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:

  • In Pennsylvania, a parent of an adolescent who uses a wheelchair complained that the town athletic field was inaccessible. The town created a van-accessible parking space with required access aisle and signage, installed curb cuts at the accessible parking space and near the main gate entrance, and leveled the ground adjacent to the concession stand. The town agreed to ensure that the gates to the playing field would remain open during all events. 

  • In Minnesota, a person who is deaf complained that a doctor's office failed to provide interpreter services for an appointment.  The doctor agreed to provide interpreters in the future, to train his staff about the requirements of the ADA, and to add telephone numbers for interpreters to the office telephone roster. The doctor also disciplined the employee who refused to provide the interpreter and apologized to the complainant.

  • In Kentucky, a parent of a child with diabetes complained that a movie theater that sold only candy and soda refused to allow the parent to bring food for her child into the theater. The theater owner changed its policy and installed signage stating food and drink are allowed in the theater if needed because of a disability, trained all staff on the policy change, and apologized to the parent. 
  • A wheelchair user from Idaho complained that a Utah hotel had only one accessible room, which had been rented to another guest, and that the hotel provided transportation to him in an ambulance because the hotel's airport shuttle was not accessible.  The hotel agreed to construct twelve additional accessible guest rooms, including the appropriate number of rooms equipped with roll-in showers, in compliance with the ADA. After agreeing to expand the scope of the mediation to cover all 36 properties owned by the corporation, the corporation agreed to conduct a comprehensive review of its properties for compliance with the ADA prior to initiation of any planned renovations and to achieve full compliance in all hotels. The corporation will develop and provide ADA training for each new employee, will train all employees on an annual basis, and will implement a "train the trainer" program to ensure continuity of ADA knowledge at each location. The corporation agreed to provide lift-equipped hotel shuttle service at every location, and will distribute a memo, which includes a list of ADA resources provided by the complainant, to all properties about the importance of ADA compliance and about how to provide effective, accessible transportation for guests with disabilities. Finally, the corporation paid the complainant $7500 in damages and invited the complainant and his family to visit the hotel after completion of the accessibility modifications as guests, including airfare and hotel accommodations.

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."

  • An individual who is blind complained that a motel in Missouri refused to rent him a room because he used a guide dog. The motel agreed to post a sign welcoming persons with service animals and to train front-desk staff and management about the ADA.  The motel also agreed to work with the regional corporate office to increase awareness of all franchise motel owners about the ADA's requirements relating to service animals. The motel also made donations of $150 each to two guide dog organizations.

  • In Wyoming, an advocate for individuals who are hard of hearing complained that a city did not provide assistive listening equipment at its public meetings. The city installed a new accessible sound system in the convention center where meetings are held and city staff, the mayor, and the advocate were trained in its operation. In addition, the city purchased eight portable assistive listening systems available for use in other city meeting locations and publicized their availability on signs throughout the city, in meeting announcements, and on cable TV and radio.  The city apologized to the three people who initiated the complaint and agreed to provide ongoing training to city employees to more effectively work with all people with disabilities.

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.

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