SCOPE OF THE INVESTIGATION
This matter was initiated by a complaint filed under title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12131-12134, with the United States Department of Justice (“Department”) against Laurens County, South Carolina. The complaint was received by the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, under the authority of 28 C.F.R. Part 35, Subpart F. The complainant alleges that the County Historic Courthouse and other County programs and services are not readily accessible to people with disabilities.
Because the County receives financial assistance from the Department of Justice, the investigation was also conducted under the authority of section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794, and the Department’s implementing regulation, 28 C.F.R. Part 42, Subpart G. The Department expanded the scope of the investigation to include the County’s compliance with the following title II requirements:
C to conduct a self-evaluation of its services, policies, and practices by July 26, 1992, and make modifications necessary to comply with the Department’s title II regulation, 28 C.F.R. § 35.105;
C to notify applicants, participants, beneficiaries, and other interested persons of their rights and the County’s obligations under title II and the Department’s regulation, 28 C.F.R. § 35.106;
C to designate a responsible employee to coordinate its efforts to comply with and carry out the Laurens County ADA responsibilities, 28 C.F.R. § 35.107(a);
C to establish a grievance procedure for resolving complaints of violations of title II, 28 C.F.R. § 35.107(b);
C to operate each program, service, or activity so that, when viewed in its entirety, it is readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, 28 C.F.R. § 35.150, by:
C delivery of services, programs, or activities in alternate ways, including, for example, redesign of equipment, reassignment of services, assignment of aides, home visits, or other methods of compliance or, if these methods are not effective in making the programs accessible,
C physical changes to buildings (required to have been made by January 26, 1995), in accordance with the Department’s title II regulation, 28 C.F.R. § 35.151, and the ADA Standards for Accessible Design (Standards), 28 C.F.R. pt. 36, App. A, or the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS), 41 C.F.R. § 101-19.6, App. A.
C to ensure that facilities for which construction or alteration was begun after January 26, 1992, are readily accessible to and usable by people with disabilities, in accordance with 1) the Department’s title II regulation and 2) the Standards or UFAS, 28 C.F.R. § 35.151;
C to ensure that communications with applicants, participants, and members of the public with disabilities are as effective as communications with others, including furnishing auxiliary aids and services when necessary, 28 C.F.R. § 35.160;
C to provide direct access via TTY (text telephone) or computer-to-telephone emergency services, including 9-1-1 services, for persons who use TTY’s and computer modems, 28 C.F.R. § 35.162;
C to provide information for interested persons with disabilities concerning the existence and location of the County’s accessible services, activities, and facilities, 28 C.F.R. § 35.163(a); and
C to provide signage at all inaccessible entrances to each of its facilities, directing users to an accessible entrance or to information about accessible facilities, 28 C.F.R. § 35.163(b).
As part of its compliance review, the Department reviewed the following facilities, which – because construction or alterations commenced after January 26, 1992 – must comply with the ADA’s new construction or alterations requirements: Johnson Detention Center and the Judicial Services Complex.
The Department’s program access review covered those of the County programs, services, and activities that operate in the following facilities: Laurens County Library, Laurens County Historical Court House, Laurens County Court House Annex - Sheriff’s Office, Church Street Office Complex, Laurens County Parking Lot, Laurens County Park, and the Human Services Complex.
The Department reviewed the County’s policies and procedures regarding, emergency management and disaster prevention, programs for victims of domestic violence and abuse, and sidewalk maintenance to evaluate whether persons with disabilities have an equal opportunity to utilize these programs.
Finally, the Department reviewed the County’s Sheriff’s Department policies and procedures regarding providing effective communication to persons who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.
1. The ADA applies to the County because it is a “public entity” as defined by title II. 42 U.S.C. § 12131(1).
2. The Department is authorized under 28 C.F.R. Part 35, Subpart F, to determine the compliance of the Laurens County with title II of the ADA and the Department's title II implementing regulation, to issue findings, and, where appropriate, to negotiate and secure voluntary compliance agreements. Furthermore, the Attorney General is authorized, under 42 U.S.C. § 12133, to bring a civil action enforcing title II of the ADA should the Department fail to secure voluntary compliance pursuant to Subpart F.
