Disability Rights Online News
On May 31, 2011, Wells Fargo & Company entered into a comprehensive settlement agreement with the Department to ensure equal access for individuals with disabilities to Wells Fargo's services nationwide, including its nearly 10,000 retail banking, brokerage, and mortgage stores, over 12,000 ATMs, and its telephone and website services. The agreement resolves numerous ADA complaints on a variety of issues. The company worked cooperatively with the Department to address the complaints.
Under the settlement agreement, the Justice Department will administer a claims process to identify and compensate individuals who have been harmed by the company's failure to comply with ADA requirements. Wells Fargo will pay up to $16 million in claims, will donate $1 million to several non-profit organizations assisting veterans with disabilities sustained while serving in recent wars to live independently in the community, and will pay a $55,000 civil penalty to the United States. Individuals may get information about filing a claim by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 1-866-708-1273 (voice) or 1-866-544-5309 (TTY). Information on the claims process is also available on the ADA home page at www.ada.gov/wells_fargo/index.htm.
Wells Fargo will address all claims of physical barriers identified through the claims process at its retail stores across the nation, will ensure that its ATMs and websites are accessible, and will remedy other instances of discrimination identified during the claims process. In addition, the company will establish a toll-free ADA comment/complaint line so that in the future customers with disabilities can alert the company directly of disability-related problems, and will hire a full-time national ADA coordinator to investigate any complaints received and coordinate the company's efforts to resolve them.
"Individuals who have disabilities must not be denied equal access to the services offered by financial institutions simply because of their disability. Wells Fargo has shown that it is committed to equal access and effective communication with its customers who have disabilities," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "The department is aware that other major financial institutions are refusing to communicate with individuals with disabilities who use relay services to communicate by telephone. These refusals are discrimination, and other financial institutions must follow Wells Fargo's example and accept relay calls immediately."
Many of the complaints the Department received were filed by individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have speech disabilities who alleged that Wells Fargo would not do business with them when using the telecommunications relay service. Instead, the individuals were directed to call a TTY line that asked them to leave a message, but their calls were never returned. To remedy these and other effective communication issues, the company agreed to:
"The U.S. Attorney's Office is committed to working with the Civil Rights Division to help ensure that businesses in this district fully comply with the ADA," said Melinda Haag, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, which is where Wells Fargo is headquartered.
The Department has recently resolved or filed briefs in a number of cases involving discrimination against children who have autism or diabetes.
On May 17, 2011, the Beginning Montessori Academy in Baldwin Park, California, entered into a settlement agreement with the Department resolving a complaint that the state-funded private preschool had refused to re-enroll a child with autism. The school agreed to adopt nondiscriminatory policies, provide training to the teacher directly responsible for any enrolled child who has been diagnosed with autism, and pay the complainant $5,000 in compensatory damages.
"All children deserve access to educational services, and making sure that schools are fully accessibile to children with disabilities is a necessary part of integrating individuals with disabilities into all aspects of American life," said Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez. "The department is committed to vigorously enforcing Title III of the ADA."
On June 1, 2011, the Alexandria Country Day School in Alexandria, Louisiana, entered into a settlement agreement with the Department resolving a complaint that the school denied admission to a six-year old girl with Type I diabetes after the parents asked to school to supervise her when she tested her blood glucose level, used her insulin pump, and performed other daily diabetes care practices. The school agreed to modify its policies to permit staff to oversee children's diabetes care management.
"Schools have a responsibility to make reasonable modifications to policies so that all students with disabilities can enjoy their programs and activities, unless doing so would result in a fundamental alteration in the program," said Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez. "I applaud the school for working with us to address this matter, and we hope this agreement serves as a reminder for other private schools about the requirements of the ADA."
"I congratulate the school administration for dealing with this serious issue which affects so many members of our community," said Stephanie A. Finley, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana. "The U.S. Attorney's Office, the Department and the Obama Administration are committed to ensuring that all individuals in this country can go to schools, public and private, and participate in all of the programs that are available."
