News, Views, and Information about Disability

Disability News, Views, Information, and Literature

Friday, November 22, 2013

Legislative Action: Nursing Home, Hospice, and Medical Marijuana

Special report by Michael Reynolds for Ability Maine

Contact your Representative and Senator today about legislation being
voted on soon at the Legislative Council
Appeals Meeting.

NOTE: The vote was originally scheduled for yesterday, November 21, but it was delayed, so you still have time to call!

Find out who your legislators are and how to contact them at:

If the legislator representing your town IS a member of the
Legislative Council,* it is very important that they hear directly
from you, their constituent, about how they plan to vote at the
November 21st Appeals meeting.

If your legislator IS NOT a member of the Legislative Council, ask
them to contact members of the Council about these bills before
November 21st.

Call your legislator (not too early or late in the day.)

If you can talk to your legislator in person that's even better.

If you are unable to speak to them directly, you can send an email,
facebook message, or text message to your Representative and Senator
and let them know:

1) Your name, your town, and briefly why this issue is important to you.

2) Ask your legislator to Support LR 2491, An Act Relating to Nursing
Home and Hospice Patients and Medical Marijuana Use.

This bill, sponsored by Senator Lachowicz of Waterville, would ensure
that patients in a hospice or nursing facility could safely access
doctor-recommended marijuana for medical use.

The legislation would not expand Maine's medical marijuana law. It
would not require a nursing facility to allow marijuana use, but it
would allow facilities the discretion on whether to and would not
allow smoking in nursing facilities.

It would restore the intent of Maine's patient-centered law that has
been in place since 1999, by removing unnecessary restrictions created
by DHHS rule changes in December 2012 that are preventing hospice and
nursing facilities from allowing medical use of marijuana in any form.

Before the Department changed its rules in 2012, a patient in a
facility was allowed to receive doctor-recommended marijuana for
medical use, in the form of tincture, edibles, inhaled through a
vaporizer, or in a medicated salve, to help with pain, nausea, sleep,
and other medical conditions. The rules have the greatest impact on
patients going through chemotherapy or in their last weeks of life.

The new rules require the hospice or nursing facility to register with
the State as a medical marijuana caregiver, which threatens their
ability to receive federal funding.

One of the most critical needs of the Maine medical marijuana
community is to ensure access to people going through chemotherapy and
those at the end of life.

Patients in Maine hospice and nursing facilities have been allowed to
access medical marijuana since 1999, when Maine's first medical
marijuana law was enacted.

From the beginning, these patients have been the backbone of Maine's
medical marijuana legislative heritage.

The bill will ensure that nursing facilities can safely ensure that
patients who are in the most pain and most in need of the benefits of
marijuana for medical use are able to access their doctor-recommended

3) Ask your legislator to Oppose LR 2329, An Act To Align Maine's
Marijuana Laws with the Guidelines Governing Taxation and Regulation
Issued by the Federal Government.

This bill, sponsored by Representative Russell of Portland, closely
resembles last year's bill to allow large-scale commercial marijuana
businesses by creating a costly new regulatory system that favors
large out-of-state investors at the expense of local caregivers.

The new bill would increase spending on unnecessary enforcement
schemes and is being rushed for approval without key stakeholder

LD 2329 does not providing needed protections for Maine small
businesses or for those people who will continue to face criminal
charges for growing and using marijuana. Time is needed to develop a
good law that generates revenue for the state and benefits as many
Maine people as possible.

4) Thank your Representative or Senator for their time, and let them
know you'll be voting for candidates who support medical marijuana
patients and caregivers in the November 2014 elections.

For more information on these bills, check out:

It's especially important if your Representative or Senator is a
member of the Legislative Council, it is especially important that
they hear from you, their constituent.

