Welcome to the ADA Distance Learning series hosted by your regional Disability and Business Technical Assistance Center. Joining us today is John Wodatch, Chief of the Disability Rights Section of the U.S. Department of Justice. Hi John
How are you doing?
Good. Thanks for joining us today. We are always very excited to have you with us. This is definitely become one of our most popular sessions each year. We always look forward to the opportunity through the ADA Distance Learning program to bring people the opportunity to hear directly from the lead agencies working on the ADA implementation and enforcement. So we are excited to have you with us. I think this is the fourth year that you have joined us to give us an ADA status report. So with that said, I am really going to turn it over to you. Let us use the first half of the session as an opportunity for you to give us an update on the activities of DOJ over the last year in terms of enforcing the Americans With Disabilities Act, for areas you have been involved with, what is new and what your priorities are for the coming year. Then we will go ahead and open the session up for questions. So John, I will turn it over to you
Thank you very much and good afternoon everyone. It is my pleasure to be with you all. I thank you in advance for your patience for listening to me before you get to ask questions about what is on your mind. I thought I would go through some of the things that have been happening with our enforcement for the ADA over the past year. But I would like to begin, I think all of you are aware of the recent loss in the disability rights community of Justin Dart. I do not know if I can look at a review of the year without at least recognizing his passing. He was and has been for some time the leader of this nations disability rights movement. And although he was a personal friend of mine, I remained in total awe of him. He just was an amazing person, a visionary, a complex man. He was both a leader and a soldier, a revolutionary and a business entrepreneur. He headed a government agency, he headed a business, and by the end of his life he headed an entire disability rights movement. He was very gentle in his manner but very firm in his conviction and we will all miss his leadership. I think what we take away-the way we can most honor him, his life of dedication is really by our commitment to finishing the job he started. He was very clear about his goal which was giving people with disabilities in this country an equal opportunity to the American dream, providing people with disabilities the ability to lead lives of their own choosing, integrated in their own communities, with dignity and independence. And we remain committed to fulfilling this vision. In terms of our enforcement it all begins from the top, and we have our marching orders from President Bush. They are in the form of the new Freedom Initiative. I am sure you have heard about it before. I will not go into too much detail. But it does form the basis upon which all of our actions flow from. For those of you who do not know it is really the Bush administration''s comprehensive plan on dealing with disability policy. So it includes not only civil rights aspects but all the other aspects of disability policy in the Bush administration. What it includes for us is a commitment to enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act and to highlight technical assistance under the Americans with Disabilities Act. One area we have spent a lot of time working together with the Department of Health and Human Services on is working to enforce the Olmstead decision. I think you will remember it is a Supreme Court decision from 1999 that says it is a separate violation of the ADA to have unjustified isolation of people with disabilities in institutions. This is the integration part of the statute. The focus of this is to allow every American to have the opportunity to live close to their family and their friends, to enjoy access to life in their community and to work in their community. We have had a couple specific projects that I would like to mention that came out of a review that was conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services under an executive order. But one of the priorities that we were just beginning to work with them on is a pilot project that is going to focus on mediation. The Office of Civil Rights at HHS has a large number of complaints that came in after Olmstead from individuals. They were people who were saying that they were unnecessarily institutionalized. We at the Disability Rights Section of the Department of Justice have had a very successful mediation program with over 450 mediators around the country. So what we are doing is as a pilot project seeing if our mediation program will be able to work with some of these complaints. We are entering into an agreement with HHS whereby they will be sending us some of these complaints. We will put them through the mediation program and then do an analysis to see if this is an effective way to resolve some of these complaints and if so then it will move from a pilot project into an ongoing project. In addition we have committed ourselves to put out and we are working on three documents that will be technical assistance documents. One is a know your right piece. It is aimed as people who are in currently institutions. There is a widespread lack of knowledge and understanding about the ADA, about the Olmstead decision and what it means. So this brochure will attempt to address that. We are going to do a similar piece for people who are at risk of institutionalization, but may not be in an institution. These people may have Olmstead rights as well. These may be persons with disabilities who probably need some of the services that are provided at major state institutions but do not want to give up their access to their family and friends and their community and therefore have stayed out of the