Tag Archives: ADA

Voting in Virginia

Two weeks ago, people swarmed Virginia’s polling places … to vote, and to survey accessibility.  dLCV recruited volunteers from all over the state to do a simple survey of polling places.  Was there accessible parking?  Was there an accessible path of travel?  Could the door be easily opened by someone in a wheelchair?  Was there any accessible voting equipment?

With all of our wonderful volunteers, we were able to collect more than 300 surveys of polling places.  Now comes the task of carefully assessing all the findings and remedying the problems we found.   Sadly, we found plenty of problems.

One of the more troubling violations we found throughout the state was the absence of real curbside voting.  Under state law, voters who are 65 or older or who have a physical disability are entitled to “curbside” voting:  An officer of election will bring a ballot or portable electronic voting machine to the car for the person with the disability to vote there.   State law makes clear that even with curbside voting, the voter gets to vote in private.

But throughout the state, we found place after place where there was no means for the person in the car to let the poll workers know they needed a curbside ballot.   Some polling locations told us that the voter needs to come inside and ask for it … really missing the point, don’t you think?  At one location, someone who was electioneering for a candidate had to cover up her campaign t-shirt and go inside to ask for the curbside ballots for people.   Multiple times.

At my polling place, there was a sign outside listing a phone number you could call to request curbside voting.  Although the sign was hard to read in the best of circumstances, the rainy weather we had that day completely wilted the thin paper sign. Unreadable.  It was a good try — but it fell seriously short of being accessible.

On the Department of Elections website, voters are “reminded” to bring an assistant to go in to request the ballot, but no such requirement exists in state law.  Requiring a voter with a disability to have an assistant would pose some serious legal questions under the Americans with Disabilities Act, in any event.

We know that all Virginia polling places can do better, because many are fully accessible.  As we analyse the survey results, and collect more election day stories, we will update you on what we have learned.  For now, though, we extend a huge thank you to all our wonderful volunteers working with us to improve access for people with disabilities.

Janet Reno

When the Americans with Disabilities Act was still a very young law,  the Department of Justice filed its first lawsuit, against the Becker CPA Exam review course.  Some people who wanted to take the review course for the CPA exam, and who were also deaf, had requested that Becker provide sign language interpreters for the course, and Becker refused.  DOJ tried to negotiate with the respected review course, but Becker did not budge.  So, late in 1992, DOJ filed its first ADA lawsuit.

A year and a half later, the parties reached a settlement, with Becker agreeing at long last to provide interpreters to students who needed them, and paying monetary awards to the named complainants. The complainants were finally able to fully participate in the review course, and when they then took the CPA exam, they passed at a rate even higher than others.

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Service Animals in 2015

Senator Reeves presented a bill recently that would offer some greater protection to individuals with disabilities who use service animals. The senator was especially concerned about the number of veterans who are returning from combat with serious injuries and may be able to utilize service animals to assist with new physical and mental challenges. Some veterans complained to him that they are not treated well by businesses when they try to enter with their animals.

“Wait a second,” another senator challenged him, “you mean that if I own a restaurant and don’t want dogs to come in, I can’t make them leave? What if the health department fines me?”

Decades after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, there is still much misunderstanding about service animals. Under the ADA, a public accommodation can not deny entry to a person with a disability who uses a service dog, unless the dog is out of control or dangerous. The business can not require “proof” of training or proof of disability. The business can ask what tasks or work the dog does and whether that is needed because of a disability. But the inquiry must end there. Even if the business has a “no pets” policy, they must permit a service dog to enter.

There is good reason for the confusion, however. The ADA originally protected all service animals, but it was recently revised to protect only service dogs, as well as miniature horses that do work for people with disabilities. Other federal laws, like the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carriers Act, offer protection to service animals, without limit to dogs. Adding to that confusion, Virginia law protects service dogs, even making it a misdemeanor to deny access to a service dog.

Senator Reeves eventually withdrew his proposal, promising to work on the idea before the next session of the General Assembly. But it was clear to everyone in the room that there is a need for greater education about the use of service animals.

Virginia’s Training Centers violate the ADA

On February 10th, the United States Department of Justice sent a letter to Governor McDonnell concluding that Virginia is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act in the operation of its developmental disabilities services.  The 21 page letter concludes that Virginia does not serve its residents with intellectual disabilities in the most integrated setting possible and that Virginia further violates the ADA by maintaining a waiting list for community based services that exceeds 3000 people.   DOJ concludes that the discharge process at Central Virginia Training Center and other training centers is inadequate and that staff at CVTC and other training centers are not knowledgeable about the availability of community services.  The letter details conditions at CVTC that are typical of all five of the states training centers — overuse of restraints, inadequate programming, absence of community integration, and isolated and depersonalized living conditions.  The letter finds that even when individuals want to be discharged and all parties agree that they can be discharged from the training centers, the individuals remain stuck in isolation. 

DOJ commends the Governor for cooperation in the investigations and expresses hope that the Commonwealth will continue working towards an amicable and cooperative agreement to resolve the findings.  Indeed, VOPA commends the Governor and his administration for making a strong first step towards remedying the violations found by DOJ.  The Administration needs to develop a clear plan to completely remedy the violations, but most importantly, the Administration needs to share information with the individuals themselves at the training centers, and with their family members.  Planning for such a dramatic shift in services should not — must not — take place without the input of people with intellectual disabilities.  The people who will be most personally affected by this plan must get frequent and accurate information, and must get reliable assurances that this transformation will be done safely and appropriately.