Furthering the Promise of Equal Access to Health Care

July 23, 2020

The ADA guarantees people with disabilities equal access to medical providers like doctor’s offices, pharmacies, and hospitals.  The department continues to vigorously enforce the ADA to eliminate physical and attitudinal barriers that keep people with disabilities from accessing the medical care they need.  And at this point in time, as the nation continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, the ADA’s fundamental principles of equality and fairness remain strong and vital guideposts.  As Eric S. Dreiband, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, recently stated,

We are dedicated to the equal dignity of individuals with disabilities and will take action against anyone who violates federal law in dispensing healthcare in response to COVID-19. The Americans with Disabilities Act . . . protects the right of individuals with disabilities to have access to healthcare on the same basis as nondisabled people.[i]

The Department of Justice understands that equal access to health care is vital to ensuring the wellbeing of people with disabilities.  Through the department’s Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative, U.S. Attorneys’ Offices across the country partner with the department’s Civil Rights Division to ensure that people with disabilities are able to access health care.

As part of the initiative, the department works to ensure that people with disabilities are not denied health care because of stigma or stereotypes about certain disabilities.  The department has obtained relief for numerous individuals who have encountered such blatant discrimination.  For instance, a recent agreement resolves the department’s investigation of allegations that DRX Urgent Care in Norwalk, Connecticut, refused to give the complainant’s child a standard school physical because of the child’s autism and related communication difficulties.  The resolution requires DRX Urgent Care to adopt and post a disability nondiscrimination policy; train staff on ADA requirements, including the prohibition on imposing unnecessary eligibility criteria; and pay compensatory damages to the complainant.

Through the initiative, the department also works to increase the physical accessibility in a wide range of health care settings — from individual doctor’s offices to large hospital systems, and from general primary care practices to specialists.  For example, in February, the department entered into a settlement agreement with Tufts Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts.  Among other things, the agreement will increase the availability of accessible patient rooms, accessible bathrooms, and accessible medical equipment.

Moreover, as part of the agreement, Tufts will also strengthen the hospital’s policies and procedures for ensuring that patients and family members or other companions who are deaf or have hearing loss can effectively communicate with hospital staff.  This provision will help ensure that individuals with disabilities receive auxiliary aids and services — from written notes to qualified sign language interpreters — when needed to communicate effectively.  Indeed, if auxiliary aids and services are not provided, people with disabilities may not be able to understand, or share critical information with, health care providers.  Accordingly, enforcing the ADA’s effective communication requirements has been a focal point of the Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative, resulting in over a dozen agreements with health care providers over the past three years. 

Thomas Graziani at a bowling alley, smiling, wearing a jacket and a beanie while in a wheelchair..

Image Courtesy of Thomas Graziani

Thomas Graziani

 

A complaint filed with the department by Thomas Graziani exemplifies the important role that accessible medical care can play in the daily lives of people with disabilities.  Mr. Graziani, who uses a wheelchair, needed a bone scan to check whether his medication was working.  He chose the Jefferson Outpatient center in downtown Philadelphia because it was near his home, and he would not need to use public transportation to get there.  Jefferson Outpatient offers walk-in appointments, but, according to Mr. Graziani, the center refused this service to him because he would need assistance transferring from his wheelchair to the scanning table.  To resolve this complaint, the department entered into an agreement with Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and Jefferson Outpatient to ensure that it provides individuals with mobility disabilities equal access to its services and facilities.  Jefferson Outpatient will have staff available at all times to safely provide transfer assistance to those who need it and will maintain a patient lift at each facility.  Jefferson Outpatient also paid monetary damages to Mr. Graziani.  Mr. Graziani says, “I filed my complaint so that individuals with mobility disabilities, like myself, would have equal access to radiology services and other health care.  After the DOJ’s investigation, I was able to go back to Jefferson Outpatient radiology to have my scan done without any issues.”

For more information on the Civil Rights Division, please visit www.justice.gov/crt.  For more information on the ADA, please call the department’s toll-free ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 (TDD 80

 

[i] Eric S. Dreiband, “How the Justice Department is Standing Up for Civil Rights Amid Coronavirus Pandemic,” Washington Examiner, April 9, 2020.  www.justice.gov/opa/blog/washington-examiner-op-ed-how-justice-department-standing-civil-rights-amid-coronavirus.

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Updated July 23, 2020