Gini Nelson\’s Engaging Conflicts

October 9, 2006

US Gov’t Uses Mediation To Enforce Disabilities Laws

Filed under: Guest Bloggers — Gini @ 7:29 am

This was submitted by occasional guest blogger Rawle Andrews Jr., Esq., for our consideration:

Thought the following article appearing in today’s Washington Post might be of interest to you.

NOTED WITH INTEREST

U.S. Winning Access for the Disabled Through Mediation
Monday, October 9, 2006; Page A15

In nine of every 10 cases involving federal disability laws in the past five years, the Justice Department achieved compliance by government agencies and businesses by using mediation and not imposing penalties.

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said that 1,800 complaints out of 2,000 cases involving the Americans With Disabilities Act had been settled through mediation. The department’s civil rights division also settled 151 such cases against state and local governments.

“We have accomplished this through an aggressive program of enforcement and public education,” Gonzales said in Minneapolis on Thursday at the annual conference of the U.S. Business Leadership Network, which promotes employment of people with disabilities.

The cases were pursued under a Bush administration initiative to improve the access that people with disabilities have to theaters, sport venues, hotels and other destinations where large numbers of people gather.

The administration is also taking steps to ensure more cities and counties make their public spaces and services accessible to disabled people. Those efforts include modifying sidewalk curbs for wheelchairs, allowing guide dogs for the blind in shelters and installing telephone systems that assist deaf people in making 911 calls.

In Hennepin County, which includes Minneapolis, local officials agreed to provide a sign language interpreter for deaf people who are undergoing chemical dependency treatment and other programs. Anne Arundel County in Maryland agreed to improve services for the deaf and the hard of hearing in its two jails.

The report included a few cases in which offenders faced penalties. In one, movie theater chain AMC Entertainment had to pay $100,000 in damages to customers discriminated against because of access problems.

John Wodatch, who runs the disability rights section at the Justice Department, said most employers are eager to fix problems. He estimated that as much as 70 percent of his staff spends time helping businesses and local governments comply with the law. Department lawyers try to reach a negotiated solution first. “We’re not trying to get litigation. We’re trying to get compliance,” he said.

— Associated Press

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