The Ford Foundation awarded CREEC an additional $100,000 toward its second year of core support for CREEC’s Immigration Detention Accountability Project (IDAP)! In October 2019, the Ford Foundation awarded a two-year grant of $150,000 in support of IDAP’s work. In October 2020, the foundation granted an additional $100,000 in support of IDAP, bringing the overall two-year grant total to $250,000.
“We are humbled and honored to receive support from the Ford Foundation for IDAP’s work,” stated Elizabeth Jordan, Director of the Immigration Detention Accountability Project. “This additional funding provides much-needed support for IDAP’s efforts including client needs during COVID-19 and new efforts on behalf of immigrants with disabilities at the southern border. We are grateful to The Ford Foundation for its continued and generous support.”
Steve has litigated a number of significant lending and insurance discrimination cases. He was lead counsel for the plaintiffs in the class action litigation Toledo Fair Housing Center v. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. ($5.35 million settlement) and was co-counsel for the plaintiffs in HOME of Richmond v. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. ($100.5 million jury verdict). Steve has testified before both houses of Congress on mortgage lending discrimination issues, and is the author of many articles in the field, including Eliminating the Labyrinth: A Proposal to Simplify Federal Mortgage Lending Discrimination Laws, 26 U. Mich. J. L. Ref. 527 (1993); Disparate Impact Analysis in the Mortgage Lending Context, 115 Banking L.J. 900(1998); Application of the Federal Fair Housing Act to Homeowners Insurance, Chapter Two of Insurance Redlining (G. Squires, ed., 1997); The Exposure of Securitization Trustees to Liability Under the Federal Fair Housing Act for Poorly Maintained Real Estate Owned Properties, Banking L. J. (Feb. 2014), at 153-164.
Steve has also litigated several accessible design and construction cases, such as National Fair Housing Alliance, Inc. v. A.G. Spanos Companies, 542 F. Supp. 2d 1054 (N.D.Cal. 2008) (involving 82 multi-family projects constructed around the country since 1991; settlement valued at $15 million), and claims involving local and state governments’ failures to “affirmatively further fair housing” as a condition of their receipt of federal funding. See United States of America ex rel. Anti-Discrimination Center of Metro New York, Inc. v. Westchester County, New York, 495 F.Supp.2d 375 (S.D.N.Y. 2007); 668 F.Supp.2d 548 (S.D.N.Y. 2009). Steve was also co-lead counsel in a successful fair housing challenge to Alabama’s immigration reform legislation. Central Alabama Fair Housing Center v. Magee, 835 F. Supp. 2d 1165 (M.D. Ala. 2011).
Steve is currently the owner of Dane Law, LLC, a firm dedicated to representing fair housing agencies, non-profits, legal aid organizations, and their clients. He is an honors graduate of The University of Notre Dame (B.S., Mathematics, 1978), and received his law degree from The University of Toledo College of Law (J.D., magna cum laude, 1981). He is a former law clerk to the Honorable Pierce Lively of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. In 1998 Mr. Dane was selected as one of eight Lawyers of the Year by Ohio Lawyers Weekly, and is listed in The Best Lawyers in America inthefieldofCivilRights.
Steve is also editor of the Civil Rights Insider, the quarterly eNewsletter of the Federal Bar Association’s Civil Rights Law Section. In 2000, he received the Public Interest Award from a consortium of legal services organizations, including Advocates for Basic Equality and the Equal Justice Foundation. For 17 years Steve has served as Acting Judge of the Perrysburg, Ohio Municipal Court, and is a former Chairman of the Human Rights Commission of the Diocese of Toledo. Steve also served as President of the Toledo Bar Association in 2010-2011.
In addition to his distinguished legal career and civil rights expertise, Steve brings longtime experience with nonprofit board service to CREEC’s Board of Directors.
Federal Judge Rejects ICE’s ‘Weak’ Implementation of Court-Ordered Custody Determinations of High Risk Individuals and Other Safety Measures
As COVID-19 cases continue to climb inside detention centers, Court finds ICE has fallen “far below” compliance with its previous injunction.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Last night in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal granted civil rights organizations’ motion to enforce a preliminary injunction in their class-action lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), ordering the agency to perform custody determinations to all individuals in all of their detention centers across the country with medical risk factors that increase their risk of serious COVID-19 complications in compliance with the Court’s April 20 injunction.
