U.S. Department of Justice
On September 30, 2004, the Justice Department published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rule making in the Federal Register announcing that the Department plans to change its Americans with Disabilities Act Standards for Accessible Design (ADA Standards) to make them consistent with the ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) that was published by the Architectural and Transportation Barrier Compliance Board (also known as the Access Board) in July. These accessibility requirements, which cover new and altered facilities, apply to businesses and state and local governments nationwide. The Department's ADA Standards must by law be consistent with the ADAAG, which is developed independently by the Access Board.
CITY OF BALTIMORE AGREES TO EXPAND HOUSING FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES
On September 29, 2004, the Justice Department announced the settlement of a lawsuit alleging a pattern of discrimination by the Housing Authority of Baltimore City (HABC) against low-income people with disabilities. The agreement, the first of its kind, enforces regulations issued by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for public housing authorities. Under the agreement, the housing authority will implement changes to its housing facilities, programs, policies, and practices; will commit several million dollars to provide over 2,000 new housing opportunities for individuals with disabilities; and will pay $1,039,000 in damages.
This lawsuit was filed in the U. S. District Court in Maryland to enforce both the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Specifically, the suit alleged that HABC discriminated in both its public and Section 8 subsidized housing programs by refusing to admit non-elderly people with disabilities; by failing to make its public housing units, their common areas, and its administrative offices accessible; and by failing to provide sufficient assistance to people with physical or mental disabilities who sought to rent private units through the authority's Section 8 housing subsidy program.
"Housing is a basic building block of community life and participation,” said R. Alexander Acosta, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights.
"The law protects the right of individuals with disabilities to access public spaces, services, and accommodations, yet without accessible housing, individuals with disabilities can hardly avail themselves of these wider opportunities."
The Department's lawsuit was resolved together with a lawsuit filed by three individuals with disabilities who were represented by the Maryland Disability Law Center. "We are very pleased that the Housing Authority of Baltimore City was willing to work with the Civil Rights Division and the Maryland Disability Law Center to formulate a realistic plan for ensuring that Baltimore's citizens with physical and mental disabilities have access to HABC's programs," noted Assistant Attorney General Acosta.
The lawsuit and the consent order resolving it were filed simultaneously. Under the consent order, which is subject to court approval, the housing authority is required to establish a $1,000,000 fund to compensate individual victims of discrimination who will be identified through a claims process and to pay a total of $39,000 to the individuals who filed the private lawsuit.
In addition, the ten-year agreement requires the housing authority to take several steps to reform the ways it provides public and subsidized housing. Under the agreement, the housing authority will provide 830 accessible public housing units; will create 1,850 new affordable housing opportunities for non-elderly people with disabilities through both public housing and Section 8 rental subsidy programs; and will provide extra assistance to people with disabilities seeking to use Section 8 subsidies to rent privately owned housing units in Baltimore.
People with disabilities who believe they are victims of discrimination by the Housing Authority of Baltimore City should call 1-800-896-7743 and select option 3 to obtain information on how to file a claim for monetary damages.
A copy of the consent decree may be obtained on the Department's web site at www.usdoj.gov/crt/housing/caselist.htm
A CONVERSATION WITH OLLIE CANTOS
Please tell us a bit about your personal background?
I grew up in West Covina, California, the son of Filipino immigrants and blind since birth. I am the first attorney in my family. I attained my Political Science degree from Loyola Marymount University and later earned my law degree from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. I am also a member of the Alpha Sigma Nu National Jesuit Honor Society.
When did you decide to go to law school? Why?
What accomplishments are you most proud of in your career to date?
The collaborative initiative has since grown to become the California Respect Ability Conference, and it is still thriving today. The Conference continues to be led by WLCDR and to bring together "movers and shakers" representing physical, psychiatric, developmental, and learning disability constituencies to plan and execute collaborative partnerships that prevent reinvention of the proverbial wheel and initiative duplication that results in a waste of precious time and financial resources.
I am also proud to have built a career-oriented mentoring effort through Disability Mentoring Day, which is still led by my former employer, the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD). Disability Mentoring Day is dedicated to enhancing internship and job opportunities for students and job seekers with disabilities through one-on-one job shadowing and hands-on career exploration, ideally lasting far beyond merely a day. I headed the team that, in only 26 months, built a program from serving just 1,600 people with disabilities in 32 states and 2 countries to encompassing worldwide participation of more than 6,000 people with disabilities in all 50 states, 3 territories, and 18 foreign countries on 5 continents. These mentoring efforts continue to take on a life of their own as they expand to become more of a year-round effort.
I want fellow members of the disability community to feel a true sense of empowerment as they seek to resolve their complaints through the most effective means possible, and I want them to see how DOJ is responsive to their needs. I want the business community truly to see DOJ as a valuable partner, as we show business leaders that people with disabilities are valuable customers and employees, not mere legal burdens. I want state and local government to see the value in working hand in hand with the Department. I also see DOJ continuing to play a vital and leading role against unnecessary institutionalization so that people with disabilities may rightfully live in the community among their families and friends.