institution. The last piece that we are going to work on will be one aimed at states to help them with implementation. We are going to do this jointly with HHS to look at state plans that have practices that are good and contain suggestions on how to comply with the Olmstead decision. The last sort of piece in our Olmstead work is re-looking at our enforcement priorities. And we have identified two new priorities in terms of the cases we look at. I think many of you are all too well aware that we cannot handle all the complaints that we get with the staff that we have so we have to prioritize and open some complaints into others. So we have added two new issues that we will open complaints in. One is where there is impeded access to dental and other health care for people with developmental disabilities or people with mental illness. That was identified through the process that we went through with HHS as a need that was out there that was not being addressed at the federal level. The other need that was not being addressed was people who are deaf, hard of hearing or have speech impediments who have difficulty in communication with getting mental health services. We have identified those that we re going to try to develop cases and work on. I know you have had other sessions and that you have talked about the Supreme Court cases that have just finished coming down. I am not going to duplicate what you have heard before. If you have questions later about some of these, I am certainly fair game for you to ask whatever you would like. I would like to just mention them in passing, though. And pass a word of advice, which is that if you just rely on press accounts about what the Supreme Court cases mean, what they have said, you are in for trouble, because there has been a great deal of misunderstanding that has come from the press accounts. While a lot of the decisions are fairly complex, the press accounts try to do two things. They try to make them very simple and they also try to spin them into a story. The story is usually the Supreme Court is cutting away the rights of people with disabilities. In many cases that is not true. Two I would like to mention, the Toyota v Williams case. The one that dealt with how you look at someone who has a substantial limitation in the major life activity of performing manual tasks. What the Supreme Court said and agreed with the position that was filed by the federal government was that the lower court was wrong to limit its analysis to only manual tasks associated with a particular job, assembly line job. In fact, the Supreme Court provided some helpful guidance in how to look at this major life activity. In fact they have recognized that performing manual tasks is a major life activity that may lead to disabilities and they also indicated that in individual cases someone with carpal tunnel syndrome could be a person with a disability. I think these are things that we can build on. I can tell you that from the kind of work that we do that this decision will have no impact on our enforcement because we would never have taken a case where we had to prove disability by just relying on specific manual tasks on one particular job. The other case that sort have been misreported is the Chevron v. Echazabal, the case that upheld an EEOC regulation, that allowed an employer to consider where an individual employee or applicant is qualified if they pose a direct threat to their own health or safety. This is a regulation that has been on the books from EEOC from the beginning. The Supreme Court did not say that he was in fact a direct threat to self. All they did is set out the guidelines, they said it was appropriate to do that. And you look at the EEOC regulations to determine that. The lower court is going to have to consider that issue and in fact the burden will be on the employer to show that this person''s health, in this case this is a person with Hepatitis C who is working in a plant that had liver toxic chemicals. They will have to look at that issue and see if that person is a direct threat to himself. The one concern we had and the Supreme Court did a good job of keeping the line that EEOC had laid down, which is how are we going to prevent paternalism. The fear is that employers will just rely on myths, fears and stereotypes and say that person cannot have that job, they are a direct threat to themselves. The EEOC regulation requires a very strict analysis, individualized decision-making based on specific information. The Supreme Court endorsed that line of thinking. I think that is very helpful, not necessarily the things you would have got from reading popular press accounts. There are a couple other decisions that I want to mention. There are two in particular. One comes from the 9th Circuit involving a case against City of Sacramento. The holding in the case is fairly simple and may seem self-evident to you. Basically the court held that the city sidewalks are covered under Title II. Oddly enough the district court in this case held that sidewalks themselves were not covered, although you were required to have curb cuts. The area between the curb cuts was not covered. We participated in this case and fortunately the court agreed with us that a city because it provides, constructs and maintains a system of sidewalks, that that is a government service, it is covered by Title II and their ADA obligations. That case is now going to go back down and there will be some discussion about what are undue financial administrative burdens, what is program accessibility mean, and how does this work itself out. Another case, we will go across the country now to Florida. This is a case called Rendin v Valley Crest Productions. To the extent you are familiar with it, it involves the TV show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" If you had not heard about it, there was a suit by contestants, particularly contestants who were deaf or hard of hearing or people who had