In his order, Judge Bernal found that ICE has fallen “far short” of complying with the April 20 order, adding that, “the Court is gravely concerned that Fraihat custody decisions are a disorganized patchwork of non-responses or perfunctory denials” and that, “more active monitoring of Defendants’ compliance is needed.” The Court went on to issue several clarifications to the April 20 injunction including ICE’s obligation to identify and track individuals with risk factors within five days of their detention and to make timely custody determinations, including individuals subject to mandatory detention.
The order also clarifies limits on transfers between facilities, a practice that has contributed to massive COVID-19 outbreaks inside detention centers, and bans solitary confinement as a quarantine measure, a punitive and inhumane practice that goes against public health recommendations.
“This order shows that ICE has essentially ignored the court for nearly six months,” said Pilar Gonzalez Morales, a senior attorney at the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center. “ICE’s actions are not just a blatant disregard for the Court but have needlessly endangered the lives of thousands of immigrants in its custody. We are pleased that the Court has clarified the need for widespread and regular testing, halted unnecessary transfers, and prohibited ICE from using harmful isolation practices.”
“ICE has continued to exhibit callous disregard for the health and safety of people within its custody since the preliminary injunction order was issued nearly six months ago, even as the pandemic accelerates and outbreaks crop up in facilities across the country,” said Rosa Lee Bichell, a Justice Catalyst Fellowship Attorney at Disability Rights Advocates. “This order clarifies once and for all that ICE’s ‘disorganized’ and ‘weak’ efforts have been wholly insufficient to prevent the needless infection of thousands of people within its custody, and that all people with risk factors in detention are worthy of meaningful review for release.”
“As we celebrate this win, we must ground ourselves in the abhorrent reality that people on the inside continue to face. And that is: We should not have to be here,” said Veronica Salama, an attorney at the SPLC. “ICE’s failure to release people from detention bears responsibility for over 6,000 positive cases and the loss of eight individuals who should be alive and free today. This disaster is a result of ICE’s deliberate indifference to the humanity of the immigrants they choose to detain.”
The Fraihat v. ICE lawsuit filed by the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC), Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, and Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP in August of 2019 seeks an end to the inhumane and traumatic experience of ICE detention affecting tens of thousands across the country.
Read the order here.
Read more about the case here.
Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (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. https://creeclaw.org/.
Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), founded in 1993, is the leading national nonprofit disability rights legal center. Its mission is to advance equal rights and opportunity for people with all types of disabilities nationwide. DRA represents people with the full spectrum of disabilities in complex, system-changing, class action cases. Thanks to DRA’s precedent-setting work, people with disabilities across the country have dramatically improved access to health care, employment, transportation, education, disaster preparedness planning, voting, housing, and juvenile justice. https://www.dralegal.org.
The Southern Poverty Law Center is a catalyst for racial justice in the South and beyond, working in partnership with communities to dismantle white supremacy, strengthen intersectional movements, and advance the human rights of all people. For more information, visit www.splcenter.org.
Orrick 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. https://www.orrick.com/en/About-Us.
Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP is an international law firm of more than 700 attorneys with offices in New York, Washington, Houston, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Chicago, Paris, London, Frankfurt, Brussels, Milan and Rome. The Firm is headquartered in New York City at 787 Seventh Avenue. Tel: 212.728.8000. https://www.willkie.com/about-us
“We couldn’t keep up with the calls and voicemails at first,” said Pilar Gonzalez Morales, Senior Staff Attorney at CREEC, “it was a tsunami of people who were in crisis, seeking re-assessment and needing help to do so.” In response to a motion for an emergency preliminary injunction filed by CREEC and co-counsel on March 25, 2020 in Fraihat v ICE, the court ordered ICE to conduct new assessments for every person at heightened risk of contracting COVID-19 in ICE custody for release redetermination. If ICE cannot take the medically necessary precautions to protect medically vulnerable people in immigration detention, they should be released and allowed to shelter in place safely in their homes. To ensure contact with those medically vulnerable people, the court also ordered ICE to create a free, confidential hotline that detained people could call to contact Fraihat class counsel in May 2020.
