well,’’ said Gilda Z. Jacobs, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy. “ Our lawmakers should look to this as they create the next budget. They should resist more tax cuts so that Michigan can help struggling families and grow the skilled workforce we need.’’
The study’s authors calculate how much income is required to be in the top 1 percent in each state. In Michigan, it is $300,750 per year. Nor is this a recent phenomenon. Lopsided income growth is also a long-term trend. Between 1979 and 2007, the top 1 percent in Michigan took home all of the total increase in state income.
Jerry Wolffe is the writer-in-residence and advocate-at-large for the Macomb-Oakland Regional Center. He can be reached at (586) 263-8950.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Livonia man discovers joy of acting


A 22-year-old man who doesn’t like just staying at home has discovered the world is a stage and he enjoys performing.
“At first I was a bit nervous but as time went by I got accustomed to performing in front of an audience,” said John Sondergaard of his dual roles as both peasant and king in performances of “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, a Very Hairy FAIRYTale
.” The play was a modified version of the original 1812 “Rapunzel” written by the Grimm Brothers.
Sondergaard, who took a drama class while attending John Glenn High School in Westland, practiced three days a week to be part of 40-member cast. The actors and actresses, ranging in age from about six to late teens, performed the play at the Costick Activities Center in Farmington Hills six times during two different weekends in November and December.
“I gained a lot,” said Sondergaard, who attends the Western Wayne Skill Center during the day studying to be an office worker. “I gained confidence, new friends and had fun.”
Sondergaard, who has a twin brother Jeff and two sisters, Emily, 30, and Katy, 29, said he “hopes to be in another play” in spring, perhaps “Mary Poppins.”
About 150 to 200 people attended each performance of “Rapunzel,” said Sondergaard’s father, Gary. Tickets were $10 per person.
John, who uses a wheelchair or walks with a walker, was the only person with a visual disability in the cast but became a mentor to some of the younger performers. As a result, he now says he hopes to eventually work with younger people because they seemed to gravitate to the nice looking pleasant young man who is soft-spoken and has an inviting smile.
“After I met with John, his dad brought out a book with lines for the play,” said Cynthia Sweet, a supports coordinator assistant at the Wayne County office in Livonia of the Macomb-Oakland Regional Center. The center serves about 200 clients in Wayne and the office is supervised by Patricia Tate.
“I was taken aback because John knew the lines and the way he delivered the lines was very impressive,” said Sweet, who is studying for her Master’s degree in Social Work and hopes to incorporate animal assisted therapy utilizing dogs for therapy sessions with clients in all populations.
In his role as a peasant, Sondergaard talked to other villages. During one performance, his microphone wasn’t working properly but “you could still hear John” because he spoke loud and clearly, said Sweet.
The villain in the story was Zaza who had Rapunzel put in the tower until she could free herself by letting down her golden hair, Sondergaard said.
His ambition is “to continue learning. I am interested in child care, perhaps reading to them.”
Sondergaard also wrote an opinion piece about bullying which won a contest and was published in the John Glenn High School newspaper, “The Explorer.”
One line says: “I will not stand by and watch it (bullying) happen to anybody … I think the reason why people bully others is that they think they are big and bad. I am not a supporter of bullying.”
Others say Sondergaard with his new glasses looks a bit like Kevin Costner and they are right. After he performs a few more plays, Costner may have to look over his shoulder and make sure John isn’t beating him out for a movie role.
Jerry Wolffe is the writer-in-residence and advocate-at-large at the Macomb-Oakland Regional Center. He can be reached at (586) 263-8950.