The Justice Department has announced an agreement with the city of Milwaukee under Project Civic Access (PCA), the department’s wide-ranging initiative to ensure that public entities comply with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal civil rights law passed in 1990. After 26 years, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) has increased their reviews of public entities who are not compliant under the law. Accessology, a national consulting firm located in McKinney, Texas has been tracking the increase of DOJ reviews and is alerting agencies that federal funding could be at risk if they do not become fully compliant under the ADA. Accessology consults with large and small entities to help them develop their comprehensive ADA Transition Plan, required under the federal law.
Kristi Avalos, President and CEO of Accessology who has 35 years of experience in accessibility related issues notes that compliance extends far beyond the width of a doorway or the height of a counter. Avalos says that all programs, activities and services (PSA) must also be reviewed to be certain they are compliant under the law. Avalos regularly trains and conducts free ADA Roundtable Discussion Events, to educate Title II agencies that they could be at risk.
According to Avalos, “Compliance review sites are chosen based upon the desire of the DOJ to visit every state, the population of the site, and, in some cases, its proximity to a university or tourist attraction.”
“The majority of the compliance reviews occurred in small cities and towns because they represent the most common form of local government,” she stated.
A search of the PCA website reveals that the Department of Justice has increased its litigation over the past few years substantially against Title II entities. Settlements reached by the DOJ with the various entities have increased 50% since 2012 and 36% since 2013.
By July of 2015, the DOJ had reached over 217 Settlement Agreements since the PCA initiative began in 1991. A majority of the compliance reviews occurred in small cities and towns. In 2014, although no settlement cases were listed by the PCA, in September of 2015, 14 cases involving the ADA were already settled with the Department of Justice.
A great example of the areas the DOJ regularly reviews is apparent in this settlement. Under the review, the DOJ not only looked at the City’s facilities but many of their programs, activities and services as well. In addition, the DOJ conducted a program access review of the City’s polling places. This review was limited to the areas of the facilities used by the voting public: parking, the route from the parking area to the area used for voting, and the area used for voting.
The United States also reviewed the City’s emergency management and disaster prevention policies and the City’s sidewalk maintenance policies to evaluate whether people with disabilities have an equal opportunity to utilize these programs. Also reviewed by the DOJ was the City Police Department’s policies and procedures regarding providing effective communication to people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Under the agreement, the city will, among other things, modify facilities surveyed by the department so that they are accessible, retain an Independent Licensed Architect to survey facilities and programs that were not surveyed by the department and certify that all remedial actions are compliant with the ADA, provide auxiliary aids and services necessary to ensure effective communication, ensure accessibility of polling places, provide accessible curb ramps at intersections throughout the city, and ensure that the city’s website will conform with the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines Level 2.0 Level AA.
In addition, the City has agreed to:
• Appoint or hire one or more ADA Coordinators.
• Retain an Independent Licensed Architect (ILA), approved by the United States, who is knowledgeable about the architectural accessibility requirements of the ADA and Section 504.
• Adopt an ADA Grievance Procedure-distribute it to all of its agencies, and post copies of it in conspicuous locations in each of its public buildings.
• Identify sources of qualified sign language and oral interpreters, qualified readers, real-time transcription services, and vendors able to put documents in Braille.
• Ensure that all appropriate employees are trained and practiced in using the Wisconsin Relay Service to make and receive calls, and report to the United States the details of the trainings and employees trained.
• Ensure that each of its 911 consoles or call stations can receive and respond to TTY communications effectively with an analog TTY or computer equivalent.
• Develop written procedures for answering 911 calls that include training all call takers to use a TTY or computer equivalent to take 911 calls, to recognize a “silent” open line as a potential TTY call and respond by analog TTY or computer equivalent, and to ensure that TTY calls are answered as quickly as other calls received.
• Incorporate correct TTY call-taking procedures into 911 call takers’ performance evaluations.
• Implement Milwaukee Police Department’s Policy Statement on Effective Communication with People Who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing.
• Equip each sheriffs station and each detention facility with a sufficient number of working TTYs and videophones.
• Survey potential polling places to determine whether they have barriers to access by people with disabilities in the parking, exterior route to the entrance, entrance, interior route to the voting area, or voting area.
• Provide Election Day balloting for voters with disabilities whose assigned polling place has accessibility barriers.
• Make all voter registration materials available in alternate formats, including Braille, large print, audio tape, and accessible electronic format (e.g., HTML).
The agreement has a term of three years.
Accessology has observed that many agencies unaware of all the areas the ADA covers. As a result, they often fail to identity risk/gap areas in their ADA Plans. Accessology is an expert in this area, because access is all they work on 24/7. If your agency would like to speak with an Accessology consultant about an ADA Roundtable event or an assessment of an agency’s compliance under the ADA, they can call the office at 972-434-0068 or visit the website at www.accessology.com.