Department of Education Issues Letter on How Schools Must Respond to Bullying of Students with Disabilities

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 Commemorates 24th Anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act

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.

The US Access Board Issues New Guidelines About Temporary Emergency Housing

The US Access Board issued new guidelines about temporary housing provided during emergencies.  The Access Board developed an overview of the guidelines to accompany the lengthier final rule.  Temporary housing units provided by the government in times of disaster are transportable and smaller than other types of housing.  This presents unique accessibility challenges.  The Board will hold a public briefing on the guidelines in New York City on May 15.   Although the rule becomes effective June 6, 2014, compliance will not be required until the Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Justice (DOJ) update their accessibility standards.

Free Webinar on Nontraditional Emergency Shelters and People with Disabilities

The Great Lakes Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Center will be hosting the next in their series of Emergency Preparedness Webinars on May 8, 2014, from 2:00 pm – 3:30 pm EDT.   This series is brought to you through a collaboration between the Great Lakes ADA Center and the Pacific ADA Center, both members of the ADA National Network.

This webinar will focus on how to establish non-traditional shelters to meet 1) disaster survivors’ immediate needs or 2) the need to locate residents closer to their community during the recovery phase. Non-traditional shelters may include soft sided structures in open areas as well as mega-shelter sites. Each presents a unique set of circumstances which require specific planning in order to meet the needs of people with disabilities and others with access and functional needs. This webinar will identify specific planning considerations relative to nontraditional sheltering in order to adequately meet the needs of the whole community.

To register for this free webinar visit the ADA Conferences website. Questions regarding registration and/or the webinar platform should be directed to info@adaconferences.org or by phone at 877-232-1990 (V/TTY)

Department of Justice Issues Final Rule Adjusting Inflation for Civil Monetary Penalties Under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act

Last month, the Department of Justice issued a Final Rule that adjusts inflation for the civil monetary penalties assessed or enforced by the Civil Rights Division, including civil penalties available under title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).   For the ADA, this adjustment increases the maximum civil penalty for a first violation under title III from $55,000 to $75,000; for a subsequent violation the new maximum is $150,000. The new maximums only apply to violations occurring on or after April 28, 2014.

This Final Rule is a non-discretionary agency action made pursuant to Section 4 of the Federal Civil Penalties Adjustment Act of 1990, as amended (Adjustment Act), which mandates the Attorney General to adjust for inflation the civil penalties assessed or enforced by the Department of Justice. The amounts of the adjustment were determined according to a specific mathematical formula set forth in Section 5 of the Adjustment Act. The previous adjustment under the ADA occurred in 1999.

Department of Justice Enters Statewide Settlement Agreement with Rhode Island

The Department of Justice (DOJ) entered into the first statewide settlement agreement with the state of Rhode Island on behalf of people who are “unnecessarily segregated in sheltered workshops and facility-based day programs.”  DOJ found that the state’s day activity service system over-relied on segregated settings to the exclusion of integrated alternatives in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Under the settlement agreement, approximately 3,250 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) will have the opportunity to obtain integrated employment that pays at least minimum wage or participate in non-work activities in the community.  The consent decree will require the state to provide supported employment services over the next 10 years to about 2,000 people, including 700 in sheltered workshops, 950 people in facility-based non-work programs, and about 300 leaving high school.  Rhode Island also will provide transition services, such as trial work experiences, job site visits, and supported employment to 1,250 students between the ages of 14 and 21.  After having experiences in competitive employment settings, individuals who choose to remain at sheltered workshops may do so.

DOJ estimates that about 450,000 individuals with I/DD are in sheltered workshops nationwide.  The Rhode Island settlement provides a “road map” for other states to comply with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Department of Justice Releases A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to Amend the Americans with Disabilities Act Regulations

The US Department of Justice released a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to amend the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations in order to incorporate the changes made by the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) of 2008. The NPRM makes changes to Titles II and III ADA regulations to amend the definition of disability which was broadened by the ADAAA and expand the definition of major life activities by including major bodily functions.  The NPRM includes examples of impairments, such as intellectual disability, that should easily be found to substantially limit a major life activity and cause the necessary individualized assessment of the impairments to be simple and straightforward.    The Title I ADA regulations were amended by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in March 2011.  The NPRM will align the definitions in Titles II and III with those in Title I.  The NPRM is open for comment for 60 days until March 31, 2014.

Department of Justice Releases Report on Investigation of Rhode Island’s Sheltered Workshops

The Department of Justice (DOJ) reported on its investigation of Rhode Island’s sheltered workshops and facility-based day programs concluding that the state was violating the rights of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  DOJ said that the state had over-relied on segregated placements that were designed and functioned like most institutional settings for individuals who could and want to participate in more integrated alternatives.  DOJ conducted its state wide investigation of Rhode Island’s employment and day services system following its findings in June 2013 regarding two of the largest programs in the State located in Providence.  DOJ provided Rhode Island with steps it must take to comply with the ADA, including providing supported employment services, integrated day activities, and transition services to youth with I/DD leaving school and shifting its funding of segregated sheltered workshops and facility-based day programs to integrated supported employment and community-based day services.  Ironically, Rhode Island has no state-operated or state-funded, privately-operated institutions for people with I/DD.

New York City in Violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act for Failing to Accommodate Needs of Individuals with Disabilities

The Federal District Court in Manhattan found that New York City was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for failing to accommodate the needs of individuals with disabilities before and during emergencies. A lawsuit was filed following Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. The court found that the city failed to develop evacuation plans for people with disabilities who lived in high-rise buildings based on evidence that people were not able to get out of their apartments, had no water or heat, and had to wait days for help. The city’s evacuation plans relied on the mistaken notion that everyone could evacuate using stairs and inaccessible public transportation.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) Fines US Airways

DOT fined US Airways $1.2 million for failing to accommodate passengers with disabilities using wheelchairs in Philadelphia and Charlotte. Under DOT’s rules implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act, airlines are required to provide free, prompt wheelchair assistance upon request to passengers with disabilities.  This includes helping passengers to move between gates and make connections to other flights. The fine is one of the largest ever assessed by DOT in a disability case.