CREECblog

Disability rights advocates sue Trump Administration for “Migrant Protection Protocols”

text overlay on border wall background says, "BREAKING: We've filed the first class-action lawsuit challenging "Remain in Mexico" on the basis of disability discrimination." Co-counsel logos are also overlayed on image.Class action lawsuit seeks relief for asylum seekers with disabilities living in Mexico.

SAN DIEGO, Cal. – Today, asylum seekers with disabilities who are forced to wait for immigration proceedings in Mexico filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration for its “Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) policy. It is the first class-action suit challenging MPP’s discriminatory practices on the grounds that they discriminate on the basis of disability. If it succeeds, not only would it hold the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) accountable, hundreds of class members with disabilities would likely be allowed to wait in safer conditions stateside with their sponsors.

Under the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) own stated procedures at the time of filing, asylum seekers with “known physical or mental health issues” cannot be sent to Mexico. (This policy has since been updated.) The lawsuit argues that the Trump administration’s practices infringe on federal disability protections, including Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.  They may also violate the Administrative Procedures Act, trapping hundreds of asylum seekers with disabilities and their families in Mexico at enormous risk to their health and safety.

“The ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy is inherently unfit and violent for any asylum seeker, but it is particularly dangerous, and unlawful, for those living with disabilities,” said Erin Thorn Vela, senior attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project. “Our lawsuit is demanding that the Trump administration comply with its own stated policy. But let’s be clear, this policy has created a humanitarian catastrophe for tens of thousands of people who have the legal right to seek asylum but have been effectively barred from that right by the actions of this administration.”

The Trump administration began MPP, also known as “Remain in Mexico,” in Tijuana in January of 2019. By May of 2019 it had rolled out border wide. “Remain in Mexico” has upended decades of internationally-accepted asylum seeker practice. It has forcibly removed approximately 68,000 asylum seekers from the United States, including people with disabilities and young children, to await immigration proceedings in squalid conditions and refugee encampments.

“After countless hours imploring Customs and Border Protection to protect our clients with disabilities or severe and emergent medical needs by processing their asylum hearings safely in the United States, it was clear we needed to take additional action.” said Charlene D’Cruz, Director of Project Corazon Border Rights Program at Lawyers for Good Government Foundation. “We’re honored to partner with this esteemed group of immigration advocates and attorneys to bring this lawsuit, enforcing critical protections for those with disabilities and their legal right to seek asylum.”

“The Trump administration’s policy forcing asylum seekers to wait in Mexico, including those with disabilities, flies in the face of our government’s obligations to people with disabilities. Such cruelty towards people seeking safety at our border is not only immoral, it’s illegal. We’ve sued to make it stop,” said Elizabeth Jordan, Immigration Detention Accountability Project Director at CREEC.

“Forcing asylum seekers to wait in Mexico is a stain on our country, and denies vulnerable immigrants their international and federal right to ask for protection. This administration knows that this inhumane policy hurts everyone subjected to it, but certain groups even more, such as people suffering disabilities or serious health problems. We are suing to take our country back to acting on its best principles, and not its worst impulses as it is now,” said Diego J. Aranda Teixeira, Supervising Attorney for Litigation at Al Otro Lado.

“This policy is not only unconstitutional, it targets the most vulnerable people seeking refuge in our country,” said Rob Shwarts, Partner, at Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP. “We’re proud to lend pro bono support from the legal community to protect those with disabilities hoping to come to the United States through the asylum process.”

The suit was filed by the Texas Civil Rights Project, Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC), and Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, with support from Lawyers for Good Government Foundation and on behalf of individual plaintiffs and organizational plaintiff Al Otro Lado. You can read the complaint here.

Among several plaintiffs in this class action, included are:

  • S.M.A. is a 7-year-old girl who lives with Lissencephaly more commonly known as smooth brain disorder, which is characterized by global development delays and seizures. She is incontinent and suffers from seizures.
  • D.G.M is a 51-year-old man with a growth in his heart that causes severe cardiovascular issues. While in CBP custody, his blood pressure spiked dangerously high and he was rushed to the hospital and subsequently returned to Mexico. D.G.M’s condition has worsened greatly being in Matamoros where he has been refused medical treatment.
  • C.J.V.C. is a 14-year-old boy who had his leg amputated as a result of a car accident prior to coming to the United States. He has limited mobility living in a shelter with his mother in Mexico.

