Joseph Shapiro

Tristen Hunter was 16 and preparing to leave foster care in Juneau, Alaska, when a social worker mentioned that the state agency responsible for protecting him had been taking his money for years.

American Airlines has reversed a policy that meant some people who use heavy wheelchairs could no longer fly on certain small regional jets.

The recent policy banned wheelchairs weighing more than 300 pounds from some of its smaller jets. Many power wheelchairs, with batteries and motors, weigh more than that.

Updated on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, at 3:30 pm ET:

After this article was published, a spokesperson for American Airlines told NPR in a statement that the airline is reviewing its weight limit on wheelchairs: "We apologize for the confusion and will ensure all customers can travel wherever American flies."


John Morris calls himself an "aviation geek." He's a frequent flyer who, in his power wheelchair, has traveled to 46 countries. His goal is to visit every country.

In early August, José came home to the Chicago apartment he shares with his wife and five children. He'd just spent three months in the hospital after contracting the coronavirus.

"We were all so happy," says his daughter Alondra, describing that day. "Everybody in the hospital was like, he was about to die. There was no more hope for him. ... So now we're like, 'Thank God, he's still here with us.' "

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SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

When a natural disaster strikes, it's complicated to evacuate and care for some of the people most at risk — the elderly and disabled.

Now — add another complication: a pandemic.

Prisons across the country have placed prisoners on lockdown — they're kept in their cells mostly around-the-clock — as a way to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Now prison reformers are worried that the response has increased the use of a practice they've long fought: solitary confinement.

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People with intellectual disabilities and autism who contract COVID-19 die at higher rates than the rest of the population, according to an analysis by NPR of numbers obtained from two states that collect data. They also contract the virus at a higher rate, according to research looking into group homes across the United States.

The Navy has ordered members of its Military Sealift Command — a group of civilian mariners who supply military vessels around the world — to stay on their ships in an effort to prevent outbreaks of the coronavirus. A "gangway up" order enforcing the lock-down was issued on March 21.

Updated at 10:10 p.m. ET

One month ago today, President Trump declared a national emergency.

In a Rose Garden address, flanked by leaders from giant retailers and medical testing companies, he promised a mobilization of public and private resources to attack the coronavirus.

"We've been working very hard on this. We've made tremendous progress," Trump said. "When you compare what we've done to other areas of the world, it's pretty incredible."

But few of the promises made that day have come to pass.

With coronavirus cases continuing to climb and hospitals facing the prospect of having to decide how to allocate limited staff and resources, the Department of Health and Human Services is reminding states and health care providers that civil rights laws still apply in a pandemic.

States are preparing for a situation when there's not enough care to go around by issuing "crisis of care" standards.

But disability groups are worried that those standards will allow rationing decisions that exclude the elderly or people with disabilities.

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

People with disabilities are asking the federal government to stop what they say are policies by states and hospitals that will ration care and deny them treatment for the coronavirus. NPR investigative correspondent Joseph Shapiro reports.

Amtrak will dump a policy that led to two people who use wheelchairs being told they'd have to pay $25,000 for a train ticket that usually costs just $16, the rail service announced Wednesday.

"After further review, Amtrak has determined to suspend the policy in question," said Amtrak spokesperson Marc Magliari. "It was never meant to be applied to this situation. And we apologize for the mistake."

He spoke shortly after a group of people with disabilities demonstrated outside an Amtrak station in Illinois, chanting: "We will ride."

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

A one-way ticket on the Amtrak train from Chicago to Bloomington, Ill., costs $16 - unless you're the two people who use wheelchairs who were told their tickets would cost not $16, but $25,000. Yeah. Here's NPR's Joseph Shapiro.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

This story is part of American Anthem, a yearlong series on songs that rouse, unite, celebrate and call to action. Find more at NPR.org/Anthem.


Disney's Frozen remains one of the greatest box-office successes in history. But in terms of impact and influence, it is perhaps most loved and best remembered for one of its breakout songs.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

When Monica Cosby, Tyteanna Williams and Celia Colon talk about the years they spent as inmates at women's prisons in Illinois, their stories often turn to the times they would be disciplined for what seemed like small, even absurd things.

Cosby was playing Scrabble in her cell once when a guard asked what she was doing. She responded sarcastically: "What does it look like I'm doing?" He wrote her up for "contraband" (the Scrabble set) and for "insolence."

Earlier this year, NPR reported that people with intellectual disabilities are victims of some of the highest rates of sexual assault. NPR found previously undisclosed government numbers showing that they're assaulted at seven times the rate of people without disabilities. Now states, communities and advocates, citing NPR's reporting, are making reforms aimed at improving those statistics.

Editor's note: This report includes graphic and disturbing descriptions of assault.

Pauline wants to tell her story — about that night in the basement, about the boys and about the abuse she wanted to stop.

But she's nervous. "Take a deep breath," she says out loud to herself. She takes a deep and audible breath. And then she tells the story of what happened on the night that turned her life upside down.

"The two boys took advantage of me," she begins. "I didn't like it at all."

Civil rights lawyers are using a new strategy to change a common court practice that they have long argued unfairly targets the poor.

At issue is the way courts across the country sometimes issue arrest warrants for indigent people when they fall behind on paying court fees and fines owed for minor offenses like traffic tickets. Last year, an NPR investigation showed that courts in all 50 states are requiring more of these payments. Now attorneys are aggressively suing cities, police and courts, forcing reform.

On a night last week when the temperature dropped to 17 degrees, Edward Brown, who's 62 and homeless, slept at the bus stop in front of the Jennings, Mo., city hall in St. Louis County.

"It was cold, very cold," he says. "It's so cold I can't really move so I kept playing with my feet — rubbing 'em, twisting 'em, trying to keep warm."

Drive drunk, drive recklessly, and the state can suspend your driver's license. But many police and motor vehicle administrators worry about a recent trend: A large number of suspensions are for reasons that have nothing to do with unsafe driving.

These reasons include unpaid traffic tickets, falling behind on child support, getting caught with drugs, bouncing checks; or minor juvenile offenses like missing school, using false identification to buy alcohol, or shoplifting.

To understand some of the distrust of police that has fueled protests in Ferguson, Mo., consider this: In 2013, the municipal court in Ferguson — a city of 21,135 people — issued 32,975 arrest warrants for nonviolent offenses, mostly driving violations.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The use of fines and fees charged to criminal defendants has exploded. An NPR investigation has found people who can't afford those charges can go to jail for not paying. Hundreds of thousands are hiding from police and the courts.

Debtors' prisons were outlawed in the United States back before the Civil War. But an NPR state-by-state survey found that people still get sent to jail for unpaid court fines and fees.

The number of "forcible rapes" that get reported at four-year colleges increased 49 percent between 2008 and 2012. That's the finding of an analysis by NPR's Investigative Unit of data from the Department of Education.

That increase shows that sexual assault is a persistent and ugly problem on college campuses. But there's also a way to look at the rise in reports and see something positive: It means more students are willing to come forward and report this underreported crime.

This story contains language that some may find offensive.

In the segregated South in 1965, John Queen was about as insignificant as a man could be. He was black, elderly and paralyzed. His legs had been crushed when as a boy he fell off a roof. For the rest of his life, he pulled himself around with his hands.

In Fayette, Miss., he would shine shoes on Main Street for a few coins. People called him "Crippled Johnny" or "Shoe-Shine Johnny."

When President Obama signs an updated version of the Violence Against Women Act on Thursday afternoon, the law will include new requirements for how colleges and universities handle allegations of sexual assault.

Laura Dunn, who's been invited by the White House to attend, plans to be there.

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