Despite all of this, my key sources of strength remained. Back in my moments of doubt, I was sustained, and still am today, by my abiding personal faith in God, the love and support from my parents and my sister Jennifer, the incredible and ongoing friendships with thousands of colleagues and friends within the disability rights field, and my never-ending commitment to finding ways to do things better and more effectively than ever before.
Whenever I come across someone who does not believe in himself or herself as much as is otherwise possible, I think back to all the times when I felt the way they do, and I do everything I can to match the person up with the people and resources they may use to take their lives to the next level. It is so easy to see someone who is a success without seeing what it took for that person to get there, and that perception may lead folks to thinking that success is open to everyone else except himself or herself.
But these successes are just the beginning. We must remain ever vigilant and must play an active role in shaping the future of life in this country for people with disabilities. We must strive to educate our colleagues (both with and without disabilities) about obligations under existing laws, and we must continue creatively to determine how laws may be implemented at a systemic level. We must continually educate ourselves, empower those around us, and show the world by our example what it means to be full contributors to our society as a whole and all its facets. In short, we must work to continue to change societal paradigms to eliminate old and outdated stereotypes about disability and to replace negative attitudes with a more empowering and uplifting approach that embodies great optimism for the future and the deep commitment to settle for nothing less than our reaching our greatest potential.
COURT APPROVES SETTLEMENT OF CASE AGAINST CITY OF HANFORD, CALIFORNIAOn October 14, 2004, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California approved a settlement agreement between the Department and the City of Hanford, California, resolving the Department's lawsuit alleging discrimination on the basis of disability. The case, filed on October 7, was referred to the Justice Department by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The Department alleged that Hanford violated the Fair Housing Act by attempting to close a home for people with disabilities because neighbors did not want people with disabilities living in their community. The settlement agreement provides for the continued operation of the home as a residence for people with disabilities and prohibits the city from engaging in housing discrimination based on disability. The agreement also clarifies that people with disabilities and group homes for people with disabilities need not seek permission from the city to continue operating housing so long as they comply with applicable zoning and land use laws. The city also agreed to pay a total of $55,000 in compensatory damages to current and former residents of the home.
The Department's lawsuit was resolved together with a lawsuit filed in January of 2003 by individual residents of the home.
COURT APPROVES SETTLEMENT OF CASE AGAINST VANCOUVER HOUSING AUTHORITYOn October 15, 2004, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington approved a settlement agreement between the Department and the Vancouver Public Housing Authority, the Department of Social and Health Services of the State of Washington, Coldwater Springs Assisted Living Community, LLC, Emeritus Corporation, Sunwest Management, Inc., and James D. Reed. The agreement resolves the Department's law-suit, filed September 24, 2004, alleging discrimination on the basis of disability in violation of the Fair Housing Act.
Specifically, the Department alleged that the defendants discriminated against disabled residents by forcing people who required assisted living services to either move to an inaccessible apartment or to give up their assisted living services in order to stay in their current home and by evicting people because of their disabilities. The Department initiated its investigation after a referral from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Under the settlement agreement, the defendants will pay $100,000 in damages to several victims of the alleged disability discrimination, including the estates of two victims who are now deceased. In addition, the Vancouver Housing Authority will renovate two apartments in a Vancouver building for seniors and people with disabilities to make the units fully accessible. The agreement also ensures that residents who receive assisted living services in this building and those who do not can both have meals in the building's cafeteria and participate jointly in on-site activities such as lectures and social events. The resolution of the lawsuit, which also alleged retaliation against people who filed complaints with HUD, requires housing authority staff to receive training under the Fair Housing Act and requires all parties to report certain housing discrimination complaints to the Department.
MORE PROJECT CIVIC ACCESS SETTLEMENTS ANNOUNCED
In other PCA news, the Department has recently conducted full-scale reviews of government facilities and services in the following cities and counties: Monroe County, NY; Ada County, ID; Omaha, NE; Billings, MT; Paterson, NJ; Newark, NJ; Hartford, CT; Allen County, IN; Will County, IL; Gary, IN; Barnstable, MA; St. Louis County, MN; and Providence, RI.
Project Civic Access is the Department's wide-ranging initiative to ensure that people with disabilities have an equal opportunity to participate in civic life, a fundamental part of American society. It is designed to improve access to local government programs, services, and facilities for people with disabilities
KENTUCKY PLANS FAR REACHING IMPROVEMENTS AT RESIDENTIAL FACILITYOn September 21, 2004, the Department entered into an agreement regarding conditions of resident care and treatment in the Communities of Oakwood in Somerset, Kentucky. The agreement resolves an investigation that began in June 2001 under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act. The Commonwealth of Kentucky owns and operates Oakwood, which is a residential facility that serves nearly 400 persons with developmental disabilities.
