Letter to Gov. Polis Urging Protection of Rights and Access to Care of People with Disabilities During COVID-19 Pandemic

CREEC and 19 other organizations sent this letter to Colorado Governor Jared Polis. You’ll find the complete list of participating organizations in the signature section of this letter. All footnotes and links to signatory organizations are at the end of the letter. March 25, 2020 Re: Survival of People with Disabilities during COVID-19 Pandemic Dear Governor Polis, We want to start this letter by thanking you for your extraordinary leadership during this crisis. Unlike our peers in other states, we are being included in policy decisions and working closely with members of your team (like Elisabeth Arenales) and your cabinet (Kim Bimestefer, Michelle Barnes, Jill Hunsaker-Ryan, and others). We appreciate being involved and allowed to help your administration make the best possible decisions in a horrible situation. People with disabilities and chronic health conditions are doubly vulnerable during the COVID-19 crisis: they are vulnerable to acquiring the virus and to suffering more severe effects, and they are vulnerable to healthcare discrimination that may deny them necessary care. As a result, Coloradans with disabilities and chronic health conditions are experiencing escalating fear and anxiety, on top of any physical effects of viral illness. We need your continued leadership to communicate and ensure that Colorado will protect the rights and access to care of disabled people of all ages. Colorado has a strong and united disability community that includes ADAPT, Centers for Independent Living, Arc Chapters, Disability Law Colorado, numerous organizations representing specific disability groups such as the Colorado Metal Wellness Network, the National Federation of the Blind Colorado chapter, and the Colorado Commission for the Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and...

TDOC Needs to Stop Denying Effective Communication

Today, CREEC and Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT) filed a Complaint seeking access to effective communication for deaf and hard of hearing individuals in Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) custody as required by law.   Kevin Trivette is deaf and his primary language is American Sign Language (ASL); like many people who are deaf, he understands English only as a second language. While in the custody of the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) Mr. Trivette was repeatedly denied crucial – and legally mandated – sign language communication for medical appointments, required classes, and religious services. TDOC also denied him a videophone, which he needed to communicate with his loved ones. Unfortunately, Mr. Trivette is not alone. TDOC routinely denies deaf and hard of hearing inmates qualified sign language interpreters and videophones. These unlawful and potentially harmful denials of effective communication to deaf and hard of hearing individuals who are incarcerated is a pattern of behavior at TDOC. Today, Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC) and Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT) filed a Complaint in the federal district court for the Middle District of Tennessee on behalf of Mr. Trivette and DRT. The suit is based on violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504). The ADA and Section 504 require that state prisons provide inmates in their custody with equal access to programs and services, including providing sign language interpreters and videophones when needed for effective communication, and equal access to phone privileges. “I want people to know deaf people have rights. We need access to communication for things like doctor’s appointments...

Disability Discrimination Complaint Filed Over COVID-19 Treatment Rationing Plan in Tennessee

CREEC and other disability rights advocacy organizations joined Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT) and The Arc Tennessee (The Arc TN) to file a Complaint with Tennessee’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) on Friday, March 27, 2020 about Tennessee’s Guidance for the Ethical Use of Scarce Resources during a Health Emergency. As COVID-19 cases increase, the experience in other countries and predictions of United States health officials is that there will not be enough acute care services or equipment, such as ventilators, to meet the demand of patients with the virus who require intensive treatment. Health care professionals in the U.S. are already developing protocols for responding to COVID-19, including treatment rationing that will determine who will and will not have access to life-saving treatment. The complaint voices grave concern that Tennessee’s guidelines for rationing discriminate against people with disabilities in violation of federal disability rights laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504) and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and place their lives at serious risk. This complaint about Tennessee’s guidelines along with similar complaints about guidelines in other states call upon the OCR to take immediate action to address this discrimination and assist states and health care providers to develop non-discriminatory approaches before there are lethal consequences to application of these illegal policies.   2020-03-27 TN OCR Complaint re Healthcare Rationing Guidelines with...

