Disability Rights Nation

Mar. 16-31
From Ragged Edge's
D. R. Nation department Mar./Apr., 1999

Media coverage and legal action--a potent mix

Las Vegas continues being dragged toward access

Student protest restores campus bus service for disabled students

A late-January protest and sit-in by Students for Disability Awareness at Ohio State University has succeeded in getting the university to agree to provide the same transportation services to disabled students that it offers the nondisabled student body.

The protest began over a decision last August to drop the University's "Handivan" service on weekends--although campus transportation for nondisabled students was provided on weekends. According to protesters, officials told DSU the service was eliminated "because students were using the program to go to movies and recreational activities" and that this "denied rides to students who needed them for academic purposes." Like separate paratransit services everywhere, the service could not meet demand.

Nearly a dozen protesters from SDA camped out in front of OSU President William E. Kirwan's office after delivering a statement charging that disabled students had again been left out of current negotiation between the Central Ohio Transit Authority and the University over the free transit services it proves to the campus.

"Disabled students at OSU, the second-largest campus in the country, get around with very inadequate handivan service," said DSU faculty advisor Brenda Brueggemann in an e-mail message to disability academics across the nation. "They are almost always late to their classes." The two paratransit vehicles the University provided were often too full, said Brueggemann, to take all those waiting for it.

Without van transportation, said Brueggemann, disabled OSU student couldn't go to the library on the weekend--or almost anywhere on around the University grounds--"unless they can negotiate the incredible and often quite unpassable disaster of construction that plagues this campus."

"All other OSU students enjoy the privileges of totally free COTA buses whisking them out to two major malls, to the arts- and restaurant-heavy ŒShort North,' to the major movie theater location, to the Brewery district downtown," she said.

While some COTA buses were lift-equipped, said Brueggemann, not all of them were. "First, the disabled OSU student has to get to the particular bus stop, around the impassable construction (and lately even more impassable snow), and pray that the bus itself will truly be lift-equipped and the bus driver smart enough to make it all work properly.

"The stories I hear say this rarely happens," she continued. "In my 7 years here, I've never seen someone in a wheelchair use one of the COTA buses--for all the obvious reasons."

Sarah Blouch, Director of OSU Traffic and Parking, was quoted in local reports as saying that the Handivan weekend service was discontinued "because students were using it for recreational transportation, denying rides to students for academic purposes."

When a meeting with University officials netted the students only the agreement that services be increased on Saturdays during the day, and this only until mid-March "on a trial basis," the students continued their sit-in.

"Clearly, OSU does not understand its responsibilities under Americans with Disabilities Act," protest leader and DSU spokesperson Brenda Spinosi said ."If OSU provides transportation for the non-disabled that furthers their student life, they must provide Handivan for the disabled's student life."

After continued protests and e-mails from across the nation, the University agreed Jan. 29 to provide Handivan service during the same hours and over the same geographic area as buses serving nondisabled students. "We won; we won it all," said a satisfied Spinosi.

But the students aren't stopping there. In a January 19 complaint filed with the Dept. of Education, the students are demanding further ADA compliance, including distribution of course outlines in Braille and other accessible formats--without specific requests having to be made first ‹and what they called "better quality sign language interpreting." They're also calling for the establishment of a disability studies department.

Media coverage and legal action
--a potent mix

"An increasing number of complaints is raising awareness among architects about fair housing requirements." A story in the Dec. 3 Las Vegas Sun showed just how much effect the ongoing efforts of activists are having. According to the story, the construction industry was now looking to clean up its own house--due to the persistent push by Las Vegas activists who aren't shy about getting media coverage of their lawsuits. Advocacy groups like the Disabled Rights Action Committee and Nevadans for Equal Access have been active in targeting inaccessible facilities," wrote reporter Brian Seals.

"There could be help for the industry during the next session of the Nevada Legislature," wrote Seals. " Many in the architectural/engineering industry are seeking a system that would enable review of building plans for ADA requirements. Engineers and architects could take tests on ADA standards to get a license to review plans for compliance."

"I think as these complaints are filed with HUD, architects are becoming more aware of it," said Gail Austin, identified as a "consultant under contract with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Las Vegas continues being
dragged toward access

Las Vegas continues being dragged toward access In January, the Las-Vegas based Disabled Rights Action Committee got an injunction against the Orleans Hotel & Casino. The injunction ordered the contractor Coast Resorts to modify its bars for wheelchair access. This latest volley in ADA lawsuits filed in 1997 "is not totally resolved," says DRAC. Other issues still unresolved include Coast Resorts' unlawful deployment of inaccessible shuttle buses on fixed-routes serving its three Las Vegas properties. In November, DRAC got an injunction against the Hard Rock Cafe for ADA violations (see D. R. Nation, Sept./Oct.).

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