manual dexterity issues who used TTYs as a main means of communication over the telephone. You may not know that the selection process for contestants involved telephone selection. So they sued and the district court held that, well, that takes place not at a place of public accommodation, it is not covered by the ADA. The district court agreed that the TV show itself with the audience sitting there was covered, but that the telephone screening out process was not. We were very concerned about that decision and its impact in other areas and participated in the appeal. I am happy to report that the court agreed with us in saying that the screening process did not have to occur on a specific site of the place of accommodation to be covered because these were eligibility requirements for the whole show and that they were part of the place of accommodation. That may seem self-evident to you, but courts have struggled with this. I think it is important partly because we have dealt with some issues in terms of whether businesses doing business on the Internet are covered and we thought this line of reasoning might be used to exclude entities that only did business over the Internet. I think this decision helps us with our view that you do not have to have a place of public accommodation in the sense of a building where customers go into in order to be covered by Title III. What I thought I would do in the next few minutes is talk a little bit about some of our work on employment, state and local governments and with public accommodations, commercial facilities and then open it up to your questions. Two employment issues I would like to point out to you. If you remember, EEOC does most of the employment investigation and work. But we have responsibility at DOJ for litigation and for enforcement after they have done an investigation only for state and local governments. So it is a smaller subset of the large amount of work that EEOC does. We work fairly closely with them on this. Two cases I would like to mention that we received from them that have worked themselves out. One involves the Honolulu police department. They had a policy that if you had a hearing aid, you were automatically disqualified from becoming a police officer and you could not be a police officer. We found out we had a complaint, we did an investigation and found out that they had a number of incumbent police officers that did use a hearing aid and they effectively met their employment responsibilities, they could be effective police officers. We approached them and said that this did not make sense. If someone could be a police officer by their own terms would use the hearing aid, they had to get rid of that requirement automatically excluding job applicants who use a hearing aid. They have agreed to do that. They are going to do individual assessment case-by-case basis analysis to determine eligibility for hiring and do training, change their manuals and ensure that that policy is implemented. You can see from some of these that these kinds of investigations usually are triggered by a single employee, single applicant, sometimes as in the Honolulu one they have ramifications for all people with disabilities or some subset. Sometimes they just deal with the individual. We had a case involving the city of Leesburg, Virginia, involving a individual who had a severe hearing impairment who had applied for a position of groundskeeper with the town. He had worked in other areas in other towns as a groundskeeper for over 20 years. The town passed him over and hired an individual with no experience because the hiring officials in the town did not believe that a deaf individual could perform the job. We worked with them. They have agreed to change their policy. They have agreed to make individualized assessments in all hiring decisions and also agreed to pay $25,000 in back pay and damages to the individual who filed the complaint. Because that person had a job elsewhere. He was not interested in seeking a permanent position with the town. Let us move on to a few things on Title II. One of the areas we are spending a lot of our time in court on the constitutionality of Title II. If you remember some time ago the Garrett decision which dealt with Title I of the ADA, the Supreme Court limited the applicability of Title I and found parts of it to be not constitutional. What that means for Title I is that an individual with a disability who wants to bring a private lawsuit against a state cannot do so if they are seeking money damages. But they can still bring a suit if they are asking for injunctive relief. In the case I just gave you if someone wanted to sue involved a state as opposed to local government they could sue to get their job back, they could not sue to get money damages. That decision by the way does not affect suits against local governments. It only affects states. And it does not apply to the federal government. We are still able to bring suits for money damages and injunctive relief. Since that decision in just about every case that involves Title II, state governments and local governments have been raising the constitutionality of Title II and saying if Title I was unconstitutional Title II is unconstitutional as well. We have been involved in litigation in just about every jurisdiction in the country. It continues on. To date there have been decisions in seven federal circuits, circuit courts deal with groups of states. Five of the eight found that the Title II was unconstitutional in the same way, finding that the 14th amendment to the constitution did not give Congress the authority to write a statute that would force states to pay money to private citizens. Two circuit courts have gone a different way. In a decision that came out recently in Ohio, the circuit court there in a case called Popavich v Cuyahoga County Court it involved an individual with hearing loss who was denied auxiliary aids in the court proceeding and as a