Technology – Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Issues Final Decision Memorandum on Speech Generating Devices

On July 29, 2015, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a final decision memorandum related to coverage of speech generating devices.  These devices fall within the Medicare durable medical equipment (DME) benefit category.  The memorandum was issued to address significant advances in technology since 2001, when the previous benefit coverage determination was issued.  Fortunately, CMS determined that devices that generate speech will still be considered DME even though they can perform other functions (such as email and text messages), as long as they are “used solely by the patient with the severe speech impairment and are used primarily for the generation of speech.”  Unfortunately, however, the memorandum excludes coverage for computers, tablets, and similar devices used in conjunction with speech generating applications as they “are not primarily used for a medical purpose and are useful in the absence of an illness or injury and therefore, do not meet the definition of DME.”  Disability advocates had sought coverage of computers, tablets, and similar devices because they are less expensive and easier to use than many speech generating devices.  Read the memorandum here.

The Arc Submits Comments on Cognitive Accessibility

The Arc submitted comments to the Access Board in response to a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM). The Access Board is proposing to revise and update both its standards for electronic and information technology for federal agencies covered by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, and its guidelines for telecommunications equipment and services and customer premises equipment covered by the Communications Act. The Arc applauds the Access Board for proposing to replace the current product-based approach with requirements based on functionality. This approach would help keep pace with fundamental advances in technology, most notably the proliferation of devices with multifunctional capabilities, such as smartphones and tablets. However, we recommend the inclusion of specific functional performance criteria for cognitive limitations. Read our comments on The Arc’s website

Share Your Ideas on Accessible Transportation Technology Solutions

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Accessible Transportation Technologies Research Initiative (ATTRI) is hosting a national online dialogue to explore whether developing apps or using other technological devices would be most helpful for individuals with disabilities.

The dialogue, which ends on June 6, is open to inventors, advocates, and tech-savvy citizens who wish to propose ideas to improve mobility and travel planning as well as increase visibility. To participate, visit and register to post, share, and vote on ideas. Please contact or call 800-659-6428 with questions about the online dialogue.

The Department of Transportation Issues Regulations to Airlines Requiring Them to Make Their Webpages Accessible

The Department of Transportation (DOT) issued regulations that require airlines to make their webpages that contain “core travel information and services” accessible within two years. In three years, the websites must be completely accessible. Within 10 years, at least 25 percent of kiosks at every airport must be accessible. The rules will apply to all domestic airlines and all of those who fly to and from the US. In the meantime, passengers who cannot access the current websites must be offered web-based discounts. DOT also published final rules giving airlines more flexibility about how manual wheelchairs are stowed, allowing that two manual folding wheelchairs can be transported at a time.

The Department of Education releases 2012 report entitled, “Helping to Ensure Equal Access to Education”

The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released a 2012 Report to the President and Secretary of Education entitled, “Helping to Ensure Equal Access to Education.” The report covers fiscal years 2009-2012. During that time period, OCR handled 24% more cases than during the preceding 4 year time period. Over half (55%) of the 28,971 complaints OCR handled concerned disability discrimination. OCR reported that almost one-third of school districts reported at least one incident of bullying or harassment based on disability. OCR reported that students with disabilities served by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) were twice as likely to be suspended out of school (13%) than their peers without disabilities (6%).

In addition to investigating complaints of discrimination, OCR also issues guidance for school districts. Since January 2009, OCR has issued four guidance documents that address or include topics related to disability rights: (1) equal access to electronic book readers and other technology for postsecondary students with disabilities; (2) equal access to emerging technologies for all students, including elementary and secondary school students; (3) schools’ obligations to respond to bullying and harassment based on disability; and (4) changes in the meaning of “disability” made by the ADA Amendments Act of 2008.

