A Florida Not-For-Profit

501(c) (3) Corporation

19333 West Country Club Drive #1522

Aventura, Florida 33180

                                                                                     

FREE POSTAGE
FOR THE BLIND
AND PHYSICALLY
HANDICAPPED
 
 

 

 

 

 


APRIL, 2006                                                              APRIL, 2006


NEWS! NEWS! NEWS!
READ ABOUT OUR MOST RECENT

ADVOCACY ACCOMPLISHMENTS!!!

WITH YOUR CONTINUED SUPPORT
WE CONTINUE TO GROW NATIONALLY
(NATIONAL GROWTH = NATIONAL VICTORIES!!!)

 

 

APRIL, 2006

 

THIS NEWSLETTER IS ALSO AVAILABLE ON-LINE AT:

www.adaaccessnow.org
(Bobby-Approved)

 

****Please Note****

YOU MAY NOW FILL OUT OUR MEMBERSHIP FORM

DIRECTLY ONLINE AT WWW.ADAACCESSNOW.ORG

THE MEMBERSHIP FORM IS ALSO ATTACHED AT

THE BEGINNING OF THIS NEWSLETTER

 

email: info@adaaccessnow.org

 


“ACCESS NOW, INC.”

(a Florida not-for-profit, 501(c) 3 Corporation)

19333 West Country Club Drive #1522

Aventura, Florida 33180

Tel. 305-705-0059  Fax 305-792-2665

info@adaaccessnow.org         www.adaaccessnow.org

Membership Form

****IF POSSIBLE, WE PREFER THAT YOU REGISTER ONLINE****

****JUST GO TO OUR WEBSITE SHOWN ABOVE AND CLICK ON    **** “MEMBERSHIP” LINK ****

 

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          ***(STRONGLY ENCOURAGED – VERY HELPFUL!!!!!!)***

 

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If Disabled, give brief description:

(MOBILITY – WHEELCHAIR-USER, PART/FULLTIME; VISION; HEARING)

 

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NEWSLETTER UPDATE – APRIL, 2006

 

 

FROM PHYLLIS F. RESNICK, PRESIDENT

 

HELLO, AGAIN, EVERYBODY!!!!!       

 

It has now been six months since our last newsletter and we have several cases and other items of interest to report.  Many of our larger cases, such as those involving hospitals and municipalities, are proceeding, but of course, as we are sure you can understand, those types of cases take a very, very long time to come to conclusion; more on those later in this newsletter.  As you will see further along herein, where we acknowledge the achievements of other disability advocacy groups, the passage of several years from the inception of a case to its conclusion is not unique to “Access Now, Inc.”  It is just the nature of litigation.

However, we  at “Access Now” take pride in the fact that we do not limit our efforts to the high profile cases of first impression, but do, in fact, become involved in many, many small cases which have a great impact on the daily lives of members of the disabled community.  Entities such as grocery stores, hotels, motels, restaurants, shops, gas stations and the like continue to fail to comply with  the A.D.A. (Americans With Disabilities Act), despite the fact that the law was enacted in 1990. Therefore, we continue to receive complaints daily from disabled persons who are routinely being denied their rights under this civil rights law.  Some of those about which we have undertaken litigation and which have been settled will be detailed later in this newsletter.

 

 

AS AN INTRODUCTION TO OUR WORK, FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO ARE NEW TO US, WE WOULD LIKE TO BEGIN WITH THE FOLLOWING LETTERS SENT BY MEMBERS.  I THINK THEY SHOW THAT WE ARE MAKING A DIFFERENCE:

 

 

November 30, 2005

 

Thank you ACCESS NOW and especially to all the attorneys who have worked on improving accessibility for everyone at the Helen Keller Birthplace in Tuscumbia, AL.

 

It was a shame that it took legal action to finally get access for everyone at the birthplace of one of our most famous activists of all times.  This case was dear to my heart because I come from a family with Deaf/Blindness.  In fact, I resided only 2 blocks from the birthplace, which is located in the historic district of Tuscumbia.  Shortly after moving to Tuscumbia my Deaf/Blind Mother crossed over and I was able to hold her CELEBRATION OF LIFE on the beautiful grounds of the Helen Keller Birthplace.  What a fitting tribute to my Mom, Evelyn deVolpi, my Uncle Joseph Del Signore & Helen Keller.  I am sure they all are smiling and approving the new changes.

 

Since I use a wheelchair, the changes really affect my ability to be a part of this memorable historic site.  Just knowing that other disabled will share equal access at this site for all time and be able to enjoy the legacy of Helen Keller gives me the greatest joy ever.

 

What is sad though is that there are still people who do not understand the action that had to be taken to accomplish this accessibility.  I would like to thank all of those people who did support the action to see that modifications occurred so EVERYONE can enjoy the birthplace.

 

Thanks Again,

Betty L. Ingram

 

 

FROM:      JAMES LAWSON

TO:        GREG SCHWARTZ

DATE:      JAN. 31, 2006

SUBJECT:   OKLAHOMA STATE FAIR CASE

 

Good Morning Greg,

 

I want to convey my most sincere thanks to you and your staff for your efforts on my behalf in the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds case. I am very pleased with the outcome. That case, in my opinion, has done more to end discrimination against people with disabilities in Oklahoma than anything else has in the 15 years since the ADA was passed. I believe that there is a genuine change in attitude toward the ADA within the City of Oklahoma City.

 

Stephan and Steve both did an excellent job. Stephan established an excellent non-adversarial working relationship with the City Attorney, Tina Hughes. Steve Mason did a thorough and accurate survey of a very big, very non-compliant facility. In fact there were only a few small differences between Steve's report and the report that their expert prepared. I think that the fact that Oklahoma City's expert supported virtually all of Steve's findings was a key to the successful outcome of this case.

 

Again my most sincere thanks to all involved in this case.