3. The Department is authorized under 28 C.F.R. Part 42, Subpart G, to determine the County’s compliance with section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, to issue findings, and, where appropriate, to negotiate and secure voluntary compliance agreements. Furthermore, the Attorney General is authorized, under 29 U.S.C. § 794 and 28 C.F.R. §§ 42.530 and 42.108-110, to suspend or terminate financial assistance to the County provided by the Department of Justice should the Department fail to secure voluntary compliance pursuant to Subpart G or to bring a civil suit to enforce the rights of the United States under applicable federal, state, or local law.
4. The parties to this Agreement are the United States of America and Laurens County, South Carolina
5. In order to avoid the burdens and expenses of an investigation and possible litigation, the parties enter into this Agreement.
6. In consideration of, and consistent with, the terms of this Agreement, the Attorney General agrees to refrain from filing a civil suit in this matter regarding all matters contained within this Agreement, except as provided in the section entitled “Implementation and Enforcement.”
ACTIONS TAKEN BY COUNTY
7. The County Council appointed a 7-person Laurens County Disability Act Compliance Committee on December 13, 1994. The Committee conducted and completed a Self Evaluation Plan in 1995 and a Transition Plan in 1996.
8. The County has in place an ADA Coordinator.
9. The 911 Emergency Call Center annually tests and provides yearly refresher training to all dispatchers on answering, recognizing and responding to silent calls and TTY calls.
10. The County has taken immediate steps to correct a number of access issues identified by the Department prior to reaching this agreement.
11. Within twelve months of the effective date of this Agreement, the County will adopt the attached Notice (Attachment A); distribute it to all agency heads; publish the Notice in a local newspaper of general circulation serving the County; post the Notice on its Internet Home Page; and post copies in conspicuous locations in its public buildings. It will refresh the posted copies, and update the contact information contained on the Notice, as necessary, for the life of this Agreement. Copies will also be provided to any person upon request.
12. Within twelve months of the effective date of this Agreement, and on yearly anniversaries of this Agreement until it expires, the County will implement and report to the Department its written procedures for providing information for interested persons with disabilities concerning the existence and location of the County accessible programs, services, and activities.
13. Within twelve months of the effective date of this Agreement, the County will appoint or hire one or more ADA Coordinator(s). The ADA Coordinator(s) will coordinate the County’s effort to comply with and carry out its responsibilities under the ADA, including any investigation of complaint communicated to it alleging its noncompliance with title II or alleging any actions that would be prohibited under title II. The County will make available to all interested individuals the name(s), office address(es), and telephone number(s) of the ADA Coordinator(s).
14. Within twelve months of the effective date of this Agreement, Laurens County will adopt the attached ADA Grievance Procedure (Attachment B), distribute it to all agency heads, and post copies of it in conspicuous locations in each of its public buildings. It will refresh the posted copies, and update the contact information contained on it, as necessary, for the life of the Agreement. Copies will also be provided to any person upon request.
GENERAL EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION PROVISIONS
15. Within twelve months of the effective date of this Agreement, the Laurens County will identify sources of qualified sign language and oral interpreters, real-time transcription services, and vendors that can put documents in Braille, and will implement and report to the Department its written procedures, with time frames, for fulfilling requests from the public for sign language or oral interpreters, real-time transcription services, and documents in alternate formats (Braille, large print, cassette tapes, etc.).
16. The Laurens County will take steps to ensure that all appropriate employees are trained and practiced in using the TTY and South Carolina Relay Service to make and receive calls.
17. Within twelve months of the effective date of this Agreement, the County will ensure that each 9-1-1 call station is equipped with a TTY or computer equivalent.
18. Within twelve months of the effective date of this Agreement, the County will develop procedures for answering 9-1-1 calls that include training all call takers to use a TTY to take 9-1-1 calls, to recognize a “silent” open line as a potential TTY call and respond by TTY, and to ensure that TTY calls are answered as quickly as other calls received.
