On July 24, 2009, President Barack Obama marked the 19th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act by announcing that the United States would sign the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The convention strives to promote, protect, and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and basic freedoms by all persons with disabilities worldwide. (See previous article in issue # 17.)
On July 30, 2009, Susan Rice, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, signed the treaty on behalf of the United States at U.N. Headquarters in New York. She praised the treaty, saying it further advances the human rights of the 650 million people worldwide who live with a disability. “It urges equal protection and equal benefits under the law for all citizens,” said Ambassador Rice. “[I]t rejects discrimination in all its forms, and calls for the full participation and inclusion in society of all persons with disabilities.”
The United States joined 141 other countries that have signed the U.N. convention. The convention must still be submitted by the President for ratification by the U.S. Senate.
Ambassador Rice was joined at the signing ceremony by senior presidential advisor Valerie Jarrett, who announced that the President will create a new senior-level diplomatic post in the State Department to promote the rights of people with disabilities internationally. “This individual will be charged with developing a comprehensive strategy to promote the rights of persons with disabilities internationally,” said Ms. Jarrett. “[H]e or she will coordinate a process for the ratification of the Convention in conjunction with the other federal offices; last but not least, this leader will serve as a symbol of public diplomacy on disability issues, and work to ensure that the needs of persons with disabilities are addressed in international situations.”
JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI, SUED FOR INACCESSIBLE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
On June 23, 2009, the Department filed a motion to intervene in a private class action lawsuit against the City of Jackson, Mississippi, and the City’s Public Transportation System (JATRAN) challenging inaccessibility of the public transportation system. The original suit, filed in September 2008 in the federal court in Jackson by eleven residents with disabilities and two non-profit organizations that work on behalf of people with disabilities, alleges violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
The Department’s complaint alleges that the city has failed to maintain, promptly repair, and keep in operative condition the wheelchair lifts of the city’s fixed route bus system; has failed to adequately train personnel to properly assist passengers with disabilities; has failed to provide an equivalent level of service to passengers of Handilift, the complementary paratransit service; and has otherwise denied individuals with disabilities benefits to which they are entitled under the law. The complaint claims that individuals who use wheelchairs are frequently forced to wait for long periods while multiple JATRAN buses with inoperable lifts passed them by, often leaving them stranded as they attempt to get to work, to medical appointments, or to other essential destinations such as grocery shopping. It also claims that the Handilift service is significantly limited by capacity constraints including failure to provide next-day service, failure to plan to meet the demand for paratransit services, numerous trip denials, significantly untimely pickups, and limitations to telephone reservation capacity.
“Accessible public transportation is vital to people with disabilities so that they can fully participate in their community,” said Loretta King, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “Failing to provide required accessibility discriminates against persons with disabilities. Eradicating such discrimination and ensuring the full accessibility that the law requires is one of the Civil Rights Division’s highest priorities.”
“The decision of the Department to intervene in this matter indicates our commitment to protect the rights of all Americans and advance the ability of every individual to fully participate in society,” said Stan Harris, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi.
This is the second public transportation accessibility case brought by the Department and the first to address ADA paratransit requirements.
DEPARTMENT OBJECTS TO BANNING SEGWAYS® FROM DISNEY RESORTS NATIONWIDE
On July 13, 2009, the Department filed a brief as amicus curiae, or friend-of-the-court, objecting to the proposed class action settlement in Ault v. Walt Disney World Co., an ADA lawsuit challenging a policy banning Segways from all Disney resorts nationwide. The parties in the suit have proposed a settlement which, if approved, would permit Disney to continue banning Segways® and other two-wheel devices from its resorts and, instead, make 15 Disney-owned four-wheel electric stand-up vehicles (ESVs) available for rent at $45.00 per day. The Department, along with 23 state attorneys general, nearly 100 individual objectors, and several disability rights organizations, urged the court to reject this proposed settlement. (See previous article in issue # 30).
9-1-1 CALL CENTER IN IOWA BECOMES FIRST IN NATION TO ACCEPT TEXT MESSAGES
On August 5, 2009, under a pilot project, the Black Hawk County, Iowa, Consolidated Public Safety Communications Center became the first emergency call center in the nation to accept text messages from cell phones. The ground-breaking service was initiated when Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Wright (Northern District of Iowa) sent a Short Message Service (SMS) message to the call center during a press conference. This service for text users will particularly benefit people with hearing or speech disabilities -- enabling them to report an accident or other emergency quickly using their cell phones without having to locate a TTY to report the incident.
