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.

The Need for Star Wars Access for All Abilities, Signing May the Force Be with You

Children dress up as Jedi masters from the Dark Side with red lightsabers.
People of all abilities want to put on a costume and share the Star Wars’ experience. Credit: Christina Goebel, Star Wars: The Force Awakens Dec. 17 premiere at Disney Springs in Kissimmee, Florida

While premieres for the latest Star Wars movie, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, were last night, the film opens in nationwide theaters today. Almost everyone who wants to can view one of the coolest movies in the galaxy–but not quite. For one blogger who uses a wheelchair, leaving home to view the movie with a damaged wheelchair could endanger his life. Another young man may be attending the film because of director J.J. Abram’s and others’ contributions.

Access to movies for people of all abilities will take a community effort.

Star The Force Awakens Wars lit up on the ground.
This Star Wars: The Force Awakens step and repeat on the ground at Disney Springs in Kissimmee, Florida makes it easy for everyone to snap their picture, even if they use a wheelchair. Credit: Christina Goebel

Movies have been a stress point for many people with a disability. For some, they need captions or amplification to hear, others need descriptive voice, and others need physical access to parking, the building, and accessible seating and bathrooms. Many theaters now provide this access and indicate next to the movie listing if it’s accessible.

A lot of work is still needed for ensuring access, as you can tell from viewing this “official” trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens that has no captions or this one, with 22 million views–but no captions for people who are Deaf, Hard of Hearing, or Deafblind. As for descriptive voice for people who are blind, also not there.

Star The Force Awakens Wars light display on side of a Disney building.
This Star Wars: The Force Awakens building wall projection provides another accessible backdrop for people with many abilities. Credit: Christina Goebel, at Disney Springs

Here is how theaters accommodate disability, but visit your theater’s website or call to verify and if necessary, reserve access:

  • Descriptive voice: actions described by voice, supplied for those with low vision or blindness and available over a theater-provided headset
  • Closed-captioning: viewed by theater-provided Sony glasses, a captioning device, or shield (View a captioned video of how captioned glasses work here.)
  • Open captioning: scheduled less frequently, captions are shown on the film itself for all to see
  • Assistive Listening Device: a theater-provided amplification device for those with mild to moderate hearing loss
  • Accessible Parking, Seating, and Bathrooms: those spaces with no seats allow someone using a wheelchair to sit–and may run out temporarily during Star Wars’ showings
  • Showings for People with Cognitive Disabilities: usually scheduled later for showings, allow viewers to walk around or talk as they desire, sound may be lower for those with Autism, reduces stress about “proper behavior” for viewing films
  • Showings for with Sign Language for People who are Deaf: usually scheduled later with sign language interpreters

Watching films with sign language is a truer form of communication for those who are culturally Deaf and use sign as their primary method of communication.

To see how different sign language is from captions, learn how Deaf Star signs, “May the Force be With You!”

Seats in a theater with open space next to them to accommodate a wheelchair.
Seats with open spaces next to them are for wheelchairs. Don’t occupy these areas unless you or family members need them. photo credit: Riverview Theater [006/366] via photopin (license)
If you need accommodations, call early for theater access, especially when seats will be full, to know if there will be enough accessible seating, if captions will be available for the 3D version of the movie, if the film will have descriptive voice, if an open captioned film will be shown, or if there will be enough amplification devices on hand.

On crowded days, those using wheelchairs might want to call ahead to arrange for assistance carrying their food and drinks while navigating thick crowds in hallways.

Those needing additional access should show up early to the film to ensure their space or equipment is available. Accessible seating and equipment take extra time to arrange.

While many people with disabilities will experience Star Wars: The Force Awakens in theaters, some will not.

Darth Vader kneels on ground. He has painted the words Epic Fail on the wall.
Technology exists to improve people’s lives, but many can’t receive access to it. In some cases, when equipment fails, people with disabilities may have to wait years for a replacement. photo credit: Weston Super Mare – Epic Fail via photopin (license)

For actor, blogger, and activist Dominick Evans, Dec. 17 was a reminder of the downside of the lack of access. Evans said in his blog, “Not only can I not go see [Star Wars: The Force Awakens], but I probably won’t be able to see it until it comes to streaming or television. The reason is because I lack access to the things I need to not only get out of my house, but also out of my bed. I have been trapped in bed before, and it sucks, but today it is my reality…not because I’m disabled, but because any type of equipment and services I (and others) need, are 10 times more expensive. ”

Wheelchair foot rest is alone on floor, broken off the wheelchair.
Something as simple as a broken wheelchair foot rest can contribute to broken bones for the user because the wheelchair can roll over his or her foot. photo credit: Broken leg via photopin (license)

Evans has had a broken wheelchair for three years. He said that if insurance comes through, he may have a new wheelchair next spring. In the meantime, Evans’ wheelchair is painful and dangerous to use.

Not having a wheelchair is one of Evans’ access problems. Another is needing a new Hoyer lift, equipment used to move Evans into his wheelchair and out of it.

Evans said, “Due to something called contractures in my legs, which can be very painful, my legs hang around the bar of the kind of lift I use. My feet snag on it, and I have recently experienced multiple sprained feet and broken toes.”

The new lift that won’t break Evans’ bones costs $5,000 and may not be covered by insurance.

For people like Evans, not having appropriate technology is life-threatening and deprives him of choices many of have that we take for granted.

“This is the part of having a disability that stinks the most … knowing you could have your freedom back, but lacking that access to get the things you need, to make it happen. Today I wish I could go to the movies. I have long been a Star Wars fan,” Evans said.

Evans asks us to think of him when we experience the film at theaters. He said, “So today, if you get to go enjoy Star Wars…have some popcorn for me, and think about ways you can help support the disability community, so those of us currently unable to go see this film, or any other film franchise we happen to love, due to lack of access, have a greater chance of not facing these barriers, in the future.”

J.J. Abrams standing a podium next to microphone.
J.J. Abrams, director of the new Star Wars movie, has contributed to the access of those with disabilities. Have you? photo credit: J. J. Abrams via photopin (license)

J.J. Adams, the director of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, contributed $50,000 this year to the family of 10-year-old Michael Keating, a young man who has Cerebral Palsy and whose family needed an accessible van to transport him. They needed more equipment too, since his mother had two hernia surgeries related to moving her 70-pound son.

According to a Washington Post report, Abrams said, “Katie and I made the donation. Likely for the same reason others did: we were moved by the Keating family’s grace, strength and commitment to each other.”

Picture of Yoda's head. It reads, "Try not. Do or do not. There is no try."
Abrams lives Yoda’s mantra by taking action to ensure greater access for others. It’s probable that a young man whose family he helped was able to see his movie because of Abrams’ contribution. photo credit: Yoda wisdom via photopin (license)

Sign Shares staff realizes the need to advocate for access and inclusion so that everyone can live, work, and play in the least restrictive environment. Sign Shares has contributed to disability events across the state and nation to support disability education, awareness, inclusion, and advocacy for people of all abilities.

If you need a sign language interpreter, CART live captioning, or similar resources, you can request services here or call: Local (Houston): 713.869.4373 • Toll Free: 866.787.4154, or at the Videophone numbers for callers who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing: Videophone 1: 832.431.3854 • Videophone 2: 832. 431.4889.

The Sign Shares’ advocacy team can provide resources to those who need technology, access, or advocacy information. Contact us here or by calling the numbers above, at  or at the Videophone numbers for callers who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing: Videophone 1: 832.431.3854 • Videophone 2: 832.431.4889.

May the Force Be with You!