19. The County will monitor its incoming 9-1-1 TTY calls to ensure they are answered as quickly and accurately as other calls received.
20. Laurens County will incorporate correct TTY call-taking procedures into 9-1-1 call takers’ performance evaluations and will amend its personnel policies to include written disciplinary procedures for call takers who fail to perform TTY call-taking consistent with the training and procedures. The County will implement and report to the Department its evaluation and procedures within twelve months of the effective date of this Agreement.
LAW ENFORCEMENT AND EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION
21. Within twelve months of the effective date of this Agreement, Laurens County will adapt for its own use and implement the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office Policy Statement on Effective Communication with People Who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing [Attachment C] and distribute to all Sheriff Department officers the Guide for Law Enforcement Officers When in Contact with People Who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing [Attachment D].
22. Within twelve months of the effective date of this Agreement, Laurens County will contract with one or more local qualified oral/sign language interpreter agencies to ensure that the interpreting services will be available on a priority basis, twenty-four hours per day, seven days a week, to its sheriff’s department or make other appropriate arrangements (such as contracting directly with or hiring qualified interpreters).
23. Within twelve months of the effective date of this Agreement, Laurens County will ensure that each sheriff station or substation and each detention facility is equipped with a working TTY to enable persons who are deaf, hard of hearing, or who have speech impairments to make outgoing telephone calls. Where inmate telephone calls are time-limited, the Laurens County will adopt policies permitting inmates who use TTY’s a longer period of time to make those calls, due to the slower nature of TTY communications compared with voice communications.
24. Within twelve months of the effective date of this Agreement, Laurens County will amend its employment policies, as necessary, to comply with the regulations of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission implementing title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, codified at 29 C.F.R. Part 1630. At minimum, those policies will provide that the Laurens County:
C will not discriminate on the basis of disability in its hiring or employment practices.
C will not ask a job applicant about the existence, nature, or severity of a disability. Applicants may be asked about their ability to perform specific job functions. Medical examinations or inquiries may be made, but only after a conditional offer of employment is made and only if required of all applicants for the position.
C will make reasonable accommodations for the known physical or mental limitations of a qualified applicant or employee with a disability upon request unless the accommodation would cause an undue hardship on the operation of the County’s business. If an applicant or an employee requests a reasonable accommodation and the individual's disability and need for the accommodation are not readily apparent or otherwise known, Laurens County may ask the individual for information necessary to determine if the individual has a disability-related need for the accommodation.
C will maintain any employee’s medical records separate from personnel files and keep them confidential.
C will make an individualized assessment of whether a qualified individual with a disability meets selection criteria for employment decisions. To the extent the Laurens County selection criteria have the effect of disqualifying an individual because of disability, those criteria will be job-related and consistent with business necessity.
25. Within twelve months of the effective date of this Agreement, the County will implement and report to the Department its written process for soliciting and receiving input from persons with disabilities regarding the accessibility of its sidewalks, including, for example, requests to add curb cuts at particular locations.
26. Within twelve months of the effective date of this Agreement, the County will identify and report to the Department all streets, roads, and highways that have been constructed or altered since January 26, 1992. Paving, repaving, or resurfacing a street, road, or highway is considered an alteration for the purposes of this Agreement. Filling a pothole is not considered an alteration for the purposes of this Agreement. Within three years of the effective date of this Agreement, the County will provide curb ramps or other sloped areas complying with the Standards or UFAS at all intersections of the streets, roads, and highways identified under this paragraph having curbs or other barriers to entry from a street level pedestrian walkway.
27. Beginning no later than twelve months after the effective date of this Agreement, the County will provide curb ramps or other sloped areas complying with the Standards or UFAS at any intersection having curbs or other barriers to entry from a street level pedestrian walkway, whenever a new street, road, or highway is constructed or altered.
