By Mike M. Ahlers and Tory Dunnan
Washington (CNN) - Some 23 years after Congress used federal muscle to open jobs, public transportation and public accommodations to disabled Americans, another venue is coming under the federal mandate - swimming pools.
Beginning this week, most public swimming pools, wading pools and spas must be accessible to disabled people to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Facilities that don't meet the standard may face civil penalties of $55,000.
The move has been in the works for several years. The Justice Department published standards for accessibility in 2010 and announced a March 2012 deadline for compliance. But confusion over the standards became so contentious that pool operators threatened coast-to-coast pool closures last spring, a scare dubbed "Poolmagedden."
In response to the uproar, the Department of Justice moved the deadline to Jan. 31, sought to clarify the rule and grandfathered in some equipment that was purchased by pool operators during the debacle. The Justice Department also reiterated that pool operators need to provide access to existing pools only if it is "readily achievable," meaning it does not involve significant difficulty or expense.
Advocates for the disabled say there is "no excuse" for public pools not to be accessible.
"They've had plenty of time" to find a suitable way to accommodate disabled swimmers, said Patrick Wojahn, a public policy analyst with the National Disability Rights Network. "It's time to make this happen so that people with disabilities don't have to go through another summer without being able to go swimming with their families."
The new rule applies to all public swimming pools, hotels, motels, health clubs, recreation centers, public country clubs and businesses. It also applies to community pools associated with private residential communities if the pool is made available to the public for rental or use.FULL STORY
By Jason Kessler, CNN
New York (CNN) - New York City's attempt to keep people from fattening up on sugary soft drinks, by banning some of them, would disproportionately hurt small, minority-owned businesses, according to the NAACP and the Hispanic Federation.
The two groups have filed a joint brief supporting a lawsuit by the American Beverage Association in which they say New York's unelected Board of Health overstepped its power in approving the ban the sale of sugary drinks bigger than 16 ounces in certain city venues.
Due to take effect in March, the ban is meant to combat obesity and encourage residents to live healthier lifestyles, according to the New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office. But many have decried the ban as a sign of the growing "nanny-state" and an unfair intrusion on personal freedom.
It was passed in September by the New York City Board of Health, following weeks of intense debate.
In their jointly-filed amicus brief, the NAACP New York State Conference and the Hispanic Federation repeatedly claim that small, minority-owned businesses will suffer from the ban while their much-larger competitors will get a pass.
The ban will "selectively and unfairly harm small and minority-owned businesses by discriminatorily preventing them from selling large 'sugary beverages' while allowing their large competitors such as 7-11 and grocery stores to carry the banned sugary beverages," according to the brief.FULL STORY
Editor's note: Nancy Keenan is president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. She will be stepping down from her role at the end of this month.
(CNN) - There have been a few moments in our history when a generation has used the power of its numbers and its passion for a cause to transcend a deeply divided society and change the course of the future for the better.
We've come to one of those moments.
About every 80 years, a young civic generation has forced the nation to deal with its fundamental challenges, according to Morley Winograd and Michael Hais in their 2011 book, "Millennial Momentum." They cite the American Revolution, the Civil War and the New Deal as key moments when a generation came together to create a different society.
Today's millennial generation is the next generation to wield that power.
I am a baby boomer. In the late 1960s, my generation rallied to make the case that a woman's right to choose should be guaranteed, and, 40 years ago on Tuesday, the Supreme Court handed down the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. Today, younger than 40 have always lived in an America where abortion has been legal.Read Nancy Keenan's full column
Editor's note: Alexis Wineman was diagnosed with pervasive development disorder, a form of autism, at age 11. Last week, Wineman, who won the Miss Montana competition last year, appeared as one of 54 beauty queens in the Miss America pageant. She reached the top 15, winning the America's Choice Award for getting the most online votes from the viewers.
By Alexis Wineman, Special to CNN
(CNN) - I knew there had to be a reason my family and I went through tough days together. I didn't understand why then, but the past couple of weeks have put so much into perspective.
The lonely days of pacing around my kitchen seemed like some of the longest days of my life. If anyone had told me then that I would be wearing a crown, an evening gown, heels and a swimsuit in front of a live audience with bright lights and television cameras hovering around, I'd have been the first one to dismiss it.
I realize now that even my toughest days pale in comparison to the toughest days of others living with an autism spectrum disorder. I've been given this opportunity to use my voice for those who don't have one or have yet to find theirs.
My path may not be one that another person would choose, but I challenged myself to enter the Miss America competition because it seemed like the peak to my own personal Everest. It also seemed kind of ironic: a girl who was told she was different and considered an outcast by many, in the nation's biggest beauty pageant.
I knew I would face challenges and even some skepticism, but I never expected the outpouring of support that continues to come in.
