WASHINGTON – Today, the Department of Justice celebrates the 16th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a historic piece of legislation that was signed into law by President George H. W. Bush on July 26, 1990. The ADA provides a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities and has had great success in expanding opportunity for citizens with disabilities. By reducing barriers and opening doors, the ADA has increased participation in community life.
Throughout the Administration, the Civil Rights Division has made the vigorous enforcement of the ADA a major priority and has continued to make strides to ensure implementation of and compliance with the ADA in all 50 states. The Justice Department has shown its continued commitment to Project Civic Access, a nationwide initiative to enhance access to community facilities by working with cities, towns, villages and counties. “In the 16 years since the passage of the ADA, the Civil Rights Division has made the enforcement of this landmark law a top priority,” said Wan J. Kim, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “Our enforcement efforts underscore our commitment to ensuring the full participation in society of the millions of Americans with disabilities.” During this Administration, the Civil Rights Division has achieved unprecedented results for people with disabilities through numerous lawsuits, settlement agreements, letters of resolution and successful mediations. Some of the Division’s notable successes include:
The Department’s Project Civic Access (PCA) initiative to ensure that towns and cities across America comply with the ADA. To date, we have signed 147 agreements with 139 communities to make public programs and facilities accessible. The goal of Project Civic Access is to ensure that people with disabilities have an equal opportunity to participate in civic life. Recently, the Justice Department reached an agreement with the City of Waukegan, Ill. The City of Waukegan agreed to make structural changes in its newly constructed and altered facilities, including the municipal hall, the police station, fire stations, and the public library. The agreement also addresses curb cuts, effective communication, municipal parking, the city’s Web sites, grievance procedures, and the accessibility of city programs operated at lakefront facilities, the animal shelter, and the public works building.
In fiscal year 2005 alone the Justice Department achieved favorable action for persons with disabilities in 367 cases and matters, including 112 formal settlements, 53 informal resolutions of complaints, 184 successful mediations, eight consent decrees, and 10 favorable court decisions. These matters provided injunctive relief and compensatory damages for people with disabilities across the country and set major ADA precedents in a number of important areas.
In June 2005, the Department secured a successful ruling from the Supreme Court confirming that the ADA covers foreign-flagged cruise ships within U.S. waters. In Spector v. Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd., the Supreme Court agreed with the position of the United States that Title III of the ADA generally applies to all cruise ships within the waters of the United States, including those with foreign-flags.
The Department has recently negotiated nationwide consent decrees with the country’s largest movie theater chains to provide “comparable lines of sight” for patrons who use wheelchairs at stadium style movie theaters. As a result of these agreements, wheelchair seating in all future construction must be located near the middle of the auditorium or farther back in areas where most other patrons choose to sit, and within existing theaters, many auditoriums will be modified with new or additional ramps and other improvements that will permit location of wheelchair seats in the stadium section or on the aisle at the back of the traditional seating section. Agreements were entered with Cinemark USA, Inc. (Dec. 2004), Regal Cinemas (June 2005), and National Amusements (Jan. 2006). On Jan. 10, 2006, the district court in United States v. AMC Entertainment, Inc. entered summary judgment in favor of the United States requiring AMC to remedy ADA violations at theaters across that chain, although the Order does not include theaters formerly owned by Loews Theaters that were recently acquired by AMC in a merger. The AMC ruling obligates AMC to add ramps at 350 auditoriums and improve nearly 1300 other auditoriums by moving wheelchair locations farther back.
A settlement reached last week with the University of Chicago will make the campus more accessible to students, faculty and visitors with disabilities. To ensure the campus is in compliance with the ADA and its Standards for Accessible Design, the University will implement plans within the next four years to make facilities, including classrooms, residences and libraries, accessible to those with disabilities. The University has also agreed to alter campus transportation systems, such as buses and vans, so they meet ADA requirements by Oct.1, 2006.
On July 18, 2006, in coordination with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Michigan, the Department entered into a nationwide agreement covering all 840 Jo-Ann Fabric and Crafts stores in the United States to make the stores accessible to wheelchair users. The Agreement covers entrances, the size of aisles, merchandise display areas, fabric cutting areas, check out counters, and other spaces and elements at new and existing stores.
In June 2006, the Justice Department signed an agreement with TestMasters, one of the largest providers of preparatory courses for graduate school admissions tests. Under the terms of the settlement, TestMasters agreed to provide auxiliary aids to students who need them as required by Title III of the ADA. Steps towards compliance include providing sign language interpreters and note-taking services for individuals enrolled in TestMasters courses who are deaf or hard of hearing.
The Justice Department achieved a comprehensive ADA settlement concerning access to health care to date in November 2005 with the Washington Hospital Center. Under the terms of the agreement, the health care providers agreed to create a minimum of 35 ADA-accessible patient rooms, to review hospital policies and train staff to address the needs of individuals with disabilities and to appoint an ADA officer to oversee implementation of the agreement. The settlement agreement marked an important step in the Department’s initiative to improve access to health care services and medical equipment for individuals with disabilities.
Also in November of 2005, the Justice Department announced a settlement agreement with the city of Detroit that resolved a discrimination lawsuit against the city’s Department of Transportation (DDOT) regarding fixed route public bus systems. The Department of Justice’s complaint alleged that DDOT engaged in discriminatory practices by using buses with inoperable wheelchair lifts and failing to ensure that buses with working lifts would be available. This lack of functioning lifts forced many individuals who use wheelchairs to wait for long periods of time before boarding a bus with a functioning wheelchair lift and, in some cases, to seek alternate methods of transportation or abandon their trips. Under the agreement, Detroit agreed to establish systems for promptly identifying, removing from service, and repairing buses with malfunctioning wheelchair lifts, including daily maintenance checks and service logs for each bus.
In November 2005, the Department also resolved a lawsuit alleging that the city of Royal Oak, Mich., violated the ADA by denying Easter Seals a land use permit needed to relocate a day facility that provides support services for adults with severe and persistent mental illness. The Department intervened in a private lawsuit and alleged that the city denied the permit after vocal opposition from community members, many of whom expressed unfounded fears of individuals with mental illness walking in their neighborhood and of a possible negative effect on property values. Under the settlement agreement, the city of Royal Oak will permit Easter Seals to open the day facility at the requested location, pay $300,000 in monetary damages to the private plaintiffs, and city personnel will receive training on their obligations under the ADA.
Anyone interested in finding out more about the ADA can call the Department’s toll-free ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 (voice) or 800-514-0383 (TTY) or can access the ADA Web site at http://www.ada.gov.