Category: In The News

Justice Department Reaches Agreement with Gates Chili Central School District for ADA Violations

Brown service dog with blue vest The Justice Department reached an agreement with the Gates Chili Central School District in Rochester, New York, to resolve the Department’s lawsuit alleging disability discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The Department’s complaint alleges the School District denied a student with disabilities equal access to school by conditioning her use of a service dog on her parent providing a full-time dog handler, despite the student’s demonstrated ability to control her service dog.

Under the settlement agreement, the School District revised its Service Animal Policy and agreed to provide reasonable modifications to facilitate the use of a service dog by a student with a disability. Such modifications include the types of minimal assistance the School District refused to provide the student in this case, such as helping to tether or untether a service dog, assisting a student to get water for a service dog, and prompting a student to issue commands to a service dog.

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Justice Department Reaches Settlement with Ridgewood Preparatory School for ADA Violations

Seal of the United States Department of Justice

The Justice Department entered into a settlement agreement with Ridgewood Preparatory School (Ridgewood) under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Ridgewood is a private, nonsectarian school that provides education to children in prekindergarten to twelfth grade. The agreement resolves allegations that Ridgewood violated the ADA by denying a child with spina bifida admission to its pre-kindergarten and kindergarten programs on the basis of his disability, failing to reasonably modify its policies, practices, and procedures to enable the child to access the school’s programs, and failing to ensure that its buildings and facilities are accessible to people with disabilities. The Department’s investigation found that the school, among other things, had inaccessible doors, walkways, and bathrooms.

The three-year agreement requires Ridgewood to offer two years of tuition-free enrollment to the child and, upon enrollment, provide him with reasonable modifications. Ridgewood will also modify its facilities to make them accessible to individuals with disabilities, revise its policies to ensure compliance with the ADA, train relevant staff, and pay a $1,000 civil penalty to the United States.

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Two Municipalities Make Progress on Their ADA Transition Plans

Pierce County Curb at WallerThis has been a good month for ADA accessibility as two municipalities have made progress in bringing their facilities and public right-of-way into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Last week, Pierce County, Washington, approved its transition plan for county-owned facilities and public right-of-way. As with all local municipalities, Pierce County was required under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act to conduct self-evaluations of its facilities, public right-of-way, and programs and services, and integrate the findings into its ADA Transition Plan.

According to Pierce County News, “Pierce County’s Americans with Disabilities Act Public Rights-of-Way Self-Evaluation Report, which was completed in 2015, included the examination of county policies related to the ADA and an inventory that identified whether existing pedestrian facilities were in compliance with the ADA. This inventory was initially completed in 2015 and is updated as new facilities are built or improved.”

The City of Warrensburg, Missouri, also approved their ADA Transition Plan last week.

During the Warrensburg City Council meeting to approve the Transition Plan, Warrensburg Building Official Brett Penrose said, “The ADA Transition Plan is required by the ADA law of 1990. Starting in the spring of last year, we inspected all city-owned properties, including 13 buildings, nine parks and seven parking lots with the idea of inspecting previously identified ADA compliance issues as well as looking at new violations that may have come up since our last update.”

Penrose continued, “When we go out to look, to reinspect, I don’t just go out and look at what I’ve already identified. I’m out there to look with fresh eyes to look at the whole building or park.”

These two municipalities are great examples of local governments taking the lead and making the investments to not only come into compliance with the ADA, but also ensure their communities are accessible to all residents and visitors.

Pierce County Council approves plan to bring existing pedestrian facilities into ADA compliance
The Suburban Times / Pierce County News
February 13, 2020

City Council approves ADA Transition Plan resolution
Daily Star-Journal
February 13, 2020

MTA Plan Expands List of NY Subway Stations to get Accessibility Improvements

Subway station with stairs

Accessibility and compliance with the ADA was front and center for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) in 2019. With as many as four lawsuits challenging the MTA’s subway accessibility record the MTA has been working to correct the situation. In a series of announcements the MTA, the largest public transit authority in the United States, has expanded on its original accessibility improvement plan.