 

####

Al Otro Lado (AOL) is a bi-national organization providing direct legal aid and representation to deportees, asylum seekers, detained migrants and separated families. AOL also employs impact litigation and policy advocacy to promote lasting and systemic changes that protect immigrants’ rights. Learn more at ​alotrolado.org​ and follow us on social media for updates: Al Otro Lado​ on Facebook, and @alotrolado_org on T​witter​ and ​Instagram​.

Lawyers for Good Government Foundation (L4GG) coordinates large scale pro bono programs and issue advocacy efforts to protect human rights and ensure equal justice under the law, and has a network of 125,000+ lawyers to assist in its efforts. L4GG runs Project Corazon, an immigrants rights initiative in Matamoros, Mexico providing legal assistance to asylum seekers who are forced to remain in refugee camps due to the administration’s MPP policy.

Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP has 27 offices worldwide, and focuses on serving the Technology, Energy & Infrastructure and Finance sectors globally.  Clients worldwide call on Orrick’s teams for forward-looking commercial advice on transactions, litigation and compliance matters. The firm has been recognized as one of the leaders in pro bono in the legal industry.

The Texas Civil Rights Project is boldly serving the movement for equality and justice in and out of the courts. We use our tools of litigation and legal advocacy to protect and advance the civil rights of everyone in Texas, and we partner with communities across the state to serve the rising movement for social justice. We undertake our work with a vision of a Texas in which all communities can thrive with dignity, justice and without fear.

 

CREEC Receives $20,000 Grant from the Denver Foundation

Grant will provide general operating support for CREEC’s efforts to address inequity in medical care for those in the Denver Metro Region and beyond.

The Denver Foundation’s Community Grants Program has awarded a $20,000 Basic Human Needs grant to CREEC. These funds provide general operating support to CREEC’s work addressing lack of access to basic medical care, including for those in immigration detention at the Aurora facility, and advocating for effective communication for Deaf people in medical settings.

The Denver Foundation LogoSince 2013, CREEC’s large-scale class action anti-discrimination lawsuits and individual cases, as well as education and outreach efforts, work to ensure that everyone can fully and independently participate in our nation’s civic life without discrimination based on race, gender, disability, religion, national origin, age, sexual orientation or gender identity. While some of CREEC’s cases are national or fall outside of the Denver Metro Area, CREEC’s focus on impact litigation and its successful results set broader legal precedent which will have positive implications for the local community. Similarly, some of CREEC’s national advocacy and education work positively impacts system-level policy, the ripple effect of which will be felt by those in our Denver Metro community.

Through its Immigration Detention Accountability Project (IDAP) and Accessibility Project (AP), CREEC often works at the intersection of disability rights, immigrant rights, and prisoner rights. CREEC’s work, such as challenging unconstitutional conditions of confinement for those in immigration detention, including in the areas of medical and mental health care; fighting for the protection and release of medically vulnerable immigrants due to COVID-19; and pursuing effective communication for incarcerated populations and Deaf people in medical settings; brings broad relief to those who face barriers to basic services and medical care, and seeks to increase health equity and access for those with disabilities on a systemic level.

Amy Robertson, Co-Executive Director, says, “this grant will help fortify CREEC’s work by providing essential general operating support. We are grateful to the Denver Foundation for seeing the value in CREEC’s work on behalf of behalf of immigrant, Deaf, and other local communities, and for investing in our organization.”

The Denver Foundation is a community foundation dedicated to improving life for people in the Metro Denver Region by inspiring people and mobilizing resources to strengthen the community. Through its Community Grants, it seeks to reduce racial and ethnic disparities, as well as economic disparities, and to support organizations that share its core values of racial equity and community leadership.

The Basic Human Needs grant focuses on serving those experiencing hunger, homelessness, domestic violence, and lack of access to basic medical care, in part through addressing barriers to accessing basic services, and supporting advocacy and policy reform on these issues.