On June 28, 2011, the Beach Babies Learning Center in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, entered into a settlement agreement with the Department resolving a complaint that the center had terminated a two-year old child's enrollment after he was diagnosed with autism. The school agreed to adopt nondiscriminatory policies and post them at its facility and on its website, modify its schedules to accommodate early intervention services for the child, and pay the complainant $7,431 in compensatory damages.
"Ensuring that children with disabilities, and their families, have equal access to early education and child care centers goes to the heart of the ADA's promises and protections," said Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez. "Beach Babies Learning Center cooperated with the department to address this matter through this agreement, and we hope that this agreement serves as a reminder to other education and child care providers about their responsibilities under the ADA."
"Partnering with the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, the U.S. Attorney's Office has embarked on a significant civil rights enforcement initiative," stated U.S. Attorney David B. Fein. "Autism is just one of many serious disabilities that affect so many families in Connecticut, and the U.S. Attorney's Office is committed to ensuring that every child has equal access to early learning centers, public and private, and can participate in all of the programs that are available."
On June 10, 2011, the Department filed a Statement of Interest supporting the plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction in C.C. v. Cypress School District, a case in the federal court in Los Angeles, California. The plaintiff is a seven-year old boy with autism who uses a service dog. His motion seeks to require the school district to let him use his service dog at school while the case is pending. In its brief, the Department explained that the school must make reasonable modifications to its rules, policies, and practices to avoid discrimination against this student. On June 13, 2011, the court granted the boy's motion and issued an opinion that agreed with the Department's position.
On May 11, 1011, the Department filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court of California in American Nurses Association v. Jack O'Connell, Superintendent of Public Instruction, and American Diabetes Association, a lawsuit seeking to block a settlement agreement between the State Superintendant and the American Diabetes Association under which professional school employees will be trained and will administer insulin for students with diabetes in certain situations when a school nurse is not available. The American Nurses Association sued, arguing that this settlement is inconsistent with California's Nursing Practice Act, which prohibits unlicensed individuals from engaging in the practice of nursing, including administering insulin to students with diabetes. The California Court of Appeals agreed. In its brief to the Supreme Court, the Department explained that insulin administration is considered one of the "related aids and services" that a school must provide for students who have an Individualized Education Program or Section 504 Plan requiring insulin doses during the school day; noted that many California public schools have no nurses because of budget constraints; and argued that the Court of Appeal's interpretation conflicts with, and is preempted by, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and Title II of the ADA.
DEPARTMENT LAUNCHES OLMSTEAD SECTION ON ADA WEBSITE
On June 22, 2011, the 12th anniversary of the 1999 landmark Supreme Court decision Olmstead v. L.C., the Department launched a new section of its ADA website, www.ada.gov/olmstead, providing information and resources about the Olmstead decision and its enforcement. In Olmstead, which addressed the rights of people with disabilities living in institutions, the Supreme Court held that public entities are required to provide community-based services for individuals with disabilities when such services are appropriate for an individual's needs, the individual does not oppose community-based services, and community-based services can be reasonably accommodated, taking into account the resources available to the entity and the needs of other people with disabilities.
The Olmstead web section contains a new technical assistance document describing public entities' obligations and individuals' rights under the ADA's integration mandate and explains a variety of ADA enforcement issues related to Olmstead. The section also contains links to briefs filed by the Department in Olmstead cases as well as other materials relevant to this important area of civil rights law, providing critical information to individuals with disabilities, advocates, attorneys, and state and local officials responsible for complying with the ADA.
"The Olmstead decision recognized the rights of individuals with disabilities to live the lives they choose, but its promise has not yet been fully realized. Far too many people remain segregated in institutions when they would rather be thriving in their communities," said Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez. "The Justice Department is committed to making the promise a reality, and will continue to aggressively enforce Olmstead."
In June 2009, President Obama launched "The Year of Community Living," directing agencies to vigorously enforce Olmstead and the rights of individuals with disabilities. Since that time, the Department has joined or initiated Olmstead litigation in more than 25 cases in 17 states.
