This year marks the 30th anniversary of President George H.W. Bush’s signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law. Throughout 2020, the Civil Rights Division is publishing a series of blog posts highlighting the impact that ADA enforcement efforts have had on people’s lives. We celebrate the many ways the ADA has transformed American society and enabled a generation of Americans with disabilities to thrive. At the same time, we recognize that many barriers to equal opportunity still exist. We recommit to our work of making the promise of the ADA a reality, enabling all Americans with disabilities to achieve their dreams and reach their full potential.
Furthering the Promise: The ADA Mediation Program
With the enactment of the ADA, Congress expressly encouraged the use of alternative dispute resolution to resolve issues of conflict in disability rights matters. The Justice Department’s voluntary ADA Mediation Program provides an efficient and effective alternative dispute resolution process for resolving complaints under the ADA. Since the inception of the program, more than 7,000 complaints have been referred to mediation in virtually every rural and urban area of the country. Approximately 78% of the cases in which mediation has been completed were successfully resolved.
The ADA Mediation Program has resulted in the elimination of architectural, communication, and attitudinal barriers for hundreds of people with all types of disabilities throughout the country, while allowing the department to achieve meaningful compliance with the law without the expense and delay that may be associated with formal investigation and litigation. After determining a complaint is appropriate for mediation, the department contacts both parties, offering the opportunity to resolve the complaint through mediation. Under a contract with the Key Bridge Foundation, the complaints are then referred for mediation locally, where the participants live, by experienced professional mediators participating in the program, all of whom have been trained in the ADA’s legal requirements. Mediators are supervised by the Key Bridge Foundation in consultation with the department to assure quality of service and compliance with the ADA.
One of the goals of mediation is the resolution of conflict while preserving or repairing the relationship between the participants. With the assistance of a mediator, the parties control the process and the outcome of the mediation. The mediation process enables participants to gain an understanding of varying perspectives and experiences and oftentimes alters perceptions and attitudes. The collaborative approach has produced significant results. For example, concerns about access for individuals with disabilities at one convenience store led to revised procedures and signage at thousands of store locations; concerns about effective communication at a healthcare provider led to training and the distribution of revised effective communication policies to 15,000 employees across the healthcare network; and concerns about lack of effective communication led to the installation of assistive listening devices at more than 100 theaters. Similarly, individuals with disabilities have teamed up with business owners in publicity campaigns to highlight policy changes and barrier removal to increase access for customers with disabilities at a major retailer.
Mediations are confidential. However, two recent participants in the ADA Mediation Program agreed to share their stories for this blog post.
Photo courtesy of Delories Guss
Ms. Delories Guss has faced barriers to participation when businesses failed to ensure their facilities are accessible to people who use wheelchairs. She filed an ADA complaint with the department after dining at a restaurant that was inaccessible: “Unfortunately, I had a terrible experience while dining in a restaurant chain. I went into the restroom and saw that there was no wheelchair accessible stall, which caused me a lot of stress and discomfort as I had to hop to move around while using the stall.”
Ms. Guss notified the restaurant of the issue and then, when no resolution was offered, she filed a complaint with the department, which referred it to the ADA Mediation Program. Ms. Guss found her participation in the Mediation Program to be “a great experience.” As a result of the mediation process, the restaurant owner created an accessible unisex restroom, installed a ramp leading into the restroom, and provided $1,000 in compensation to the complainant, along with a $250 gift certificate to the restaurant.
Photo courtesy of Scott Bartholomew
Mr. Scott Bartholomew has Multiple Sclerosis and uses a wheelchair and a scooter for mobility. For years, he worked informally with businesses in his community to raise awareness about the access needs of individuals with mobility disabilities. He filed several complaints with the department and agreed to have his concerns addressed through the ADA Mediation Program. All five of his complaints were resolved successfully through mediation.
On his ADA mediation experience, he says, “Mediators have shown compassion and interest for both parties. For me, the process was stress free as the mediators are extremely experienced in providing a comfortable, conflict-free environment. They are eager to help find a resolution that results in a beneficial solution for everyone involved.”
Mr. Bartholomew’s participation in the ADA mediation program facilitated the development of positive relationships between him and business owners in his community. In one case, he shared information with a restaurant owner about the availability of tax credits for renovation, and he has continued to support their business during the pandemic.
“With the help of the mediation process I have been able to educate business owners and the local village commissioners . . . People with disabilities are living more independently and participating more actively in their communities. They and their families want to patronize businesses that welcome customers with disabilities.”
Through the ADA Mediation Program, many others like Ms. Guss and Mr. Bartholomew have worked collaboratively with businesses and public entities to bring about equal access for people with disabilities all across the country. More information about the ADA Mediation Program can be found at www.ada.gov/mediate-pub.htm.
To learn more about the ADA’s history and impact, please visit the department’s ADA Anniversary webpage, which includes this and other blog posts honoring Faces of the ADA. To learn more about the department’s ADA work generally, see www.ada.gov or call the department’s toll-free ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 (TDD 800-514-0383).