result he did not have custody of his children for a period of time. In the court, he went to trial, got a significant amount of damages, as I recall, something like $600,000. It then went to the 6th Circuit. The state said "No, this person cannot get money damages because Title II is unconstitutional." Well, the 6th Circuit took a different approach. They said you are right. It is not constitutional under the 14th amendment, but there is a different kind of issue. There is due process involved here and said in fact that this Title II is appropriate legislation to enforce the due process clause. So they have sent that case back to the district court, but the state has appealed and the issue might now be before the Supreme Court. They have not yet decided whether or not they are going to take this case. In New York, the circuit court went a different way. In a case called Garcia v Health Sciences Center, they upheld Title II in those situations where the state took action with what they called discriminatory animus or ill will towards the disabled. There are still court decisions coming in the first circuit, cases out of Puerto Rico, cases coming out of the state of Maryland, and the third circuit in a case against the NCAA coming out of Pennsylvania. As you can see, there are decisions in a variety of ways. We have won one of these, in the 9th circuit in a case coming out of California found that Title II was appropriate legislation under the 14th amendment. Where does this take us? I know this is a lot of legalism for a lot of you. I think the verdict is still out on this. At some point the Supreme Court will take this issue and decide it in the same way they did with Garrett. But the Supreme Court often will let all the courts sort of percolate and come up with different views before they come and take a case. Now, there have been several attempts to get cases to them for the next term. Thus far the Supreme Court has denied taking those cases. It remains to be seen whether some of these others will get there. If they do not get there this year they will get there in the next couple of years. So you should sort of keep an eye on that. The way the federal court system works, if you are in a state where there has been a decision in your circuit, that decision holds for you. So someone in California can sue for money damages where someone in Illinois cannot. It will just be that way until the Supreme Court makes its decision. One other Title II issue and then we will do a few Title III. I just want to mention Project Civic Access. We now have agreements with 50 of the entities that we have been involved in. It has been a very successful project from our perspective. What we have done is gone to local governments and tried to look at all aspects of civic life, from courthouses, libraries, polling places, parks, police stations, and enter into comprehensive agreements that improves access for people with disabilities. This is very much a priority of the Bush administration and it is something we are going to be continuing. A couple Title III issues and then we will open it up for questions. We have recently filed a lawsuit against something called SFX Entertainment, which is an enterprise that does business as clear channel entertainment and owns, leases or operates approximately 110 venues across the country where concerts, sports events and other live performances are presented. What we are challenging is their policy that prohibits people with diabetes who use insulin from taking any sharp objects into a concert, including medical suringes, needles, blood testing equipment. So in our view what this does is forces people who are insulin using to either not go to concerts or to take a risk that their blood sugar levels may change significantly and we think this is inappropriate and in fact a violation of the ADA. We are in settlement discussions with SFX. I remain hopeful that we will be able to work out a resolution to this without going the trial. But if we cannot, we are going to go ahead to trial. We recently concluded some litigation in New Hampshire against 17 company owned Burger Kings. This is, excuse the pun, bread and butter civil rights work because it is about removing architectural barriers to access in those restaurants. There were a variety of barriers, but what we ended up doing was including parking spaces, appropriate signage, providing accessible routes from the parking spaces to and from the parking lot to the restaurants and through the restaurants and making restrooms accessible. In addition Burger King agreed to pay $50,000 in civil penalties and there was a complainant that received compensatory damages of $5,000. We have an agreement that we have reached with Super Shuttle. I want to have you pay some attention to it. It is important to us because it is the nation''s largest door to door airport shuttle company and it is the first time we have done something that we are dealing with demand responses as opposed to fixed route issues. The ADA standard here is not that you must buy a certain number of vehicles. It is a little harder to pin down. The ADA says that for this kind of service provider in the transportation area, they have to provide equivalent service. So what we have done is worked out an arrangement with them where they have 11 locations nationwide. At each of these locations they will have by the end of the year two accessible vehicles and a subcontract with accessible transit providers to do overflow demand. We have done an agreement that is much shorter than we usually do, 18 months. The reason is we want to use this to monitor whether that is enough. Whether that will provide people with disabilities with equivalent service. There is very specific things that Super Shuttle will be doing to track the timeliness of pickups. They are going to do quarterly customer surveys. We are also interested in this so we would like your help. If you have instances where you use