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disabled rights

Gun permits for the blind

by Walter Olson on September 13, 2013

Assuming gun ownership should be licensed at all — a big if — there are imaginable scenarios in which a legally blind person might legitimately fire a gun in self-defense or participate in target shooting at a range. Wisconsin is even said to smile officially on hunting by blind persons, presumably to the benefit of those visually impaired who can distinguish partridge sounds in the underbrush from people sounds. To officials in Iowa, however, the issue is pre-decided: “State law bans officials from discriminating against the blind on the basis of their disability, and hence a gun permit cannot be denied solely on that basis, officials tell the [Des Moines Register].” [ABA Journal, Daily Caller [Wisconsin], Lowering the Bar]



Not exactly legal emancipation for this adult of full age, but a step theretoward: A “judge declared Friday that a 29-year-old woman with Down syndrome can live the life she wants, rejecting a guardianship request from her parents that would have allowed them to keep her in a group home against her will. … Hatch wanted to continue working at a thrift store and living with friends Kelly Morris and Jim Talbert, who employed her and took her into their home last year when she needed a place to recover after a bicycle accident. … In the end, Newport News Circuit Court Judge David F. Pugh said he believed that Hatch, who has an IQ of about 50, needed a guardian to help her make decisions but that he had also taken into account her preferences. He designated Morris and Talbert her temporary guardians for the next year, with the goal of ultimately helping her achieve more independence.” [Washington Post] More: Tyler Cowen.

Once again it is rumored that the Senate will take up the U.N.-sponsored Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Once more the editorialists at the New York Times are promoting the treaty with some dubious — in some cases, easily disproved — claims about what it would and would not do. I look at the controversy in a new post at Cato at Liberty.

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“A pot-smoking city [of Ottawa] worker couldn’t convince a court that his reefer madness was a disability. …[Claude] Lavoie tried to claim his penchant for pot qualified as a disability, which would have obliged the city to accommodate him under provisions of the Ontario Human Rights Code.” [Ottawa Sun]

NBC Today investigates and finds that yes, there does seem to be something to those stories about tactically using disabled passes to steer paying clients past the long lines (earlier).


Backers may mount a new push for Senate ratification of a treaty that signs away national sovereignty over various not-unimportant areas of domestic policy, on the rationale that its effects will be mostly symbolic since we have already enacted the far-reaching Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Iain Murray and Geoffrey McLatchey note that despite claims by proponents from President Obama on down, it is simply untrue that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) does no more than elevate into permanent treaty status the ADA’s requirements:

…its provisions far surpass the ADA’s.

For example, the convention’s Article 27, which prohibits “discrimination on the basis of disability with regard to all matters concerning all forms of employment,” is a giant leap from the ADA’s employment standards stating, “no covered entity shall discriminate against a qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.” [Emphases added]

“Covered” entity and “qualified” individual are two major constraints on the regulatory scope of the A.D.A., and that’s just the start of the many ways in which the CRPD is of broader scope. I give many more examples here (see also).

Murray and McLatchey also note that

The CRPD also requires the United States to set up a propaganda agency. Yes, you read that right. Article 8 states that signatories must take “immediate and effective measures … to raise awareness throughout society, including at the family level, regarding persons with disabilities, and to foster respect for the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities.” It becomes the federal government’s duty to “combat stereotypes… in all areas of life” by “initiating and maintaining effective public awareness campaigns.”

Hans Bader points out another danger:

UN committees like to define free speech as discrimination against minority groups in violation of international treaties, making it dangerous to ratify such treaties. For example, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has ruled Germany violated international law by not prosecuting a former legislator for remarks to a scholarly journal about Turkish-immigrant welfare recipients that were deemed racially offensive. The UN committee ruled Germany’s failure to prosecute the speaker violated the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

While “anti-disability” speech is perhaps not as familiar concept than speech which offends sensibilities of race, religion, or gender, existing disabled-rights law has generated numerous cases in which speech considered insensitive or hurtful toward persons based on physical, mental, emotional or behavioral disabilities is taken as evidence of an unlawful “hostile environment.”


Asking existing employees about their family medical history might offer safety benefits in the workplace, both by indicating vulnerabilities that might be countered by protective measures, and by helping to distinguish ailments with a strong congenital influence from those that might signal occupational disease. However, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says that such questioning is “genetic discrimination” and unlawful under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), which became law in 2009. Fabricut, a decorative fabrics firm, will pay $50,000 to settle charges that it improperly asked about family medical history and also that it improperly engaged in disability discrimination by refusing to employ as a clerk a woman it regarded as having carpal tunnel syndrome. [EEOC press release]

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Two years ago the city of Portland, Ore. became the first to adopt a voluntary policy against fragrance use in city offices. (A similar Detroit measure had been taken in response to a lawsuit.) Now Julee Reynolds, a city worker who says she suffers from multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), has sued Portland for allegedly not doing enough to enforce the policy. [KOIN; earlier here, here, etc.]


