"There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things."

~ Niccolo Machiavelli, historian and writer

Monday, April 25, 2011

BLOGGING On

We don't have a blogroll around these here parts (for anybody not in the know, that would be a list of blogs that I read and/or recommend posted on the sidebar) - the main reason for that being there are very few Canadian legal-disabilty blogs out there, or at least very few (read none) that I'm aware of.  Which is a large part of what led me to start this endeavour in the first place.

But I digress. 

I've just been introduced to a blog I would like to heartily recommend.  It's called Kilometres for Communication.

What's it all about you ask?
This blog is about communication. It’s about a special kind of communication called AAC. (I personally struggle with this term; it stands for Augmentative and Alternative Communication, which is too much of a mouthful for me. AAC is simply an alternative way to communicate when someone has limited or no speech.) This blog is about disability, and navigation of disability in a society which orients itself towards people who are able-bodied. But this blog is also about ability, diversity, capability, possibility, hope. It is about our humanity, and about our connection–one person to another. It is about community and inclusion, and about how wrong it is for any of us to exclude and to make the decision that someone does not belong because he or she is different. So this blog is also about the importance of accessibility, because accessibility is a key to inclusion, belonging and community.
A family affair - the 17-year-old younger brother of "an artist, educator, social activist, writer, story teller, gardener, community facilitator [who] happens to travel in a wheelchair and communicate with AAC" proposes (family in tow) to cycle across Canada to ... well, how about if I let them tell you?
We would meet with people who speak in creative and diverse ways, and with the help of the media, introduce them to Canadians so that never again could they equate not being able to speak with not having anything to say. We would invite people to wheel, walk, run and cycle with us, and we would invite organizations, small groups of people and individuals to host events across Canada to raise public awareness and funds to empower voices and to make accessibility and inclusion a national priority for the more than 3 million Canadians with disabilities.
I don't know about you, but I think this is pretty nifty.

When my youngest daughter read this, she said it sounded a lot like the Terry Fox Run. 

I pointed out that although a lot of people have walked, ran, biked, etc. across Canada to raise money and awareness on issues like cancer and for other "good causes" and the man in motion is back at it (actually I'm not sure he ever really stopped), I've never heard of anybody doing quite this. I've never heard of anyone giving a voice to people who struggle to communicate in our world quite this way.

So. Company's coming. 

The plan is to leave BC on May 19th and head East.  Which, really, is the only way to go.  It seems to me  that we best be plumping the pillows and airing out the guest house.  Perhaps some fresh cut flowers on the table.  And to really show our Maritime hospitality maybe, just maybe, we could organize an event for Kerr and Skye when they get here?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

As an aside (and with my apologies to Dave for making it an aside), as long as we're here there's probably one more blog I should throw out there.

Many Most of us have probably heard of Dave Hinsburger, actually he's one of the authors of my latest book reviewed (Sexuality - Your Sons and Daughters with Intellectual Disabilities - a most excellent book, by the way and yes, it's yet another opportunity for me to remind you of the Book Reviews tab at the top of the page) but I, for one, wasn't aware that not only is a Dave a most-excellent resource on many disability issues, he also faces his own challenges. Dave uses a wheelchair to navigate his way through life in Toronto (and the rest of the country) and if you would like to know more about that, he welcomes you to join him, Rolling Around in My Head.

So there you have it, my little (blogging) community post - just trying to do my part to brighten up said community.  Because, despite it's many, many challenges, most days it's a pretty good place to live.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Little Behind The Curve *

First promised advocated for approximately three years ago, then back in the news again nine months later, it appears to have finally come into being earlier this month. 

And, just as an aside, it would appear that the Liberals also got their wish - the government is providing $585,000 to establish the system, along with additional annual operational funding which is to increase to $945,000 over the next five years.

And just in case you're not familiar, here's everything you might ever want to know about the how and why of a 211 system.

* That title could, of course, refer to how long the 211 system took to come to Nova Scotia.  Or it could equally refer to how slow I was in getting around to blogging about it. Meh.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

'Educational Malpractice' Revisisted

Interesting news out of the US at the moment - some faithful readers may recall a post from way back in the way back on the issue of whether tere was such a thing as a tort of educational malpractice in Canada- the answer being, much as we might wish it were otherwise, pretty much a resounding NO.