Winning the America's Choice title during the competition was the highest honor for me. The fact that so many people, to whom I am a total stranger, took the time to elect me as their contestant of choice is something I am still trying to comprehend.
Editor's note: Marilyn Wann is author of "FAT!SO?" and a weight diversity speaker internationally. She is the creator of Yay! Scales, which give compliments instead of numbers.
(CNN) - After a careful review of all relevant research worldwide, the U.S. government's leading analyst of weight data just confirmed what I've long known: Being fat might not be a death sentence.
That this study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association seems at all shocking is a measure of the intensity and pervasiveness of weight prejudice in our society and in our sciences.
I take an interest in the topic because I'm fat and because I don't have a death wish. I'm also interested because, like so many fat people, I've encountered weight discrimination when I seek routine medical care. I was 26 years old when I was denied the right to purchase health insurance. I had no significant history of illness or injury. I was just fat. That day, I became a fat rights activist.
In the intervening years, I've heard from so many people who fear for their lives when they encounter weight discrimination in our health care system.
By Moni Basu, CNN
(CNN) - The American Psychiatric Association announced this month approved changes in its official guide to classifying mental illnesses.
Among the major announced revisions to the manual, known as DSM-5, is that Asperger's syndrome will now be included in the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder "to help more accurately and consistently diagnose children with autism," the association said in a statement.
But the group made another big change that did not make as many headlines, though it is considered by many to be important.
The new DSM eliminates the term "gender identity disorder," long considered stigmatizing by mental health specialists and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists.
That old diagnosis meant that a man who believed he was destined to be a woman was considered mentally ill.
No longer so.
Editor's note: Roland Martin is a syndicated columnist and author of "The First: President Barack Obama's Road to the White House." He is a commentator for the TV One cable network and host/managing editor of its Sunday morning news show, "Washington Watch with Roland Martin."
By Roland Martin, CNN Contributor
(CNN) - Enough!
Enough with putting off tomorrow what we should be talking about today. Enough with being afraid to step on someone's delicate sensibilities when it comes to the Second Amendment. Enough with elected leaders who are too cowardly to confront the National Rifle Association and their ardent supporters. Enough with moms and dads and brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and pastors and deacons who are afraid to make public the private anguish of mental illness.
Enough! Enough! Enough!
Enough with just asking for thoughts and prayers. Enough with just hugging our children. Enough with leaving flowers and teddy bears at a makeshift memorial.
It's time for action. It's time for people of conscience to, in the words of the late civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, be "sick and tired of being sick and tired."Read Roland Martin's full column
By Miriam Falco, CNN
(CNN) - Since news first broke about the shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, people began wondering how something so horrible could happen.
Within a few hours, before the magnitude of the tragedy was fully known, reports began to surface that the shooter, Adam Lanza, was autistic or had Asperger's syndrome in addition to a possible personality or anxiety disorder such as obessive-compulsive disorder.
A relative told investigators that Lanza had a form of autism, according to a law enforcement official, who spoke under condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the investigation. CNN has not been able to confirm independently whether Lanza was diagnosed with autism or Asperger's syndrome, a higher-functioning form of autism.
However, national autism organizations cautioned against speculation about a link between violence and autism or Asperger's.
While the motive for this crime is still unknown and may never be fully understood, what is clear, according to experts, is that autism cannot be blamed.FULL STORY
By Katti Gray, Special to CNN
Memphis, Tennessee (CNN) - Diagnosed last year with diabetes, the Rev. Dan Henley point-blank refused the medicine his physician initially suggested to regulate his out-of-whack blood sugar.
"When I got the diagnosis, I said 'I don't receive that.' My doctor said, 'I don't care if you receive or not, you've got diabetes. ... I'll give you 90 days to control it on your own," recounts Henley, 50, pastor of Journey Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee.
The city is home to more obese people than any other American city, according to the Gallup Well-Being Index.
At the start of that 90-day countdown, Henley, his two daughters and, marginally, his wife devised their own "biggest loser" contest. They nixed a whole slew of comparatively high-calorie, low-nutrient favorite foods from their grocery list, ramped up their exercise - and started talking, more candidly than ever, about how overconsumption of certain fare causes illness, injury and premature death.
"I used to have this slogan: 'I'm 280 pounds of cornbread-, collard green-eating man,'" says the 6-foot-2 Henley. "And the bigger I got, the more I laughed it off. Then, I got this wake-up call."
Now 27 pounds lighter than he was a year ago - and with his blood sugar levels now normal - Henley also is founder and lead facilitator of Church Developers Network, one in an arsenal of organizations immersed in a community-wide campaign to move Memphis out of that notorious No. 1 slot.FULL STORY