On April 20, 2018: “The MTA Board approved a capital plan amendment today that significantly increases the agency’s investment in ADA accessibility projects as part of the 2015-2019 MTA capital plan.”

On September 19, 2019: “MTA Commuter Railroads Announce the Addition of 11 ADA-Accessible Stations as Part of 2020-2024 Capital Plan”

Most recently on December 19, 2019: “MTA Announces 20 Additional Subway Stations to Receive Accessibility Improvements Under Proposed 2020-2024 Capital Plan”

Public transportation is a major resource for people of all abilities and with our aging population it is sure to see even greater demand in the years to come. Funding such long term initiatives is frequently a challenge. A challenge the MTA is taking head on, setting a foundation for a more inclusive and accessible public transportation in the future.

Sources: MTA Press Releases

Advancing Accessibility in Chattanooga

aerial view of chattanooga tennesseeTitle II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) includes specific compliance requirements for all government agencies with 50 or more employees.  The Transition Plan is the cornerstone of these requirements.  A Transition Plan paints a clear picture of the current barriers to access at municipal facilities, programs, and services.  It also describes the process of barrier removal, mitigation, and a timeline for corrections to be made. No plan is a perfect look into the future.  To remain flexible in addressing unforeseen challenges, while staying the long term course, requires a continual self assessment program focused on best practices and completing a feedback loop into Transition Plan updates.  This methodology creates what we at BlueDAG refer to as a Living Transition Plan.

In Chattanooga Tennessee, “several area municipalities recently completed self-assessments and established transition plans.”  The Cities of Red Bank and Soddy-Daisy, along with the Town of Signal Mountain are now putting those plans into action with millions of dollars.  The money will be put into multiple projects to improve accessibility for people of all abilities in the years to come. These plans ensure compliance with the ADA and are required to continue receiving federal funding.

Creating welcoming and inclusive public spaces and programs, while making accessibility a top priority, is an ambitious and worthy ideal to pursue.  A pursuit justified by the positive impact on people’s day to day lives. The importance of funding as fuel for accessibility efforts can not be understated.

Source: Chattanooga area municipalities improve accessibility of programs, facilities
By: Emily Crisman December 17th, 2019

Accessibility In Design

Interior of Hunters Point Library New and grand public buildings often open to great fanfare. Typically well received, they offer new and modern solutions to the needs of the organizations and people who use them. However, Universal Design doesn’t always get the attention it deserves in what some might call function following form. The Americans with Disabilities Act has been law for many years, It is reasonable to expect modern public buildings to be free of obvious accessibility oversights. Unfortunately this expectation is not always met. The much anticipated Queens Public Library at Hunters Point is one such case, and unfortunately the oversight has lead to a lawsuit.

“The class action lawsuit, filed on Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, argues that the lack of accessibility amounts to a violation of the three-decade-old legislation known as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under the ADA, newly constructed public and commercial buildings must meet accessibility standards.”

While opening difficulties are not uncommon for new buildings, situations like this serve as a stark reminder to civic and business leaders that compliance with accessibility laws are a minimum standard. Much can be done to go above and beyond the minimum requirements to create truly inclusive, accessible and welcoming environments.

Source: Lack Of Handicap Accessibility At Flashy New Hunters Point Library Sparks Lawsuit
By: Elizabeth Kim Nov. 26, 2019 1:32 P.M.

Funding ADA infrastructure with TAP Funds

Franklin County Mo, Courthouse

Ensuring infrastructure such as sidewalks, curb ramps, and buildings are in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards are major issues for many states and localities across the nation. While good work is being done to create paths and spaces accessible to all, many municipalities are discovering that funding poses a major barrier to their efforts.

The Federal Surface Transportation Program provides funding to States and localities for transit capital projects like roads, bridges, and highways.  Unfortunately there are frequently more projects than money to go around. Cooperation among localities can be key to creating the most favorable conditions of approval for the most needed projects.  “At the Oct. 24 Franklin County Transportation Committee meeting, Union City Engineer Jonathan Zimmermann requested that cities in the county, other than Union, not seek Surface Transportation Program (STP) and Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ) grant funding.”  The hope is, by limiting grant requests to the East-West Gateway Council of Governments (EWGW) to a sole project, the Highway 47 and Highway 50 improvement project would be awarded funds by default.

