Advocacy to Avoid Disability Discrimination Lawsuits

When people with disabilities encounter disability discrimination, they may think the only option is to sue. Or, they may let the issue go, thinking hiring a lawyer may be too expensive or time consuming.

Litigation in court costs money, and matters are resolved over a period of time–sometimes years. That’s too long to wait for a pressing need.

Gavel rests on top of desk with court room participants in distance
The courtroom is a place to solve problems as a last resort. photo credit: CA Supreme Court – 11 via photopin (license)

Other options are available to get access and inclusion.

Many businesses, organizations, and agencies understand that they should respect the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)  and other federal laws that protect Americans with disabilities . One way to raise awareness is to share the law with them.

When agencies, organizations, and businesses know the laws and don’t want to make accommodations or include people with disabilities, there are other remedies.

According to the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities’ (CTD) Messenger e-Newsletter, a lawsuit should come after other efforts have been made to see if a solution can be reached.

The CTD newsletter suggests three actions before seeking a lawyer:

Wheelchair ramp leads up to steps
Here’s a situation businesses could understand better once someone pulled their wheelchair up to this ramp. photo credit: Ramp to No where via photopin (license)
  • Talk to the business directly CTD recommends asking for the manager or the property manager. A CTD example shows that calling attention to access for one disability can benefit others: “CTD was approached by a group of taxi drivers who were concerned that the drop-off area [for Austin City Limits] was far from the entrance gates and required people with mobility impairments to traverse a ditch. CTD staff met with Festival organizers … By the next year, vehicles transporting people with disabilities were allowed to pull right up to the entrance gate. Plus, the Festival added accommodations such as an accessibility station and free rental wheelchairs, and ASL interpreters became permanent.”
  • Put it in writing An example where this worked: “Austin resident Julie Maloukis sent Maudie’s Tex Mex written notice about their inaccessible parking. Several weeks later, Maudie’s contacted Julie, thanking her for letting them know about the situation and to tell her the parking spaces were fixed.”
  • File a complaint with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, “which might be able to require a business to comply with ADA regulations.” What does the Department of Licensing and Regulation do? According to the agency’s website, they “ensure public safety and customer protection, and provide a fair and efficient licensing and regulatory environment at the lowest possible cost.” The department has influence over businesses, particularly if the business requires a license. Complaints can be filed against businesses that are unlicensed too.

Another way to educate others is to ask to schedule a demonstration of the lack of access or inclusion. When staff at businesses learn how the problem affects others, they are more willing to help.

For example, if a ramp is too steep at the entrance to business, offer to demonstrate for them why. Have someone to spot the wheelchair as you attempt to travel up or down the ramp, and keep safe.

Captions on bottom of TV screen showing news about Oprah and Australia.
Watching TV without sound or captions is a quick way to teach why captions are important to those with hearing loss or deafness. photo credit: NICOLE CHETTLE via photopin (license)

If you need communication access, demonstrate how the experience would be without sound or words. For example, if you need a video captioned, have them watch the video with you without any sound. Have them read a paper with their eyes closed or in the dark if you are requesting Braille and they don’t understand why.

Be creative with teaching others to understand. Misunderstandings lead to discrimination continuing. Once everyone is on the same page, it’s easier to find a reasonable solution.

In many cases, these steps will work with solving  discrimination situations.

If not, another option before filing a lawsuit is to ask a lawyer to draft a letter discussing their obligations under the law, so that they are aware of the seriousness of the situation.

Whether the person chooses to take a matter to court is his or her right. Each person needs to evaluate how severe the situation is, and if a possible solution can be reached without deciding to sue.

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