WASHINGTON – Today, the Justice Department celebrated the 17th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) at an event in New Orleans, La. hosted by the Mayor’s Advisory Council for Citizens with Disabilities. At the ADA anniversary event, Wan J. Kim, the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, signed a Project Civic Access (PCA) agreement with the City of New Orleans which sets out a plan to ensure equal access for people with disabilities to the city’s emergency operations and other programs, services, activities and facilities. Other participants in the event included Jim Letten, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana; C. Ray Nagin, Mayor of New Orleans; and members of the New Orleans City Council.
Project Civic Access (PCA) is a Justice Department initiative to ensure that states, cities, counties, towns and other government entities comply with the ADA by eliminating physical, communication, and policy barriers that prevent people with disabilities from participating fully in community life. Following the events of September 11, 2001, the Department expanded its PCA initiative to include emergency preparedness for people with disabilities. The Department has signed PCA agreements in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, improving access to government programs and facilities for over 3 million people with disabilities in the communities involved.
The agreement with New Orleans is the Department’s 155th PCA agreement. The Department originally signed a PCA agreement with the city in January 2002. New Orleans had worked cooperatively with the Department under the 2002 agreement and was nearing completion of its obligations when Hurricane Katrina struck and destroyed or damaged nearly all of the facilities and programs covered by that agreement.
“During the past five years, the city has worked cooperatively with the Civil Rights Division to achieve ADA compliance,” said Assistant Attorney General Kim “By signing this new agreement, New Orleans is making a commitment, when rebuilding its great City, not to neglect the needs of citizens with disabilities in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
Under today’s agreement, the Department will provide an expert ADA architectural consultant, at no cost to the City, to assist the City in rebuilding in compliance with the architectural requirements of the ADA. The consultant will review certain design plans for City facilities and provide training and consultation for City staff involved in the design and construction of City facilities. The consultant will also provide training and live ADA consultation for the business community in New Orleans to encourage businesses that are building or rebuilding in New Orleans to do so in full compliance with the ADA.
The other key component of the PCA agreement addresses the city’s obligation under the ADA to ensure equal access for people with disabilities to the City’s emergency management operations. The Civil Rights Division will provide the City with technical assistance to ensure that its Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) to ensure compliance with ADA requirements. The Department will also work with the State of Louisiana and the other entities that are responsible for implementing the EOP.
Earlier today, Assistant Attorney General Kim signed a similar agreement with Harrison County, Miss., another gulf coast community that was badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina. The Harrison County agreement includes similar provisions to provide expert architectural consultant services to the County and the business community to help ensure ADA compliance in rebuilding as well as provisions relating to the County’s ADA compliance in its emergency operations.
“Complying with the ADA in emergency preparedness and response is of vital importance in all communities across this country because people with disabilities have the same need for safety and security in emergencies as everyone else,” said Assistant Attorney General Kim. “Our hope is that by working cooperatively with the City of New Orleans, Harrison County, and other State and local governments, we will come closer to tearing down the barriers that many Americans with disabilities still face.”
Assistant Attorney General Kim also announced the release of Chapter 7 of the ADA Best Practices Tool Kit, which provides technical assistance for state and local government officials on steps they should take to achieve ADA compliance in their emergency management programs. Chapter 7 of the ADA Tool Kit includes a discussion of key ADA obligations that apply to all aspects of emergency management, including planning, preparedness, evacuation, shelters, medical and social services, lodging and housing programs, recovery, and rebuilding. It includes two survey tools – one to help identify facilities that are good candidates for accessible emergency shelters, and the other for use in surveying emergency shelters to determine if they are accessible to people with disabilities.
Chapter 7 also includes a technical assistance document that explains many of the key access issues encountered by people with different disabilities in emergency shelters and the obligations that shelter operators have under the ADA to provide access and avoid discrimination. Finally, Chapter 7 includes a checklist that state and local government officials can use to determine if they have established the appropriate policies and procedures and made the advance planning and preparations necessary to address the needs of people with different disabilities in emergencies and disasters, consistent with the requirements of the ADA.
People interested in finding out more about the ADA, today’s agreements, or the ADA Best Practices Tool Kit can access the ADA Home Page at http://www.ada.gov or call the toll-free ADA Information Line at (800) 514-0301 or (800) 514-0383 (TTY).