This is the second grant awarded by The Denver Foundation to CREEC. In April 2020, the Foundation awarded CREEC a grant through its Lowe Fund, which provided general operating support to CREEC’s work in responding to the effects of the COVID-19 crisis on those in immigration detention at the Aurora detention facility.

Welcome Kyle!

CREEC is excited to welcome our new paralegal Kyle Neumann! Kyle recently received his Paralegal Certificate and Master of Arts in Legal Studies from Texas State University in San Marcos. Kyle’s passion for promoting equality and challenging the everyday struggles experienced by Deaf and DeafBlind people has led him to pursue a career change from information technology to law and advocacy. Kyle is thrilled to work with CREEC to support the Deaf and DeafBlind communities.

Man holding dog in front of sunflowerKyle is a New England native and he was born Deaf. He is fluent in American Sign Language and has years of experience as a foster father and advocate for Deaf children in Vermont and Texas. After adopting his Deaf son, he and his son moved to Austin, Texas seeking a more robust Deaf community. While studying at Texas State University, Kyle held an internship with the City of Austin Law Department as a paralegal. There, Kyle was able to integrate his skills in technology and legal writing to prepare and draft legal documents, gather substantive evidence, and write clear and concise reports. Kyle is excited to work at CREEC where he can apply his legal training and longstanding information technology skills.

Kyle is joining the Accessibility Project team, providing support on cases involving Deaf prisoners, curb cuts, and access to effective communication for the Deaf community through CREEC’s Fast Advocacy for Communication (“FAC”) program as well as other efforts to advocate for the Deaf community. Kyle states, “CREEC’s mission of educating and advocating for the needs of underserved communities is in line with my passion of advocating for the Deaf and DeafBlind communities.”

In Kyle’s free time, he enjoys hiking, biking, and road trips.  He averages 30,000 miles a year on the road! Kyle looks forward to the adventures that Colorado holds. He adds to our CREEC puppy family with his 12-year-old dog, Xander Bander.

Civil Rights Advocates Honored for Health Equity Work

CREEC recognized as a Health Equity Champion by Center for Health ProgressCenter for Health Progress logo

On November 10, 2020, Center for Health Progress recognized groups and individuals whose contributions have either reduced inequities in health outcomes and health care or whose work has changed the systems and policies that keep some Coloradans from achieving their best health. This year Center for Health Progress selected Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC) as one of two 2020 Health Equity Champion Award winners.

Since 1997, Center for Health Progress has held an annual event to bring together Colorado’s health leaders and honor those making important contributions to their community through Health Equity Champion awards.

This year’s event included awards two Health Equity Champion Award winners:

  • Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC) Law
  • Department of Student Engagement Initiatives at Adams 12 Five Star Schools

“Colorado has so many talented, committed leaders doing incredible work across the state, and getting to recognize and thank a few of them is one of my favorite parts of the year,” said Joe Sammen, executive director of Center for Health Progress. “This year’s winners have improved the health and lives of tens of thousands of Coloradans—from changing harmful laws to providing direct support to children and families—and we’re so grateful for all they do.”

At this year’s luncheon, Center for Health Project premiered their documentary, The Essentials. Center for Health Project writes that The Essentials “lifts up the voices of our friends and neighbors from around the world who are facing great barriers to survival, but who fight on nonetheless. Their stories expose the true cost of a global pandemic shouldered by immigrant communities, while also revealing the immense resilience and resistance that will power the coming revolution.”

Elizabeth Jordan, Director of CREEC’s Immigration Detention Accountability Project accepted the award on CREEC’s behalf. “Health equity – the idea that everyone has the right to be as healthy as possible– is at its core a civil rights issue, especially when we fight for the rights of people who are marginalized and locked away from society at large to be healthy,” said Elizabeth. “It is a tremendous honor for us to be recognized for our fight for immigrants locked up by ICE by our friends at CHP.”

# # #

About Center for Health Progress

At Center for Health Progress, we believe health care is a right. So, we fight for laws and policies that make it possible for everyone to care for themselves and their families. We’re committed to championing health equity policies and practices, especially for those who have historically faced health inequities based on race/ethnicity, age, ability, sexual orientation, gender identity, poverty, geography, citizenship status, or religion.