“The successful testing of text messaging to 9-1-1 from a wireless telephone is a tremendous emergency services advancement for individuals who have sensory disabilities,” said Richard Ray, chair of the National Emergency Number Association’s (NENA) Accessibility Committee. “I urge public safety agencies to accelerate the deployment of this technology and to encourage, support, and celebrate efforts such as this.”
“Increasingly text is becoming the way people communicate and public safety must be able to support 9-1-1 text messaging,” said chief Thomas Jennings, chairman, Black Hawk 9-1-1 Board. “We are excited to have the opportunity to participate on a solution to enable 9-1-1 texting for the Speech and Hearing impaired community as well as set the stage for adoption by the larger texting population.”
At present, the new 9-1-1 text messaging service is available only to customers of i wireless, an Iowa-based wireless service provider affiliated with T-Mobile. The technology to provide the service was developed through a collaboration between Intrado, Inc., Positron Public Safety, RACOM Corporation, and i wireless. Black Hawk, a county in northeastern Iowa with a population of 128,012, was selected for the pilot project because the county had recently purchased a new Internet Protocol (IP) based phone system with the capability to receive text messages and because i wireless serves the Black Hawk area. It is anticipated that the service will eventually be available through other wireless companies.
DEPARTMENT ISSUES GUIDANCE TO PREVENT DISCRIMINATION AGAINST PEOPLE WITH HIV/AIDS IN OCCUPATIONAL TRAINING AND STATE LICENSING PROGRAMS
The Department has issued guidance to prevent state licensing agencies and trade schools for barbering, massage therapy, home health care assistance, and similar occupations from discriminating against people who have HIV or AIDS. The publication explains that policies requiring people in these fields to be free from contagious, communicable, or infectious disease must be limited to diseases that are transmitted through casual contact or through the usual practices followed in the occupation, and must not include diseases that are not transmitted this way.
“People with HIV or AIDS should not be denied access to their chosen profession because of outdated laws or unfounded stereotypes and fears. The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice is committed to the full and fair enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” said Loretta King, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.
The publication, Questions and Answers: The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rights of Persons with HIV/AIDS To Obtain Occupational Training and State Licensing, is available through the ADA Website or the ADA Information Line.
SIX NEW YORK CITY HOTELS AGREE TO IMPROVE ACCESSIBILITY
Two more hotels in Manhattan’s theater district, the 119-room The Tuscany and the 198-room The Court, have entered into settlement agreements to improve accessibility for customers with disabilities under the hotel compliance initiative being conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan. This brings to seventeen the number of hotels that have entered into voluntary compliance agreements through this initiative. Both of these hotels, part of the W hotel group, will improve accessibility and certify compliance with the ADA in a number of key areas, including accessibility of hotel rooms and lobby areas. (See previous articles on this initiative in issues 16, 17, 22, 26, 29, and 30).
Four other hotels in Manhattan’s theater district – the 219-room Ameritania, the 136-room Amsterdam Court, the 113-room Radio City Suites, and the 34-room Moderne -- have entered into consent decrees with the Department resolving lawsuits filed against them in the federal court in Manhattan in January 2009. (See previous article in issue 30.) The Ameritania will provide ten rooms that are accessible to people with mobility disabilities and 17 rooms that are accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing. The Amsterdam Court will provide seven rooms that are accessible to people with mobility disabilities and 12 rooms that are accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing. The Radio City Suites will provide seven rooms that are accessible to people with mobility disabilities and 12 rooms that are accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing. The Moderne will provide three rooms that are accessible to people with mobility disabilities and four rooms that are accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing. All four hotels agreed to ensure that their main public entrances, registration counters, and public restrooms are accessible. In addition, all four agreed to change their reservation policies and procedures for people with disabilities, allow service animals, and require hotel staff to assist people with disabilities. The owners and operators of each hotel also agreed to pay a $10,000 fine to the United States.
The lawsuit against the Hotel Carter, also filed in January 2009, remains pending.
CALIFORNIA RESORT HOTEL AGREES TO IMPROVE ACCESSIBILITY
On July 7, 2009, the Ocean Palms Beach Resort in Carlsbad, California, entered into a settlement agreement with the Department resolving a complaint alleging that the resort is inaccessible to individuals who use wheelchairs. The resort agreed to undertake barrier removal throughout the facility to ensure that it is accessible to people with disabilities; modify two guest rooms to be ADA compliant; train its staff on the ADA and on appropriate reservation policies for individuals with disabilities; provide accessible room signage throughout the resort; acquire a TTY machine and two kits containing visual and motion notification devices for people who have hearing disabilities; and pay the complainant $2,500 in damages.