28. Within twelve months of the effective date of this Agreement, the County will identify all street level pedestrian walkways that have been constructed or altered since January 26, 1992. Paving, repaving, or resurfacing a walkway is considered an alteration for the purposes of this Agreement. Within three years of the effective date of this Agreement, the County will provide curb ramps or other sloped areas complying with the Standards or UFAS at all places where a street level pedestrian walkway identified under this paragraph intersects with a street, road, or highway.
29. Beginning no later than twelve months after the effective date of this Agreement, the County will provide curb ramps or other sloped areas complying with the Standards or UFAS at all newly constructed or altered pedestrian walkways where they intersect a street, road, or highway.
WEB-BASED SERVICES AND PROGRAMS
30. Within twelve months of the effective date of this Agreement, and on subsequent anniversaries of the effective date of this Agreement, the County will distribute to all persons – employees and contractors – who design, develop, maintain, or otherwise have responsibility for content and format of its website(s) or third party websites used by the County (Internet Personnel) the technical assistance document, “Accessibility of State and Local Government Websites to People with Disabilities,” which is Attachment H to this Agreement (it is also available at www.ada.gov/websites2.htm).
31. Within twelve months of the effective date of this Agreement, and throughout the life of the Agreement, the County will do the following:
A. Establish, implement, and post online a policy that its web pages will be accessible and create a process for implementation;
B. Ensure that all new and modified web pages and content are accessible;
C. Develop and implement a plan for making existing web content more accessible;
D. Provide a way for online visitors to request accessible information or services by posting a telephone number or e-mail address on its home page; and
E. Periodically (at least annually) enlist people with disabilities to test its pages for ease of use.
PHYSICAL CHANGES TO FACILITIES
32. The elements or features of the County facilities that do not comply with the Standards, including those listed in Attachments I, J, K, and L, prevent some persons with disabilities from fully and equally enjoying Laurens County services, programs, or activities and constitute discrimination on the basis of disability within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 12132 and 28 C.F.R. §§ 35.149 and 35.150.
33. The County will comply with the cited provisions of the Standards when taking the actions required by this Agreement.
34. Within twelve months of the effective date of this Agreement, the County will install signage as necessary to comply with 28 C.F.R. § 35.163(b), after having surveyed all facilities that are the subject of this Agreement for the purpose of identifying those that have multiple entrances not all of which are accessible.
35. Newly Constructed Facilities: In order to ensure that the following spaces and elements in Laurens County facilities, for which construction was commenced after January 26, 1992, are readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities, the County will take the actions listed in Attachment I.
36. Altered Facilities: In order to ensure that the following spaces and elements in the County facilities, for which alterations commenced after January 26, 1992, are readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities, the County will take the actions listed in Attachment J.
37. Program Access in County Existing Facilities: In order to ensure that each of the County programs, services, and activities operating at a facility that is the subject of this Agreement, when viewed in its entirety, is readily accessible to and usable by persons with mobility impairments, the County will take the actions listed in Attachment K.
PROGRAMS FOR VICTIMS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND ABUSE
38. If the County owns or operates any Domestic Violence Programs, within twelve months of the effective date of this Agreement, it will do the following:
A. Whatever written information is provided regarding its Domestic Violence Programs will also be provided in alternate formats, including Braille, large print, audio recording, and electronic formats, upon request.
B. Enter into contracts or make other arrangements with qualified sign language and oral interpreters to ensure their availability when required for effective communication with persons who are deaf or hard of hearing. The type of aid that will be required for effective communication will depend on the individual’s usual method of communication, and the nature, importance, and duration of the communication at issue. In many circumstances, oral communication supplemented by gestures and visual aids, an exchange of written notes, use of a computer or typewriter, or use of an assistive listening device may be effective. In other circumstances, qualified sign language or oral interpreters are needed to communicate effectively with persons who are deaf or hard of hearing. The more lengthy, complex, and important the communication, the more likely it is that a qualified interpreter will be required for effective communication with a person whose primary means of communication is sign language or speech reading.