The word spread quickly. “The sheer volume of calls to the hotline showed us that ICE had followed at least one requirement of the court’s order and that was to post the redetermination ruling and hotline number in ICE detention jails,” said Gonzalez Morales. Unfortunately, it has also revealed the chaos of ICE’s inadequate COVID-19 response and utter lack of a consistent, navigable process in ICE detention prisons for immigrants who are eligible for re-determination and their advocates to follow. “We have learned from hotline callers that what should be a straight-forward redetermination application process for people who are medically vulnerable and scared of the COVID breeding ground that exists in congregate settings like ICE prisons, is actually a nearly impossible path full of unnecessary and cruel barriers created by ICE, “ said Elizabeth Jordan, Director of CREEC’s Immigration Detention Accountability Project. “The lack of regard for basic human health reveals a callous and utterly ineffective, broken system – a system that is being financially supported by every single taxpayer in the United States. It’s a travesty.”
As summer has turned to fall, calls from people in detention who are at increased risk of severe medical complication or even death due to COVID-19 infection and their advocates continue to flow in. CREEC, Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), and Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) staffers have fielded the nearly 600 calls that have come in since May 2020. Natalie M. Chin, City University of New York law professor and Co-Director of the Disability and Aging Justice Clinic (DAJC) has been following the Fraihat v ICE case and thought that some of her students might be interested in helping with the hotline. Professor Chin states, “DAJC is an extensive in-house clinic that requires our student legal interns to engage in approximately 30-36 hours of weekly clinic work that is geared toward advancing the rights, dignity, and self-determination of persons with disabilities and older adults. In addition to representing clients, students engage in an advocacy project that is focused on tackling disability and aging issues in a more systemic way. The Fraihat hotline provides a unique opportunity this fall for DAJC students to provide support and assistance to disabled and aging persons who are in ICE detention facilities that have little to no regard for their health or safety. We are excited to support the work of CREEC, SPLC, and DRA on the important and often overlooked issue of disabled and aging individuals who are suffering in ICE detention.”
Through November, four of Ms. Chin’s students are helping staff the hotline – hearing the stories of people in detention, providing information on how detained people can ask ICE to determine whether or not they are members of the Fraihat class, and providing them with pro se documents they need to complete the redetermination application at the facility where they are being held. “As a legal intern who aspires to advocate on behalf of marginalized individuals when I become a lawyer, it is an honor to work on the Fraihat hotline. The hotline provides an opportunity to support and hold space for individuals who are treated inhumanly in ICE custody with the goal of achieving justice within an unjust system.” Jennifer Lopez, CUNY third-year law student.
CREEC and co-counsel are grateful to the volunteer CUNY law students who are helping to staff the hotline this fall. “We and the people we’re working to support in ICE prisons need the help,” said Pilar Gonzalez. “We’re also glad that the word is getting out about ICE’s misdeeds, inhumane policies, and inept systems. The more people who know about what’s going on, the more people will be outraged and will work alongside us and our Fraihat class members to bring needed change.”
If you or someone you know is in ICE detention and may be eligible for release redetermination due to medical vulnerabilities associated with a heightened risk of complications due to COVID-19, contact us.
Grant will support a project to help remove communications barriers to health care for Deaf people.
The Colorado Health Foundation (CHF) awarded CREEC a $150,000 grant over two years through its Amplifying Health Advocacy program. CREEC’s project proposes to investigate denials of legally required effective communication to Deaf Coloradans at health care facilities and then work to remedy violations systemically by providing effective policies and training. By removing this significant barrier – lack of effective communication – this project will help bring health within reach for the Deaf community in Colorado, a community that tends to be marginalized in our current economic, political, and health care systems.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) require medical providers to ensure that communication with Deaf people is as effective as communication with hearing people. For many medical providers working with Deaf people, this requires a qualified sign language interpreter, and not – as commonly but mistakenly assumed – written notes or lip reading. At CREEC, we know from our legal advocacy work with Deaf clients and from our disability rights advocacy colleagues that, unfortunately, Deaf people are frequently denied qualified sign language interpreters in medical settings despite the requirements of the ADA and ACA. As a result, Deaf people are often unable to access important information about their own health, describe their medical history and symptoms, or ask their health care providers questions. Health care providers also often require Deaf people to provide or pay for their own interpreters, which is both explicitly illegal under the ADA and ACA and puts an additional burden on low-income Deaf families.
“CREEC’s Accessibility Project has used the powerful investigative tools of civil rights testing to challenge discrimination against people who use wheelchairs,” said Amy Robertson, CREEC’s Co-executive director and lead attorney on this project. “Because of the generous support of the Colorado Health Foundation, we will now be able to use these tools to address discrimination against Deaf people in health care at a systemic level and during a time when full access to health care has never been more important.”
