legal

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:

College admissions scandal hurts students with disabilities

A stock photo of SAT test scores. A score of 1600 is circled in red colored pencil.
A stock photo of SAT test scores. A score of 1600 is circled in red colored pencil.

Celebrities and wealthy parents involved in the college admissions bribery scheme which recently made headlines took advantage of testing accommodations meant for students with disabilities, federal authorities say. According to court documents, the parents were instructed to lie in order to secure extra time and a private room for their kids to take the SAT or ACT. The parents were told to falsely claim that their children had learning disabilities–and to obtain the necessary medical documentation for proof.

For students with learning disabilities, there is often a discrepancy between academic performance and their intelligence. Advocates for students with learning disabilities believe the scandal could make it harder for students with actual learning disabilities to get the test-taking accommodations they need.

You can read the NPR story about the scandal here.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey issues executive order to improve protections for people with disabilities

Page two of Gov. Ducey's Executive Order 2019-03, showing his signature and the Arizona state seal
Page two of Gov. Ducey’s Executive Order 2019-03, showing his signature and the Arizona state seal. (Image: azgovernor.gov)

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey is ordering three state agencies to do a better job protecting Arizona’s most vulnerable residents. The executive order he issued on Wednesday comes one week after the Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council issued a report calling for the state to implement stronger protections for its residents with disabilities.

Some say the governor’s executive order is a good “first step,” but more work is needed to create policies that adequately protect Arizonans with disabilities who reside in long-term care facilities.

Read more on azcentral.com, or click here to access a PDF of the news story.

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.

New law requires airlines to disclose how many wheelchairs they break

wheelchair at airport

Beginning in January 2019, airline passengers can search the U.S. Department of Transportation website to determine an airlines’ track record of handling wheelchairs and other mobility devices. A new law sponsored by U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., requires air carriers to be more transparent, obliging them to provide monthly reports that are publicly accessible and which detail the number of wheelchairs, checked bags, and motorized scooters lost, broke, or mishandled during flights.

The law was actually passed two years ago, but the Department of Transportation delayed its implementation until Duckworth–a veteran and wheelchair user herself–urged U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao to force airlines to make the data — which they already collect each month — available to the public.

Click here to access the article on the Chicago Tribune’s website.

Class-Action Lawsuit Claims Stanford University Forces Suicidal Students to Leave School

According to an article published in the New York Times on August 28, the lawsuit accuses Stanford of “discriminating against students with mental health issues by coercing them into taking leaves of absences.” The lawsuit is the latest in a series of legal cases challenging mental health leave policies at schools like Princeton, George Washington University, Quinnipiac, and Hunter College. Read the New York Times story by Anemona Hartocollis here.

College Mental Health
By Colby Mariam – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Advocates condemn House Bill #620 aka ‘ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017’

Numerous disability rights advocates are livid over proposed congressional legislation aiming to change enforcement timelines for ADA compliance. The bill is titled “H.R. 620 – ADA Education and Reform Act 2017” and sponsored by Texas Representative Ted Poe. The House Judiciary Committee approved the amended version of the bill earlier this month. The legislation currently has 108 bipartisan co-sponsors and is predicted to come to a vote in the House of Representatives this week.

In October 2017 Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth wrote an opinion column for the Chicago Tribune condemning H.R. 620. She accused the retail and hospitality industries of shifting the burden of ADA compliance to individuals with disabilities.

Members of the Judiciary Committee who dissented from the majority opinion stated, “Both individually and cumulatively, H.R. 620’s notice and cure provisions will have the effect of inappropriately shifting the burden of enforcing compliance with a federal civil rights statute from the alleged wrongdoer onto the discrimination victim. Moreover, it would undermine the carefully calibrated voluntary compliance regime that is one of the hallmarks of the ADA, a regime formed through negotiations between the disability rights community and the business community when the ADA was drafted 28 years ago.”

Disability rights activist S.E. Smith also wrote a column for Teen Vogue outlining the key points of the legislation’s proposed changes to ADA and why they are unnecessary. Smith argues that the businesses concerned about “bogus lawsuits” are underestimating how expensive legal action is for the complainant.

2018Jan30_House Judiciary Cmtee Report on HR 620

NPR investigates ‘epidemic of sexual assault’ against people with intellectual disabilities

Starting January 8th National Public Radio (NPR) began broadcasting a multi-part investigative series about an “epidemic of sexual assault” experienced by people with intellectual disabilities. Titled “Abused and Betrayed” (#AbusedandBetrayed), the investigation examines over 150 cases of assault and relies on previously unpublished data collected by the Justice Department. NPR’s team of reporters, led by Joe Shapiro, discovered the rate of assault is seven times higher than for people without disabilities. Each chapter in the 5-part series features a print story, photographs and a radio broadcast. Below is an excerpt from the first story in the excellent report.

“NPR reviewed hundreds of cases of sexual assault against people with intellectual disabilities. We looked at state and federal data, including those new numbers we obtained from the Justice Department. We read court records. We followed media accounts and put together a database of 150 assaults so serious that they garnered rare local and national media attention. We talked to victims, their guardians, family, staff and friends.

We found that there is an epidemic of sexual abuse against people with intellectual disabilities. These crimes go mostly unrecognized, unprosecuted and unpunished. A frequent result was that the abuser was free to abuse again. The survivor is often re-victimized multiple times.”