Settlement Agreement in U.S. v. District of Columbia
On December 10, 2008, the Justice Department entered into a settlement agreement with the District of Columbia resolving its investigation into the accessibility of the District’s homeless shelter program to individuals with disabilities under title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Department initiated an investigation of the District’s shelter program after receiving individual complaints alleging widespread ADA violations in the program.
I. Major Provisions
- Effective Date and Term. The settlement took effect on December 10, 2008. The settlement will remain in effect for three years except for certain provisions related to the physical accessibility of shelter facilities that will remain in effect for up to five years.
- Comprehensive Physical Accessibility Plan. The settlement requires the District to develop a comprehensive plan to ensure that shelter program facilities are readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. Prior to the District submitting the plan to the Department for approval, the District must allow interested persons, including Shelter residents and organizations that represent Shelter residents, an opportunity to comment on the plan. The District must hold at least one public hearing to allow for public comment. This settlement marks the first time the Department has required a public entity to work with both its constituents and the Department to ensure that a shelter program is accessible.
- Reasonable Modification Policies. The settlement requires the District to ensure appropriate handling of requests for reasonable modification to a rule, policy, practice or procedure because of an individual’s disability. Such requests must be granted immediately when the denial of the request is reasonably likely to cause serious harm to an individual with a disability. For example, shelters would need to modify rules concerning food storage or kitchen access for an individual who has special dietary needs due to a disability.
- Effective Communication. The District will take steps to facilitate effective communication with shelter applicants and residents who have disabilities related to speech, vision, or hearing. This will include obtaining necessary equipment, entering into contracts with qualified sign language and oral interpreters, and providing information in alternative formats upon request.
- Transportation to and Between Shelters. The District will ensure that individuals with disabilities are not denied the services, programs and activities of the shelter program due to a lack of fully operational wheelchair accessible transportation vehicles.
- Training. The settlement requires that shelter staff be provided with comprehensive training on disability rights.
- Oversight of Contractors and Subcontractors. The settlement requires that the District implement procedures to ensure that contractors and subcontractors are complying with title II of the ADA and the terms of the settlement agreement.
- The District’s Shelter Program
- This settlement agreement covers the services, programs and activities at three types of emergency homeless shelters in the District of Columbia: severe weather shelters, low barrier shelters and temporary shelters. Those terms are defined in the Homeless Services Reform Act of 2005, DC Code 4-751.01 (2005). The settlement does not cover other types of shelter or housing provided for District residents.
- These shelters serve various populations including single women, single men, families, and domestic violence survivors.
- The settlement requires that the services, programs, and activities at these facilities, whether provided by the District directly or through contractual arrangements, are accessible to persons with disabilities.
- The District’s shelter program is currently administered through a contract with the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness.
- The District’s Homeless Population:
A January 1, 2008, survey by a District contractor found that:
- the District had 4,208 homeless individuals and 587 homeless families.
- approximately 3,000 of these individuals reside in the District’s emergency shelters (which are covered by this settlement)
- twenty-three percent of the District’s homeless residents have a physical disability, 19% have a severe mental illness, and 2% have HIV or AIDS.
A copy of the settlement agreement will be available at the Department of Justice’s website at http://www.ada.gov.
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December 15, 2008