Announcing CREEC’s First Director of Operations

Image: Woman in glasses and green top smilingWe are excited to announce the appointment of Ana Diaz as CREEC’s first ever Director of Operations! In this new role, Ana will oversee and coordinate the administrative, financial, and human resources aspects of CREEC. We see the addition of this essential role as a natural progression for CREEC as our organization continues to grow and evolve and, based on her experience, Ana is the ideal person to initiate and craft this position.

Ana has been with CREEC since 2018, starting as Paralegal and then moving to Office Manager/Lead Paralegal in early 2020. During that time she has handled a number of administrative tasks including: playing a key role in the financial well-being of CREEC; managing personnel issues and drafting HR tools; wrangling various day-to-day administrative tasks; attending to state and federal compliance and tax issues, and more.  In her new role, Ana will also have full responsibility for firm-wide Zoom lunches, happy hours, and the annual Weird Shirt (summer) and Ugly Holiday Sweater (winter) competitions.

Prior to joining CREEC, Ana’s background included experience in management, administrative support, teaching, and consulting. Her experiences working and volunteering in nonprofit settings have given her a love for their mission-driven, collaborative environments along with an appreciation of the unique challenges facing nonprofits. Ana graduated with honors with a Bachelor of Science in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University, a field of study that expanded her skills of systems-level analysis, strategic thinking, and designing environments for collaboration and community. Outside of work, Ana enjoys hiking, getting involved in her community, and lovingly curating a growing home library.

Ana states about her new role: “I am honored to take on this position in an organization I have come to love and admire. CREEC’s work is crucial in challenging discrimination in disability access, immigration, and carceral systems, and I am excited to support that work and CREEC’s powerhouse team.”

Co-Executive Directors Tim Fox and Amy Robertson are thrilled to have Ana in this new role.  “Ana has taken on increasing responsibility since she joined CREEC.  She is the perfect person to inaugurate the position of Operations Director,” said Tim.

Court Holds Case Challenging TDOC’S Failure to Accommodate Deaf Prisoners Can Proceed

 

In an important decision for the enforcement of disability rights in Tennessee, the Middle District of Tennessee held that Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT), the state’s Protection & Advocacy (P&A) organization, has standing to file a lawsuit to protect the civil rights of individuals with disabilities. On November 12, 2020, Federal District Court Judge Aleta A. Trauger issued an opinion in the case of Trivette & Disability Rights Tennessee v. TDOC, recognizing DRT’s plaintiff status and affirming DRT’s ability to bring claims on behalf of its constituents in order to vindicate their rights. DRT, as Tennessee’s P&A, has been mandated by Congress to protect and advocate for the rights of people with disabilities.

low concrete prison building in TN behind a chainlink fence

Photo credit: TN.gov

DRT and Ernest Kevin Trivette filed a lawsuit in the Middle District of Tennessee on March 30, 2020 based on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The suit alleges that the Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC) is failing to provide D/deaf inmates with effective communication, including sign language interpreters and videophones, so that they can have equal access to TDOC’s programs and services. For example, Mr. Trivette was unable to get his GED because TDOC did not provide him with a sign language interpreter who would interpret the course, which was taught in English, into his primary language of American Sign Language (ASL). TDOC filed a Motion to Dismiss, claiming, in part, that DRT lacked standing to bring suit on behalf of D/deaf inmates in TDOC custody. DRT has long advocated for TDOC to provide effective communication to D/deaf and hard of hearing inmates as required by law.

In a decisive opinion, Judge Trauger rejected TDOC’s Motion to Dismiss and held that DRT can bring suit on behalf of D/deaf inmates in TDOC custody. Judge Trauger stated in her opinion:

Both DRT’s allegations and the statutory P&A structure support the conclusion that DRT is an organization that represents and is accountable to the state’s disabled population in a manner akin to membership . . . Advocating for greater support for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals in TDOC facilities is plainly consistent with DRT’s mission, and, because DRT is challenging broad, policy-level failures by TDOC regarding its lack of language supports, DRT can pursue these claims without the direct participation of each individual affected.