Report from the Department of Justice on Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act

The Department of Justice released a report on the federal government’s compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, which requires federal agencies to ensure that the electronic and information technology (EIT) they procure, develop, maintain, and use is accessible to people with disabilities.  The last report on Section 508 compliance was issued in 2004; the current report covers fiscal year 2010.  Overall, the report found that agencies of the federal government continue to experience challenges in fully complying with Section 508.  Only slightly over 50% of agencies had policies in place to implement the accessibility requirements.  The great majority of agencies that developed software, videos, or multimedia products did not have a process to ensure accessibility of those products.  Agencies also reported great difficulty in ensuring that federal contractors and programs that receive federal funds provide EIT that is accessible.

The Arc’s Marty Ford Testifies at Hearing on Use of Technology and SSI

Last week the House Committee on Ways and Means, Human Resources Subcommittee held a hearing on the use of technology to improve the administration of the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. The Arc’s Marty Ford testified on behalf of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, Social Security Task Force. Her testimony emphasized the importance of using technology in ways that simplify the SSI program and make it easier for people to apply for benefits, navigate the redetermination process, and report on income and assets. Her testimony notes that technology can pose challenges for some people with disabilities, making it important for the Social Security Administration to continue to provide information in writing and in other accessible ways. Finally, her testimony calls for other improvements to SSI including increasing the income and asset limits. Visit the Committee web site to read all the witnesses’ testimony and for archived video.

Hearing on Use of Technology and SSI Rescheduled; The Arc’s Marty Ford to Testify

The House Committee on Ways and Means, Human Resources Subcommittee has rescheduled its hearing on the use of technology to improve the administration of the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program’s financial eligibility requirements for Wednesday, July 25th at 2:00 PM EDT. The Arc’s Marty Ford will testify on behalf of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, Social Security Task Force. Visit the Committee web site for more information and for live video the day of the hearing.

Senate advances Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 L-HHS-ED Appropriations bill, provides for mostly level funding of disability-related programs and a few increases

The Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (L-HHS-ED) Appropriations Subcommittee quickly marked up and passed S. 3295, the L-HHS-ED bill, along party lines. The full Senate Appropriations Committee followed two days later, passing the bill along party lines by a vote of 16 to 14. The bill provides level funding for most disability-related discretionary programs, and included a few increases over the amounts requested in the President’s Budget. Highlights of the spending bill include:

  • IDEA —The bill provides $11.678 billion, an increase of $100 million, under section 611 of part B grants to States for educating students with disabilities between the age of 3 and 21. The bill also includes $463 million, an increase of $20 million, to support statewide systems of coordinated and early intervention services for children with disabilities two years old and younger, as well as their families.
  • Respite – The bill includes $4.9 million for the Lifespan Respite Care program, nearly double the amount this program received in FY 2012.
  • Assistive Technology—The bill provides $37.5 million, an increase of $4.7 million, for State assistive technology programs. These programs support a range of activities to serve people with disabilities, including State financing programs, device reutilization and loan programs, and device demonstrations.
  • Disability Hearings at the Social Security Administration (SSA)—The bill includes $11.736 billion, a $290 million increase, for SSA’s administrative expenses. This increase will support SSA’s efforts to eliminate the disability hearings backlog by the end of fiscal year 2013.
  • Promoting School Readiness for Minors in SSI (PROMISE)—In FY 2012, Congress created PROMISE, an interagency effort to improve outcomes for children, and the families of children, receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. PROMISE was created to encourage State-level innovations that can help young people with disabilities enter and succeed in competitive, integrated employment. The bill includes nearly $12 million and the authority to allocate unspent vocational rehabilitation State grant funds within the Department of Education for this effort, in addition to $7.2 million at SSA.

Despite the Senate action, this specific bill is unlikely to be enacted due to the differences between the House and Senate. The House Appropriations Committee is working with the $1.028 billion limit set by the “Ryan Budget” while the Senate is using the higher $1.047 billion limit set by the Budget Control Act.   Instead, one or more continuing resolution is anticipated to keep the federal government operating into the beginning of the fiscal year which begins on October 1, 2012.

Civil Rights & Technology

The Administration is seeking input on how the federal government can improve compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Section 508 requires all of the federal government’s websites and electronic information to be accessible to people with disabilities. People can submit ideas, vote on existing ideas, or add comments on the Section 508 website. The comment period has been extended indefinitely while the administration addresses accessibility issues with the website.