And while I remain unsure how much (if any) practical difference it may ever make here, it's interesting to see that the US Supreme Court has formally asked the US Solicitor General's office for its position on whether a parent can bring a negligence claim against a school district that allegedly failed to identify a high school student's disabilities.

Sounds a bit like our old friend, "educational malpractice", doesn't it?

The story goes something like this:
According to court papers, when the student was in 10th grade, her teachers became concerned that her work was "gibberish and incomprehensible" and that she had failed every class. The school district referred the girl to a mental health counselor, who recommended that the student be evaluated for learning disabilities. The district did not follow the recommendation, and it promoted the girl to the 11th grade. [Ed. Note: Sound familiar?]

The mother later made a request for an individualized education program for her daughter, and the district determined that the girl was eligible for special education services for a learning disability.

The mother brought an administrative claim under the IDEA, arguing that the school district failed under the law's "child find" requirement to identify the girl's disabilities sooner. That requirement obliges states to ensure that all children with disabilities who are in need of special education services are identified, located, and evaluated.
This is where the story really diverges from the Canadian situation in that (as I've previously noted on more than one occasion) although Nova Scotia (and other Canadian provinces) uses much of the wording from the American legislation (IDEA), our Education Act has none of its teeth. Nor do we have any of the built-in as-of-right administrative law remedies you will see below.
An administrative law judge largely sided with the family, ordering as much as 150 hours of compensatory tutoring for the girl's lost educational opportunities. However, the judge refused the family's request for a private school placement at public expense.

The school district appealed that ruling in federal district court, arguing among other things that if the family prevailed, students with disabilities would be able to bring "educational malpractice" claims against districts.

The district court rejected the school district's arguments, and a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco, also sided with the family.

In a 2-1 decision in March 2010, the 9th Circuit panel rejected the school district's arguments that the IDEA did not authorize claims where there was no affirmative refusal to act on the part of district officials. The majority held that there was a broad jurisdictional mandate under the federal special education law, and that in this case there was "willful inaction" on the district's part in the face of numerous "red flags" about the student's disabilities.
Although there was one dissenting voice in the US Court of Appeals decision, the parents certainly do appear to be making headway.  It will be very interesting to see where this case eventually ends up (as in how the US Supreme Court - which would be the equivalent of the Supreme Court of Canada - decides) and, if the parents are successful, whether or not there will be any language in the decision which might be useful for Nova Scotian Canadian parents.

Don't hold your breath though - apparenlty the Solicitor General's office typically takes several months to respond to a request for its views in any given case and the Court's decision itself could take much, much longer. 

Still, something to keep an eye out for - Compton Unified School District v. Addison (Case No. 10-886).

HEALTH AND WELLNESS--Mental Health Strategy Public Consultations

Nova Scotians will be able to help shape the province's future approach to mental health and addiction services as work on the Mental Health and Addictions Strategy moves into the public consultation phase.

The Mental Health and Addictions Advisory Committee, which is leading development of the strategy, will hold six public consultations across the province, beginning April 18 in Greenwood and ending May 16 with a consultation for the Francophone and Acadian communities. Consultations will also take place in Amherst, Sydney, Halifax and Bridgewater.

"I urge Nova Scotians to help us to revamp mental health and addiction services across our province by participating in the public consultations," said Health and Wellness Minister Maureen MacDonald "Your input will help us ensure better health care for you and your family."

The Mental Health and Addictions Strategy was announced in the March 2010 Throne Speech. Ms. MacDonald anticipates receiving the advisory committee's recommendations by October.

The advisory committee is composed of 12 health experts, researchers, mental health clinicians and people living with or affected by mental illness.

The committee has also been meeting with mental health and addictions groups as part of its work. To date, committee representatives have met with nearly 50 groups with more meetings planned for this month and May.

"The stakeholder consultations have provided invaluable information for the work of the advisory committee," said Joyce McDonald, co-chair of the Mental Health and Addictions Strategy Advisory Committee. "We have had the privilege to hear from many different individuals and groups as well as from professionals who work in the field."

People can also provide input online or through the mail. To comment online, and for more information on the strategy, go to www.nshrf.ca/mentalhealthandaddictionsstrategy. Call 902-424-4043 for a copy of the consultation questionnaire.