Super Shuttle or people you know do with he would like the hear bit, good situations as well bad. So at the end of the 18 month period we can decide if this is an appropriate response to provide people with disabilities equivalent service. The areas that are covered by this include the Super Shuttles in Phoenix, Arizona. There are four locations in California: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento and Orange County. Also includes Denver, Washington, D.C., Tampa Bay, Baltimore, New York, and Dallas-Fort Worth. Since we are somewhat headquartered in Illinois today, I did not think I could leave out an agreement we reached with a university there. Keep in mind that most work in the post-secondary area is done by the Department of Education. But we have a role particularly with private schools. I think you may remember we had an agreement with Duke a few years ago. We are getting more complaints about universities and so we are going to be doing more work in that area. Under this agreement Milikin University has made substantial changes and will be making more. Again this is barrier removal kinds of issues. They are modifying entrances, food service lines, telephones, bathrooms, drinking fountains, picnic areas throughout the campus, creating accessible routes to, among and within the university buildings. By repairing sidewalks and curbs, modifying doors, putting in ramps. They are going to put an elevator in the student union. They were using a platform that was not very successful and also required people to go in and out of the build tog reach different levels, adding accessible seating, adding assistive listening devices, adding signage, and providing information to people with vision impairment so that they can get around the campus. So it is a comprehensive settlement agreement that has worked very well. Our litigation dealing with stadium style seating in movie theaters continues. I think you are probably all aware of the revolutionary change in movie theater design that has occurred in this country over the last 10 years. Any movie theater that is now being built does not any longer have a sloped floor. They have a floor like a stadium with steps because it provides a much better seating view. We have lawsuits going against the Cinemark chain, AMC, National Amusements and Hoyts. There are some private lawsuits going on as well. One in Oregon by Oregon PVA against the Regal chain. We are not doing well in the litigation. What we are saying is that the wheelchair seating locations in these theaters are placed in such a manner often in the first row or the first two rows, so that a person who is a wheelchair user really does not have a comparable line of sight. It is an uncomfortable line of sight because of the size of the screen and the angle they have to watch the movie in. The district court in Ohio disagreed with us. They said that all the ADA means is that a person in a wheelchair has to have a seat anywhere in the theater and have an unobstructed view. And even in those theaters, if they have 10 rows of stadium and two rows of sloped, the wheelchair seats do not have to be in the stadium. We disagree with that and continuing to press our litigation, it will be on appeal in the case coming out of Ohio. We have a trial set in California against AMC in January, and this fall we have a trial set against National Amusements in Massachusetts. I have been talking a long time but I have one other thing because I like this agreement so much. I thought I would mention it. It is in an area that we have not done much work before. This involves golf courses. We had some complaints against several golf courses in Las Vegas. We reached an agreement with these golf courses. The agreement is on our website. These golf courses agreed to allow power carts on paths, walkways, fairways and greens when it is necessary to allow people with disabilities to play the course. In the past these areas were restricted only to pedestrians. This comes under the reasonable modification of policy part of the ADA. Certainly helped by the development of innovative and lighter carts and also by improvements in horticultural practices. We did allow a defense, from time to time the superintendent of the course may impose temporary restrictions either for necessary repair, for example when they are doing reseeding or repairing damage from floods or after a heavy rains parts of the course may have to not allow power carts. Those are situations where the integrity of the course is threatened. The way this works out is there will be notice posted prominently in the clubhouse. If someone wants to be able to use a cart, they have to register for it and they get a tag, a special pass they can display on their carts per use. I think this is the first of probably many kinds of agreements of this type as we move into more recreation issues in the future. Let me conclude by saying it has been quite a year for us across the country, particularly here in Washington. The events of September 11th and the aftermath of those events have had an impact on all of us here in Washington. We had the addition of anthrax scares and issues even in our own offices and we went for six months with receiving no mail from anyone. All of this has really caused us to reexamine our work and our priorities. I want you to know that despite the turmoil of the year, I think it has been a very productive year. We have continued to eliminate barriers in our society, so that we can have active every day participation by people with disabilities in every day American life. I think we know that much more to be needs done and we are committed to enforcing the ADA to make sure that gets done as well as to a strong effort to reach out to the public to provide information so that businesses and governments can achieve compliance with the ADA either with us or on their own terms. With that, let me turn this back to Jennifer and open it up to your questions.
