On September 7, the House Judiciary Committee approved the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017 (H.R.620) by a vote of 15-9. This bill prevents lawsuits over architectural barriers violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) unless an individual provides “specific enough” notice and allows 120 days for a business to correct that barrier. The bill was introduced on the belief that the ADA has led to “frivolous lawsuits” where plaintiffs and attorneys intentionally seek barriers in order to extract funds. However, the ADA does not allow courts to award monetary damages to plaintiffs. Where those damages are available, it is through state law. Furthermore, there are already laws on the books that allow punishment of attorneys who represent clients in frivolous lawsuits. This bill effectively eliminates incentives for businesses to comply with federal law until 120 days after a person with a disability asks them to do so. See this fact sheet from Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund for more information.
The U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in the case of Ehlena Fry, a student with cerebral palsy, who sought to use a service dog in school for tasks such as “retrieving dropped items, helping her balance when she uses her walker, opening and closing doors, turning on and off lights, and helping her take off her coat, [and] helping her transfer to and from the toilet.” The school refused to allow the service dog, arguing that a human aide was sufficient. Her parents sued the school district for violating her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. A federal district court had dismissed the case on the basis that the parents must exhaust the administrative procedures under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) before seeking relief under the ADA and Section 504 and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. The Supreme Court, in an 8-0 decision in Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools, ruled that a student does not need to exhaust the IDEA’s administrative process if the claim is not is not related to the adequacy of his/her education. Read The Arc’s statement on the ruling here.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) released a technical assistance document, Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA. The document includes frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) that protect the rights of individuals and their service animals. As noted by the DOJ, it is as a follow-up to the DOJ’s 2011 guidance on Service Animals and the Revised ADA Requirements, and should be read in conjunction with the 2011 document.
The White House is seeking nominations for “Champions of Change for Disability Advocacy Across Generations”. This award recognizes individuals who have spent many years advocating for disability rights as well as dedicated young self-advocates. This event coincides with the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Nominations are due midnight Thursday, June 18. Nominate an individual and select “Americans with Disabilities Act” as the Theme of Service.
In commemoration of the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Census Bureau is releasing a “Facts for Features” providing a demographic snapshot of the U.S. population with a disability and examining various services available to them. The demographic snapshot includes information about institutionalization, transportation, employment, accessibility, and other useful information.
On Monday, the Department of Justice issued a new document to assist state and local governments in implementing Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The document covers their obligations regarding service animals, communicating with people with disabilities, power-driven mobility devices, and policies and procedures. Additionally, it addresses the application of the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design to new and existing facilities.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights released its FY 2013-2014 Report to the President, Protecting Civil Rights, Advancing Equity. This annual report contains data and case examples of reported cases of discrimination under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The report shows that the greatest number of complaints of discrimination pertain to receiving a free and appropriate education (FAPE), retaliation, and different treatment/exclusion/denial of benefits. In addition, the report includes data on combating disparities in school disciplinary practices (including restraint and seclusion); ensuring equal access to comparable educational opportunities; providing necessary academic adjustments for post-secondary students; safeguarding accessibility to appropriate technology; ensuring accessibility of programs, services, and facilities; and combating bullying and harassment on the basis of disability. See the report at: http://www2.ed.gov/about/reports/annual/ocr/report-to-president-and-secretary-of-education-2013-14.pdf
Last week, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that, as of March 3, 2015, individuals wishing to file Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) complaints with the DOJ will be able to do so electronically on a new form available on the DOJ website. Upon submission, filers will receive a reference number which may be used in future correspondence related to that complaint. Effective March 15, 2015, the DOJ will no longer accept complaints by e-mail, however, complaints will still be accepted by U. S. mail. To receive a paper complaint form, contact the Department’s ADA Information Line at 1-800-514-0301 (v); 1-800-514-0383 (tty). To view the new electronic form, visit www.ada.gov.
As part of National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued guidance to schools reminding them that bullying is wrong and must not be tolerated—including against America’s 6.5 million students with disabilities. The guidance explains how schools must respond when students with disabilities are bullied in order to meet their civil rights obligations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of Americans with Disabilities Act. For more information, see the Department of Education website.
President Obama and senior advisors hosted a meeting with a small group of disability leaders to commemorate the 24th anniversary of the ADA. They discussed the critical efforts that federal agencies are leading to protect the rights of, and participation by, people with disabilities in our communities. The President also formally announced the appointment of his new disability policy advisor, Taryn Mackenzie Williams. Taryn joins the Office of Public Engagement from the U.S. Department of Labor, where she served as a Senior Policy Advisor with the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). Watch the President’s video message and read his 24th ADA anniversary proclamation at whitehouse.gov.