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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 story of Chris Rifendifer and accessible documents in Madison County, New York.
Chris Rifendifer is legally blind. He relies on Medicaid and food stamps to help him take care of himself and his family. But when he received forms from Madison County, New York, that needed to be completed and submitted to receive benefits, he could not read or complete the forms because they were not available in an accessible format. Chris knew that he needed help with this paperwork, so he went to the Madison County Department of Social Services; the county agency responsible for administering these vital programs.
Unfortunately, Chris did not get the assistance he had hoped for. When he asked for forms in large print, an accessible format for him, so that he could complete the forms, county staff said no. They told him that because the forms were from the State nothing could be done. Knowing that these benefits were essential to help feed his family, Chris swallowed his pride and asked county staff for help filling out the forms. His embarrassment was amplified when they told him, “we don’t fill out forms; you’ll have to find someone else to do it for you.”
Over the next three years, experiences like Rifendifer’s will become a thing of the past. Madison County and the Justice Department have reached an agreement under Project Civic Access (PCA), the department’s wide-ranging initiative to ensure that cities, towns and counties throughout the country comply with the ADA. One of the hallmarks of the agreement is the requirement that Madison County communicate effectively with people with disabilities, including providing documents in alternate accessible formats such as Braille, large print, recordings, and accessible electronic format.
Rifendifer has told the department that “Unfortunately, things like this had been going on for a long time. I am glad to see that the county will be changing how it responds to requests for assistance in the future.”
Under the agreement, Madison County, New York, is also required to comply with the ADA’s architectural accessibility requirements in remediating existing buildings, when it builds new buildings and when it alters its buildings. Additionally, it requires the county to publish and distribute ADA information, use the New York telephone relay service as a key means of communicating with individuals who are deaf, hard-of-hearing or have speech impairments, conduct ADA training and submit to monitoring of its compliance with the agreement by the department.
Over the past 15 years, nearly 220 communities have signed agreements with the Department of Justice to ensure that their citizens with disabilities enjoy the same services, programs and activities that all others enjoy. For information on how jurisdictions can participate in Project Civic Access visit www.ada.gov.