I just had a question related to the proposed recreation guidelines and the ADAAG guidelines, if there is any kind of timetable when you think those might be enforced or approved?
Certainly. I have answered this question for years so you can take my answer with a grain of salt. But I can tell you that with the new administration, we have sort of had to start from the beginning again because we had a whole new line of elected officials, a whole new line of people in place and all the agencies. We have been going through very actively trying to bring them up to speed on the recreation rule, the children''s rule, as well new ADAAG. Our goal at DOJ as well as the Access Board is to have by January a publication in the federal register of these rules. If the Board does that it would be their final guidelines. We would propose those guidelines as our draft final rules and so ask for comments on those. That is short of the process of the process we are on now. It is being done very actively and we have brought the people up to speed. So I am hopeful that we will be able to adhere to this time frame
John, as a follow up to that question, a lot of concern, especially when you are talking about children''s environments or the recreation rule, that there still remain a lot of policy and procedure and program access questions. Do you see that in your notice of proposed rule making, do you see that you will be be adding additional language when it comes to policy and procedure issues or just copying essentially what the Access Board rule will be?
That is a great question. The answer is yes we are going to ask some specific policy questions and also open it up for any that people want to raise with us. One of the reasons is that there is something called the Small Business Regulatory and Enforcement Fairness Act. It requires us to do what they call a review of regulations, certain regulations, not every government regulation. Our regulations under Titles II and III have been on the books for 10 years and so we are obligated to go through a process where we open them up for comments for anybody who wants to raise them. So we will be doing not only updating ADAAG and adding the new standards for recreation and other areas, we will be asking a whole series of questions about are these the right policies, how should we be following them.
For clarification there, will that part of the regulatory process of looking at the regulations that have been on the books for 10 years... will that be incorporated into your rule making process for adopting the children''s rule, Chapter 11 and 12, the new ADAAG, recreation rules?
It is likely we do them the same day, but they will be separate rule makings
They could be two entirely different notices of proposed rule making.
Right. So people... if they have an issue on one particular rule, if it is just on the standards, they will be able to do that there. But if it is on ticketing policy issues which we have a lot of questions about or service animals which we get a lot of questions, those are all things that we will be asking specific questions about and people will be able to raise the questions they have on those issues.
Very good. We will look for that to come.
Thank you. Good afternoon. I am asking a question on behalf of one of our consumers here. Besides Olmstead, are there any other cases that have either been brought to the Supreme Court level or to the attention of DOJ-Civil Rights Division, that specifically involve mental health issues?
The question was really about mental health issues. We have had some individual cases ourselves, one agreement that I was going to talk about but I did not have time to involved a psychiatric hospital in the state of Connecticut and the failure to provide interpreters for people who are undergoing psychiatric services. Interpreters in those situations are usually much more costly and without them often the level of treatment is very difficult. So there have been individual cases. We have had some employment cases where we have provided employment opportunities and changes in policy for people who have psychiatric conditions. But I would still say that there are certain areas where we get very few complaints and where we need to do more work. I think people who have psychiatric conditions as well as people who have mental retardation, those issues, we do not address as often as I think probably the problems that are out there. So if you are aware of people who have issues in that area and would like to bring them to our attention we are very much interested in receiving them.
Hi. My question is regarding the public rights-of-way. We have a lot of small towns here that offer on street parking in their downtowns. I mean in my hometown we have 287 parking spaces in our downtown and not one is accessible. People are disabilities have to park at least a quarter of a mile away. We are just wondering if that is going to be addressed by DOJ. We feel that it is in violation of Title II because it is program access because they charge a fee to park in downtown, like a parking meter. We are just wondering if that is something that you would see in our light or opposite of us?