The Department made the following findings: a history of severe staff abuse at the facility that led to an indictment and guilty plea, neglect of residents including a pattern of resident deaths involving severe bowel impactions, inadequate supervision that resulted in several residents seriously injuring themselves, and excessive and incorrect medication practices that resulted in great harm to residents. The Department also found evidence that the state kept Oakwood residents institutionalized who were appropriate for community placement, even after the residents expressed a desire to live outside the institution.
The agreement requires the state to implement a program that provides for person-centered care and improved services in the areas of psychiatry, neurology, medical and nursing care, psychology, nutrition, speech, and physical therapy. The agreement requires Oakwood to provide a safe, secure and humane environment for residents; to provide adequate medical and nursing care; to improve behavioral treatment practices and physical and nutritional management; and to provide adequate therapeutic activities for residents. The agreement also requires Oakwood to ensure that residents are served in the most integrated setting appropriate to meet their needs consistent with the mandate of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Supreme Court's 1999 decision in Olmstead v. L.C.
Commonwealth officials and Oakwood staff have cooperated with the Department throughout the course of the investigation and have made a commitment to provide the continuing resources necessary to effect the required reforms.
ADA MEDIATION HIGHLIGHTSThrough the ADA Mediation Program, the Department refers complaints to professional mediators who have been trained in the legal requirements of the ADA. Cases are initiated when both the complainant and the respondent agree to participate in an attempt to mediate a case. This program has proven to be an effective way to resolve ADA complaints at less cost and in a shorter period of time than traditional investigations or litigation. Over 75% of complaints mediated have been resolved successfully.
This month's focus is on complaints from people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Highlights of recent mediations include:
In Illinois, two individuals complained that a company refused to rent jet skis to them because they are deaf. The company agreed to change its policy and rent water sport equipment to customers who are deaf or hard of hearing. The company also paid the complainants $200.
In Ohio, a person who is deaf complained that a county court failed to provide interpreters for a hearing as he had requested. The county agreed to provide interpreters upon request for all court proceedings, including administrative hearings, mediations, and arbitrations.
A deaf individual complained that a California hotel failed to provide closed captioning for televisions in guest rooms. In mediation, it was discovered that the hotel did have closed captioning, but that staff did not know how to use it. The hotel trained its staff on how to make this service available to guests.
An individual who is deaf complained that an Iowa dental office failed to provide a sign language interpreter for a scheduled appointment as requested. The dentist agreed to hire an interpreter for the complainants future office visits and to train staff on disability and sensitivity issues. The dentist also wrote a letter of apology to the complainant and refunded her $128, the cost of the office visit.
OUTREACH AND TRAINING HIGHLIGHTSThe Department staffed a booth at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation National Conference in Washington, DC, on September 8-11, to answer questions about the ADA and hand out regulations and explanatory materials. The conference was attended by approximately 10,000 participants from across the United States.
The Department also staffed a booth to answer questions about the ADA and hand out materials at the Tennessee State Fair held in Nashville, Tennessee, September 16-19. The fair attracted an estimated 400,000 fairgoers.
Department staff spoke on "Emergency Planning - Legal Issues and Disability Rights" at a Conference on Emergency Preparedness for People with Disabilities in Arlington, Virginia. The September 22-24 conference was sponsored by the National Capital Region in partnership with the National Organization on Disability and with support from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
On September 27-28, Department staff spoke about ADA lawsuits and the new accessibility guidelines developed by the Access Board at Franchise Appreciation Day, the legislative/ regulatory conference of the International Franchise Association, held in Washington, DC.
On October 6, Department staff spoke about the ADA at the Annual Conference of the National Organization of Human Rights Workers, held in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Ollie Cantos gave the keynote address at an ADA conference sponsored by the Northwest Disability and Business Technical Assistance Center in Portland, Oregon, on October 7-8.
The Department staffed a booth to answer questions and hand out materials at the World Congress on Disability held in Orlando, Florida, on October 7-9. The conference was attended by approximately 8,000 participants from across the United States.
On October 13-14, Department staff gave presentations on the provisions of the ADA and the responsibilities of ADA Coordinators at a workshop and breakout sessions of a conference on accessibility hosted by the Paralyzed Veterans of America in Des Moines, Iowa.
RECENT LEGISLATIVE AND REGULATORY ACTIVITYOn October 25, President Bush signed the Assistive Technology Act of 2004. The Act revises and extends the existing Assistive Technology Act of 1998, which provides funding for state-sponsored programs that provide assistive technology for people with disabilities.
The United States Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (better known as the Access Board) convened the first meeting of its Courthouse Access Advisory Committee on November 4 and 5. The Committee's purpose is to explore best practices and design solutions for providing accessibility in courthouses. The 31-member committee is made up of design professionals, advocates, judges, lawyers, court administrators, code developers, and government agencies, including the Department, which was represented by staff.
March 8, 2005