C. If the County’s Domestic Violence Programs operate a hotline to take telephone calls of an emergency nature, the County shall ensure that it provides equivalent service for persons who use TTY’s, including providing direct-connection service for TTY users with hotline operators, without requiring TTY users to call through a third party operator, such as through the state or local Telecommunication Relay Services. The County will obtain the necessary equipment, establish the written procedures, and provide the training necessary to ensure effective communication by Hotline staff with direct-connection callers using TTY’s, as well as the training necessary to respond to callers who use the Telecommunication Relay Services.
D. Survey facilities used as shelters or designated as potential shelters – or for counseling, job training, education, clothing or household provisioning, or other aspects of Domestic Violence Programs – to ensure that adequate arrangements are available for potential clients and family members with disabilities, including adults and children who have mobility impairments, who are blind or have low vision, and who are deaf or hard of hearing. Within one year of the effective date of this Agreement, modify each such facility to remove the barriers or, alternatively, procure another, fully accessible facility to ensure that potential clients and family members with disabilities have integrated options when participating in a sheltering or other Domestic Violence program. Nothing in this Agreement requires any modifications that would compromise the confidentiality of a shelter or counseling center. Until there is a sufficient stock of accessible housing and other facilities within the sheltering program, County will implement written procedures ensuring that it has identified temporary accessible housing (such as accessible hotel rooms within the community or in nearby communities) and other facilities that could be used if people with disabilities need sheltering or inservice access to a Domestic Violence Program. The cost to potential clients of being housed or otherwise served in alternate accessible facilities shall not exceed any costs normally attributed to clients of County’s Domestic Violence Programs.
E. Implement written procedures and modify, as appropriate, eligibility criteria, to ensure that no person with a disability is turned away from a shelter or otherwise denied the opportunity to benefit from the services of the County’s Domestic Violence Programs on the basis of disability.
F. Implement written procedures to ensure that persons with disabilities who use service animals are not denied or discouraged from participating in Domestic Violence Programs, are able to be housed and served in an integrated environment, and are not separated from their service animals while participating in the County’s Domestic Violence Programs even if pets are normally not permitted in the facilities where such programs are conducted. The procedures will not unnecessarily segregate persons who use service animals from others but may take into account the potential presence of persons who, for safety or health reasons, should not be in contact with certain types of animals. If the County’s Domestic Violence Programs require clients to make any payments for shelter or other services they provide, clients shall not be required to make additional payments because they or their family members use service animals.
G. Implement written procedures to ensure that reasonable modifications are made to County’s Domestic Violence Programs when necessary for a client or family member with a disability to participate in such Programs, unless doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of the program.
H. Implement written policies to ensure that despite any “drug-free” policy of County’s Domestic Violence Programs, persons with disabilities who use medication prescribed for their use are able to continue using such medication while participating in such Programs or being housed in a shelter.
39. If the County contracts with another entity to provide or operate programs that provide shelter, counseling, or other assistance or supportive services to victims of domestic violence or abuse and their families (hereafter referred to as “Domestic Violence Programs”), it will ensure that the other entity complies with the preceding provisions on its behalf. If that entity will not comply with the following provisions, the County will nonetheless take all necessary steps to ensure that its program is accessible to persons with disabilities.
40. Some of the of the County’s shelters may be owned or operated by other public entities subject to title II or by public accommodations subject to title III and, as such, are subject to the obligation to provide program access or remove barriers to accessibility under the ADA. This Agreement does not limit such future enforcement action against the owners or operators of these facilities by any person or entity, including the Department.
41. This Agreement shall not be construed to require the County to divulge confidential information relating to the location or existence of any Domestic Violence Programs, beyond what is otherwise required by applicable law or what is necessary for the Department to effectively enforce this Agreement.
42. Except as otherwise specified in this Agreement, at yearly anniversaries of the effective date of this Agreement until it expires, the County will submit written reports to the Department summarizing the actions the County has taken pursuant to this Agreement. Reports will include detailed photographs showing measurements, architectural plans, work orders, notices published in the newspaper, copies of adopted policies, and proof of efforts to secure funding/assistance for structural renovations or equipment.