RECENT ACTIVITIES TO ENFORCE OLMSTEAD DECISION
On May 18, 2011, the federal court in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, denied the state's motion for summary judgment in Pitts v. Greenstein, a class action lawsuit challenging a decision by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals to reduce the number of personal care hours available to Medicaid-eligible individuals with disabilities. The Department had filed a brief arguing that the state's motion should be denied because it was based on a misunderstanding of the ADA's requirements and because there are factual issues that should be resolved at trial.
On May 18, 2011, the Department filed a Statement of Interest in Steward v. Perry, a class action lawsuit in the federal court in San Antonio, Texas, alleging that the State of Texas unnecessarily institutionalizes individuals with developmental disabilities in nursing facilities in violation of the ADA's integration mandate and the Supreme Court's Olmstead decision. In its brief, the Department urged the court to deny the state's motion to dismiss the case. The court has not yet ruled on the motion. On June 22, 2011, in order to participate in this lawsuit more actively, the Department filed a motion to intervene as a plaintiff and a proposed complaint in intervention.
LAW SCHOOL ADMISSION COUNCIL WILL MAKE ITS ELECTRONIC SERVICES ACCESSIBLE TO BLIND INDIVIDUALS WHO USE SCREEN READER TECHNOLOGY
On April 25, 2011, the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), National Federation of the Blind (NFB), and Justice Department entered into a settlement agreement resolving a lawsuit filed by NFB against LSAC alleging that LSAC's website (www.lsac.org) is inaccessible to individuals who use screen reader technology, preventing them from using it to apply to law schools, register for the Law School Admissions Test, and perform numerous other functions available to potential law students through the website. The agreement outlines the steps LSAC will take to ensure that the website will be fully accessible to individuals who use screen readers by the beginning of the Fall 2012 application cycle.
Also on April 25, 2011, Atlanta's John Marshall Law School entered into a settlement agreement with the Department resolving a complaint filed by NFB against the school. The school agreed to modify its website to notify potential applicants who are blind of an alternative process they may use to submit applications while they are unable to use the LSAC electronic application process. The school also agreed to cease using the LSAC process if it is not fully accessible in time for the Fall 2012 application cycle. The Department is working with other law schools to reach similar agreements.
"Increased use of the Internet or other electronic technologies may enhance convenience for law schools and applicants alike, but the rights of individuals with disabilities may not be violated in the process," said Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez. "In this case, blind students were denied an equal opportunity to apply to law school. The ADA requires equal access to educational opportunities, and the Civil Rights Division is committed to vigorous enforcement of the ADA."
TOWN IN UTAH WILL PROVIDE EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION
On June 16, 2011, the Town of Sterling, Utah, entered into a settlement agreement with the Department to resolve a complaint that the town failed to furnish appropriate auxiliary aids and services at town council meetings for a person who is deaf. The town will adopt and implement an effective communication policy and a grievance procedure, post the policy and a nondiscrimination notice on the town's website and in the local newspaper, distribute the policy, grievance procedure, and nondiscrimination notice to all town employees, train town employees on these policies and the ADA, and inform the Department of any future complaints from individuals who have hearing disabilities.
MEDICAL OFFICE WILL ELIMINATE DISCRIMINATORY POLICY
On May 2, 2011, the Yavapai Regional Medical Center in Prescott, Arizona, entered into a settlement agreement with the Department to resolve a complaint that the center required individuals with hearing disabilities to sign a waiver of liability as a condition for using the services of sign language interpreters. Under the agreement, the medical center will implement policies and procedures for ensuring effective communication without requiring individuals to sign a waiver of liability.
INTERCITY BUS COMPANY WILL PROVIDE ACCESSIBLE BUS SERVICE
On May 16, 2011, Megabus USA L.L.C., located in Chicago, Illinois, and Megabus Northeast L.L.C., located in Elizabeth, New Jersey, entered into settlement agreements with the Department to improve their services for passengers with disabilities. Megabus provides express bus service between cities in the eastern and mid-western areas of the country.
