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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Justice Department Reaches Agreement with Madison County, New York, to Make Government Documents Accessible

The Department of Justice today announced an agreement with Madison County, New York, to remedy accessibility issues that violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  This year marks the 25th anniversary of the ADA, which the Civil Rights Division plays a critical role in enforcing. 

Madison County and the department 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.  Under the agreement, Madison County is required to, among other things, ensure its communications with people with disabilities are as effective as its communications with people without disabilities.  This includes making documents available in alternate accessible formats such as Braille, large print, recordings and accessible electronic format.  Under the agreement, Madison County is also required to reasonably modify its policies, practices and procedures to ensure equal access to its programs, services and activities.  County employees will also receive training on the requirements of the ADA and appropriate ways of serving people with disabilities. 

“No one should be in fear of going hungry and or being unable to take their child to the doctor because their disability prevented them from applying for benefits for which they may be eligible,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the Civil Rights Division.  “Many people with disabilities are low-income and are eligible for public benefits.  The ADA requires state and local governments to make their communications and services accessible to all people, including those with disabilities.”

The agreement with Madison County will provide people with disabilities with accessible documents they need to complete to receive benefits.  Chris Rifendifer, who is legally blind, is one of the people who will benefit from this agreement.  Rifendifer relies on Medicaid and food stamps to help take care of himself and his family.  However, the county provided him with forms he could neither read nor complete in order to receive his benefits.  When he asked county staff for help filling out the forms, Rifendifer was denied any assistance and told to ask someone else to do it for him.

Experiences like Rifendifer’s, however, will become a thing of the past over the next three years under the PCA agreement.  Rifendifer shared his story on the Justice Department blog today, where each month of 2015, the department is highlighting how PCA agreements have an impact on the everyday lives of people with disabilities.

In addition to addressing the issues faced by Rifendifer, the settlement agreement entered into by the department and Madison County requires the county to comply with the ADA’s architectural accessibility requirements by 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.    

For more information about the ADA, today’s agreement, the PCA initiative, individuals may access the ADA web page at http://www.ada.gov/civicac.htm or call the toll-free ADA Information Line at (800) 514-0301 or (800) 514-0383 (TTY).

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Updated August 26, 2015