“We welcome the Court’s decision which allows DRT to pursue claims on behalf of its other associational members and Mr. Trivette. It is the Protection & Advocacy system’s job to uphold these rights and this decision will further our work,” says Jack Derryberry, DRT’s Legal Director.

Judge Trauger also rejected TDOC’s Motion to Dismiss filed against Mr. Trivette, holding that his damages claim is not barred by the statute of limitations, and granted the Plaintiffs’ Motion to Amend the Complaint to add in two Deaf inmates currently in TDOC custody who are experiencing the same barriers to communication as Mr. Trivette did.

“We are pleased with this ruling and hope this case ultimately results in systemic changes to ensure effective communication for all D/deaf inmates in TDOC custody. It is critical that D/deaf inmates have communication access equal to that of hearing inmates,” said Martie Lafferty, Director of the Accessibility Project at Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center.

###

Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT), formerly Disability Law & Advocacy Center of Tennessee, is the designated protection & advocacy agency for Tennessee. DRT provides free legal advocacy services to protect the rights of Tennesseans with disabilities. For 40 years, DRT has served over 50,000 people through direct services, education, and systemic advocacy.  https://www.disabilityrightstn.org/

 

CREEC is hiring an Admin Paralegal

Full-Time Paralegal

The Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC) is hiring a full-time paralegal to support our team of attorneys and provide administrative support to our Director of Operations. This position is ideal for a recent college graduate who is thinking about going to law school, and who would like to gain experience in the nonprofit and legal world. Although this role is based in our Denver office, you will be working remotely during the pandemic. Paralegal or administrative experience is not required, but we do request a commitment of at least two years.

Ideal Traits of a Paralegal Candidate

  • Do you want a job where you are encouraged to take ownership of projects and find creative solutions, and where you receive frank but productive and encouraging feedback?
  • Are you the most detail-oriented person you know?
  • Do you have strong writing, communication, and organizational skills?
  • Can you find humor in even the busiest days and most aggravating situations?
  • Can you multitask? And by multitask, we mean Multi. Task. Do lots of different things at the same time. Juggle chainsaws. You know, the usual.
  • Do you want to learn a lot about litigation and civil rights law?
  • Do you enjoy administrative tasks and keeping things running smoothly behind the scenes?

If so, you just might be the paralegal CREEC is looking for.

About CREEC

CREEC is a nonprofit membership organization whose goal is ensuring that everyone can fully and independently participate in our nation’s civic life without discrimination based on race, gender, disability, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Our work includes education, outreach, and investigating and filing class action lawsuits nationwide. We represent individuals on a range of civil rights issues, but focus on the rights of people with disabilities and on the rights of people detained in immigration detention centers and prisons. Our educational projects range from one-time webinars and continuing legal education courses to providing technical assistance in the areas of disability rights and immigration detention conditions to other lawyers, advocates, and interested parties. We have attorneys in Denver, Berkeley, Los Angeles, and Nashville. For more information on our work, visit www.creeclaw.org.

The work at CREEC can be intense. For this reason—and because we’re all pretty cool people—we strive for a friendly, congenial workplace, which we try to foster through weekly office lunches, taking the staff out for drinks, and, during the pandemic, Zoom happy hours. We work hard, but try not to take ourselves too seriously. In pre-pandemic times—when we worked in the same physical space—we were joined by several office dogs.

