Department of Justice Seal


TUESDAY, APRIL 14, 1998 (202) 616-2777

TDD (202) 514-1888



WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Two Washington, D.C. residents who are deaf and could not get through to the city's 9-1-1 emergency telephone service will receive $15,000 in damages under an agreement reached today with the Justice Department and a private civil rights group.

In the settlement filed today in U.S. District Court in D.C., the District, the Justice Department, and the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs agreed to resolve a suit which the Justice Department joined in March 1997. The suit alleged that the District did not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because it failed to provide adequate access to 9-1-1 services for people with disabilities.

Today's agreement follows an earlier order by the District Court ensuring that District residents who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have other disabilities will be able to reach 9-1-1 when using telecommunications devices for the deaf (TDDs).

"When a 9-1-1 call goes unanswered, it can mean the difference between life and death," said Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Bill Lann Lee.

A TDD is a device used in a similar manner as a telephone except that it allows individuals to type their conversations into a keyboard and read responses on a display. Each letter is transmitted by an electronic code over the telephone line. Both parties must have TDDs in order to communicate.

The Justice Department began looking into the District's 9-1-1 services in 1995, but halted it's investigation when the District agreed to correct problems in its system. In 1996, when the Justice Department received complaints from the two D.C. residents alleging that they were unable to access 9-1-1, the Justice Department reopened its investigation.

The investigation revealed that calls by Deborah Miller and Sean Owens, who were using TDDs, were not answered when they called 9-1-1 in June and August 1996 for police and emergency services.

In June 1996, Miller attempted to use her TDD to report an assault and robbery. She made repeated TDD calls for 25 minutes with no response, even though her TDD registered that the calls had been received by the District.

In August 1996, Owens, who no longer lives in the District, attempted to contact the 9-1-1 center to get emergency medical services for another deaf person who was unconscious. But he failed to get a reply.

Justice Department testing confirmed that the District was unable to answer TDD calls for many months because of equipment problems.

In December 1996, the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs sued the District on behalf of the two complainants. The Justice Department formally joined the suit in March 1997.

Under the agreement signed today, the District agreed to pay Miller and Owens each $15,000 in compensatory damages, as well as to pay their attorney's fees. Today's agreement does not modify an earlier court order, issued November 5, 1997, which addressed the merits of this suit. That order held that the District violated the ADA and ordered the District to provide proper access to its 9-1-1 services for persons with disabilities.

Under the 1997 court order, the District is required to:

ensure that all equipment is fully functioning so that each call-taking position has TDD capability;

establish procedures for effective processing of TDD calls and provide training for emergency call takers to handle TDD calls, including considering "silent" calls as possible calls from TDD users and sending out a TDD response;

monitor the performance of its 9-1-1 system and report the testing results to the Justice Department and the court;

procure services from an independent contractor to place supplemental test calls to the District's 9-1-1 system; and,

develop and implement a public education program to promote the use of 9-1-1 by individuals who use TDDs.

The ADA prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities and requires local governments to ensure that their telephone emergency services, including 9-1-1 services, provide direct access to individuals who use TDDs. "These agreements will ensure that calls to 9-1-1 from people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or who have speech impairments will not go unanswered," added Mr. Lee.

The agreement will not be final until it is approved by U.S. District Court Judge Stanley Sporkin.

The Department's 9-1-1 enforcement efforts have led to a variety of similar settlements in cities across the country, including, Pittsburgh; Indianapolis; Cleveland; Buffalo, New York; Charleston, South Carolina; Richmond, Virginia; Ft. Wayne, Indiana; Bartlesville, Oklahoma; Arlington Heights, Illinois; and, the State of California.

The Department has established an ADA Home Page and hotline that provide information about the ADA and the Department's ADA responsibilities. The Home Page is located on the World Wide Web at and the hotline can be accessed by calling (800) 514-0301 (voice) and (800) 514-0383 (TDD).

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