That is a great question. The Access Board has a committee that has been looking at public rights-of-way. They are looking at from it the point of view of what is accessible on street parking. We have not required that at this point, although I think your argument is a good one, that program accessibility means that. What the Access Board is looking at... and I can tell you that here in Washington D.C. there are a number of places on the street where the town has made on street parking, they have designated it as accessible parking but there are no specials feature of the parking and, in fact, in some areas it is usually the parking space closest to the end of the corner. But there are danger issues because there is no specification made for someone transferring, for using a lift or getting out of their vehicle without getting into a line of traffic. Those are the issues that are being looked at. But I think people probably agree with your notion that there should be some form of on street accessible parking. But the difficulty is figuring out what that really means when you get down to actually enforcing and telling local governments what they have to have. What is it that has to be done. The Access Board is looking at that. We are looking at that with them
Let me do a little promotion here too for our session next month. August 20th, we will have Lois Thibault from the Access Board join us to talk about the Access Board''s draft guidelines for the accessible public rights of ways
And she is very expert on all of those issues, including this one
Actually we have two. The first one is really short, but for the Super Shuttle, where would somebody make a complaint and for what period of time are you looking at complaints? We had someone that rode in D.C. in May and almost missed their flight.
To be very honest because of the nature of what we are looking at, send any information that you have to us. I think in May the agreement may not have been enforced yet. But I think letting us know as well as in letting Super Shuttle know is very important. Because my personal view is if you are going to use Super Shuttle and you get burned once, you do not make it to your plane, you are never going to call them again. And so in order for us to have an accurate measure, we just need as much information as we can get. So even if it is before the time period, we will take that and analyze it along with the rest of the information. Because we do not have a lot of information. We did not receive a lot of complaints about this issue. But I know from the people that I know who use wheelchairs who travel, they just find other ways to get to the airport because you need reliable transportation.
My understanding is that the web sites are supposed to be accessible to the blind through screen readers. Many of them are not. Many of the university sites are not, many of the commercial sites are certainly not, because the graphics developed images which are lettering are supposed to be tagged by things screen readers can read. In fact most of them are not. Is something being done about that or is there some way to do something about that?
I will give you a somewhat complicated answer. We will start with the federal government. The only place that there is a very clear requirement that is set out is for the government, Section 508 that was passed a few years ago requires accessible information on electronic technology. But that only deals with procurements. A lot of federal web sites are not procured, they are developed. So Section 504 as it applies to the federal government has requirements. We have just done a fairly extensive survey of 100 federal agencies to try and see how the federal government is doing on this and to try to identify the issues and deal with them. The Access Board has issued standards on what accessible web sites are. There are some private standards that are out there as well. What we have said under Title II and Title III of the ADA, and Section 504 as well is that there are requirements for entities that do business, use web sites to do business or provide information. But this really is an area that is in its infancy. If you have specific complaints you can certainly send them to us. We have some of those that we are dealing with. What we are working on at this point is trying to develop a technical assistance piece because I think there is a lot of misinformation about what needs to be done. In our view, this is sort of like where we were years ago with architecture. If you just do this in the design phase, it is fairly easy to do. It is not that hard to go back and fix what is there in order to make it accessible to people, to use screen readers or other devices. I know the DBTACs are now working in this area. They have had added duties put on in terms of this. But I think we are still at our infancy and I think we have a lot more to do at the federal level to try and provide people with the tools to let them know how to make their things accessible
Thank you. One of the things that we have relied on a great deal is to be able to go back and say the Project Civic Access has in fact required that municipalities do their self-evaluation surveys and their transition plans. We know know that in Massachusetts it has been successful in the community that has been involved. Our problem is that other municipalities within our state are not taking seriously the requirement for their self-evaluation surveys and transition plans which in essence are denying people all of the services within these municipalities. And we wanted to know... you mentioned that Project Civic Access will follow through and we wanted to know if there will be anyway that we can get an advisory from justice or some kind of information to add a little bit more clout to this?