*The Legislative Council is:

Speaker Mark Eves (North Berwick): 287-1300 /

President Justin Alfond (Portland): 287-1500 /

Senator Troy Jackson (Allagash): 287-1515 /

Senator Anne Haskell (Portland/Westbrook): 287-1515 /

Senator Michael Thibodeau (Winterport): 223-5177 /

Senator Roger Katz (Augusta): (207) 287-1505 /

Representative Seth Berry (Bowdoinham): 287-1430 /

Representative Jeffrey McCabe (Skowhegan): 287-1430 /

Representative Ken Fredette (Newport): 287-1440 /

Representative Alexander Willette (Mapleton): 764-4600 /

More information and contacts for the Council members at:

Poetry in Fall 2013 Breath & Shadow Journal of Disability Literature & Culture

The current issue of Breath & Shadow (Volume 10, Number 4) blows opens with the "Twister," by high school student Abby Ridderhoff. The poem takes on the challenges of mental illness in
a pristine little girl
[which] ripped the daisies
from her hair
The next poetic offerings are three pieces by Akua Lezli Hope -- "Routine," "Dentist Visit," and "I fly into your indifference." The villanelle, "Routine," uses the form to good effect as the hypnotic repetition of the first and third line of the opening stanza carries the reader into the narrator's musings on the slowing of life with a new disability:

I sleep to wake and take my waking slow
I fear my fate in what is no longer there
I get nowhere that I used to go
C.R. Reardon makes his debut in Breath & Shadow with "No Lie," a hip-hop flavored poem primed with rhymes. The piece takes on sex, sexism, and pity -- leavened by humor and playfulness with lines like these:
Go ahead, show off your lexicon
With words like “lexicon”.  Tell her
How King Kong ain’t got shit on you; that will
Make her weepy, all touchy-feely.  Take her
To your room, go boom boom or do what you do,
And say tutaloo.  
Maine resident Carol Mackey contributes two poems to the current issue of Breath & Shadow. "Differences" and "Life's Friends," the latter using the metaphor of walking in another's shoes to connect with the reader:

You have walked in my shoes,the festering blister,the too tight arch....
The birds have no voices,dogs do not bark.

Anchoring the poetry in this edition of the literary journal is Cody Vander Clute's "Choosing Between the Long Jump and the Short Drop." A fast-paced sensual poem, rich with sensory detail, each stanza reveals a surprise as the narrator decides whether to take a lover home that night:
does he want to knowifnot having the signs fortalking with me will stopthe mystical unionof being wet and sticky
Read the diverse and delicious poems in the current edition of Breath & Shadow!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Hundreds of Maine Students Physically Restrained or Secluded, Report Finds

by Sharon Wachsler

Thanks to a new law requiring schools to report data on instances of physical restraint or isolation/seclusion of Maine students, there are now numbers on how many Maine students are being dealt with in these ways. The Kennebec Journal reports that out of 92 public school districts, there were 3,752 instances of physical restraint and 1,405 instances of seclusion.

According to the article, restraint "is defined as using physical force to move a student or keep the student somewhere against their will," and seclusion "is  defined as a student involuntarily being alone in a specific space".

Perhaps more telling for Ability Maine readers, a much smaller number of special education programs reported data, but the numbers were twice as high: 7,923 instances of restraint and 1,477 of seclusion. This means that disabled students are much more likely to be restrained or secluded. Indeed, this point is made in the article by disability rights advocates:
"These are potentially dangerous interventions and they're not effective in reducing behaviors," said Atlee Reilly, staff attorney for the Maine Disability Rights Center, which has advocated for parents and students. "I think people should be asking some questions about these numbers." Reilly said the new data is not specific enough to allow conclusions. He said a large number of incidents in a district might be concentrated at a particular school, and within a particular program.
That is the case in Lewiston, which had the highest numbers for a school district. The district has a day treatment center for special-needs students in one of its schools, which skewed the numbers because they are reported "by building."
Superintendent Bill Webster said that of the 449 instances of physical restraint reported in the district, 359 were at the day treatment center.
It is also noteworthy that the number of students being restrained or secluded is small in comparison to the number of instances. In other words, of those students who are secluded or restrained, it seems to happen to them repeatedly. For example, in the day treatment programs (which have the higher numbers of instances of restraint and seclusion), between 105 and 145 students were secluded a total of 1,477 times. This puts the average number of seclusions around nine or ten times per student. For restraints in the same population, 7,923 instances of restraint occurred among 523 and 571 students, bringing the average number per student to between 13 and 14 times. These numbers support Reilly's argument that these methods are not effective in modifying future instances of behavior that staff find "out of control."

To read more on this topic, including parent advocates speaking out and the Department of Education's take on it, please visit

Kennebec Journal Says VA Disability Backlog Is Too Big; Maine Office's Ranking Notwithstanding

A previous post, Maine VA's 38% Disability Backlog Second in US, reported on the Central Maine Sentinel praising the Togus regional office for having the second-lowest backlog in the nation. However, the editors at the Kennebec Journal are not cheering.