Dates for the consultations are:

--Greenwood, Monday, April 18, 8 a.m. - noon, 14 Wing Greenwood, Birchall Training Center, The Chamber Room

--Amherst, Tuesday, April 26, 8 a.m. - noon, 98, Victoria St. East, Tantramar Theatre

--Sydney, Wednesday, April 27, 8 a.m. - noon, Cape Breton University, 1250 Grand Lake Rd., Multi Purpose Room A and B

--Halifax, Tuesday, May 3, 1 p.m. - 5 p.m., Saint Mary's University, Burke Building, Burke Theatre B (Entrance off of Inglis Street)

--Bridgewater, Thursday, May 5, 9 a.m. - 12:30 p.m., South Shore Regional Hospital , Lecture rooms 1-3 (Third Floor)

The French consultation will be held in Halifax, Monday, May 16, 8 a.m. - noon at the Université Sainte-Anne, Campus de Halifax, 1589 Walnut St. It will also be broadcast to four communuities:

--Petit-de-Grat, Campus de Petit-de-Grat, 3433, route 206

--Pointe-de-l'Église, Campus principal de Pointe-de-l'Église
1695, route 1

--Grand-Étang, Campus de Saint-Joseph-du-Moine
12521, Cabot Trail

--Tusket, Campus de Tusket, 1, Slocumb Crescent
Just passing things on ... respond as you see fit.

PS This came by way of Michele Raymond, MLA (Halifax Atlantic)

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Political Success????

Update: I see Jim Morton, MLA for Kings North is to be making an announcement at 11:00 tomorrow this morning (Monday) at the Flowercart on behalf of the Minister of Community Services. 

Whazzup, you ask?  "Expanded support for Persons with Disabilities in Nova Scotia", they say. We shall see ... we shall see ...

Is it actually possible?  Possible to successfully
advocate with our politicians and see positive change - direct positive results?Ask me that question a few weeks ago and, depending on my mood, I might have spouted the party line ("Never doubt that a small group committed people can change the world.  Indeed, it's the only thing that has.") or you might have gotten a more cynical response.


Ask me today and ... you will get guarded optimism.  Tinged with a bit of excitement. 

You might recall my recent
blawg beg post, asking for your support by writing to your MLAs and the Minister of Community Services to request that the provincial government deal with one aspect of the "gap year" families face when their children reach the age of 18.  An "adult", according to the feds.  Still a minor, according to the Province.

At any rate, I was informed by my MLA, Ramona Jennex, today that even though there has been no media coverage (and nothing apparent on a review of the
gov't website), there is  indeed a line in the budget to address the gap year issue.  Now who cool would that be?

Notice I say "would that be" ... because when it comes to politics, even seeing isn't necessarily always believing.  Forgive us if, as a population, the disability community, as a whole, tends to be a little sceptical of all things political. 

Please don't get me wrong, it's not that I doubt Ramona's word for one minute (and she did say she pushed and pestered until she saw the budget line with her own eyes), but first said budget will need to be passed into law.  Which, of course, shouldn't be an issue in a majority gov't situation.  Then, as Ramona pointed out, the Department of Community Services will need to figure out exactly HOW they will implement this change - will there be some procedure put in place whereby people will have to apply for this extra funding, etc.

So, yes, guarded optimism would best describe it at the moment.  Okay, maybe, more accurately, guarded but very optimistic.

And although I think Ramona (and yes, perhaps even, the Minister of Community Services) deserve a well-earned pat on the back, perhaps it's best if we wait to pat ourselves on the back until we actually see the change in effect on the ground.

Still, who ever said that a small group of committed people can't change the world, even if it is only one small step at a time?

Friday, April 8, 2011

One Out of Two Ain't Bad

Once upon a time we had two ... that's right, I said two! ... Learning Disabilities Conferences to look forward to this Spring. 

Unfortunately, the Annapolis Valley School Board was forced to cancel their planned event due to a lack of registration.  But the good news is that the Atlantic Conference on Learning Disabilities lives on!

This two-day conference will bring together experts from across our region with a focus on supporting youth with learning disabilities, gving delegates access to a wide variety of practical workshops on education and mental health.

And hey, just for a blast from the past, The Fonz actor, author, producer and director Henry Winkler will be one of the keynote speakers. Now, that's pretty cool, you gotta admit!

May 12-13, 2011 at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax.  Go here for the full conference schedule, list of speakers and workshops.

Be there or be square, as they say.