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Celebrating Access Today: 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act

August 26, 2015

Courtesy of Deputy Assistant Attorney General Eve Hill of the Civil Rights Division

Joe Cordova

Twenty-five years ago, our nation committed itself to eliminating discrimination against people with disabilities--through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division is proud to play a critical role in enforcing the ADA, working towards a future in which all the doors are open to equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, integration and economic self-sufficiency for people with disabilities.  In honor of the 25th anniversary of the ADA, each month the Department of Justice will spotlight efforts that are opening gateways to full participation and opportunity for people with disabilities.

This month, we spotlight the positive impact of the Department of Justice’s landmark ADA settlement agreement with Wells Fargo & Company.  The May 2011 settlement agreement, brought under title III of the ADA, ensures that persons with disabilities are not denied financial services or otherwise discriminated against by Wells Fargo.  Wells Fargo owns or operates almost 10,000 retail stores and 12,000 ATMs located throughout the United States.  Wells Fargo offers a wide variety of financial services, including personal and commercial banking, mortgages, brokerage, insurance, and investments.  The department initiated its investigation after receiving complaints filed by numerous individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing or have speech disabilities.  Prior to the May 2011 settlement agreement, Wells Fargo refused to accept Video Relay Service calls and directed deaf and hard of hearing customers to call the Wells Fargo TDD/TTY number which Wells Fargo did not answer.  The department also received a variety of other complaints alleging ADA violations by Wells Fargo, including the failure to provide financial documents to people who are blind or have low vision in alternate formats (e.g., Braille or large print), the failure to provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services upon request for in-person meetings between Wells Fargo staff and individuals who are deaf, and the failure to remove barriers to access for individuals with mobility disabilities.  The settlement agreement, which expires on July 31, 2016, provides for resolution of all complaints alleging violations of the ADA in connection with Wells Fargo's financial services and retail facilities.

For the past ten years, Joe Cordova has not been able to fully access Wells Fargo’s website because he is blind.  Mr. Cordova, who lives in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, has a mortgage with Wells Fargo and could not make online mortgage payments because the payment link on Wells Fargo’s website was not accessible.  Mr. Cordova requested assistance from Wells Fargo, but each month they directed him to submit his payment by telephone which required a $25.00 service fee.  Among other reasons, Mr. Cordova wanted to make his mortgage payments online to avoid the $25.00 service fee.  Under the settlement agreement, Wells Fargo made its www.wellsfargo.com website accessible to customers with disabilities so that customers who are blind or have low vision can make payments and conduct other bank business online.  The May 2011 settlement agreement also requires that Wells Fargo provide customers, potential customers and their companions who are blind or have low vision with appropriate auxiliary aids and services, and to provide documents in alternate formats, where necessary to ensure effective communication.

Mr. Cordova is just one of the many Wells Fargo customers who have gained greater access to Wells Fargo’s financial services through the Department’s May 2011 settlement agreement.  For more information about the ADA, visit www.ada.gov.  Those interested in finding out more about the ADA may also call the Justice Department’s toll-free ADA information line at 800-514-0301 or 800-514-0383 (TDD), or access its ADA website at www.ada.gov.  ADA complaints may be filed by email to ada.complaint@usdoj.gov.

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Updated March 3, 2017