The Colorado Health Foundation believes that health is a basic human right and brings health in reach for all Coloradans by engaging closely with communities across the state through investing, policy advocacy, learning, and capacity building.
The Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC), along with co-counsel Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian & Ho (GBDH), reached a landmark settlement with the City of San Jose on behalf of a class of persons with mobility disabilities. The settlement requires San Jose to install or remediate over twenty-seven thousand accessible curb ramps throughout the City over the next eighteen years, and to appropriate more than $130 million to fund this work. Importantly, class members are able to request curb ramp construction and remediation at specific locations according to this settlement. The settlement was approved by the Court on September 2, 2020.
Curb ramps provide people with mobility disabilities a safe way to get on and off sidewalks as they travel through the pedestrian right of way. In San Jose alone, there are approximately 157,000 people with mobility disabilities. Missing, broken, or poorly maintained curb ramps prevent people with mobility disabilities from safely using city sidewalks, crosswalks, and other walkways to participate in daily activities like getting to work or going to school.
Tim Fox, Co-Executive Director at CREEC and attorney in this case commented, “We initiated this case after receiving reports of people experiencing life-threatening situations as a result of unsafe curb ramps – including being thrown out of their wheelchairs and onto the pavement of busy streets when the wheel of their chair became lodged in a curb ramp gap or hit other construction defects. One person had to wait for more than ten minutes on the pavement before someone stopped and helped them back into their chair. Clearly this is unacceptable.”
In 2014 and in response to a letter sent by CREEC and GBDH, the City of San Jose agreed to work cooperatively to resolve the claims through structured negotiations. In 2016, the parties finalized an Interim Settlement Agreement and have now reached a full resolution.
Andrew Lee, a Partner at GBDH, states, “Curb ramps are necessary to achieving the integration and equal opportunity mandates of the ADA and other disability non-discrimination laws. As a result of this settlement, residents and visitors of San Jose with mobility disabilities will no longer have to choose between risking their personal safety by traveling in the streets or staying home and foregoing participation in community life.”
“Federal and state disability access laws were enacted decades ago to provide persons with disabilities an equal opportunity to fully participate in civic life,” said Fox. “We are pleased to be working with the City of San Jose to fulfill the promise of those laws by ensuring that people with mobility disabilities can travel independently and safely throughout their city and we encourage all cities to ensure that their pedestrian way accessibility meets or exceeds legal requirements.”
Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (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. https://creeclaw.org/
Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian & Ho is one of the oldest and most successful plaintiffs’ public interest class action law firms in the country. GBDH represents individuals against large companies and other entities in complex class and collective action lawsuits. The firm has three primary practice areas: employment discrimination, wage and hour violations, and disability access, and also brings other public interest cases, including voting rights, environmental protection, and consumer cases. The firm has a national practice, litigating cases in federal and state courts throughout the country. https://gbdhlegal.com/
We are thrilled to welcome Anne-Marie Bravo as CREEC’s newest intern! A third-year student and Public Interest Law Scholar (PILS) at Northeastern University School of Law (NUSL), Anne-Marie will be working full-time with CREEC’s Immigration Detention Accountability Program (IDAP) from August through November.
Anne-Marie is deeply committed to advocating for immigrants with disabilities across all aspects of life. Her professional experiences have included work with immigrant and disability communities as an educator, research analyst, grant writer, and legal intern. Recently Anne-Marie was a legal intern at the Law Office of Jodi Goodwin in Harlingen, TX where she worked directly with refugees placed in Migrant “Protection” Protocols (MPP) in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico. This work prompted her to delve deeper into the intersection of immigration and disability law. Anne-Marie states, “After several particularly impactful experiences in my recent internship, I began independently researching the intersection of immigration and disability law and found CREEC’s Immigration Detention Accountability Project. IDAP’s mission is a perfect fit for my professional interests. I know that my work at CREEC will take me deeper into the legal world at the intersection of immigration and disability law. As a person with disabilities myself and from a family with our own immigration experiences, I feel profoundly connected with CREEC’s mission and vision.”
Prior to her interest in pursuing a law degree, Anne-Marie conducted budget and research analysis for La Unión del Pueblo Entero in San Juan, TX; was a middle school social studies teacher for Teach for America in Rio Grande Valley, TX; worked for the Texas Civil Rights Project in Austin, TX; and interned at both the Human Rights Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law in Austin, TX and at CRIOLA in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Anne-Marie graduated summa cum laude from the University of Texas at Austin where she earned a B.A. in Anthropology and Latin American Studies. Outside of work and school, Anne-Marie enjoys photography, gardening, yoga, creative writing, and music.
