On November 14, 2006, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Grace Chung Becker hosted the Civil Rights Division’s fourth Multi Family Housing Access Forum program in Phoenix, Arizona. Launched last year, the program’s objective is to help building professionals understand their legal obligations under the federal Fair Housing Act’s accessibility requirements and to celebrate partnerships that have successfully produced accessible multi-family housing in which everyone profits developers and consumers alike. The program was attended by over 90 developers and building professionals, government officials, individuals with disabilities, and advocates.
In her opening remarks, Ms. Chung Becker discussed the need for accessible multi-family housing. She pointed out that Phoenix had the largest population increase from 2004 to 2005 of any city in the U.S. of 100,000 or more persons, and that from 1990 to 2000, Arizona’s population of persons 65 years old or older grew 39.5%, the third largest increase in the country. As of 2004, moreover, 14.5% of people in Arizona over 5 years old and not living in an institution had a disability, and for those 65 years old or older, the incidence of disability was 42.2%. She emphasized that although the Civil Rights Division has obtained great results 12,000 housing units in 17 states are to be made accessible to people with disabilities as a result of settlements since fiscal year 2005 lawsuits cannot and should not be the only approach to Fair Housing Act enforcement. Achieving compliance at the design and planning stages is a more timely and cost-effective means of ensuring that the housing needs of persons with disabilities are met.
The program featured three other presenters: Michael Pyatok, FAIA, and Curtis Caton, AIA, of Pyatok Architects, Inc., based in Oakland, California, and Douglas T. Whitneybell, AIA, of Whitneybell Architects, Inc., the firm he established in Phoenix in 1976. Mr. Pyatok has 37 years of experience, has served the American Institute of Architects on its National Affordable Housing Task Group, and is a professor of architectural design and the Director of the Stardust Center for Affordable Homes and the Family at Arizona State University in Phoenix. Mr. Caton has over 20 years of design experience with high-density housing and light commercial projects, including market-rate, affordable and special needs, and has completed over 20 separate multi-family housing projects in the Oakland area. Mr. Whitneybell is a past president of the Arizona chapter of the American Institute of Architects, and was appointed by the mayor and city council of Phoenix to serve as president of the Phoenix Residential Investment Development Effort (PRIDE), a non-profit organi-zation providing affordable housing. Mr. Whitneybell’s firm has designed a variety of multi-family, community, and specialized projects throughout Arizona.
These speakers discussed the housing needs of people with disabilities and the partnerships they have forged with developers to create mixed-income, mixed-use accessible housing. They offered suggestions about best practices to ensure compliance with the Fair Housing Act, and provided specific illustrations of how they have met the needs of their clients and served customers with disabilities while maintaining high professional standards and profitable enterprises. For more information, go to www.usdoj.gov/fairhousing.
The next forum will be held in another major city in the spring of 2007. Previous forums were held in Atlanta, Dallas, and Chantilly, Virginia.
ADA BUSINESS CONNECTION MEETING FOCUSES ON HOTELS
In his opening remarks, Assistant Attorney General Kim emphasized that the Department views ADA Business Connection Leadership meetings as an investment, allocating some of the resources normally spent on litigation to bring together leaders of business and disability rights organizations to build collaborations and reap the dividends of voluntary ADA compliance. He stressed the value of listening to customers with disabilities and pointed out that accessible customer service practices benefit not only the more than 50 million Americans with disabilities but also older adults and parents with young children in strollers. Together these groups spend billions of dollars on hotel services annually. Each of the co-hosts made presentations strongly supporting the advantages of collaboration between business and disability organizations.
Two speakers then addressed the group. Roy Flora, Executive Vice President and COO, U.S. Franchises Systems, Inc., spoke about the substantial efforts that one of his corporation’s chains, Microtel Hotels, is making to build brand loyalty and increase market share by attracting and welcoming travellers with disabilities. Randy Black Shantz, Chair of the Travel and Transportation Committee, New York State Independent Living Council, Inc., talked about her committee’s work to ensure that hotel guests with disabilities can find and be assured of lodging in rooms that are accessible to them.
Deputy Assistant Attorney General Loretta King moderated the meeting’s animated discussion, which raised substantive questions and suggestions. Inspired by the discussion and tenor of the meeting, Mr. Kane promised to make the issue of accessible lodging a central topic at AH&LA’s 2007 annual conference.
TWO NEW YORK HOTELS AGREE TO IMPROVE ACCESSIBILITY
Two hotels have recently entered into settlement agreements to improve accessibility for customers with disabilities, pursuant to a hotel compliance initiative being conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan. They are the Salisbury Hotel, a 201- room hotel on West 57th Street, and the Flatotel International Hotel, a 289- room hotel on West 52nd Street. Both hotels agreed to evaluate their designated accessible rooms and make any modifications necessary to comply with the ADA Standards for Accessible Design; modify additional rooms for a total of ten accessible rooms, including three with accessible roll-in showers; provide visual alarms and communication devices, and appropriate electrical outlets, in seventeen rooms for people with hearing disabilities; disperse accessible rooms among all classes of sleeping accommodation; and establish written policies and procedures for providing services to hotel guests with disabilities.
