ADA

The Physics (and Economics, and Politics) of Wheelchairs on Planes

Flying can be stressful, painful, or simply impossible for wheelchair users. Critics say it doesn’t have to be that way.

 Michael Schulson, Undark

WHEN SHANE BURCAW flies on an airplane, he brings along a customized gel cushion, a car seat, and about 10 pieces of memory foam. The whole arsenal costs around $1,000, but for Burcaw it’s a necessity.

The 27-year-old author and speaker — who, alongside his fiancée, Hannah Aylward, is one half of the YouTube duo Squirmy and Grubs — has spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic disorder that affects motor neurons and causes muscle wasting and weakness. The disorder contorted his limbs and he has used a wheelchair for mobility since he was 2 years old. Today, he uses a motorized wheelchair custom-fitted to his diminutive, 65-lb. frame, but to board an airplane, he’s required to give it up. Instead, Aylward must carry Burcaw onto the plane, and from there, transfer him into a child’s car seat, which provides limited support and does not fit his body (thus, the foam).

“When you hear about the injuries and the discomfort and the embarrassment that wheelchair users have faced when flying,” Burcaw said, “it becomes pretty obvious that they’re not being treated in a very humane way with these rules.”

Indeed, regulations prohibit passengers from sitting in their own wheelchairs on planes, and, as a result, 29 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which dramatically increased American wheelchair users’ access to buses, trains, and other essential 21st century infrastructure, airplanes remain stubbornly inaccessible. For many wheelchair users, the experience of flying is stressful, painful, and sometimes humiliating. For some, it is simply impossible.

Emily Ladau, a disability rights activist, writer, and public speaker, does deep-breathing exercises to manage her anxiety as airport staff take her wheelchair away. She likens the experience to watching someone walk off with her legs. Things aren’t much better onboard. “Airplane seats are designed for the quote-unquote average person,” Ladau said. “I’m nowhere near the quote-unquote average person.” At 4’6”, she does not fit the seat easily. Her legs dangle. She cannot align her posture. “It’s very uncomfortable,” she said.

“You’re basically giving disabled people yet another reason to feel like society wants us shut into our homes and doesn’t want us going anywhere.”

Read the full article here: https://undark.org/2019/12/03/making-flying-safe-accessible/?fbclid=IwAR12anC3a_5uwrH1MBh9q4wRUi6txearETo1yedwgZBm4LGfTmO079kf9vA

 

State of Access: This Week’s Version

When I’m giving disability issues talks, I’m often asked “Because of the ADA and other laws, are things getting better?” My answer is some version of “yes and no”.  Here’s this week’s version:

  1. Unsafe situation on nearby corner of busy street
    The mile long reconstruction of an arterial road near my house just finished.  Drivers are breathing a sigh of relief about not having to drive a couple extra miles to get around the construction.  I walked part of the reconstructed sidewalks with a friend who used to teach blind kids and she pointed out that on one corner the truncated domes (bumps) were mis-applied. They’ll launch blind people kiddy-cornered from the northwest corner of the intersection to the southeast corner. I immediately notified a staff member in the city’s engineering department and she replied that she’d turned it over to the project manager and would get back to me with an update when available.  Being concerned that soon the snow will fly and it won’t be able to be fixed until next spring or summer, I notified the city manager. He has not gotten back to me yet.
  2. Unreadable obituaries:
    When you reach the age I have, you start checking the obituaries as regularly as you have that first morning cup of coffee.  Recently the local paper switched their provider of obituaries and they’re no longer accessible to my screen reader.  When I contacted the local paper’s representative, they gave me the email of the help desk of the new provider. I emailed them and offered to work with them to fix the problem. No word back yet.  My work around is to ask a sighted friend who reads the paper to let me know if anyone she knows is listed in the obits.  Not the same, but better than nothing.
  3. Inaccessible library app:
    The public library is touting an app, Libby where one can download audio and e-books on your iPhone. I downloaded it and opened it to a “secret” message to Voiceover users (meaning it wasn’t printed on the screen for sighted people to see, but just audio) that the app wasn’t accessible to us and we should use Overdrive app instead. After several emails and phone calls to the public library, they raised the complaint with the library system who will raise it with the vendor. On the company’s website I read that they’re “working hard” to make Libby accessible, no timeline given. I put a comment on the CEO’s blog since I couldn’t find his email, but have no way of knowing if it was read since I haven’t heard back. There’s plenty of responsibility to be spread around on this one: e.g. why did the company knowingly market an inaccessible app? Why did the library system buy an inaccessible product?
  4. Disability emoji’s launched in version 13.2 for iPhones and iPads:
    For over a year, we’ve been hearing that some disability emoji were coming soon to iPhones and iPads. They have arrived, including persons with “cochlear implants” “probing canes”, “guide dog” and “service dog”. I’ve never heard a long cane, also called a white cane, called a “probing cane”. Others in the disability community point out that many disabilities including cognitive disabilities don’t get an emoji. I also notice some of the other new emoji give the person a high status profession “nonbinary judge” or such, but we just get a disability. Am I happy? A little! (Insert emoji of slightly smiling face in your mind)

I was reading Kushner’s excellent Nine Essential Things I’ve Learned about Life. He has a theology of “not yet” that I really like. Are things all better on the accessibility front? Not yet, but that may happen someday if we all keep plugging away on it.