What We Are Looking For

  • Superior organizational, communication, and writing skills. CREEC has a heavy case load of complex litigation and educational projects. We need someone who can internalize the details of these projects and help us keep track of them, calendar constantly shifting litigation deadlines, manage case documents and files, and generally run all but the purely legal aspects of each case. In addition, we ask our paralegal to draft basic pleadings and correspondence, interview potential clients and witnesses, and assist with investigations, so strong communication and writing skills are a must.
  • Strong computer skills. Our paralegal will do web-based research and use Microsoft programs (Word, Excel, Access, Outlook, and PowerPoint), as well as specialized litigation software. Although we prefer that you have experience with these programs, we will consider all otherwise qualified candidates and will provide on-the-job training as needed.
  • Ability to work well with other people . . . and alone. You need to be comfortable and professional interacting with potential and current clients, court personnel, cooperating and opposing counsel, and the wide variety of people who call and visit our nonprofit. You also should be comfortable and efficient working with little supervision.
  • Interest in the daily administrative aspects of running a nonprofit. This could include processing payroll, assisting with financial reconciliations, preparing invoices, and more. You should have a high tolerance for sometimes tedious projects, enjoy solving puzzles and thinking analytically, prioritize accuracy and integrity, and be highly organized.
  • Willingness to do a bit of everything. We are a small nonprofit, so you have to be comfortable doing less glamorous things, like filing, data entry, making travel arrangements, or running out to pick up lunch. You will need a driver’s license and willingness to travel.

Salary and Benefits

We offer a salary of $40,000, along with health insurance, a retirement plan with employer matching, and three weeks of paid leave.

Qualifications

Bachelor’s degree.
Two-year commitment.
Proficiency in a second language is a plus.
Prior experience in paralegal and administrative work not required.
Experience with Microsoft programs (Word, Excel, Access, Outlook, and PowerPoint) preferred.

How to Apply

Email a cover letter, resume, writing sample, and college transcript to resumes@creeclaw.org. Please write “Admin Paralegal (YOUR LAST NAME)” in the subject line. If you are a person with a disability and need accommodations in the application process, please let us know in your cover letter. We really need to hear why you are right for this job and why it is right for you. Applying by clicking a link on a job posting site does not really convey that message.

CREEC is an equal opportunity employer that values a diverse workforce and promotes an inclusive culture. CREEC encourages applications from all qualified individuals without regard to race, color, religion, gender, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, pregnancy, age, national origin, marital status, citizenship, disability, and veteran status.

D/deaf Coloradans: please take our health care communication survey!

CREEC is investigating D/deaf Coloradans’ communications access to health care.  We are starting with a survey to collect information about interpreters and other accommodations at medical facilities. Two icons: the ASL sign for "interpreter" and the caduceus, the symbol for the medical profession.

Take our survey for a chance to win a $50 Target gift card!

Your responses will later help CREEC advocate for more accessible health care systems in Colorado!

 

 

Please take our survey if you are:

  • A D/deaf patient who needs an interpreter for medical communications;
  • A D/deaf person who is a companion (spouse/parent/adult child) of a hearing patient; or
  • A hearing parent of a D/deaf child who needs an interpreter for medical communications.

Survey in ASL and English:

https://forms.gle/dxV4jxoZ1bDRC3Zx6

Survey in ASL and Spanish:

https://forms.gle/9CSEjzvhvzk7XYh9A

If you take our survey, you will be entered in a drawing for a $50 Target gift card.  Based on your responses to this survey, we may contact you for follow-up questions on VP. Everyone contacted for follow-up will receive a $20 gift card.

 

Martie Lafferty Writes for the Civil Rights Insider

banner logo for the Civil Rights Insider with the name of the publication written across clouds and the top portion of the American flag

Martie Lafferty, Director of CREEC’s Accessibility Project, was invited by the “Civil Rights Insider” to write an article about CREEC’s Fast Advocacy for Communication (FAC) program. The “Civil Rights Insider” is a publication of the Federal Bar Association’s civil rights law section. You can read Martie’s full article below or on page 8 of this PDF of the Fall 2020 edition of the Civil Rights Insider.

CREEC’s Fast Advocacy for Communication Program

By Martie Lafferty Director, Accessibility Project, Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC)

The Fast Advocacy for Communication (FAC) program addresses communication barriers impacting people with disabilities.  The Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC) https://creeclaw.org/ provides FAC at no cost to clients.

CREEC is a nonprofit membership organization whose goal is to ensure that everyone can fully and independently participate in our nation’s civic life without discrimination based on race, gender, disability, religion, national origin, age, sexual orientation, or gender identity. CREEC’s Accessibility Project fights with urgency to make real the promises of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and similar disability rights laws. Our FAC program is a crucial part of our strategy to address disability discrimination and ensure equal access.