43. Throughout the life of this Agreement, consistent with 28 C.F.R. § 35.133(a), the County will maintain the accessibility of its programs, activities, services, facilities, and equipment, and will take whatever actions are necessary (such as routine testing of accessibility equipment and routine accessibility audits of its programs and facilities) to do so. This provision does not prohibit isolated or temporary interruptions in service or access due to maintenance or repairs. 28 C.F.R. § 35.133(b).
44. Within twelve months of the effective date of this Agreement, the County will develop or procure a two-hour training program on the requirements of the ADA and appropriate ways of serving persons with disabilities. The County will use the ADA technical assistance materials developed by the Department and will consult with interested persons, including individuals with disabilities, in developing or procuring the ADA training program.
45. Within twelve months of the effective date of this Agreement, The County will deliver its training program to all the County employees who have direct contact with members of the public. At the end of that period, the County will submit a copy of its training curriculum and materials to the Department, along with a list of employees trained and the name, title, and address of the trainer.
IMPLEMENTATION AND ENFORCEMENT
46. If at any time the County desires to modify any portion of this Agreement because of changed conditions making performance impossible or impractical or for any other reason, it will promptly notify the Department in writing, setting forth the facts and circumstances thought to justify modification and the substance of the proposed modification. Until there is written Agreement by the Department to the proposed modification, the proposed modification will not take effect. These actions must receive the prior written approval of the Department, which approval will not be unreasonably withheld or delayed.
47. The Department may review compliance with this Agreement at any time. If the Department believes that the County has failed to comply in a timely manner with any requirement of this Agreement without obtaining sufficient advance written agreement with the Department for a modification of the relevant terms, the Department will so notify the County in writing and it will attempt to resolve the issue or issues in good faith. If the Department is unable to reach a satisfactory resolution of the issue or issues raised within 30 days of the date it provides notice the County, it may institute a civil action in federal district court to enforce the terms of this Agreement, or it may initiate appropriate steps to enforce title II and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
48. For purposes of the immediately preceding paragraph, it is a violation of this Agreement for the County to fail to comply in a timely manner with any of its requirements without obtaining sufficient advance written agreement with the Department for an extension of the relevant time frame imposed by the Agreement.
49. Failure by the Department to enforce this entire Agreement or any provision thereof with regard to any deadline or any other provision herein will not be construed as a waiver of the Department's right to enforce other deadlines and provisions of this Agreement.
50. This Agreement is a public document. A copy of this document or any information contained in it will be made available to any person by the County or the Department on request.
51. This Agreement does not address the accessibility of voting equipment or voting systems, including polling place accessibility, or any modifications to polling-related policies and procedures that may be necessary to ensure access for persons with disabilities.
52. This Agreement constitutes the entire agreement between the parties on the matters raised herein, and no other statement, promise, or agreement, either written or oral, made by either party or agents of either party, that is not contained in this written Agreement (including its Attachments, which are hereby incorporated by reference), will be enforceable. This Agreement does not purport to remedy any other potential violations of the ADA or any other federal law. This Agreement does not affect the County continuing responsibility to comply with all aspects of the ADA and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
53. This Agreement will remain in effect for five years.
54. The person signing for the County represents that he or she is authorized to bind the County to this Agreement.
55. The effective date of this Agreement is the date of the last signature below.
For Laurens County:
JAMES A. COLEMAN, County Council Chairman
ERNEST B. SEGARS, County Administrator
SCOTT HOLLAND, Director Department of Public Works
County of Laurens
3 Catherine Street
Laurens, South Carolina 29360-0445
For the United States:
BRADLEY J. SCHLOZMAN,
Acting Assistant Attorney General for
JOHN L. WODATCH, Chief
JEANINE WORDEN, Deputy Chief
MARY LOU MOBLEY, Senior Counsel
MELLIE NELSON, Supervisory Attorney
REGINA MORGAN, Investigator
MICHELE ANTONIO MALLOZZI, Architect
U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Disability Rights Section - NYA
Washington, DC 20530