“We are so excited to have Anne-Marie join us in IDAP this fall,” remarks Elizabeth Jordan, Director of CREEC’s Immigration Detention Accountability Project. “Her experiences working with immigrant and disability communities will be a huge resource as we support immigrants in ICE custody who are medically vulnerable and have disabilities. We expect her to be heavily involved in our work with clients and lifting their stories up. We will also offer Anne-Marie the opportunity to get a sense of CREEC’s approach to systems change litigation as we hold ICE accountable for its treatment of vulnerable people in its custody.”
The Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center is honored to announce Elisabeth Epps as the winner of this year’s Challenging Discrimination Award for her longtime commitment to racial justice, ending mass incarceration, and addressing racism in the criminal legal system.
As a leader in the prison abolitionist movement, a bail activist, organizer, and former public defender, Elisabeth uses her skills and voice to effect change for individuals and across systems and communities. Elisabeth is committed to working with and for vulnerable people, particularly those with justice-involved backgrounds.
In 2015, Elisabeth became a Co-Director of the Denver Justice Project which seeks to address systemic racism by transforming law enforcement and the structure of the criminal justice system through intersectional movement building, direct action, advocacy, and collaborative education. Elisabeth founded the Colorado Freedom Fund (CFF) in 2018–a revolving community bond fund that buys freedom for people who are caged only because they cannot afford to pay their bail. CFF works to end wealth-based detention through legislation, litigation, and direct action organizing. Through CFF, Elisabeth partnered with community organizations and legal activists in 2019 to pass into law a bill that prohibits cash bail in Colorado for many low-level offenses, and another bill to increase prompt pretrial liberty and fairness across the state; both laws are already having an impact in decarcerating Colorado cages.
In 2018, Elisabeth joined the ACLU of Colorado as its Smart Justice Organizer and in 2019, Colorado Freedom Fund and ACLU in conjunction with community partners launched Bring our Neighbors Home. Early in this summer’s protests in support of the Movement for Black Lives, Elisabeth was part of the team that crafted Colorado’s SB20-217 bill, passed it through the legislature, and saw it signed into law on a historic date—Juneteenth 2020. This bill was one of the first to respond to the protests and takes such necessary measures as ending qualified immunity for peace officers in Colorado, mandating body cameras, outlawing chokeholds, and requiring bystander officers to intervene to stop excessive force.
In 2019, Elisabeth was featured on the cover of Colorado’s 5280 Magazine as one of the disrupters most shaping Denver, was awarded the Frankie Muse Freeman award from Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. in recognition of her commitment to social justice, and was featured in national Essence magazine alongside such women as Michelle Obama and Ava DuVernay as one of 100 Woke Women. Elisabeth is proud to serve on the Board of Trustees of Atlantis Community, Inc. and is an active member of the Denver Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
Elisabeth is a passionate, skillful, and effective fighter for the rights of individuals and group and her work creates change well beyond her immediate sphere of influence.
We hope you’ll be able to join us at CREEC’s Virtual Event on September 17, 2020 from 5:30 pm – 6:15 pm mountain time to honor Elisabeth Epps and to hear more about what she’s done, the change she fuels, and what she plans to do next.
Sponsor CREEC’s Event!
Register for CREEC’s Event – our is event is free, but pre-registration is required. ASL interpreter and captioning provided. Contact Julie if you have any difficulty registering or if you have any other event questions: email@example.com | 303.945.3204
A special thank you to our early event sponsors!
Current Event Sponsors are: Anonymous, Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition (CCDC), Kim & Mary Kay Love – in Memory of Peter Robertson, Relay Colorado, Thomas Kelley, Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian & Ho, Johnson & Klein Law, ACLU-Colorado, Colorado Hispanic Bar Association (CHBA), Michael Bien, RMIAN, Benham-Baker Legal, Alan Chen, Impact Fund
July 21, 2020
NASHVILLE, TN — The State of Tennessee has begun offering accessible absentee ballots for people with print disabilities in response to a demand by Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT) in collaboration with the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center and National Federation of the Blind of Tennessee.
