Disability Rights Nation

Apr. 15-30
From Ragged Edge's
D. R. Nation department Mar./Apr., 1999

Hotels reach settlement with Dept. of Justice

Work incentives efforts gain attention

Group takes on Educational Testing Service

'An outrage,' says activist

Realtor's group wants mass exemptions on housing access

"An absolute outrage to our community" is how the Disability Rights Action Coalition for Housing's Beto Barrera describes the National Association of Realtors' plan to get Congress to change the effective date of the Fair Housing accessibility requirements from March 31, 1991 to April 1998. If Congress approves this initiative, multifamily housing built during the last seven years would be exempt from Fair Housing Act's accessibility requirements.

Under the provisions of the amendments to the Fair Housing Act of 1988, multifamily housing built and occupied after March 31, 1991 must meet certain accessibility requirements. After years of inactivity, HUD has recently started enforcing these access requirements. Last year, HUD issued new guidelines clarifying the requirements for new construction.

The housing industry is up in arms. The realtors' group says HUD's stepped-up enforcement efforts have caused real estate transactions involving multifamily housing to drop. Last fall, the group sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development asking the federal agency not impose what it called "unreasonable" accessibility requirements on multifamily properties and not expand its enforcement of accessibility requirements to third-party owners who were not involved in the design and construction of a property. It is also asking HUD to clarify the responsibility of third-party owners.

"I think we have a massive failure on the part of the country to address accessibility," said the Association's Fred Underwood. "People who were not involved in the design and construction--or who were but who had very little clear guidance over the years--are now being forced to bear the brunt of our society's failure to follow this provision in the law.

Underwood, too, faulted HUD's earlier lax enforcement. "By failing to enforce the law, they left the impression that it was an unimportant piece of legislation," he insisted. He said it's impossible to correct every building that was improperly constructed since 1991, and said his group wants the onus placed on those who improperly designed and built buildings, instead of anyone who happens to be in the ownership chain. He says the group wants the effective date of the law changed to April 1998.

"We do not support NAR's request to change the requirement date on first occupancy," said Barrera. "It's an outrage."

--Information for this story provided by the Disability News Service, Inc.

Hotels reach settlement with Dept. of Justice

©1999 The Disability News Service, Inc.

Guests with disabilities should find it easier to get rooms and resolve complaints at Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza hotel chains, thanks to two agreements brokered in December by the Dept. of Justice with parent firm Bass Hotels & Resorts.

A DOJ spokesperson says that approximately 20 percent of all Title III ADA complaints involve hotels.

One agreement--the first Dept. of Justice ADA settlement to establish a nationwide mediation program to address future complaints--requires BHR to pay for a mediation program to be used by all the nearly 2,000 domestic BHR-owned or licensed hotels, including franchise hotels. BHR owns and/or operates as franchises all hotels that use the Holiday Inn, Staybridge Suites or Crowne Plaza brand names.

The second settlement agreement resolves complaints filed with and investigated by DOJ at various Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza Hotels nationwide which alleged a range of ADA violations, including

  • the chain's central reservation system's refusal to guarantee reservations for accessible rooms;
  • insufficient numbers of accessible rooms;
  • inaccessible entrances;
  • designated accessible guest rooms that lacked grab bars or had insufficient maneuvering space in bathrooms;
  • hotel restaurants without accessible restrooms; and
  • hotels without any closed captioned television or TTYs.

Under the two agreements, BHR will bring three Crowne Plaza hotels that it owns and manages into compliance and change its central reservations system to allow people to guarantee accessible rooms, and require hotels to hold accessible rooms for people with disabilities. It must also provide ADA training materials and architectural assistance to franchisees and revise the rules in their standard operating procedure manuals. The settlement also orders BHR to pay $75,000 for the Key Bridge Foundation to provide ADA-experienced mediators to help resolve future ADA complaints, and it must submit reports on mediations conducted under the new complaint resolution program to DOJ for evaluation.

As a result of the complaints received by DOJ, another 19 individual franchises located in Alabama, Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas have also agreed to modify their hotels. DOJ is also negotiating other agreements with other franchisees.

BHR says it is now requiring an evaluation of each Holiday Inn franchisee's premises to ensure compliance with ADA standards for accessible design. This accessibility information will be entered into the Holidex computer system or kept on file at each hotel. In addition, hotel guests who cannot resolve accessibility issues to their satisfaction will be referred to a special Holiday Inn guest services telephone number.

--Leye Jeannette Chrzanowski

Work incentives efforts gain attention

In late January, the bipartisan work incentives bill of Senators James Jeffords (R-VT) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA) was again introduced in the Senate. S331 was sent to the Committee on Finance.

Pres. Bill Clinton's Jan. 13 announcement of what the Washington Post called an effort "intended to make it easier for people with disabilities to remain in the government's health insurance programs, Medicaid and Medicare, even after they begin to earn an income" was patterned after the Jeffords/Kennedy legislation, said the Post. "By endorsing the idea, Clinton is hoping to give it fresh momentum in the Senate and to sow interest in the House."

Efforts by activists in California resulted in several editorials of major newspapers endorsing the work incentives ideas of the disability community (see page 19). Both the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle called for passage of the Jeffords/Kennedy bill; the Chronicle called it an "eminently sensible idea, which could add millions of capable, willing adults to the workforce who would pay taxes and have a concrete investment in society."

Will you take part?

Group takes on Educational Testing Service

When people with disabilities take an ETS administered exam with reasonable accommodations, ETS stigmatizes them by distributing their score reports with the addendum: "scores obtained under special conditions," says Josh Konecky with Disability Rights Advocates, a legal firm. "The message implies that people with disabilities obtain an unfair advantage when they receive accommodations, and that their scores should therefore be viewed with skepticism. The policy violates the most basic principles of equal access and opportunity which are at the root of the Americans with Disabilities Act."

DRA, which plans action against Educational Testing Services for its "flagging" policy, is seeking people who have encountered this problem with ETS personally. If you have, or if you want more information about this effort, contact Josh Konecky at DRA (email:jkonecky@dralegal.org. or 510-451-8644 -- 510-451-8716 TTY)

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