Under the terms of the agreement, Megabus will ensure that all of its vehicles are fully accessible to individuals with disabilities, including individuals who use wheelchairs or other mobility aids. Megabus will also modify its online reservation services so that passengers with disabilities can access schedule information and make reservations in the same manner and using the same reservation system as other passengers. In addition, Megabus will pay a $55,000 civil penalty to the United States and $12,500 in compensatory damages to a complainant who was not permitted to use the ramp on a passenger bus and was forced to transfer out of his wheelchair rather than be secured in the wheelchair, as required by a federal regulations, during his trip from New York to Baltimore.
"Commercial passenger buses are an affordable and growing sector of the transportation industry, and making sure that they are fully accessible to individuals with disabilities is a necessary part of integrating individuals with disabilities into all aspects of American life," said Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez "The department is committed to vigorously enforcing the transportation requirements of the ADA."
CALIFORNIA HOTEL AGREES TO IMPROVE ACCESSIBILITY
On June 28, 2011, the San Diego Marriott Hotel & Marina in San Diego, California, which has more than 1,300 guest rooms, entered into a settlement agreement with the Department resolving a complaint stemming from the hotel's lack of accessible rooms and refusal to accommodate a family that needed an accesible room. Specifically, the complainant and his wife, who uses a wheelchair, requested an accessible room with two beds for them and their children. Hotel staff informed them that the hotel did not have any accessible rooms with two beds. The complainant then requested an accessible room with one bed and a complimentary second room. Staff denied this request, forcing the complainant to pay for two rooms. Moreover, when the complainant and his wife arrived in the room designated as accessible, they found that it was not fully accessible and did not provide, among other things, grab bars next to the toilet. The settlement agreement requires the hotel to remove numerous barriers to accessibility, offer people with disabilities the same classes of sleeping accommodations that are available to other patrons, train its employees on the ADA's requirements, and pay $25,000 in compensatory damages to the complainant.
NEW ADA TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE MATERIALS
ADA 2010 Revised Requirements: Service Animals is a three-page publication explaining the Department's revised service animal provisions.
ADA 2010 Revised Requirements: Ticket Sales is a six-page publication explaining the new nondiscrimination requirements that apply to selling tickets for assigned seats at events such as concerts, plays, and sporting events.
TOURIST ATTRACTION IN ST. THOMAS WILL BE MADE ACCESSIBLE
On April 27, 2011, Tramcon, Inc., d/b/a St. Thomas Skyride and Paradise Point in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, entered into a settlement agreement with the Department to resolve a complaint from a tourist that its tramway was inaccessible. The tramway offers spectacular views overlooking the city's harbor while transporting passengers to Paradise Point, where there are a mountaintop restaurant, shops, and entertainment by local musicians and dancers. In addition, there are recreational activities for children, including a ferris wheel, at the base of the tramway. Under the agreement, Tramcon will make significant architectural modifications, including installation of an elevator and regrading of terrain, to make its tramway, restaurant, bar, and shops accessible for people with disabilities.
On May 19, 2011, the Department filed a lawsuit in the federal court in Jackson, Mississippi, against the owners, developers, and design professionals involved in the design and construction of nine multi-family housing complexes in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Tennessee for failing to provide accessible features required by the Fair Housing Act and the ADA. The nine complexes include more than 2,000 apartments with more than 800 ground-floor units that are required to contain accessible features. Eight of the complexes also contain leasing offices that are required to be accessible.
The lawsuit alleges that all nine complexes were designed and constructed without accessible parking, accessible pedestrian routes leading into the apartment buildings, accessible doors and hallways, and adequate maneuvering space in kitchens and bathrooms. In addition, light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats, and other environmental controls are mounted in inaccessible locations. The leasing offices also lack accessible parking and accessible pedestrian routes and have inaccessible counters and/or door hardware.
The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring the defendants to modify the complexes to bring them into compliance with federal laws, comply with federal accessibility requirements in future developments, and pay monetary damages to people harmed by the inaccessible features and a civil penalty to the government.
"The Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act include provisions to ensure that persons with disabilities have opportunities to find and live comfortably in multifamily housing across the nation," said Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez. "The department will continue its vigorous pursuit of equal housing opportunities for all people, including those with disabilities."