While it may seem unfortunate or unfair that these requests be made, in this situation at least, it is an idea that has wide support.  Fortunately STP funds are not the only source of money, provided the localities have been proactive with related requirements, such as having an up-to-date ADA  transition plan.

The Transportation Alternatives Set-Aside program authorizes funding for programs and projects including on- and off-road pedestrian and bicycle facilities, infrastructure projects for improving non-driver access to public transportation and enhanced mobility, in addition to many other projects in the public right-of-way.  According to John Nilges, The City of Washington’s public works director, “the city has an advantage [in seeking TAP funds] over many other communities in the EWGW region because it has an Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) transition plan.”

With increasing scrutiny around ADA compliance and funding being tied more closely to compliance with federal requirements in general.  Compliance work in creating an accessible and equitable community for all is critically important to bettering people’s lives and obtaining much needed funding for States and localities.

Source: City Still to Seek Grant for Sidewalks — Won’t Interfere With Request
By: Gregg Jones, Missourian Staff Writer, Nov 3, 2019

El Paso County Releases Draft ADA Transition Plan

El Paso County Judicial Complex

Across the nation, federal investigators are continuing their audits of municipalities for ADA violations. From curb ramps and sidewalks to facilities and services, many cities and counties are taking the necessary steps to identify their barriers and update their transition plans.

El Paso County, Colorado, recently completed an ambitious effort with a draft transition plan to set the foundation of their ADA compliance initiative.  “El Paso County is committed to full and equal opportunity for all its citizens, including individuals with disabilities,” said Vince Maciunskas, Infrastructure Project Manager. “The County recognizes that its community’s continued vitality, strength and vibrancy results from the valuable contributions from the entire community.”

El Paso County’s work is critically important to creating an accessible and equitable community for all. For those that haven’t made it a priority, the DOJ is imposing fines of several million dollars and has frozen federal funding from other agencies.

Source: El PAso County Public Notice, October 24, 2019

City of Fresno Leads Accessibility Compliance with Small Businesses

Fresno City Skyline

Over the past 29 years, the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) has led thousands of accessibility initiatives in communities across the country. In some of the best cases, local cities have worked with their small businesses to ensure compliance with street parking, along sidewalks, and into the business itself. Recently, the City of Fresno created the Accessible Fresno Small Business Initiative to help its small business community get into compliance with the ADA.

“The challenge is satisfying everyone without destroying the business. The cost of ADA compliance can be onerous for businesses, especially the small ones. The cost of settling an ADA lawsuit can be onerous, as well. The cost of losing an ADA lawsuit can be devastating. At the same time, people with disabilities have a legal right to full participation in America’s public life.”

Public-private partnerships like this are not just reducing legal risks and helping small business owners, but also taking some of the sting out of compliance. In the end, this project is a win-win for the City of Fresno and its business community by helping create a more inclusive, accessible and welcoming environment for everyone. How can partnerships like this make a positive impact on the lives of people of all abilities where you live and do business?

Source: Fresno looks to help small businesses navigate ADA headaches
By: George Hostetter, October 22, 2019

New Hampshire Governor’s Accessibility Award goes to The Nature Conservancy

The new accessible trail in the Ossipee Pine Barrens

The new accessible trail in the Ossipee Pine Barrens. Photo by Jeff Lougee

Connecting with nature is a path to healing and positive growth for many people.  Creating the infrastructure to help make natural spaces accessible to people of all abilities is an ambitious and worthy effort we can all support.  In recognition of this kind of work, the “New Hampshire Governor’s Commission on Disability recently honored The Nature Conservancy in New Hampshire for the creation of an accessible trail at the Ossipee Pine Barrens Preserve.”

The individuals and organizations chosen to receive the Governor’s Accessibility Award are recognized for their initiatives that embody the mission of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Awards like these are a great way for public officials to highlight the important work of private and non-profit organizations in helping create accessible communities.  

Nature Conservancy wins Governor’s Accessibility Award 
By: Staff Writer Sep 24, 2019 Updated Sep 25, 2019

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