 

Jim

 

 

AND NOW, THE UPDATE:

 

Membership – We now have 1,000 members representing 48 states plus Canada, Hong Kong, Australia and Puerto Rico.  Our Board of Directors stands at 40, our Executive Committee at 8, our Attorneys represent 4 law firms and our Consultants number 4.  We wish to express our appreciation of the fine work of all of these people, who, contrary to public opinion, DO put accessibility achievements ahead of fees.  We who work here at “Access Now” every day can definitely attest to that!  We also want to acknowledge here our debt to our Board of Directors and our Executive Committee for their support, their encouragement and their many kinds of contributions to our goals.  Most particularly, we want to express our appreciation for the efforts of our First Vice-President, Marla Dumas, and the absolutely herculean contributions (for seven years!) of our former Treasurer, Miki Speijers, who remains on our Executive Committee, having been a charter member!  We want to give special commendation to our new Treasurer (another charter member of our Executive Committee) Estelle Michelson, who stepped in immediately and seamlessly when Miki could no longer continue with the responsibilities of being Treasurer.  Estelle assumed the duties of this very important office on short notice and has been doing an excellent job!  We cannot go without mentioning here the enormous contributions of our computer consultant, Gregory Arkin, without whom we would not be able to function!  We also wish to express our gratitude to attorney Frank Herrera, who continues to serve as our legal consultant quite expertly and expeditiously on a totally pro bono basis.  His efforts on behalf of “Access Now” have been, and continue to be, invaluable.  Finally, I want to thank my assistant, Thomas Miller, for his efforts in making certain that the administrative aspects of the organization run smoothly and for undertaking the task of composing and typing the bulk of this newsletter.

A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF OUR LITIGATION:

Since our September Newsletter (which you received in November), “Access Now” has made progress in settling cases in several states.  As we continue to settle more cases, “Access Now” and its attorneys have instituted a management system to guarantee that the agreed-upon work is finished in a timely fashion.  Of the 57 cases in which modifications and alterations were supposed to have been completed over the past seven months to make properties A.D.A.-compliant, we are proud to report that the majority were completed on or ahead of schedule.

“Access Now” has filed a total of 937 cases since its inception.  Presently, there are 140 cases with Settlement Agreements still outstanding, requiring alterations or modifications which in several cases should have been completed by August 1, 2005, or later.  (Obviously, in cases involving hospitals and other large and complex facilities, those post-settlement compliance completions have dates much further out.)

During the past seven months, “Access Now” has entered into 10 additional settlements to make properties A.D.A.-compliant.  They include:

 


Banks                                        1

Hotels/Motels                        2

Malls                                         2

Grocery Stores                       1

Restaurants                            2

Stores                                       1

Theme Parks                           1


 

“Access Now” continues to become more national in scope.  The states in which cases have been settled range from the South and the mid-Atlantic to the Great Plains.  Our headquarters state of Florida accounts for 20% of settlements over the past seven months.

 

 


Florida                                       2

Maryland/DC                           2

National                                    1

Oklahoma                                 2

Pennsylvania                           1

Tennessee                                1

Virginia                                     1


 

We will keep expanding our geographical presence as best we can as we continue to receive requests for information and assistance from around the country and internationally.  Please notify “Access Now” if you become aware of situations where access continues to be denied.  We remain solidly in the forefront of the fight for accessibility.


The following is a brief listing of the cases that have been settled JUST SINCE our last newsletter:

Banks

Unnamed because of confidentiality clause in settlement agreement, FL

 

Grocery Stores

Kroger’s, Knoxville, TN

Hotels

Inn at Reading, Wyomissing, PA

Holiday Inn, Port St. Lucie, FL

 

Malls

Second Wicklow, LLC, Stillwater, OK

Virginia Center Commons, Glen Allen, VA

 

Restaurants

Mi Rancho, Germantown MD

Red, Hot & Blue, Waldorf, MD

 

Stores

Brookstone Stores, national (see class actions)

Theme Park

Frontier City, Oklahoma City, OK

 


NOTABLE CASES – There are some cases that are especially important because of their value as precedents or because they remove significant numbers or types of barriers.  Several of those types of cases are listed below.  Please remember that most defendants in non-class action cases insist on confidentiality as a condition of signing settlement agreements.  Therefore, we cannot discuss those cases by name, although they number quite a few.  However, several of them are included in the cases listed above. 

If any of you has had bad experiences regarding handicapped accessibility with hospitals or other medical facilities in your communities, we want to know so that we can incorporate those concerns into our current efforts.  In addition, if you are aware of any hospitals that are doing a great job with accessibility, we want to know that as well, so that we can alert and educate our members. 

Likewise, if any of you has had bad experiences regarding handicapped accessibility in your communities, we would like to hear from you so that we can incorporate your concerns into our efforts.  We are interested in working hard to create accessibility in all communities.

We are committed to creating the legacy of an accessible world.  Please help us to help ALL of us!  Thank you!

1.                 Hospitals – The numbers of individual hospital cases that have been settled or are moving rapidly toward settlement continues to increase every week.  There are presently Fairness Hearings scheduled in the 19 class actions listed immediately below. 

Allegheny Regional Hospital, Low Moor, VA

Alvarado Hospital, San Diego, CA

Belleair Surgery Center, Clearwater, FL

Brandon Surgery Center, Brandon, FL

Community Hospital of Los Gatos, Los Gatos, CA

Fountain Valley Regional Hospital, Fountain Valley, CA

Gulf Coast Community Hospital, Biloxi, MS

Las Colinas Medical Center, Irving, TX

Outpatient Surgery Center, Boca Raton, FL

Nacogdoches Medical Center, Nacogdoches, TX

Piedmont Medical Center, Rock Hill, SC

Pinecrest Rehabilitation Hospital, Pinecrest, FL

Providence Memorial Hospital, El Paso, TX

Pulaski Community Hospital, Pulaski, VA

St. Christopher's Hospital, Philadelphia, PA

Surgical Park Surgery Center, Miami, FL

Tampa Ambulatory Surgery Center, Tampa, FL

Tampa Eye Specialty Surgery Center, Tampa, FL

Westside Regional Medical Center, Plantation, FL

 

We continue to be actively involved in cases involving medical institutions because of our strong belief that they constitute one of the best ways to enhance the quality of life of the disabled community.


The following is a column written by a blogger in Virginia about three such examples of our successes:

Pulaski hospital inclined to settle ADA lawsuit

By Jeff Sturgeon for “Chat Scan” at www.Roanoke.com, the online service of The Roanoke Times.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, which forbids discrimination on the basis of disability, has prompted some hospitals to retrofit bathrooms, rework parking lots and make other changes that blind, deaf, retarded, wheelchair-bound, amputated or otherwise disadvantaged patients need.

The hospitals have made changes not technically required until major facility improvements were untaken (sic) for an unrelated reason. But it would be imprecise to conclude the hospitals acted on goodwill alone. Many hospitals have signed legal settlements with a small Florida not-for-profit organization, Access Now Inc, which has made hospital compliance with the ADA the objective of an ongoing federal lawsuit since 1999.

Lewis-Gale Medical Center in Salem confirmed in 2003 it planned to settle with Access Now and announced a wide-ranging series of physical-plant improvements. Currently, at least two other hospitals in Western Virginia, Pulaski Community Hospital and Alleghany Regional Hospital, appear close to settling.

Mark Rader, the chief executive officer at Pulaski, said the hospital's original structure, built in 1972, hasn't been upgraded over the years. But that doesn't mean the hospital neglects the needs of the disabled. It has closed-caption television, some telephones for use by those with limited hearing, handicapped parking, wheelchair ramps and wheelchair-accessible bathrooms in some locations, for example. However, the hospital recognizes that more accommodations are possible and is willing to cooperate with the Access Now court process to attain full ADA compliance, Rader said.

Like the other hospitals that have settled, Pulaski Community won't owe any money to Access Now, but, assuming the settlement is signed and approved, will further retrofit its facilities without admitting guilt or liability. This legal notice explains the proceedings in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

“It’s not your typical lawsuit,” Rader said, adding that HCA Inc. agreed to have ADA issues settled in the context of the Access Now suit for all its facilities. HCA owns Pulaski, Alleghany, Lewis-Gale Medical Center and Montgomery Regional Hospital, among other hospitals.

To cite a few examples of the planned improvements at the Pulaski hospital: Conventional door knobs on the doors to dressing rooms 1 and 2 in the ultrasound department will be replaced with lever-style hardware. The coat hook in the chapel will be lowered to 48 inches above the floor from the current height of 67 inches. A wheelchair ramp in the parking lot of Children's Choice Pediatric in Dublin, which the hospital owns, will be reworked to make it less steep.

The work could take a couple of years. No cost estimate was available.


________________________________________________________________

2.                 City of Miami, Florida – We have had quite a tussle with the City of Miami.  They have not met the deadlines to which they previously agreed.  We are trying to get them to do the “right thing”, but it has proven increasingly difficult.  We may have to return to court if the city does not live up to its commitments in the very near future.  We will keep you informed.

However, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), another defendant in the case, has done a much better job of meeting its commitments.  In the year ending October 31, 2005, FDOT completed work implementing ADA improvements on seven state highway projects within the city of Miami.  In these projects FDOT created or replaced 220 ramps, 119 driveways (totaling 28,785 sq. ft.) and 85,930 sq. ft of sidewalks.  The total cost of the seven projects was $1,240,910.

3.     City of Sonora, California – The city is working hard to live up to its promise to make all of its facilities, programs and services ADA-compliant.  However, it has had difficulties with its architects.  It had to fire one and secure the services of another who could better handle the job.  This has caused it to miss the intermediate evaluations and milestones that were set up in the settlement agreement.  While this means that Sonora will not be A.D.A. compliant by March 31, 2006, as the settlement envisioned, the city continues to make progress.  We continue to believe that when completed, Sonora will have a municipal plan second to none that will guarantee participation by its disabled community in all of the city’s activities and affairs.

4.                 Holland America and Costa Cruise Lines:  A fairness hearing was held and the class action certification was granted in these cases by Judge Shelby Highsmith.  Judge Highsmith also had words of praise for all involved, saying that everyone had done a beautiful job!  It means so much to us to be able to report this to you, as well!!!  These two cruise lines have been added to the Cunard and Carnival settlements, bringing to 22 the total number of cruise ships having been made or in the process of being made accessible.

5.                 Emory University:  This case against architects and engineers for university projects continues on after a related case was settled in 2002.  On March 3, 2006, Judge Clarence Cooper made several rulings, including denial of a motion for summary judgment.  The judge said that the parties are to meet by March 23rd to discuss settlement of the outstanding issues.  If they cannot reach settlement, the judge will send the case to alternative dispute resolution or set it for trial.  Although we will negotiate in good faith, we are preparing for trial.

6.                 Malls and Shopping Centers:  Of the 20 cases mentioned in our last newsletter that have been settled against malls and shopping centers with Time Up Dates (when work is to be completed) through the end of 2005, work has been fully completed in 7 more cases.  This is one more indication that these comprehensive settlements are improving the quality of life for the disabled. 

7.     Norwegian Cruise Line, Ltd.:  The Court held a pre-trial hearing on December 27, 2005.   The case has been scheduled for hearing on the cruise line’s Motion for Summary Judgment.  Settlement negotiations are continuing


with NCL, and we hope they will bear fruit.  However, we are prepared for the motion hearing, and we will go to trial if negotiations are unsuccessful.  In preparation for trial, Access Now’s experts inspected the Norwegian Wind on February 18th at the Port of Honolulu and found it seriously wanting.  We shall continue to pursue this situation.

________________________________________________________________

CLASS ACTIONS – Class actions affect a large number of disabled persons, usually because a large number of facilities are involved.  We still have class actions pending against Victoria’s Secrets, T.J. Maxx, the cruise line industry and cases against five hospital chains which encompass many, many individual hospitals.  These cases move slowly, but there is progress to report in two of them:

Brookstone Stores:  After the Fairness Hearing on January 4, 2006, Judge Joan Lenard issued an order denying the objection of 17 state Protection and Advocacy organizations and approving the settlement.  This milestone settlement encompassing over 350 stores is already being implemented by Brookstone with notices being posted in their stores advising customers that stores are being renovated to make them ADA-compliant.  We feel that this settlement will make a major contribution to the quality of life of the disabled who want to use the unique products available at Brookstone.  This is a case which was begun over three years ago, and it is most gratifying to have achieved this very substantial outcome that will positively affect the quality of life of thousands of disabled shoppers nationwide.

PLEASE TAKE SPECIAL NOTE OF THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH:

Arby’s:  “Access Now” brought suit against Arby’s based on the A.D.A. non-compliance of approximately 773 of its restaurants in the United States, Puerto Rico and U.S. territories.  Arby’s has agreed to remove architectural barriers in the restaurants.  That will allow the disabled better access to this restaurant chain.  U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez held a Fairness Hearing in the case on April 7, 2005.  In early 2006, he ordered additional notice to the class regarding amendments to the class certification.  That new Fairness Hearing has been scheduled for June 14, 2006 at 1:30 p.m.  We would hope to have a big showing of our members at the U.S. District Court in Miami, Florida, 301 North Miami Avenue, 3rd Floor.  Following that hearing, we are hopeful that the judge will approve the settlement.

________________________________________________________________

 

NON-“ACCESS NOW” LITIGATION – We want to keep you informed about important recent litigation around the country, of which you might not be aware, affecting the rights of the disabled.  We think it is important for our members to keep abreast of successes realized by and within the disabled community, whether accomplished by “Access Now” or by other organizations.  We are all in this fight together! 

·               In January the United States Court of Appeals decided that the ADA applies to an employee with end-stage renal disease who requires dialysis three times per week to eliminate the waste that had built up in his system.  James Heiko was passed over for promotion by his employer, the Colombo Savings Bank, in favor of a less qualified person.  Statements by the bank’s


president and vice president made clear that Heiko’s renal disease was a significant reason for his not being promoted.  At trial the bank contended that waste elimination was not a “major life activity” and that Heiko was therefore not disabled.  The 4th Circuit held to the contrary, finding that waste elimination was a major life activity.  It went on to find that Heiko’s thrice-weekly dialysis constituted a “substantial limitation” on this major life activity.  The district court’s judgment was reversed, and the case was returned for trial.  This case is especially significant because the 4th Circuit is perhaps the most conservative court of appeals in the country.  At a time when many district courts seem to oppose enforcement of the ADA, this gives hope that they may be reigned in by even the most conservative appellate courts.  You can read the full opinion in the case at the 4th Circuit’s website, http://207.41.17.117/ISYSquery/IRLF151.tmp/1/doc Heiko v. Colombo Savings Bank, F.S.B, 434 F.3d 249, 17 A.D. Cases 780 (4th Cir. 2006).

·               The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) has filed a class action suit in California against Target Corporation, a nationwide discount retailer operating more than 1,300 stores in 47 states.  The suit charges that Target’s website (www.target.com) is inaccessible to the blind, violating the California Unruh Civil Rights Act and the California Disabled Persons Act.  According to the complaint, Target’s website “contains thousands of access barriers that make it difficult, if not impossible, for blind customers to use the website.”  Given the outcome in our own Access Now case under the federal ADA against Southwest Airlines for having a very similar website, it will be interesting to see how this state law case proceeds.  The plaintiffs’ attorneys are Disability Rights Advocates, and they have more information regarding the case (including a link to the complaint and a fact sheet) at their website, http://www.dralegal.org/cases/private_business/index.php National Feder-ation of the Blind et al v. Target Corporation, Alameda County (CA) Superior Court No. RC06254127.

________________________________________________________________

INFORMATION RESOURCES ON AND OFF THE WEB:

Online Accessibility:  The state of Iowa is among a growing list of public and private entities updating their web sites to ensure greater accessibility.  Following in the footsteps of Minnesota and Johns Hopkins University reported on in our last edition, Iowa has revamped its Web site to make it easier for residents with disabilities to access state government services.  The new page, located at www.iowa.gov/state/main/disabilities.html, allows viewers to go directly to a list of disability services and state agencies that provide those services.  A link to the page will appear on the homepage of the state Web site and on the individual Web pages of the governor and lieutenant governor.  Lt. Governor Sally Pederson also announced that the Iowa Department of Human Rights, in consultation with the state’s Information Technology Enterprise, will partner with individuals with disabilities to ensure all state agencies’ Web sites are accessible to the state’s diverse populations.

 


________________________________________________________________

GOVERNMENTAL NEWS:
 
New York City Parks not ADA-Compliant

The New York State Comptroller recently issued a report on accessibility at facilities operated by New York City’s Department of Parks and Recreation (“Parks”).  “Parks” maintains approximately 28,700 acres of parkland, including almost 4,000 facilities that encompass nearly 1,000 playgrounds, 800 athletic fields, 550 tennis courts, 63 swimming pools, 35 recreation centers and 14 miles of beaches visited by millions of individuals every year.  The agency’s capital budget for fiscal year 2004 totaled $465 million.

According to Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), no otherwise qualified individual with disabilities should be excluded from participation in a governmental program or activity.  The Comptroller’s report shows that “Parks” failed to make its facilities ADA-accessible. 

When “Parks” upgraded its facilities, officials did not develop a Transitional Plan establishing an overall timetable for providing accessibility.  As a result of “Parks”’ piecemeal approach, new or altered facilities are often noncompliant because they fail to contain accessibility elements.  “Parks” did not appoint an ADA Coordinator to oversee ADA implementation efforts and resolve ADA-related complaints, nor did it establish a grievance process for complaints.  The agency does not actively publicize its ADA-accessible services on its website, in pamphlets or maps or by the placement of signage at facilities.  “Parks” does not always use signage to identify facilities that are accessible, and it does not post signs about locating accessible alternatives when facilities do not meet the ADA Guidelines.

There is no logic regarding which accessibility elements are incorporated into “Parks”’ projects:

·         Wheelchair-accessible ramps led to comfort stations that did not have ADA-compliant stalls at Maria Hernandez Park (Brooklyn), Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Park (Brooklyn) and Midland Beach Playground (Staten Island).

·         “Parks” spent more than $19 million over 9 years at Riverside Park in Manhattan, but none of its comfort stations is ADA-accessible.

·         After completing capital improvements to the 79th Street entrance and walkways of Riverside Park, several of the newly finished walkways still led to physical barriers such as stairs and slopes.

·         “Parks” spent $34.4 million at Van Cortland Park (Bronx) over a 10 year period but, the walkways around the park’s lake were not level, and there was a raised threshold in the doorway of a men’s comfort station in the Nature Center which blocked wheelchair access to what was an otherwise ADA-accessible facility. 

The Comptroller’s recommendations to “Parks” include a major revision in the way it plans and implements capital projects to ensure that they are ADA-compliant.  Among them, “Parks” must establish a Transitional Plan with timetables for making facilities and services ADA-compliant, and ADA accessibility is to be incorporated in all new and major alteration projects.  The agency must appoint an ADA Coordinator to oversee all ADA


implementation efforts, identify and investigate complaints and develop grievance procedures for handling complaints alleging ADA noncompliance.  Information regarding accessibility is to be posted on “Parks”’ Internet site, and international signage will be posted at each accessible entrance of a facility and at all inaccessible entrances, directing users to an accessible entrance or to a location where they can obtain information about alternative accessible facilities.

We hope that in light of this scathing report “Parks” and the City administration will redouble their efforts to set an example for all New Yorkers by making its facilities ADA-compliant.  The full Comptroller’s report is found at http://www.osc.state.ny.us/audits/allaudits/093006/04n6.pdf

 

Obscure VA program can help disabled vets

A program that could open the door to the increasingly restrictive Veterans Administration (VA) health care system and provide money for assisted living and home health care is the little-known Aid and Attendance program.  Since 1951, the program has provided monthly payments to disabled or homebound veterans and their spouses who have high out-of-pocket medical costs.  The eligibility formula balances income against medical bills, so middle-class vets can qualify for payments as high as $1,744 a month.  However, a recent study found only about one-fourth of eligible veterans and one-sixth of eligible widows are participating in the Aid and Attendance program.

The program may be especially useful to veterans now that the VA has clamped down on new health care enrollments for those without service-connected disabilities.  In 2003, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs created what is called "Priority 8," a classification that effectively barred access to VA clinics, hospitals, physicians and medications for people over certain income limits.

According to federal statistics, California, with 2.3 million civilian veterans, had 17,378 denials last year of applications to enroll in the VA health care system because of Priority 8.  Florida, which has the second highest number of civilian veterans with 1.8 million, has a substantially higher denial rate with 27,465 applications rejected last year based upon Priority 8.

The Aid and Attendance program offsets all unreimbursed medical expenses against a veteran's income.  Therefore, an applicant whose income exceeded the Priority 8 limit might find himself or herself eligible under the Aid and Attendance Program if their medical costs are high enough.  A doctor must certify that a veteran or spouse has conditions requiring the "aid and attendance" of another person or care center in order to live safely.  Veterans who qualify for the Aid and Attendance Program automatically receive full VA health care and prescription benefits. 

 

There are private companies that can help veterans or their care facilities apply for benefits under the Aid and Attendance Program.  While they charge a fee for their services, state and county Veterans Services Officers often provide these services free of charge.  However, private companies will sometimes advance money to a care facility until the VA approves the benefit.  State and local governments cannot provide that service.


The following story, from Noel Neudeck, who, totally as a volunteer, heads “Wheelchair Access Now Today” in CA, also addresses the plight of veterans, but in addition it speaks to the difficulties of getting corporate America to “do the right thing” when it involves the disabled.          

Saving America’s Steakhouse

Calling on Hilton to be the kinda corp it claims to be.

By Shoshana Bryen

Few Americans would argue that American soldiers should not receive the thanks of our nation for their service, and fewer still would argue that, if returning to our country less than whole and in need of help, soldiers should not receive the support of America's corporate giants.

Hilton Hotel Corporation, then, has something to answer for.

Every Friday is Veterans' Day at Fran O'Brien's Stadium Steakhouse in Washington, D.C., where owners, Hal Koster and Marty O'Brien, bring soldiers — primarily amputees — recovering from their wounds at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval Hospital to the restaurant and treat them and their families to a full steak dinner. It is often the first place soldiers appear in public after losing limbs and it is a coveted part of their therapy. You can see the progression — new attendees hang out mainly in the private party room; regulars migrate to the bar in the main part of the restaurant, mingling with patrons and buying drinks.

But Fran O'Brien's is located in the Capital Hilton Hotel and the lease ran out in December. The owners had been asking for a new lease since the fall and management had been assuring them it would be renewed. Two weeks ago, they were given until May 1 to vacate.

There are two possible scenarios, and neither says much for Hilton.

Scenario number one says Hilton is worried about a lawsuit. The hotel is in violation of Americans With Disabilities Act. Hilton has not made the basement restaurant ADA compliant — part of the lease negotiation was to have been for the replacement of a non-working escalator in the Hilton lobby with an ADA-compliant elevator. Since there were no negotiations, there is no elevator. The soldiers have been using a steep stairwell or the service elevator. Perhaps Hilton doesn't know that there have, in fact, been several accidents, but the soldiers, being soldiers, are more interested in dinner than lawsuits.

ADA noncompliance is illegal, but more importantly, it is shameful when the chief victims are veterans who have been injured in service to our country. But the compliance issue is the better of the two possibilities.

Scenario number two is that Hilton is uncomfortable with so many wounded soldiers passing through its lobby on the way to the restaurant and worries about the impact it will have on the hotel guests.

Hilton's website proudly boasts of its corporate philanthropy and starts its paean to itself with, "We at Hilton recognize our responsibility to corporate citizenship


wherever we do business." How better to be responsible corporate citizens than to continue to house Fran O'Brien's and the wounded soldiers it serves?

Hilton has been inundated by calls and e-mails from Americans who are appalled to see veterans treated shabbily by a corporate giant. The Capital Hilton's website Monday — for a few hours — announced the eviction of Fran O'Brien's as "strictly a business decision" and that the hotel had offered to host a dinner for the troops on May 5. But by evening, the notice was gone and the website had its usual advertisement for the restaurant.

Col. Jonathan Jaffin, at the time commander of the medical corps at Walter Reed, wrote of the dinners:

The benefit to these soldiers and their families is incalculable... While the steak dinner is in itself a treat for those who have been eating in a dining facility ... the meal is so much more than a dinner: it is a night out, a chance to get away from the hospital environment for a few hours, an evening to do something as normal as going to a restaurant for dinner. Even more, it is a tangible demonstration of the support, respect, and even love that Americans feel for our troops.

Hilton Hotels should be doing everything it can to ensure that our soldiers have a safe, friendly, ADA-compliant Fran O'Brien's as a "tangible demonstration of the support, respect and even love" that a corporate giant can show to our troops. Anything less is unworthy of a major American corporation.

Shoshana Bryen is director of special projects for the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), a proud supporter of the Fran O'Brien's Friday-night dinners.

________________________________________________________________

 We wrote in our September, 2005 newsletter about the following problem concerning airlines and service animals, and we included therein a copy of our letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation.  It is obvious that much more work needs to be done on this matter:

Allan Appel: Disabled people's animals may soon find the skies uninviting

©Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers, March 21, 2006 Reprinted by permission.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has proposed new rules that would make the skies very unfriendly for disabled people traveling with service animals.  The DOT would regulate changes in the Air Carrier Access Act. These proposed changes would allow airlines three options if a service dog is too big to sit in the small amount of space directly in front of the owner's seat.

The three options include charging the disabled passenger for an extra ticket, or putting the dog in the cargo hold; or making the passenger and dog wait for a later flight. All three of these alternatives are outrageous and unacceptable.

Charging the passenger for a second seat would disenfranchise many disabled people, unable to pay two fares.

Shipping the dog in the cargo hold is both unacceptable and fraught with danger for the animal. Separating the service animal from the disabled passenger threatens the person's independence. And it has been


estimated about 5,000 animals shipped in the cargo hold are lost, injured or killed every year.

Making the team wait for a later flight likewise makes no sense. First, the same crowded conditions may exist on other flights. Also, the passenger may be forced to miss connections or scheduled pick-ups or appointments at the destination.

The current airline practices provide for an empty seat where space is available, or asking for a volunteer to share leg space with the service dog. This policy has served both the airlines and the public well. It imposes no financial burden on either the airline or the disabled passenger. And it also happens to implement the very spirit of the Air Carrier Access Act.

Service animals may include guide dogs for the visually impaired. Service dogs also help people who are deaf or otherwise have low hearing capacity and may assist people with difficulty maintaining balance or warn of an impending seizure or other unanticipated events.

This new measure, first proposed in November 2004, may go into effect as early as this summer. Contact your local congressmen and senators to urge DOT to withdraw this proposed rule immediately.

Thousands of disabled people who travel with service animals are depending on our support.

Allan Appel writes a biweekly column about disabilities. He can be reached c/o Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers, 1939 S. Federal Highway, P.O. Box 9009, Stuart, FL 34994, or e-mail at aappel223@yahoo.com.

 

MISCELLANEOUS ITEMS OF INTEREST:

We hope you will enjoy these thought-provoking articles.

January 26, 2006

Why Aren’t You Working With Disabled Artists?

By Stephanie Barton-Farcas

When the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “artist” as “a person skilled in one of the fine arts” or “one who is adept at something,” it doesn’t add that an artist must be a hearing, seeing, four-limbed, perfectly formed, white, English-speaking person.  When members of our theatre company, Nicu’s Spoon, take a walk on the streets of New York, that’s not what we see.  We see all races, colors, and religions.  We hear many languages.  That’s what makes this city great!

But look again – at the blind lady with the guide dog, the two teenagers speaking sign language in the back of the subway car, the young man in a wheelchair with a briefcase tucked into its side pocket, the girl with the prosthetic arm.  Don’t look in pity.  They have fine, rich lives.  But the artists among them seek the work that we – the theatre community – can do with them.  And whether we realize it or not, we need them as well:  to enrich us and to help create an onstage world that is more real and reflective of society.


Our company has worked with handicapped (yes, you are allowed to say the word, and it won’t hurt a bit) artists of all kinds for nearly six years.  Each disabled artist (deaf, blind, with cerebral palsy, epileptic, diabetic, in a wheelchair, or with prosthetic limbs) creates a different physical challenge for the artist and the company, and thus each has vastly different needs.  Companies often think that meeting these needs will be expensive and time-consuming, but in truth it is no more time-consuming than dealing with an actor with memorization problems and no more expensive than having to pay an actor who needs to take the Long Island Railroad into Manhattan.

As a theatre company, you have to want to work with these amazing artists.  Don’t do it just to get the funds or to impress someone and seem politically correct.  It demeans both you and them, and they’ll know in an instant.  Be upfront about working with them and ask about their needs and limitations.  They know they’re disabled, so your bringing it up won’t come as a surprise.  Deal with what to call their disability, or say to the cast, “If you don’t know, ask them.   They’ll tell you.”  Find out what they need at rehearsal in order to be their best.  What are their technical needs?  What medical needs, if any, do they have?  What are the possible risks?  (For example, if you choose to work with an epileptic actor, as we have, you will run the risk of possible seizure on stage, and you must accept that.)  And will that adorable guide dog really steal the show?  Talk it out with them and the cast, openly and with humor.

Hire these performers for themselves and all their richness.  Make the effort to seek them out.  Seek out and cast all kinds of actors.  Mix it up.  Everyone could be playing all sorts of roles.  Most recently, in our production of Stumps, I was asked by a deaf actor (in the nicest way possible) why I hadn’t hired only hearing actors who could sign, as it would have been so much easier for the rehearsal and production process.  My gentle reply was that I cast him and the others for their talent, not their ears.  I explained their talent was worth any extra effort we had to put in.  And I meant it.

My company is now ending season five and preparing for season six, and it seems we can’t not think outside the box with regard to the amazing talent in this city and across the country.  It does seem odd to me that some companies wouldn’t want to work with all of that rich smorgasbord of talent.  My advice?  Do it.  You’ll find it easier than you thought.

I have always believed that art has the power to transform – to change us and the world we live in.  I still do.  But it’s up to us to take the risk and make it happen.  So go ahead.  Sample the smorgasbord!

Stephanie Barton-Farcas is artistic director of Nicu’s Spoon, a New York City-based theatre company.

 


 

 

With the recent death of Rosa Parks having been much in the news, the following article struck us as one in which the disability community and its supporters would be very interested.  I believe that re-visiting why, how, when and where the Disability Movement got started would be most enlightening for all of us:

The Other Movement That Rosa Parks Inspired

By Sitting Down, She Made Room for the Disabled

By Charles Wilson

 

©The Washington Post, Sunday, October 30, 2005; Page B01.

On an unseasonably warm September day in 1984, about a dozen men and women rolled their wheelchairs in front of a city bus that was pulling onto State Street in Chicago. Then they sat there and didn't move. The group had no secret agenda; they simply wanted to make a point. Days before, the Chicago Transit Authority had announced that it was purchasing 363 new public buses -- and that none of them would be equipped with wheelchair lifts to serve disabled passengers because the lifts had been deemed too expensive. This ragtag group of wheelchair riders, who were affiliated with a disability rights organization called ADAPT, or Americans Disabled for Accessible Public Transit, decided to protest that decision by obstructing a bus until the police carted them away. Every one of them wore a simple paper name tag, the sort that you would normally see at a meet-and-greet. They all said: "My name is Rosa Parks."

Rosa Parks's act of courage in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955 did more than dismantle the system of racial segregation on public transportation. Her refusal to give up her seat to a white man also created a legacy she never could have foreseen. It was through Parks's example that the disabled community transformed its own often disorganized cause into a unified disability rights movement. "Had it not been for Parks and the bus boycott, there is no question that the disability rights movement would have been light-years behind, if it would have ever occurred," says Michael Auberger, a disability rights activist who was one of the first to place his wheelchair in front of a bus in the early 1980s. "Her genius was that she saw the bus as the great integrator: It took you to work, it took you to play, it took you to places that you were never before seen. We began to see the bus the same way, too, and it empowered a group of people who had been just as disenfranchised as African Americans."

The disability rights movement could in no sense have been called a movement when Parks refused to yield her seat. At that time, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities reached over 70 percent, and organizations that rallied for rights for people with disabilities focused on solutions that were specific to a single disorder. "The disability community was fragmented," says Bob Kafka, a quadriplegic whobroke his neck in 1973 and who was an early organizer for ADAPT. "The deaf community wanted interpreters. People with mobility issues wanted curb cuts. The blind wanted more sensory communication. Everyone saw themselves as a deaf person, or a blind person, or a mental health person. We were tossed salad, not fondue."


Parks's action offered these separate communities a strategy that unified their various wishes. "Rosa Parks energized us in that she was the perfect symbol for when the meek become militant," says Kafka. "She was someone who was willing to cross the line." And the fight for accessible public transportation was to be the single issue that catalyzed disparate disability groups into a common cause. By the 1960s and '70s, many cities had introduced paratransit services that picked up disabled patients. The officials who controlled city budgets, though, typically stipulated that these buses could be used by an individual only a few times a monthand that the buses could be used only by appointment. So, in the late '70s and early '80s, some activists began to extend the logic of Parks's silent act of defiance to their own cause: Buses that divided people into separate categories, they said, were inherently unequal. Disabled people shouldn't be limited to using paratransit buses. They deserved to ride the city buses, just like everyone else.

"How could you go to school, or go on a date, or volunteer somewhere if the only trips deemed worth funding for you were medical trips?" wrote ADAPT member Stephanie Thomas in her introduction to "To Ride the Public's Buses," a collection of articles about the early bus actions that appeared in Disability Rag. "How could you get a job if you could only get 3 rides a week? If you were never on time?"

Parks's method of dissent – sitting still – was well suited to a community in which many people found themselves having to do that very thing all day long. Within two decades of her refusal to give up her seat, disabled people in cities across the country began staging their own "sit-ins" by parking their wheelchairs in front of ill-equipped city buses -- or, alternatively, by ditching their wheelchairs and crawling onto the stairs of the bus vestibules.

Some of the sit-ins were individual acts of defiance. In Hartford, Conn., 63-year-old Edith Harris parked her wheelchair in front of 10 separate local buses on a single day after waiting nearly two hours for an accessible bus. Increasingly, though, the sit-ins were organized by ADAPT and involved many wheelchair users at a single location.

These actions began to change both how disabled people were perceived and how they perceived themselves. "Without the history of Parks and Martin Luther King, the only argument that the disability community had was the Jerry Lewis Principle," explains Auberger. "The Poor Pathetic Cripple Principle. But if you take a single disabled person and you show them that they can stop a bus, you've empowered that person. And you've made them feel they had rights."

The sit-ins also began to bring about concrete changes in the policies of urban transportation boards. In 1983, the city of Denver gave up its initial resistance and retrofitted all 250 of its buses with lifts after 45 wheelchair users blocked buses at the downtown intersection of Colfax Avenue and Broadway. Similar moves were made by Washington's Metro board in 1986 and by Chicago's transit authority in 1989. And in 1990, when the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act cleared Congress, the only provisions that went into effect immediately were those that mandated accessible public transportation.

If Rosa Parks left a lasting legacy on the disability rights movement, it is important to recognize that it is a legacy that is largely unfinished. A restored version of the bus that Rosa Parks rode in Montgomery recently went on display at the Henry Ford Museum near Detroit, the city where Parks lived her last decades and died last

 


Monday. Detroit's mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, who is up for reelection on Nov. 8, memorialized Parks by saying that "she stood up by sitting down. I'm only standing here because of her."

Kilpatrick failed to mention a further irony, though: The Justice Department joined a suit against his city in March. It was initially filed in August 2004, by Richard Bernstein, a blind 31-year-old lawyer from the Detroit suburb of Farmington Hills, on behalf of four disabled inner-city clients. His plaintiffs said that they routinely waited three to four hours in severe cold for a bus with a working lift. Their complaint cited evidence that half of the lifts on the city's bus fleet were routinely broken. The complaint did not ask for compensation. It demanded only that the Motor City comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act. The city recently purchased more accessible buses, but the mayor didn't offer a plan for making sure the buses stayed in good working order. He has publicly disparaged Bernstein on radio as an example of "suburban guys coming into our community trying to raise up the concerns of people when this administration is going to the wall on this issue of disabled riders."

Mayor Kilpatrick is not going to the wall, and neither are many other mayors in this country. A 2002 federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics study found that 6 million Americans with disabilities still have trouble obtaining the transportation they need. Many civic leaders and officials at transit organizations have made arguments about the economic difficulty of installing lifts on buses and maintaining them. But they are seeing only one side of the argument: More people in the disability community would pursue jobs and pay more taxes if they could only trust that they could get to work and back safely.

Public officials who offered elaborate eulogies to Parks's memory last week should evaluate whether they are truly living up to the power of her ideas. During a visit to Detroit in August to speak to disabled transit riders for a project I was working on, I met Robert Harvey, who last winter hurled his wheelchair in front of a bus pulling onto Woodward Avenue after four drivers in a row had passed him by. (He was knocked to the curb.) I met Carolyn Reed, who has spina bifida and had lost a job because she could rarely find a bus that would get her to work on time. Her able-bodied friends had also recently stopped inviting her to the movies. She guessed why: A few times over the past months, they had found themselves waiting late at night with her for hours to catch a bus with a working lift. "I'd say, 'Go ahead, go ahead, I'll be all right,' " she told me. "And they'd say, 'We're not leaving you out here.' "  I also met Willie Cochran, a double amputee who once waited six hours in freezing temperatures for a bus that would take him home from dialysis treatment.

None of this should be happening in America.  "Rosa Parks could get on the bus to protest," says Roger McCarville, a veteran in Detroit who once chained himself to a bus. "We still can't get on the bus."  A true tribute to Parks would be to ensure that every American can.

Author's e-mail:    shepherdstown@gmail.com

Charles Wilson, a writer who lives in New York City, has been doing research for a book about the disability rights movement. 


 

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS:

Recently, I met with a group of wheelchair-users and their companions who were visiting Ft. Lauderdale, FL from Sweden.  They had contacted me and asked if I would talk to them about the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Although it is well known that Sweden has a very comprehensive national health care system, it seems that accessibility standards and achievements are not quite on a par with those in the U.S.A.  It is their aim to further those goals by starting a movement to bring A.D.A.-type legislation to their country. I was very happy to give them as much information as I could and to try to assist them in their efforts.  One of our Access Now members lives in Australia and regularly keeps me posted on the small but growing efforts in that country in regard to handicapped accessibility advocacy.  It is gratifying to see that Sweden will now join this growing movement internationally so that we can witness not only within, but beyond, our shores the spread of enlightenment about the needs and rights of the disabled community!

As you can see, we and other disability rights advocates have been quite busy continuing in our missions.  No matter how much work is done, there is always more waiting to be tackled.  We sincerely hope that, if you are not already a member of Access Now, you will sign on to become one after having received this newsletter. (See Membership Form at beginning of this newsletter.)  Remember, no dues or donations are required (although, of course, donations are appreciated).  What we need most is to increase our membership, because the larger our numbers, the louder our voice and the greater our strength! 

 

Thank you all and please:

 

IF YOU HAVE A CHANGE OF POSTAL ADDRESS, PHONE NUMBER OR EMAIL ADDRESS PLEASE, PLEASE LET US KNOW SO THAT WE CAN KEEP OUR FILES UPDATED AND SO THAT WE CAN CONTINUE TO COMMUNICATE WITH YOU. 

 

BEST WISHES FOR CONTINUED PROGRESS IN ACCESSIBILITY ISSUES!

 

Access Now, Inc.

 

Phyllis F. Resnick

President