Katherine Schneider, Ph.D.
Senior Psychologist, Emerita
Counseling Service
University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire
Author of Occupying Aging: Delights, Disabilities and Daily Life, To the Left of Inspiration: Adventures in Living with Disabilities and a children’s book Your Treasure Hunt: Disabilities and Finding Your Gold
Blog: http://kathiecomments.wordpress.com

Disability rights leader Marca Bristo dies at 66

Marca Bristo headshot
Marca Bristo founded and led Access Living, a non-profit that advocates for legislation and policies that ensure fair housing and accessible transportation for people with disabilities. Image: a recent headshot of Marca Bristo. (Photo: accessliving.org)

Marca Bristo, one of the most influential advocates for people with disabilities in the U.S., died on Sunday morning after a long battle with cancer. She was 66.

After becoming paralyzed in a diving accident at 23, Bristo dedicated her life to disability rights advocacy and worked tirelessly to secure legal protections and improve quality of life measures for people with disabilities.

Among her many achievements, Bristo played a significant role in getting the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed. She also founded Access Living in Chicago, a nonprofit that promoted independent living, and in 1993 she was appointed by President Clinton to lead the National Council on Disability. She provided strategic leadership to the organization in that role until 2002.

Click here to read Marca Bristo’s full obituary in the New York Times.

U.S. Department of Transportation clarifies rules regarding air travel and service animals

DOT releases new guidelines for Service Dogs on flights
Image: A service dog walks with its owner through an airport terminal. (Photo: DoD News | Flickr)

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.

Access a summary of the new rules and enforcement priorities on the Department of Transportation website.

At Banks and Fund Firms, Access Is Too Often Denied, Blind and Deaf Investors Tell NYT

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.

Despite the passage of the ADA and accessibility lawsuits, people with disabilities encounter obstacles in the banking world. Inaccessible websites and other digital barriers impede the efforts of those with disabilities to manage even the most mundane tasks, like checking an account balance or reading a bank statement at the end of the month.
Inaccessible websites and other digital barriers impede the efforts of those with disabilities to manage even the most mundane banking tasks, like checking an account balance or reading a statement at the end of the month. [Image: a screenshot of the NYT article headline, portraying Michelle Gustafson photograph of Neil McDevitt, the executive director of the Deaf-Hearing Communication Center, at his desk.]
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.

Click here to read Joshua Brockman’s article in the July 5, 2019 edition of the New York Times.

 

Olmstead decision turns 20

[Video courtesy of EquipforEquality / YouTube]

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.

Background

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.

The Case

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.”

Olmstead Impact

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:

Washington Post food critic to add accessibility to restaurant reviews

A screenshot of "Why I will start including accessibility information in my restaurant reviews," Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema's article that was published on May 22.
“Why I will start including accessibility information in my restaurant reviews,” the article by Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema that was published on May 22. Image: a screenshot of Sietsema’s article, which depicts an illustration of a man in a wheelchair superimposed over an architectural blueprint.

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.

Domino’s Website Required to Comply With ADA Accessibility Rules

A close up photo of the Domino's Pizza app interface.
A photo of the Domino’s app interface on a smartphone. There’s a lack of clarity about how the ADA applies to the modern internet.

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.

City of San Diego and scooter companies sued by disability rights group

A class-action lawsuit claims dockless scooters violate the ADA because they obstruct sidewalks and other public access areas. This photo shows two Bird scooters parked on a sidewalk.
A class-action lawsuit claims dockless scooters violate the ADA because they obstruct sidewalks and other public access areas. This photo shows two Bird scooters parked on a sidewalk.

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.

You can read more about the lawsuit online, or download a PDF of this NBC 7 San Diego news article.

“Accessibility Is Not A Partisan Issue”

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.

Jennifer Longdon Accessibility
Jennifer Longdon, a presumptive state representative from Legislative District 24, poses before a set of stairs to the speaker’s desk. “It’s more than our numbers that keep me from being speaker,” she said. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)