The Kennebec Journal ran an editorial yesterday headlined, "Our Opinion: On disability claims, Togus is better than most, but not good enough":

As of Veterans Day, more than 400,000 disability applicants have been waiting more than 125 days for an answer from the federal government. That’s more than 400,000 veterans, many recently returned from Iraq or Afghanistan, waiting too long for compensation related to post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and other health issues.
Maine’s Togus office has the second-lowest rate of backlogged claims, 38.4 percent, behind the 32.6 percent rate of the Sioux Falls, S.D., office. However, eight regional offices report more than 65 percent of their claims are more than 125 days old, including the worst offenders, Baltimore (71.7 percent) and Houston (68.2 percent).
The Journal reported that one Afghan war veteran who waited over two years for his disability claim to be processed called the VA's suicide hotline on several occasions. While the number of people waiting has been reduced since publicity has brought the situation to light, hundreds of thousands of US veterans are still waiting for the disability pay that was promised them when they enlisted.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Project DEBUNK -- Maine's Dyslexia Youth Resource

Project DEBUNK, a resource for youth with dyslexia and their families and educators, got some press in October when Governor LePage planned a trip to visit the organization.

But the Project has a lot more going on than a trip from the governor. DEBUNK stands for "Dyslexia Educational Bandwagon, Uniting Noteworthy Kids," and Carmel organization offers workshops, support, resources, tutoring, CEUs for educators, and more. DEBUNK declares on its web page:
Project DEBUNK is here to give Maine families, teachers, schools and others a place to go for truthful information about what dyslexia is, to debunk the myths still surrounding what dyslexia is not, and to support dyslexics through education, understanding, special group activities and tutoring.
Visit Project DEBUNK Dyslexia Center on Facebook or on their website,

Maine VA's 38% Disability Backlog Second-Best in US

A November 8, article in the Central Maine Sentinel reports that Maine is second only to South Dakota in terms of the number of disability claims backlogged by the Veteran's Benefits Administration in the state. In Maine, the backlog -- defined as pending for 125 days or more -- is 38 percent of cases. The only office that's doing better is South Dakota's Sioux Falls' office, which has a 33 percent backlog.

This data is gaining attention due to President Obama's decision to try to eliminate VA disability benefits backlogs by 2015. According to the Sentinel article
Federal data compiled by the McClatchy newspapers this week said 38 percent of claims processed by the Togus regional office of the Veterans Benefits Administration are backlogged.... The national average, McClatchy reported, is still 58 percent. So the federal government has plenty of work to do to eliminate backlogs by 2015, a promise made earlier this year that veterans’ groups have been supportive, yet skeptical of.
The rest of the article focuses on skepticism among disabled veterans' groups about the VA being able to eliminate the backlog, Togus officials discussing their accuracy rate, and the backdrop of the national attention on the VA backlog. 

Maine has a disproportionately high number both of Veterans and of people with disabilities, so the process for Veterans to get disability benefits in the state is particularly important. No mention is made that a 38 percent backlog means that more than one-third of all disability cases take in excess of four months to process.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Maine News Stories Supporting Disability Employment

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and there were a flurry of news stories in Maine at the end of the month focused on the positives of employing people with disabilities. 

On October 21, WCSH, Channel 6, the NBC affiliate in Portland, ran  [Note: Link autoplays video] "Businesses Urged to Hire Qualified Workers with Disabilities," a TV news segment focusing on Proctor & Gamble's decision to stop outsourcing some of its work to New Jersey and to keep it in Maine, instead, by hiring workers with disabilities. The program highlighted Maine's declining birth rate and increasingly aging population as an important reason to tap into the resource of the disabled workforce.