"The design and construction of multi-family apartment complexes must comply with the Fair Housing laws and the Americans with Disabilities Act," said John M. Dowdy, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi. "My office remains vigilant in its efforts to eradicate discrimination and to ensure that persons with disabilities have legally accessible accommodations in which to live. We will remain steadfast in making sure that developers, owners, architects and civil engineers design and develop apartments and other buildings which comply with these laws."
The complaint names the Bryan Company; Bryan Construction Company Inc.; Steve Bryan; Mid-South Houston Partners; Mid-South Development LLC (aka MSD LLC); the Vineyards Apartments LLC; Equity Properties LLC (formerly known as Windsor Lake Apartment LP); Cypress Lake Development LLC; Stephen G. Hill; Pickering Firm Inc. (aka Pickering Inc.); Larry Singleton (dba Singleton Hollomon Architects); H D Lang and Associates Inc.; Richard A. Barron, Architect; Shows Dearman & Waits Inc.; Timothy R. Burge, PA (dba Professional Associates Inc.); Canizaro Cawthon Davis (formerly known as Canizaro Trigiani Architects); Smith Engineering & Surveying Inc. (aka Smith Engineering Firm Inc., aka S.E.C.O. Inc., dba Smith Engineering Co. Inc.); Evans-Graves Engineers; and J.V. Burkes & Associates Inc. as the parties responsible for violating these laws. The complaint also names eleven current owners to guarantee that the violations will be remedied.
The ADA Mediation Program is a Department-sponsored initiative intended to resolve ADA complaints in an efficient, voluntary manner. With the complainant's consent, the Department refers the complaint to a network of professional mediators throughout the country who are trained in the legal requirements of the ADA, and the mediation process is initiated when the respondent agrees to participate. The program has proven effective in resolving complaints at less cost and in less time than traditional investigations or litigation. Over 78% of all complaints mediated have been resolved successfully.
In this issue, we focus on complaints involving places where people go for fun and entertainment that have been successfully mediated.
In Texas, an individual with a mobility disability who uses a scooter was unable to attend his grandchild's basketball game because the youth organization's gymnasium where the game was held was inaccessible. The organization installed a curb cut from the parking area to the sidewalk, extended the sidewalk, and posted directional signage to the accessible entrance.
The friend of a person who uses a wheelchair complained that a Southeast aquarium lacked sufficient accessible parking, passenger drop-off areas, and paths of travel. The aquarium installed 18 additional accessible parking spaces with signage on multiple levels of the parking structure and an elevator to connect the parking area to the covered pedestrian walkway leading into the facility. The aquarium also created accessible passenger drop-off and loading zones and accessible paths of travel. In addition, it updated its website to include information about the new accessible features.
Parents whose son uses a wheelchair complained that a Texas fairground was inaccessible. The fairground installed van-accessible parking, a sidewalk from the parking lot to the accessible entrance, a passenger drop-off area at the main entrance, and accessible routes and accessible seating within the main arena. In addition, the fairground installed ramps, signage, and grab bars at three permanent restrooms and placed accessible portable restrooms throughout the fairground. The fairground also trained staff on the ADA and apologized to the complainants.
In Massachusetts, a husband and wife filed a complaint alleging that a tour bus company failed to provide an accessible bus, so the wife, who uses wheelchair, was unable to board the bus and the couple could not take the pre-paid trip. The company modified its policy, contracted with another bus company to provide an accessible bus when needed, added questions on its registration form so individuals with disabilities could indicate if they need accommodations, and donated $1,018 to a service organization.
In Michigan, an individual whose father has a mobility disability and uses a scooter alleged that a city failed to provide accessible parking and restroom facilities during city-sponsored events. The city agreed to install accessible parking spaces and curb ramps, and to provide accessible portable restrooms at city-sponsored events. The city also modified its permit application and vendor contract to require that vendors provide nondiscriminatory service to individuals with disabilities at city-sponsored events.
