Access to civic life is a fundamental part of American society. On August 23, 1999, the Department of Justice reached a settlement with the City of Toledo, Ohio, in which the City agreed to remove barriers and relocate activities throughout its city government, including the municipal courthouse, district and neighborhood police stations, a market-outlet complex, fire stations, parking garages, museums, community and social services, the city’s parks and recreation centers, the health department, and other city administrative buildings. In order to build upon that settlement, the Disability Rights Section (DRS) of the Department’s Civil Rights Division then began similar reviews of other local and state governments and to develop technical assistance materials so that communities could immediately begin to come into full compliance with the requirements of title II of the ADA.
The project now includes 187 settlement agreements with 174 localities in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. In most of these matters, the compliance reviews were undertaken on the Department’s own initiative under the authority of title II and, in many cases, section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 because the governments receive financial assistance from the Department and are prohibited by the Act from discriminating on the basis of disability. Some matters were undertaken in response to complaints filed against the localities.
Compliance review sites were chosen based upon the Department’s desire to visit every state, the population of the site, and, in some cases, its proximity to a university or tourist attraction. The majority of the compliance reviews occurred in small cities and towns, because they represent the most common form of local government.
DRS requested and received data from these local governments, and conducted physical surveys of facilities owned or leased by these government; of polling places; and of 9-1-1 systems.
Local government officials have responded favorably and cooperated fully in the Department’s reviews. They were timely in submitting records as requested, made themselves available to answer questions during the on-site visits, and escorted investigators throughout their communities so that facilities surveys could be accomplished quickly and efficiently. Most importantly, these officials have indicated a willingness to effect changes to make their programs and services accessible to persons with disabilities.
During the investigations, staff of the Disability Rights Section reviewed compliance with most ADA requirements. The Section has found that the vast majority of communities are aware of their ADA obligations and have made progress in meeting them. Settlement agreements resolve the balance of outstanding issues. Typical issues addressed during the Department’s investigations include:
- physical modifications of facilities to improve accessibility. Facilities include city and town halls; police and fire stations and sheriff departments; courthouses; centers for health care delivery, childcare, teen and senior activities, conventions, and recreation; animal shelters; libraries; baseball stadiums; parks (including ice skating rinks, public pools, playgrounds, ball fields and bleachers, band shells and gazebos). The agreements secure the following:
– accessible parking
– accessible routes into and through the facilities
– accessible rest rooms, drinking fountains, and telephones
– accessible service counters and concession stands, or the provision of services at alternate, accessible locations
– accessible bathing facilities at public pools
- physical modifications to polling places and/or the provision of curbside or absentee balloting;
- permanent and conspicuous notice to the community of their ADA rights and the government’s ADA obligations;
- establishment of an ADA grievance procedure where none existed in communities employing more than 50 persons;
- establishment of delivery systems and time frames for providing auxiliary aids (qualified sign language interpreters and alternate formats (Braille, large print, cassette tapes, etc.);
- installation of assistive listening systems in assembly areas (e.g., legislative chambers, court rooms, municipal auditoriums);
- strengthening of 9-1-1 emergency services through the acquisition of additional text telephones (TTY’s) to achieve a 1-1 ratio of TTY’s and answering positions, training to recognize “silent calls”, and accountability through performance evaluations and discipline of employees;
- better telephone communication between the government and citizens with hearing or speech impairments through the acquisition of additional TTY’s and/or utilization of the state relay service, official publication of TTY/relay numbers, and training of employees;
- adoption of procedures for relocating inaccessible activities to accessible locations upon request (e.g., City and Town Council meetings, municipal and county court proceedings).