Three days later, Jeanne Paquette, the commissioner of the Maine Department of Labor, wrote a guest article for the Portland Press Herald's "Maine Voices" column on the benefits of hiring disabled people. "Employers have much to gain by hiring people with disabilities" also referenced Maine being "the oldest state in the nation," but went on to focus on the success of the state's vocational rehabilitation program in placing people with disabilities in a wide range of jobs, from retail chains to information technology. After Commissioner Paquette tooted her Department's horn, she appealed to employers directly to hire people with disabilities, pointing out the benefits to employers of doing so:
More businesses need to educate themselves about the benefits of hiring a worker with a disability and then do it. Many employers hold a mistaken impression that hiring a person with a disability is expensive or that resources are not available to support the person once they begin working. Let me dispel these stereotypes.
Hiring or retaining workers with disabilities is an excellent investment in a company’s human assets. Research shows that people with disabilities are both loyal employees and loyal customers. These workers value the relationship and the investment a business makes in them. For the minority of workers with disabilities who need special equipment or an accommodation, 56 percent of these adaptations cost less than $600, with many costing nothing. Available tax incentives help businesses cover accessibility costs, and businesses can qualify for work opportunity tax credits for hiring people with disabilities.
 Paquette ended her post with this call to action:
Turn “I can’t hire someone with a disability” into “I’m so glad I did!” by calling 1-855-ALL-HIRE or visiting Make a great investment in your workforce.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Nov. 15, So. Portland: Specialized Housing Information Session

Specialized Housing, Inc., which creates supportive housing opportunities for adults with disabilities in New England, is holding a meeting and discussion on November 15 at the South Portland Community Center.

According to their website: "Families in Maine are gathering to discuss starting a new program based on the success of 20 E Street in South Portland. Contact Mary Chris Semrow for more information by email or phone at 207-712-0289."

Information provided by Semrow on the Ability Maine Facebook page:

Housing Information Session - South Portland, Maine - Specialized Housing, Inc.
November 15, 2013 - 6:00 PM - South Portland Community Center.
Learn about Specialized Housing, Inc., and their supported housing programs in Massachusetts and Maine. Join a group of families interested in starting a new program in the Portland, Maine area. RSVP to Mary Chris Semrow at

Panel on Maine's Mental Health System Focuses on "Public Safety"

by Sharon Wachsler

Last night a panel was held at the University of Maine, Augusta, on the state's mental health system. According to an October 31, Sentinel article by Susan McMillan, the scheduled facilitator was Senator Roger Katz of Augusta, and the event was spurred by an incident at Riverview Psychiatric Center:
...where a patient seriously injured an employee in the spring. The hospital, which is the state’s only mental health facility for patients who commit crimes, stands to lose an estimated $20 million in federal funding because of problems with governance, overcrowding and safety.
Panelists include various government and agency representatives and administrators, along with Helen Bailey of the Maine Disability Rights Center. Conspicuously lacking in the lineup were panelists who are consumers of the mental health system, themselves.

Overall, the article -- and seemingly the panel -- focuses on mental illness as a public safety concern. This fearmongering that people with mental illness are dangerous is in direct conflict with the data which show that people with mental health issues are no more likely to commit violent crimes than those with no diagnosed mental illness, and that people with psychiatric diagnoses are, in fact, much more likely to be victims of violence.

I could not find any articles about the panel after the fact. It is to be hoped that stereotyping and fearmongering did not carry the day. (If you attended or participated in the panel or have a link to an article reporting on the panel, please comment or drop us a line.)

Blind Advocates Educate Employers, Attempt to Reduce Employment Discrimination

A recent Associated Press article that appeared in the Portland Press Herald focuses on the obstacles to employment for blind and low-vision people in the United States. Titled "Employers Still Wary of Blind Jobseekers," the article follows a Boston-area woman to a job fair for blind and disabled people. Having turned down a blind man for a job when she was sighted and working in human resources, she understands the problem of the gross underemployment of blind people -- only 24 percent of blind people had full-time employment in 2011 -- from both sides.

This is a relatively in-depth and unusually honest piece about ableist employment discrimination, the particular advantages of hiring blind workers (who are unusually loyal to their employers and hardworking, according to the article), and the efforts blind advocates are making in turning the tide.

Read the article, "Employers still wary of blind jobseekers" in the Portland Press Herald.

Dept of Transportation Requires Airlines to Increase Accessibility, Fines Airline for Lack of Wheelchair Access

According to an Associated Press article released on Monday, several new regulations by the US Department of Transportation are designed to make air travel more accessible to people with disabilities. The rulings involve improving accessibility of airline websites and automated kiosks that provide boarding passes and luggage tags. Folding manual wheelchairs will also be more readily transported on passenger flights.

The AP article also covers DOT's million-dollar fine of US Airways for failing to provide accessibility to its physically disabled travelers. DOT levied the fine after reading 300 complaints from disabled passengers.

Read the AP article here or here.