In Nebraska, a person who uses a wheelchair complained that a temporary event held in the parking lot of a convention center blocked the accessible parking. The center agreed not to impede accessible parking, to install a permanent drop-off site for patrons with disabilities at the main entrance, to provide ADA training to all parking staff, and to provide the complainant with four complimentary tickets to future events.
In Texas, an individual with a mobility disability alleged that one elevator at a concert venue was blocked off for a private party and the other elevator was broken. The concert venue agreed to discontinue the practice of blocking off an elevator for private parties, improved its process for elevator repair, trained staff on the ADA, and gave the complainant two complimentary tickets to a performance of his choice.
In Kentucky, a person who is a caregiver for people with disabilities complained that the entrances and rest-rooms at a movie theater were inaccessible. The theater posted directional signage to the existing accessible restrooms and installed signs identifying the accessible stalls. In addition, the theater installed automatic faucets in restroom sinks and automatic doors at the main entrance.
A person who uses a wheelchair and his spouse complained that an outdoor theater in the Mid-Atlantic region failed to provide accessible seating for a specific show. The theater agreed that, when changes in seating configuration for particular events create barriers to accessible seating, it will move ticket holders who use wheelchairs to alternative accessible seats. The theater also agreed to identify the location of accessible seats on its online seating chart. In addition, the theater added accessible picnic tables to the concessions area, installed accessible counters at all fixed kiosks, stands, and bars, refunded $144 to the complainants, and reimbursed them $1,600 for attorneys fees.
On April 28, staff gave a presentation on the ADA in the context of emergency management at the Big City Emergency Management Conference in Washington, DC. The attendees were federal grantees who provide support to public emergency management agencies in large urban areas.
On May 9 -11, staff gave several presentations on the new ADA regulations and standards at the National Network of ADA Centers' (formerly, Disability and Business Technical Assistance Centers') annual ADA Symposium in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Recently, staff has been conducting outreach to AIDS Services Organizations (ASOs) pursuant to the Department's plan for implementing the National HIV/AIDS Strategy. Outreach was conducted on May 9 in South Bend, Indiana, on May 10 in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and on June 30 in Cleveland, Ohio.
On May 26, staff gave a presentation on ADA requirements that relate to housing at the annual conference of the American Bar Association Forum on Affordable Housing and Community Development. The audience consisted of attorneys and others involved in the development of affordable housing.
On June 7-9, staff conducted several trainings for the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Orlando and Miami, Florida. The trainings focused on the ADA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and disability and corrections issues. Attendees included ICE Officers and Administrators.
On June 9, staff gave a presentation at the National Disability Rights Network's annual conference in Baltimore, Maryland. The presentation provided an overview of the new title II and title III regulations.
On June 10, staff gave a presentation on the Department's Olmstead enforcement efforts at a public civil rights event sponsored by the U.S. Attorney in Kansas City, Kansas.
On June 10, staff gave an all-day training on Olmstead and the ADA's integration mandate for lawyers, disability rights advocates, and service providers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The event was sponsored by the Wisconsin State Bar Association.
On June 13, staff gave a presentation at the Case Management Society of America's annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas. The presentation provided an overview of the ADA as it relates to service members who have acquired disabilities in Iraq and Afghanistan. The session was attended by 300 military and VA case managers from throughout the country.
On June 15, staff gave a presentation about access to medical care for people with disabilities at a conference sponsored by the Association of University Centers on Disabilities and the CDC. The audience consisted of public health professionals and disability advocates.
On June 25, staff gave a presentation on discrimination and employment rights at the national conference of the Immune Deficiency Foundation in Phoenix, Arizona.
On June 28, staff gave a presentation in Mobile, Alabama, at the Accessibility and Disability Rights Summit sponsored by the U.S. Attorney's Office of the Southern District of Alabama. The presentation focused on architectural barriers, design and construction issues, and the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design.
On June 29 and 30, staff gave three presentations on the new title II and title III regulations at the "2011 Disability Summit" sponsored by the California Department of Rehabilitation for public administrators, service providers, and people with disabilities. Two presentations were given in Sacramento and one in Los Angeles.
August 29, 2011