The ADA requires businesses and government entities to provide effective communication to people with disabilities.[1] This means that businesses and government offices are required to ensure that their communications with people with disabilities are “as effective as communications with others.”[2] In order to ensure effective communication, it is often necessary to provide sign language interpreters and other auxiliary aids and services.[3] Interpreters and other aid/services must be provided free of charge to people with disabilities.[4]

CREEC’s FAC program allows us to respond quickly and proactively when businesses or government offices refuse to provide Deaf, Deaf-Blind, Deaf-Disabled, or Hard of Hearing (DDBDDHH) people with sign language interpreters or other auxiliary aids and services necessary for effective communication. The highest demand for FAC is in regard to communication barriers in medical settings. However, we also use this approach to resolve denials of effective communication in other settings such as entertainment venues, adult educational settings, government programs, and attorneys’ offices.

The FAC process begins when a DDBDDHH person contacts us about the refusal of a business or government entity to provide effective communication for a future interaction such as an upcoming appointment or meeting. We are often able to complete intake the same day and, if FAC seems appropriate for the situation, to enter a retainer limited to FAC services. We then quickly send an educational letter to the business or government office explaining the ADA’s effective communication requirement and our client’s need for an auxiliary aid/service to ensure effective communication. The letter also provides links to resources for the requested aids/services. In most instances, the letter results in the entity agreeing to provide a sign language interpreter or other needed communication aid/service. When needed, we follow up with the provider to further discuss the situation. Over 80% of our FAC cases result in successful outcomes. For those that do not, we may offer additional services to our client including litigation when appropriate.

CREEC’s FAC program has resulted in successful outcomes including the following: 1. a rehabilitation center provided sign language interpreters for a 94-year-old Deaf man during his recovery from a stroke, 2. a birthing center provided sign language interpreters for a Deaf couple so that they could fully participate in the birth of their child, 3. a concert venue provided sign language interpreters so that a Deaf fan could enjoy one of her favorite performers, and 4. a county detention center provided sign language interpreters to a Deaf inmate for classes and installed a videophone so that he could equally participate in its phone program.

Currently most of our FAC work occurs in Colorado and Tennessee but we are working to expand this program nationwide. Please contact me at mlafferty@creeclaw.org if you are interested in more information about becoming a cooperating attorney for FAC in your state. Please also consider referring DDBDDHH people to CREEC for possible FAC or other assistance with barriers to effective communication. A downloadable FAC flyer is available online at https://creeclaw.org/fac/ Potential clients can contact us at intakes@creeclaw.org or (VP) 518-249-6088.

 

[1] Title II of the ADA covers state and local government entities. 42 U.S.C. § 12131.  Federal government entities and government entities that receive federal financial assistance are covered by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (RA).  29 U.S.C. § 794. Because the requirements of ADA Title II and the RA are largely identical, we only discuss the ADA herein. Title III of the ADA covers places of public accommodation. 42 U.S.C. § 12181.

[2] 28 C.F.R. § 35.160(a)(1); see also 28 C.F.R. § 36.303(a), (c).

[3] 28 C.F.R. § 35.160(b)(1); 28 C.F.R. § 36.303(b).

[4] 28 C.F.R. § 35.130(f); 28 C.F.R. § 36.301(c).

 

 

Lawsuit: Law enforcement fails to provide Oregonians with disabilities equal access to Portland demonstrations

burgandy to purple shaded background with #EqualAccess written on it and text that says, "People with disabilities should have equal opportunity to participate in public movements for social justice."Dispersal tactics violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, chill plaintiffs’ right to free speech

Portland, Oregon—A lawsuit filed last night on behalf of people with disabilities in federal district court in Portland argues that law enforcement tactics fail to provide equal access to public demonstrations calling for racial justice, robbing them of their constitutional right to assemble and protest. People with disabilities who participate in public demonstrations are subjected to force and crowd control policies that fail to accommodate or consider their disabilities in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Law enforcement gives little or no notice or opportunity to comply before law enforcements’ use of overwhelming force. This failure to provide reasonable accommodations or effective communication denies people with disabilities their freedom of speech under the First Amendment.