CHILD CARE CENTER SETTLES MOTHER’S DISCRIMINATION COMPLAINT
On September 21, 2006, the Busy Bumble Bee Palace Infant and Toddler Care Center in Chicago, Illinois, entered into a settlement agreement with the Department resolving a complaint by a mother who alleged that the Center had discontinued services to her two year old son based on his developmental and speech delays. In addition to adopting a policy of nondiscrimination based on disability, the Center will pay the complainant $4500.
YOUTH BASEBALL LEAGUE WILL PROVIDE SIGN LANGUAGE INTERPRETERS NATIONWIDE FOR PLAYERS WHO ARE DEAF
On October 10, 2006, the Department conducted a Title III training for the board of directors of PONY Baseball, Inc., a nationwide youth baseball and softball organization, at PONY’s headquarters in Washington, Pennsylvania.
On August 17, 2006, the Department reached a settlement agreement with the organization, to resolve a complaint by a PONY player in Hawaii who is deaf. PONY’s rules limited the number of coaches during games, and the league had ruled that the father, who was providing sign language interpreting for his son, had to be included in the total number of coaches for his son’s team. In the August 17th settlement, PONY agreed to modify its rules specifically to allow players to use sign language interpreters during games; provide, in conjunction with PONY’s local leagues, sign language interpreters for players who are deaf or hard of hearing; make reasonable modifications to PONY’s rules and practices to allow players with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate in PONY’s baseball and softball games; appoint an ADA Coordinator who will be responsible for ensuring that PONY responds properly to requests for auxiliary aids, including sign language interpreters, and requests for reasonable modifications; have PONY’s ADA Coordinator and Board of Directors trained on the requirements of Title III of the ADA; and pay $30,000 in damages to the player who filed the complaint.
LOUISIANA HOSPITAL AGREES TO PROVIDE SIGN LANGUAGE INTERPRETERS WHEN NEEDED
On October 5, 2006, Meadowcrest Hospital in Gretna, Louisiana, signed a settlement agreement resolving a complaint by a deaf woman who alleged she was denied the services of a qualified American Sign Language interpreter when she was brought to and treated in Meadowcrest Hospital’s emergency room as well as at critical times during the five days after she was admitted to the hospital. The complainant asserted that she asked for an interpreter numerous times while in the ER and only after she was admitted did she learn of her diagnosis. By that time, she had been administered numerous prescription medications despite her inability to communicate essential particulars to treating personnel.
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA SETTLES EMERGENCY MEDICAL CARE CASE
On November 13, 2006, the federal court in Philadelphia entered a settlement order and order of dismissal resolving the lawsuit Smith and United States v. City of Philadelphia, in which the United States intervened in August 2004. The suit alleged that city paramedics had violated Title II of the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act by refusing to provide emergency medical services to Mr. Smith upon learning that he was HIV-positive. Under the terms of the settlement, the city agreed to institute a multi-component training program regarding appropriate and nondiscriminatory care for people with HIV and other infectious diseases. The training is mandatory for all city paramedics and EMTs, and the city will submit documentation certifying yearly compliance and participation by all relevant personnel. The city also agreed to pay Mr. Smith $50,000 in damages.
“Vital emergency medical services must be provided in a non-discriminatory manner to all persons who need them,” said Wan J. Kim, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department is committed to ensuring that cities carry out this important function responsibly and in accordance with federal law.”
“This agreement protects both the patient and, by requiring proper training, the emergency responders,” said Pat Meehan, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. “Emergency response is a key link in the continuum of care and this agreement ensures the highest quality of care to those in great need.”
The settlement order resolved the Department’s case as well as a consolidated lawsuit filed by the Fair Housing Center of Alabama on behalf of Lewis Community Care and its owners, Shannon and Orin Lewis. Under the settlement, the city has agreed to allow the Lewises to operate their home as planned, to pay $65,000 in damages and attorneys fees to the Lewises, and to pay a civil penalty of $7,000 to the government. The settlement also mandates that certain city employees undergo training on the requirements of the Fair Housing Act and that the city maintain records relating to future proposals for housing for people with disabilities and submit periodic reports to the Justice Department.
The case began when the Lewises filed a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD referred the complaint to the Justice Department, which conducted an investigation and filed suit in May 2005.
The ADA Mediation Program is a Department-sponsored initiative intended to resolve ADA complaints in an efficient 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 75% of all complaints mediated have been settled successfully.
In this issue, we highlight complaints in a variety of situations that have been successfully mediated.
In California, a couple with mobility disabilities complained that a cruise line did not honor a free upgrade promotion because none of the cabins in the “upgrade class” were accessible. The cruise line agreed to offer accessible rooms from a comparable upgrade class and provide additional training on the ADA to key management staff. It also agreed to provide a free 10 day cruise to the couple as compensation.
From October 26-28, Civil Rights Division staff participated in the Life @ 50+/AARP National Event and Expo in Anaheim, California, answering questions and disseminating ADA information to the estimated 25,000 attendees.
December 14, 2006