Project Civic Access (PCA) is the Department's wide-ranging initiative to work cooperatively with local governments to ensure that their programs and activities comply with the ADA, allowing people with disabilities to participate more fully in the civic life of their communities. More than 150 agreements have been reached with communities small and large throughout the United States under this initiative. PCA reviews have been conducted in all 50 States, as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, helping to improve the lives and broaden opportunities for more than 3 million Americans with disabilities. (See previous articles in issues # 3, 5, 9, 17, 18, and 28.)
Between July 28 and August 6, 2009, seven local governments entered into settlement agreements with the Department under the PCA initiative. The new agreements are with:
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA WILL REFORM ITS ZONING PROCESS
On July 15, 2009, the federal court for the District of Columbia approved a settlement agreement between the Department and the District of Columbia requiring reforms in the District’s zoning policies and procedures to accommodate people with disabilities. The settlement resolves a lawsuit filed in April 2004 alleging that the District of Columbia violated the federal Fair Housing Act by refusing to approve four group homes for children with disabilities in a single-family neighborhood, that the District had improperly denied requests for reasonable accommodation, and that the District’s zoning code discriminated against individuals with disabilities in certain zones. This case, which was consolidated with Father Flanagan’s Boys Home v. The District of Columbia, et al., ended in a mistrial on December 8, 2006, due to a hung jury. However, the jury trial did not resolve the Department’s non-jury claims (1) that the District violated the Fair Housing Act by denying and delaying decisions on Boys Town’s reasonable accommodation and related requests for building permits based on the disabilities of the prospective residents; and (2) that the District’s municipal regulations included zoning classifications that violated the Fair Housing Act.
Under the settlement agreement, the District of Columbia will ensure that employees and officials with responsibility for planning and zoning will be trained in the requirements of the Fair Housing Act; will designate a Fair Housing Act Compliance Officer to assist the District in meeting its obligations under the Fair Housing Act in planning and zoning decisions, provide regular reports to the Department, and keep records related to Fair Housing Act compliance and reasonable accommodation requests by individuals with disabilities; and will develop revised policies and procedures to ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to housing in the District’s zoning and permitting process, including before the Board of Zoning Adjustment. Prior to the resolution of the lawsuit, the District amended its zoning code to correct the discriminatory provisions that were challeged by the Department.
Father Flanagan’s Girls and Boys Homes previously settled their claims against the District in a separate confidential settlement.
APARTMENT COMPLEX IN WASHINGTON STATE PAYS $35,000 IN DAMAGES FOR REFUSING TO ACCOMMODATE A TENANT WITH A DISABILITY
On August 10, 2009, the federal court in Tacoma, Washington, approved a settlement of the Department’s lawsuit against the former owners and managers of Valley View Apartments in Longview, Washington. In 2004, a tenant who has a mobility disability asked to use two contiguous parking spaces in the apartment complex’s lot until until the owners marked out an accessible space in the lot. The lawsuit alleged that John E. and Shirley L. Price violated the Fair Housing Act by refusing the tenant’s request and by seeking to evict him after he requested the accommodation. (See previous article in issue # 19.) Under the settlement, the defendants were required to pay $35,000 in damages to the complainant.
“Individuals with disabilities have the basic right to expect reasonable accommodations that allow them access to housing. This settlement is a significant award for a case involving housing discrimination against a lone individual, and it should send a strong message to landlords that they must take all requests for reasonable accommodations very seriously,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Loretta King.
“The fact that people continue to be denied housing in the 21st century because of their disability is unacceptable,” said John Trasviña, Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). “This conduct has been illegal for more than 20 years, and we intend to enforce the full extent of the law.”
The case was referred to the Department by HUD, which investigated the tenant’s complaint and determined that there was reasonable cause to believe that the defendants had engaged in discrimination.
Did you know...
For more information about the Fair Housing Act, See www.usdoj.gov/crt/housing/housing_coverage.php
VIRGINIA APARTMENT COMPLEX WILL BE MADE ACCESSIBLE
On August 3, 2009, the federal court in Alexandria approved a settlement requiring the architect, developer, and owner of the Summerland Heights Apartments, a 318-unit apartment complex in Woodbridge, Virginia, to pay all costs related to making the apartment complex accessible to people with disabilities. The Department’s complaint, filed in conjunction with the consent decree, alleged that the defendants had failed to design and construct the complex so that ground floor units contain accessible features and the public use and common use portions of the complex are readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.