As a person with a disability, I rely on my service animal to navigate the world, including participating in protests, and I have a right to that accommodation. When law enforcement denies my right to protest, they silence my voice. No one should be silenced because they have a disability,” said Juniper Simonis, a plaintiff in the case. “It’s important to me to stand shoulder to shoulder with my community in public demonstrations for Black lives and against police violence. Mass movements for social justice are indispensable in the fight for equality.

Taking part in public demonstrations reflects a cherished American value. No one should be prevented from participating just because they have a disability,” said Brendan Hamme, senior staff attorney with Disability Rights Legal Center. “People with disabilities should have equal access to the world and be able to participate fully in society like everyone else.

The lawsuit focuses on how law enforcement tactics put protestors with disabilities at risk of harm. Those tactics include:

  • failing to issue warnings that are accessible to people who are Deaf or hard of hearing,
  • bull rushing crowds without adequate notice or an opportunity to comply causing protestors with mobility disabilities to be trampled or shoved to the ground,
  • using strobe lights that trigger epileptic seizures, and
  • using tear gas and other weapons that target whole crowds of people indiscriminately but can cause lasting damage to people with breathing or lung conditions.

The lawsuit seeks to improve how the police interact with people with disabilities who participate in public demonstrations. The plaintiffs argue that law enforcement changes could include using sign-language interpreters, using written signs, using electronic communications equipment to communicate with protesters, and using predesignated dispersal routes that are accessible. Other requested changes include discontinuing the use of weapons that target the whole crowd indiscriminately, such as noxious gasses and strobe lights that cause seizures.

Pilar Gonzalez Morales, senior staff attorney at the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC), explains, “This lawsuit seeks to effect meaningful change to stop local, state, and federal law enforcement from assaulting, brutalizing, and failing to accommodate individuals with disabilities during assemblies and protests and otherwise violating the rights of individuals with disabilities.

The lawsuit was filed by a team of attorneys at Miller Nash Graham & Dunn, Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC), and Disability Rights Legal Center.  Disability Rights Oregon is serving as an organizational plaintiff.

The rights of people with disabilities to speak out against injustice is sacred. Throughout the disability rights movement, this has been a vital tool for securing equal opportunity under the law,” said Jake Cornett, Executive Director with Disability Rights Oregon. “After the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, law enforcement has failed to ensure the disability community has the same opportunity to safely exercise these rights as other Oregonians.

Resources:

Download the complaint: Wolfe v. City of Portland, Case No. 3:20-cv-01882-BR (November 1, 2020)

Read Disability Rights Oregon’s (DRO) Wolfe v. City of Portland FAQs

Read Plaintiff stories on DRO’s website: Philip’s Story  Melissa’s Story  Katie’s Story  Juniper’s Story

Are you an Oregonian with a disability who has had similar experiences at protests? You can share your story on this DRO webpage.

News stories:

The Oregonian – Local, state, and federal law enforcement…

KATU – Portland protest response tactics violate…

####

About Disability Rights Oregon
Disability Rights Oregon upholds the civil rights of people with disabilities to live, work, and engage in the community. The nonprofit works to transform systems, policies, and practices to give more people the opportunity to reach their full potential. For more than 40 years, the organization has served as Oregon’s Protection & Advocacy system.

About Disability Rights Legal Center

Founded in 1975, Disability Rights Legal Center (DRLC) is a 501C-3 non-profit, public interest advocacy organization that champions the civil rights of people with disabilities as well as those affected by cancer. DRLC is a leader in bringing cutting-edge cases to court and in winning victories to protect and to expand the rights of people to help eliminate discrimination and other legal barriers.

About Miller Nash Graham & Dunn, LLP

At Miller Nash Graham & Dunn LLP, we like to think of ourselves as an established firm with strong traditions and fresh ideas. Although our roots in the Pacific Northwest go back more than a century, we pride ourselves on being creative thinkers who are committed to serving our clients, our community and each other in smart and innovative ways.

 

Categories

Support CREEC

Donate!
                                   

Subscribe to Receive Updates

Enter your email address: