Last Thursday, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) released a Final Statement of Enforcement Priorities Regarding Service Animals that clarifies rules governing service animals on flights for passengers, airlines, and other stakeholders involved in commercial air travel. The statement also specifies the department’s enforcement priorities, clarifies service animal species limitations, and lists the specific situations in which it is required for handlers to provide official documentation to the airline before boarding.
Despite the passage of the ADA and accessibility lawsuits filed against Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley, and other prominent investment management services, people with disabilities encounter frustrating obstacles in the banking world. Inaccessible websites and other digital barriers impede the efforts of those with disabilities to do even the most mundane tasks, such as check an account balance or read credit statements at the end of the month.
Albert Rizzi gave up on trying to manage his nest egg because as a blind person, he encountered digital barriers constantly. Many of the websites, mobile apps, PDFs and software programs he needed were not accessible. Sometimes, they just didn’t work.
So Mr. Rizzi, 55, the founder of My Blind Spot, an accessibility advocacy group in New York, filed a federal lawsuit in April 2018 against Morgan Stanley, the firm he uses to manage his personal retirement accounts.
Mr. Rizzi’s suit accused the bank of violating the Americans With Disabilities Act by “denying access to its websites to individuals with disabilities who are visually impaired” and who require screen-reader software to access digital content. Mr. Rizzi also cited the bank for not having an accessibility website or hotline. The case, which sought about $9 million in damages, was settled last summer, his lawyer, Lambros Lambrou, said.
In a separate case, Wells Fargo in 2011 settled an investigation by the Justice Department alleging ADA violations because the bank failed to accept what is known as video relay services, or video phone calls, from deaf customers. The settlement required the bank to pay $16 million to some account holders and remedy a variety of accessibility problems.
Twenty years have passed since the Olmstead decision by the Supreme Court, which found that people with disabilities have a right to receive services outside of institutions, and to be fully integrated in their communities.
The 1999 Olmstead v. L.C. decision fundamentally changed the lives of Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson, who had both been institutionalized and living in isolation for an extended period of time after they had been voluntarily admitted into a state-run psychiatric unit for treatment. Even after mental healthcare providers approved their release, Curtis and Wilson were, essentially, stuck in the institution.
In a first-of-its-kind use of the ADA–which was less than a decade old–Curtis and Wilson filed a lawsuit. The result was a landmark decision by the Supreme Court, which found that confining individuals “greatly diminishes the everyday life activities of individuals, including family relations, social contacts, work options, economic independence, educational advancement, and cultural enrichment.”
Since the Olmstead decision in 1999, many people have been freed from institutions and have a legal right to live where they want to live.
Listen to Ruth Bader Ginsburg deliver the majority opinion for the court:
Tom Sietsema, a well-known food critic for the Washington Post, has announced that he will add accessibility information to his restaurant reviews. His decision, as Sietsema explains in a post published earlier this week, was prompted by feedback he’s received from readers, who frequently contact Sietsema to ask about restaurants’ accommodations for people who use wheelchairs, or people who are blind. Sietsema said he initially had concerns about remaining under-the-radar as a restaurant critic “while measuring doorways with a tape measure.” But, upon considering that more than 70,000 Washingtonians live with a disability, Sietsema realized the importance of his obligation to serve his audience.
Click here to read Sietsema’s announcement in the Washington Post.
On January 15, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the Domino’s Pizza website and mobile app must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and be made fully accessible to people with visual impairments. The court reasoned that the ADA applies to Domino’s digital properties because their inaccessibility “impedes access to goods and services of its physical pizza franchises—which are places of public accommodation.”
A blind customer first sued the pizza chain in 2016, saying he couldn’t order a pizza through its website or app, since neither were compatible with standard screen reading software. And while the legal landscape regarding online accessibility is still uncertain, the Domino’s case may set an important legal precedent regarding the scope of the ADA.
Read more about the case here, or click here to download a PDF of the ruling.
Disability Rights California (DCA), a non-profit disabilities rights group, has filed a class-action lawsuit against the city of San Diego and three dockless scooter companies. The lawsuit names San Diego and scooter companies Bird, Lime, and Razor as violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by obstructing the city’s sidewalks, crosswalks, transit stops, and curb ramps. Put more simply, the plaintiffs say the scooters render San Diego’s public walkways inaccessible for people with visual and mobility impairments.
In an article for the Arizona Capitol Times, Katie Campbell details changes that are underway to make the Arizona State Capitol building more accessible for not just one new elected official, but all Arizonans. Jennifer Longdon, a presumptive state representative from Legislative District 24, uses a wheelchair and has drawn lawmakers’ attention to areas of the Capitol that are not easily accessible for people who use wheelchairs.
According to Longdon, Campbell writes, “this is just the first step toward making the Capitol more inclusive to everyone, both physically and in the policies that lawmakers craft.” Read the Arizona Capitol Times story here.
Anniversary of Americans With Disabilities Act: July 26, 2018
On July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodations, commercial facilities, telecommunications, and state and local government services.
This Facts for Features provides a demographic snapshot of the U.S. population with a disability and examines various services available to them. U.S. Census Report
Students at Columbia are seeking help from disability rights lawyers to convince university housing officials that multiple assistance animals are a medically required disability accommodation. Olivia Deloian of the Columbia Chronicle interviewed business major Lindsey Barrett who says her therapist prescribed dog companionship to treat symptoms of adjustment disorder. The problem is, Barrett already has an emotional support cat for her severe anxiety disorder, which means she needs new approval from Columbia to house the second animal. Deloian carefully describes her journalism process in contacting Columbia officials to request their side of the disagreement. With Barrett’s help, Deloian also provides a useful explanation of the distinction between emotional support animals and other service animals.
The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) published a report today outlining common barriers to medical education faced by med school students with disabilities. The research on this topic was prompted by the AAMC‘s desire to promote diversity among its student, faculty and professional membership, and facilitate the standardization of accommodations. The report suggests that, although more medical school students are self-identifying as having disabilities, a culture of competition still promotes stigma around disability. Philadelphia public radio’s (WHYY) Elana Gordon wrote a short article summarizing the AAMC report and the responses it prompted from disability rights advocates.