The required retrofitting includes replacing inaccessible door knobs, widening inaccessible doorways, modifying walkways to eliminate excess slopes and level changes, providing accessible curb ramps, and providing accessible parking and routes to site amenities such as clubhouses, pools, mailboxes, and trash facilities. The defendants will also establish a $40,000 fund to compensate individuals harmed by the lack of accessible housing and will undergo training on the requirements of the Fair Housing Act.
“Accessible housing is not only a civil right for individuals with disabilities, it is a basic necessity. Accessibility must be considered in the design and construction of new buildings, and the Justice Department is committed to enforcing the nation’s fair housing laws to protect the rights of all citizens, including those with disabilities,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Loretta King.
A separate lawsuit involving an adjoining Summerland apartment complex was settled in January 2009. (See previous article in issue # 30.)
The defendants are: Summerland Heights GP LLC, Summerland Heights II GP LLC, Summerland Heights L.P., Summerland Heights II L.P., Charles P. Johnson & Associates Inc. and the Marlyn Development Corp.
On June 26, 2009, the Department filed a lawsuit in the federal court in Austin against the state of Texas over the care provided to residents of the state’s 13 facilities for people with developmental disabilities. Simultaneously, the Department filed an agreement settling the issues raised in the suit and a motion for the court to dismiss the suit but retain jurisdiction over the agreement. The settlement agreement, approved by the court on June 27, 2009, addresses concerns about conditions and practices at state-owned and operated residential facilities that serve nearly 5,000 people with developmental disabilities.
This suit resulted from an investigation of potential violations of the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA). (See previous article in issue #29.) The state of Texas cooperated fully with the Justice Department’s investigation.
Under the terms of the settlement, the state will work to ensure that residents are safe and that they receive the care and services necessary to meet their individualized needs. Specifically, the state agreed to undertake a variety of measures including providing a safe and humane environment with zero tolerance for abuse or neglect of residents; providing adequate medical care, nursing services, and nutritional and physical support, including therapy and communication support; providing adequate psychological and behavioral services and psychiatric care; providing adequate habilitation; providing adequate integrated protections, services, treatments, and supports; and ensuring that residents are free from undue bodily restraint. The state will also ensure that each resident is served in a setting that is as well integrated into the community as possible, as required by the ADA and the U.S. Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision.
An independent monitor, funded by the state of Texas, will be appointed to oversee compliance with the agreement. The agreement contemplates that the state will reach compliance within five years, but the court will retain ultimate jurisdiction until compliance is fully achieved.
The ADA Mediation Program is a Department-sponsored initiative to resolve ADA complaints in an efficient, voluntary manner. Mediation cases are initiated upon referral by the Department when both the complainant and the respondent agree to participate. The program uses professional mediators who are trained in the legal requirements of the ADA and 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 highlight complaints involving hotels and motels that have been successfully mediated.
In Virginia, two people who use wheelchairs complained that a hotel was inaccessible. The hotel modified guest rooms by removing curbs in roll-in showers and installing grab bars and sinks with knee clearance. The hotel reduced the opening force of a door in one accessible guest room and added a king-size bed in another accessible guest room to ensure a variety of guest room options for people with disabilities. The hotel also acquired portable shower seats that can be fixed in place. In addition, the hotel lowered grab bars and installed accessible dispensers and coat hooks in the public restrooms.
In Arizona, an individual who is blind and uses a service animal alleged that a hotel charged a nightly surcharge for the animal. The hotel no longer charges for service animals, now provides training to its staff about service animals and the ADA, and has posted signage indicating “Service Animals Welcome” at the registration area. Additionally, the hotel paid the complainant $730 in compensation, including a $30 refund of the surcharge that she had paid.
A person who uses a wheelchair alleged that a Washington, DC, hotel failed to provide an accessible guest room, even though the hotel assured him that the room he reserved would be accessible. The hotel conducted an onsite evaluation of its designated accessible guest rooms and modified each room to ensure accessibility by widening bathroom doors and installing grab bars.
An individual filed a complaint alleging that a Georgia motel was not accessible for individuals who are deaf. The general manager of the hotel agreed to comply with the ADA and provide auxiliary aids for guests who are deaf, including TTY’s, visual alarms, and notification devices. Signage was posted at the front desk notifying customers of the availability and location of the auxiliary aids. The motel also provided a written apology and $12,500 in compensatory damages.
In Florida, a person who uses a wheelchair complained that an accessible hotel guest room he reserved was not available and the standard room he was assigned was inaccessible, which forced him to use the portable toilet in his van. The hotel installed two fully accessible guest rooms, one with a roll-in shower. In addition, the hotel developed a reservation system in consultation with the complainant to ensure that reservations for accessible guest rooms are held, and trained staff to confirm that guests’ accessibility requests are met. The owner of the hotel also apologized and refunded the night’s stay to the complainant.
