Equal and Effective Communication is Guaranteed by the ADA

CREEC and 17 other civil rights organizations file amicus brief supporting the right to effective communication The day after Christmas, 2013, Stanley Cropp was wrongfully arrested (based on his confused response to police) and taken to the Larimer County Jail. There it was determined he could be released on bond, but would have to sign the legal documents necessary to make that happen. Because he has Alzheimer’s, he did not understand the documents, so his wife, Catherine Cropp, asked to sit with him and explain them. Larimer County said no. Its policy was to require family members to meet with detainees in a “non-contact” booth, separated by a glass partition, and requiring the conversation to take place through a telephone. Mrs. Cropp explained that, based on her experience with Mr. Cropp’s condition, this would not permit him to understand what he needed to sign. The County was adamant: absolutely no accommodation would be made for Mr. Cropp’s disability. This occurred despite the fact that the County knew Mr. Cropp could not understand its complex legal paperwork without assistance, and despite the fact that the County regularly permitted attorneys to meet directly with detainees, no glass partition required. The Cropps challenged Larimer County’s refusal under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which requires public entities such as Larimer County to provide effective communication with disabled people and – crucially – to defer to the requests of such individuals concerning the mode of communication. The Cropps lost before the district court, and that decision was affirmed by the Tenth Circuit last month in a 2-1 decision. The majority incorrectly deferred to 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...

Investigation of Communication Problems in Tennessee Prisons

The Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC) and Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT) are currently investigating communication barriers for deaf inmates in Tennessee prisons. This includes prisons operated by the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) and by CoreCivic. If you are a deaf inmate in a Tennessee prison and are having communication problems OR know a deaf inmate in a Tennessee prison who is having communication problems, please contact DRT by phone at 1-800-342-1660 or by email at GetHelp@DisabilityRightsTN.org. Examples of communication problems include: No sign language interpreter for communications like: medical appointments classes classification STRONG-R Using other inmates as “interpreters” Grievance information only in written English No videophones Greater access to telephones than videophones No visual fire and emergency alarms No closed captions on TVs These are only examples. This is not a complete list of communication problems that may be occurring. While the current investigation is focused on Tennessee, if you are experiencing these issues in prisons outside of TN or know others who are, please contact CREEC by phone at 303.757.7901 or info@creeclaw.org. Please post the attached notice in a public space and please share this information with deaf inmates and their friends or family members. PDF Version of Public Notice   PDF Version of Public...

Accessibility Project Update: Rights of Disabled Inmates

CREEC is pleased to announce a new resource called Inmates with Disabilities: Know Your Rights.  This resource provides an overview of the rights of disabled inmates and gives examples of potential violations. Please share it with anyone who may benefit from it. We greatly appreciate the work of our summer intern, Jordan Staley, on this project and wish him all the best as he begins his third year at Denver Law. A more detailed discussion of the rights of disabled inmates follows below. Applicable Laws Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)[1] and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504)[2] protect people, including inmates of jails and prisons, from disability discrimination. This means jails and prisons[3] must not discriminate against inmates because of their disability and must give disabled inmates equal access to the programs, services, and benefits of the facility. So, for example, a jail cannot provide classes only in a building that is physically inaccessible to wheelchair users. Similarly, prisons cannot segregate blind inmates by automatically housing all of them in the medical unit.  Individuals with a relationship or association with a disabled person are also protected by these federal laws. So, jails and prisons also cannot discriminate against family members and friends of disabled inmates or disabled family members and friends of nondisabled inmates. Changes Needed Due to Disability Sometimes disabled inmates need the facility to make a change to allow them to fully participate in its programs, services, or benefits. The ADA and Section 504 require prisons and jails to make such changes (referred to as accommodations or modifications) as long as...

Deaf Inmate Access to Phone Calls

Connecting with family and friends outside prison can be difficult and expensive for all inmates.  However, once they’ve navigated the prison’s red tape and are able to make a call, hearing inmates can directly communicate with their contacts outside the prison. That is not the case for deaf inmates.  Many jails and prisons across the country offer only outdated and ineffective technology to people who are deaf.  Along with partners including the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), CREEC is working to make sure deaf inmates have effective communication in prisons across the country.  This includes access to effective phone calls, including videophones and CapTel (captioned phones). For deaf people whose primary language is American Sign Language (ASL) or another sign language, videophones are necessary for effective phone communication.  Videophones (VPs) allow deaf inmates to communicate in sign language with those outside prison, including friends, family, and attorneys.  When a deaf inmate uses VP to call a deaf person outside prison, there is direct communication in sign language.  When a deaf inmate uses VP to call a hearing person outside prison, the deaf inmate can communicate in sign language through a relay operator who is a sign language interpreter. Although deaf inmates need VP for effective communication, most prisons only provide teletypewriters (TTY), an outdated technology that requires the parties to type back and forth in English (generally the second language for most deaf people). As one expert explained, “consider the prisoner outrage that would result from a . . . policy . . . require[ing] all prisoners to communicate. . . only by using fax machines.  Communication via...