That is an interesting question. I can tell you that our experience with Project Civic Access is that when we actually show up and work with the local government, a lot of change occurs. We also know that where we do not show up it is not necessarily occurring. The problem we have is that Project Civic Access is very resource intensive for us. You have to go to the city, measure... I can tell you the staff who worked on this called this Project Commode America, because they got to measure an awful lot of restrooms in the towns that they were in. But it takes that kind of effort. Certainly any town that has not done a self-evaluation and transition plan certainly should have done them at this point. The city and County of Los Angeles just went through a very detailed process of making that work. Particularly important because it involves people with disabilities and the decision-making of those governments. How extensive we are going to be will depend on how our resources are allocated. I can tell you the leadership is very much interested in this. When we started Project Civic Access we did a couple TA pieces that provided guidance on what should be done. So if you think there are things that need to be done to highlight the importance of self-evaluation and transition planning we are certainly happy to do that. It is funny I have had this request from other people in Massachusetts before, so maybe we just need to do a little more work in Massachusetts as well. But it is much on our mind. To be very honest I have been doing disability rights work since 1974. We first wrote about self evaluations and transition plans in the HEW regulations in 1977. I cannot tell you how disappointing it is to be talking about these in the year 2002. But I also know how important it is for local government to do that kind of planning and to involve people with disabilities. So we will take this as a spur to continue on with this
John, one of the follow-up questions that we always get when it comes to transition plans and self-evaluations is that people are always looking for samples of self-evaluations. What does a self-evaluation look like? The other trend that we are finding as well when it comes to the transition plan is that the municipalities may have done it back in 1992, and then put it on the shelf and collected dust. Now we are finding that a lot of them are actually going back and doing a new one now to actually make a working document.
Well, the way the regulation reads, if they actually did it before, they do not have an obligation to do the planning again although they certainly have an obligation to carry it out. What we have done in Project Civic Access is try to have governments really look at this, especially the things they might not have done before like voting places. We would hope that every voting place is accessible to people who use wheelchairs and there is a way for people who are blind to have independent voting. But we know we have got a long way to go on those issues. Same thing with city parks, under program accessibility maybe a city had one park accessible. We think at this point there probably should be a lot more than that. So I think it is important to do that. In terms of a model we do not really have anything that we point to that is a model. We have a technical assistance piece that was done under contract on how to do a self-evaluation that we still provide to people, but that is a how to, it is not a model
Hi. I have two questions and I will make them short. Will the provision in the regulation on service animals be opened up and if so, when?
The answer to that is yes. We are going to ask specific questions. There have been a lot of issues, especially people who use emotional support animals. People who use animals other than dogs, especially large animals, and about how much information can be asked. All of those things are going to be discussed when we put out the regulation for the review. So January or right after that there will be questions about that.
Hi. I just want to ask a follow up on the Super Shuttle. You mentioned that it is in 11 different cities. Does it operate under a different business name or is it always Super Shuttle?
Our agreement was with Super Shuttle. There are other shuttle companies that we did not have complaints about that we did not deal with. So we were dealing just with Super Shuttle. If you have other shuttle companies that you have interest in and want us to look into, we would be willing to do that. Just let us know about that. Super Shuttle was not in Boston. Super Shuttle is the largest of them. Most of them tend to be fairly small companies. New York City is the closest to you.
Thanks for your question. John, we are coming up on the top of our hour, so I will turn it to you, if you have a brief closing comment for us or a pep talk for us for the coming year.
I think we have survived a pretty rough year in this country and I think we have had one of my fears that would happen out of September 11, especially because we heard the stories of people who use wheelchairs being trapped or people with communication difficulties, there has not been a back lash against that. I was afraid we would get to the point where people would say people in wheelchairs shoved only stay in the first floor of hotels and should only work on the first floor of buildings. I am pleased that we are more sophisticated than that. But I think we have to begin to address, especially as we have new security issues, the impact that these have on people with disabilities as well as finding ways to make sure that emergency shelters are accessible for wheelchair users, for people with service animals, for people who take medication, as well as ensuring that people can have access to information during crises. So these are all sort of issues that are much on our mind. I think the future issues that we are looking at are also ensuring voting accessibility both for wheelchair users, people with mobility impairments. There are machines out there now that will provide people that are blind the ability to vote independently and privately. I think access to goods and services over the Internet, I think those are sort of the issues that we were focusing on that are new. I think there is a recognition that after twelve years, we have accomplished a lot. We have got a good foundation. But we still have a long way to go.
Thank you, John. It is always an honor and a privilege having you with us as a guest speaker in this program. So thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule.
Thank you all very much. It is always my pleasure to be with you
Thanks to all of our sites for joining us today and making this program successful. Please consider joining us next month on August 20th as I mentioned when we will have Lois Thibault from the U.S. Access Board join us. She is going to talk about the draft guidelines for accessible public rights-of-way. If you have more questions about the ADA or upcoming sessions please call your regional DBTAC at (800) 949-4232.