In Florida, a person who uses a wheelchair complained that, although she made a reservation for an accessible room at a hotel, all accessible rooms were occupied when she checked in, so she was forced to stay elsewhere. The hotel agreed not to overbook accessible rooms, to train staff to ensure that all requests for accessible rooms are entered into the system, to apologize to the complainant, and to provide her with a two-day complimentary stay.
In Texas, a person with a mobility disability alleged that a hotel refused to allow her access to the lobby and restaurant and attempted to charge her a $100 pet deposit for her guest room because she uses a service animal. The corporate hotel owners reaffirmed their policy of allowing service animals to accompany individuals throughout their facilities, posted signs indicating “service animals welcome,” trained its regional general managers, apologized to the complainant, and provided her with a complimentary stay at any of the chain's hotels.
On June 15-16, staff gave a presentation in Washington, DC, at the American Bar Association Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law, Second National Conference on the Employment of Lawyers with Disabilities. Topics of discussion included what employers are looking for in an applicant and best practices for obtaining employment in the legal field as an applicant with a disability.
On June 20, staff gave a presentation at the Immune Deficiency Foundation (IDF) 2009 national conference in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Staff addressed approximately 1,000 immune-deficient people and family members regarding their employment rights under the ADA.
During June 22-25, staff gave two 70-minute presentations on a variety of topics including advocacy and legal issues at the 10th Biennial Deaf Seniors of America Conference, hosted by the Las Vegas Deaf Seniors (LVDS) in Las Vegas, Nevada. A 10-minute question-and-answer session followed each presentation. Approximately 2,100 people attended the conference.
From July 4-11, representa-tives staffed a booth at the American Council of the Blind annual convention in Orlando, Florida, to answer questions and disseminate ADA information. Approximately 3,000 people attended the convention.
From July 6-9, representa-tives staffed a booth at the National Alliance of the Mentally Ill annual convention in San Francisco, California, to answer questions and disseminate ADA information. Approximately 2,500 people attended the convention.
From July 12-15, representa-tives staffed a booth at the NAACP’s centennial convention in New York, New York, to answer questions and disseminate ADA information. Approximately 16,000 people attended the convention.
On July 15, staff participated in a panel discussion and conducted a workshop at the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) annual conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The presentations provided information on increasing the number of employees with disabilities in the federal government, an overview of federal disability rights laws, and how to interact with employees and prospective employees with disabilities. The audience was comprised of mid and senior level federal and local government employees.
On July 21, staff par-ticipated in an ADA audio conference sponsored by the DBTAC Great Lakes ADA Center. This 90-minute session included brief presentations by representatives of DOJ and EEOC providing highlights of enforcement and technical assistance efforts, followed by a lively question-and-answer session. An estimated 245 DBTAC staff members and affiliated state contact people nationwide participated in the conference.
On July 21, staff par-ticipated in a one-day preconference session at the national conference of the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) in Louisville, Kentucky, on the topic of improving accessibility on college campuses. The audience included disability student service coordinators, ADA coordinators, and administrators.
On July 21-22, staff gave three ADA training sessions for staff of the St. Paul, Minnesota, Department of Human Services, Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Office. The audience included approximately 50 professional human services providers who work with people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
On July 25-28, representa-tives staffed a booth at the La Raza annual convention in Chicago, Illinois, to answer questions and disseminate ADA information. Approximately 20,000 people attended the convention.
On July 30-August 1, representatives staffed a booth at the National Urban League annual convention in Chicago, Illinois, to answer questions and disseminate ADA information. Approximately 14,000 people attended the convention.
On August 1, staff gave a presentation and answered questions on recent developments in the ADA’s effective communication requirements at the Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Inc., 18th biennial international conference in Washington, DC. An estimated 100 people attended the presentation.
On August 8, staff conducted a workshop on the ADA at the American Corrections Association 139th annual congress in Nashville, Tennessee. The audience included approximately 200 state, county, and local corrections officials and staff, state officials, administrators, medical and mental health professionals, and architects.
On August 12, staff participated in a panel discussion at the National Emergency Preparedness Conference sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Administration, in Crystal City, Virginia. They described ADA requirements for emergency preparedness to an audience of approximately 100 emergency preparedness professionals.
On August 15, staff participated in a panel discussion at the 2009 Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability (LEAD) Conference sponsored by the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. The topic was ADA issues for cultural arts institutions. Approximately 150 cultural arts administrators, ADA/504 coordinators, and accessibility administrators for cultural arts centers attended the conference.
November 3, 2009