FAC Program Helps Secure Effective Communication for Mr. Sam

Following a stroke, 94-year old Mr. Sam from Mississippi needed some transition time in a rehabilitation center. Imagine his family’s frustration when application after application was rejected…because the rehab facilities were not willing to provide a sign language interpreter for Mr. Sam who is Deaf and uses American Sign Language (ASL). “It was unreal”, said Mr. Sam’s son, Craig Samuels, “we even had a verbal ‘yes’ from one facility only to have that’ yes’ turn into a ‘no’ when they learned that their offer of a whiteboard would not adequately serve my dad’s post-stroke communication needs. It was a nightmare.” And, as the Samuels family learned, their experience isn’t uncommon. Luckily the Samuels family has a network of support that helped them get on the right track and, ultimately, in touch with CREEC. When Mr. Sam went to the Emergency Room after his stroke, he was not initially provided with adequate interpretation. Mr. Sam’s stroke worsened his hearing condition, rendering his hearing aid completely ineffective even for short, simple communications. In addition, the left side of Mr. Sam’s body and his vision were impacted, making simple written whiteboard communication and video ASL interpretation also ineffective. As a result, Mr. Sam could not communicate at all with his health care providers nor they with him without in-person ASL interpretation. A good friend of the Samuels family who is also a Deaf advocate, assured them that Mr. Sam is guaranteed effective communication by law. With his support, they pushed and soon received excellent services for the rest of Mr. Sam’s stay at the hospital. When it was time to take the...

Increasing Accessibility City by City – Curb Ramps

Millions of Americans with mobility disabilities regularly use sidewalks to travel from home to work, school, the store, performance venues, sports stadiums, to visit family, or to access community gathering spaces. And yet, the corners of many city sidewalks across our country remain inaccessible, denying an entire group of people the right to move safely and freely from place to place. CREEC’s Accessibility Project has taken action to improve curb ramps in a number of cities across the U.S. and has plans to address even more missing or inaccessible curb ramps in the coming years, making sure that city curb ramp programs comply with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (RA) as well as any similar state and local laws.  In addition to ensuring that people with mobility disabilities can move freely about their communities, accessible curb ramps benefit others, including blind people, senior citizens, and people pushing strollers or pulling suitcases. Accessibility is a win-win for cities, for people with disabilities, and for people without disabilities.  Check out this video about installation activities in Portland, Oregon. Despite the ADA’s nearly 30-year history, curb ramp accessibility issues abound across the country.  Common barriers include sidewalk corners with missing ramps; non-noncompliant ramp slope, surfaces or widths; and failure by cities to appropriately plan for remediation and installation of curb ramps.  These barriers prevent people with disabilities from moving freely about cities where they live, work, or visit and can make navigating a city dangerous by, for example, leaving people with disabilities with no choice but to travel in the street. Once CREEC...

National Association of the Deaf Announces Landmark Settlement with Harvard to Improve Online Accessibility

Settlement Includes Requirements Beyond Harvard’s New Accessibility Policies, Including Captions for Live Events, Third-Party Platforms and Department-Sponsored Student Groups Harvard Agrees to Enter Consent Decree, Ensuring Court Enforcement of Settlement BOSTON—The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) announced today a landmark settlement with Harvard University that institutes a series of new guidelines to make the university’s website and online resources accessible for those who are deaf or hard of hearing. The settlement represents the most comprehensive set of online accessibility requirements in higher education and ensures for the first time that Harvard will provide high-quality captioning services for online content. The settlement expands upon Harvard’s new digital accessibility policy, which was announced in May. Harvard must provide captions for all online resources, including school-wide events that are live-streamed, content from department sponsored student organizations and any new university-created audio or video hosted by third-party platforms such as YouTube, Vimeo and SoundCloud. The terms of the settlement are included within a consent decree, which can be enforced by the court. The court must approve the consent decree before it may become effective. This settlement was reached four years after this litigation began in 2015, when it was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Massachusetts as a class action lawsuit. The lawsuit was prompted by the recognition that, notwithstanding the description of Harvard’s online resources as available to “learners throughout the world,” many of its videos and audio recordings lacked captions or used inaccurate captions. Harvard had no published policies in place to ensure these learning tools were accessible to people who are deaf and hard...