It got started with the handicapped parking placards that in California and elsewhere made their way into the possession of not-so-disabled drivers. Then there were the reports of abuse of airport wheelchair attendant service, which can get you past security fast and which (to avoid litigation, embarrassment, or both) airlines often dispense on request without inquiring into need. Now comes the rentable disabled person to help your kids cut lines at Disney World. Disney allows parties of up to seven to enter attractions separately when one of the party is disabled. According to the New York Post, some affluent Manhattan mothers are happy to pay for the convenience: “The ‘black-market Disney guides’ run $130 an hour, or $1,040 for an eight-hour day.” [Tara Palmeri, "Rich Manhattan moms hire handicapped tour guides so kids can cut lines at Disney World," New York Post]

P.S. Too good to check? Commenter Marco and Christopher Robbins at Gothamist both have their doubts on whether the hazily sourced accounts might be embellished or worse.

P.P.S. And quite a lot more skepticism about the story from Lesley at XOJane. But (update) an NBC News investigation finds there does seem to be something to the story.



“A police officer fired for driving drunk in an unmarked police car while off-duty has filed a $6 million lawsuit against the city of Gresham, the police chief and others, alleging his rights were violated under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The lawsuit filed in Portland alleged the officer, Jason Servo, was suffering from alcoholism, a recognized disability under the act, and shouldn’t have been dismissed.” [AP] In my book The Excuse Factory I sketched some of the history of how alcoholism (at least when the subject declares a willingness to participate in rehab) came to be protected under the ADA.


The rolls have been expanding steadily for years, at tremendous cost, and the new NPR report, by Chana Joffe-Walt, is just plain devastating:

A person on welfare costs a state money. That same resident on disability doesn’t cost the state a cent, because the federal government covers the entire bill for people on disability. So states can save money by shifting people from welfare to disability. And the Public Consulting Group is glad to help.

PCG is a private company that states pay to comb their welfare rolls and move as many people as possible onto disability.

More: Jagadeesh Gokhale, Cato Regulation mag (PDF)(program “facing insolvency in just three years”); Ronald Bailey, Reason; Reihan Salam; Wynton Hall, (furious counterattack from some on Left). And Heather Mac Donald, with notable prescience, saw the problem coming more than 17 years ago.

P.S.: A disability lawyer’s response.


New from me at Cato: in covering the U.N. disabled-rights treaty, the Boston Globe bids to earn back its old nickname of “The Glib.” Earlier on the treaty here, here, etc.

Or, Prof. Bagenstos headlines it at Disability Law, “Second Circuit Holds Timely Arrival at Work Not Necessarily an Essential Job Function.” Reversing a summary judgment in favor of the employer, the judges found that a schizophrenic case worker whose medication caused morning drowsiness was entitled to a trial on his claim that he could have accomplished the job by working extra to make up for time missed early in the day. [McMillian v. City of New York; Disability Law; Paul Mollica, Outten & Golden]


“The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has sued Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice on behalf of a former office assistant who claims disability discrimination over a lifting requirement.” The job’s requirements, at the firm’s North Carolina headquarters, allegedly included moving heavy boxes of documents; according to the complaint, the law firm did not adequately consider accommodations such as letting her divide up the contents of the boxes and use push carts. Womble Carlyle declined to comment. [Debra Cassens Weiss, ABA Journal]


Labor and employment roundup

by Walter Olson on February 12, 2013

  • “Lying to Doctors for Fitness for Duty Exam Can Still Get You Fired …But Only If You’re a Police Officer” [Connecticut cop smashed into two cars during epileptic seizure; Daniel Schwartz]
  • “Emotional labor”: is having to be cheerful to customers a form of capitalist slavery? [Tim Noah v. Andrew Sullivan]
  • CalPERS: “The pension fund that ate California” [Steve Malanga, City Journal]
  • Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC), other “worker centers” on the rise: “Will ‘alt-labor’ replace unions?” [Salon; critical anti-ROC site via Matt Patterson/CEI]
  • Without benefit of an act of Congress, EEOC is interpreting the law to prohibit transgender bias [Workplace Prof]
  • “The Nation: Government-Mandated Lunch Breaks are Somehow Libertarians’ Fault” [Shackford, Reason]
  • Historian challenges received account of Haymarket Affair [Ron Radosh]

But how many actually deserve one? [CBS Los Angeles via Alkon]