|IV. RESOLVING ADA COMPLAINTS THROUGH MEDIATION
We, as a country, have made remarkable progress and opened numerous doors thanks to the ADA. But discrimination continues, keeping people with disabilities out of the mainstream, limiting their opportunities, and, in many instances, leaving them feeling powerless. In order to achieve even more widespread change, the Department relies on creative methods, utilizing a number of different approaches to eliminating barriers and discrimination.
The Department's innovative ADA Mediation Program is an integral part of this approach. Since January 2001, more than 1800 complaints filed with the Department alleging violations of Title II and Title III have been referred to the program. Seventy-seven percent of complaints mediated have been successfully resolved.
Using more than 400 professional ADA-trained mediators throughout the United States, the ADA Mediation Program continues to ensure compliance with the ADA at minimal expense to the government. Executed through a partnership between the federal government and the private sector, the Program has achieved measurable results, eliminating architectural, communication, and attitudinal barriers for hundreds of people with all types of disabilities throughout the country, allowing the Department to achieve compliance with the law while conserving limited resources. A wheelchair user can now shop at the local grocery store because there is a ramp, a citizen who is deaf can testify at a county hearing because there is a sign language interpreter, and someone who uses a service animal can eat at her diner because a "no pets" policy has been changed.
Many types of ADA disputes are well-suited to the mediation process, including barrier removal; service animal policy modifications; effective communication for individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing, or blind; and access to local government programs and services. The following are examples of disputes successfully resolved through the mediation program since 2001:
Quotes from Complainants (excerpted from anonymous mediation evaluation forms):
"The mediator was extremely careful, courteous, effective facilitator. Mediation was right process for this case - parties needed clear communication."
"Mediator was very impartial. Allowed each party opportunity to present information in a professional manner. This process allows for a positive outcome for both parties."
"Mediator was kind and understanding, (I) was uncomfortable with other party, but mediator separated us in caucus which made me more comfortable."
Quotes from Respondents (excerpted from anonymous mediation evaluation forms):
"Excellent mediator, fair, sensitive, balanced, very positive very good process. Helped me as a business person to
understand ADA better."
"Mediator's demeanor was key to settlement, his knowledge of the legal issues helped resolve the case, commitment went above and beyond."
"This is tax money well spent."
The ADA Mediation Program is successful for a number of reasons. For instance, the mediation goes to the people mediations occur locally, in communities where people live, work, and play. After determining a complaint is appropriate for mediation, the Department formally contacts both parties, offering the opportunity to resolve the complaint through mediation. Complaints are then mediated locally or by conference call if the parties are geographically distant from each other.
Moreover, unlike traditional enforcement methods, mediation places responsibility squarely on the shoulders of both parties, who themselves control both the process and the outcome of the mediation. This cooperative approach preserves, rather than severs, the relationship between the parties, which is especially important for individuals in rural areas who have few options for carrying out business, leisure, or government activities. Mediation also can have a significant effect on the less tangible but equally exclusionary barriers that confront people with disabilities, including ignorance, stereotypic assumptions, and simple fear. Often, mediation is the first time a business owner or government official has direct contact with a person with a disability for any length of time. Because mediation requires parties to talk with each other and work cooperatively, it provides the opportunity for both sides to begin to know and understand each other. Mediation is empowering, providing an environment where parties can speak on their own behalf, make decisions, and resolve issues. In short, the very structure of mediation helps alter perceptions and change attitudes. Success-ful mediations produce win-win results.