The recent expansion of absentee voting during the COVID-19 pandemic is offering many a pathway to exercise their right to vote without risking exposure to the virus. However, until now absentee voting in Tennessee has not been accessible to voters with print disabilities due to the use of paper ballots. A print disability interferes with the ability to effectively read, write, or use print materials and includes blindness, low vision, and some physical disabilities such as paralysis. The new accessible absentee ballot process allows voters with print disabilities to use supporting technology like screen readers and others to complete absentee voting forms.
“This month we celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The State’s decision is a timely reminder that it is possible to ensure that public services are available for all,” says Brian Keller, DRT Public Policy and Voting Attorney.
This new offering by Tennessee ensures that people with print disabilities will be able to exercise their right to vote independently and privately while voting absentee, not only during the current crisis, but in future elections as well.
“We are pleased that the state moved swiftly to secure the rights of blind voters without the need for litigation,” said Terry Smith, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Tennessee. “Equal access to voting means access to all of the same options that other voters have, for which the National Federation of the Blind is fighting across the nation. We are pleased that it will finally be achieved in our state.”
How to request an accessible absentee ballot:
- Visit the Tennessee Secretary of State’s website and click the link titled “Download Print Disability Absentee Ballot Request Form.”
- Complete the form, which is compatible with screen readers and electronically fillable.
- Print and sign anywhere on the form.
- Once your request is approved, your county election office will send you an
electronic ballot that is compatible with screen readers and electronically fillable.
- Once you complete your ballot, you will be able to print it out, and send it back
to your county election office.
- Be sure to follow instructions about sending it
back and be sure to sign the envelope as instructed.
Contact DRT at 1 (800) 342-1660 or GetHelp@disabilityrightstn.org if:
- You have questions or issues about requesting a print disability absentee ballot.
- You need an accessible absentee ballot but have already requested a standard
Many partners helped advocate for accessible absentee ballots, especially National Federation
of the Blind Tennessee, Mid Tennessee Council of the Blind, Tennessee Disability Coalition, The
Arc of Tennessee, and Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities. It is imperative that all
eligible voters be able to cast a ballot privately and independently. Now that is a reality.
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.
July 26, 2020 is the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). During these 30 years, people with disabilities and their allies have used the ADA to reshape our society. Many people with disabilities have a place at the table and a clear path to get there both figuratively and literally. And yet much work remains to be done. This significant anniversary is a time to celebrate the many successes and renew our commitment to continued advocacy until all the barriers are gone and disability discrimination exists only as a part of history.
The foundational concepts of the ADA are accessibility and equality. These concepts overlap. So, for example, holding an event in a room that’s not accessible for wheelchair users is equivalent to posting a “no wheelchair users allowed” sign even if the organizers have no objection to people with mobility disabilities attending. Similarly, when a doctor’s office refuses to provide a sign language interpreter to a deaf patient, that office may as well say they don’t serve deaf people since they’re not offering equal services. There can be no accessibility without equality and vice versa.
I’ve had the good fortune to practice disability rights law for over 20 years. One of the things I love about this area of law is the variety of issues. People with all types of disabilities are protected by the ADA. And, with a little creativity and persistence, the ADA can be applied in some way to almost every situation and barrier. Early on the focus of ADA advocacy was physical accessibility for people with mobility disabilities. And that’s still an important focus because while many barriers have been removed, more remain. And, infuriatingly, more continue to be created.
In 2020 the ADA is being used to impact issues that were largely unimaginable in 1990. Technological advances have created the ability for people with print disabilities to vote independently and the ADA is the tool for ensuring that state governments modify their voting programs so that technology can be used. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of having plans in place for shortages of medical equipment, services, and supplies. The ADA is the tool for ensuring that people with disabilities are treated equally in those plans and by those implementing them. Supports and services exist now that enable people with significant disabilities to parent children. The ADA is the tool for making sure they are given the opportunity to do so.
So, here in 2020, there’s a whole array of people to advocate for and with and cases to work on to ensure accessibility and equality. Our colleagues and clients and the important issues we tackle together are the most exciting aspects of being an ADA attorney. And, yet, I can’t help but wonder why there are still so many barriers and so much discrimination 30 years after the ADA was passed. Shouldn’t everything be fixed by now? Of course, it should. This is why CREEC’s Accessibility Project fights with urgency to make the promise of the ADA real. Real for everyone. Real for every situation. We look forward to working together with our clients and colleagues to make sure that 30 years from now the ADA is a promise kept.