Electric EDGE
Web Edition of The Ragged Edge
January/February 1997
Electric Edge


After all these years

Air Carriers Act not
much help, says survey

Ten years after passage of the Air Carriers Access Act, travelers with disabilities continue to fare poorly, according to a survey conducted by the Paralysis Society of America. The group surveyed more than 600 travelers with disabilities and found, among other things, that
  • airlines frequently will not reserve bulkhead seats for people with disabilities; instead, they're saved for frequent fliers

  • wheelchair users are often denied the right to store folding wheelchairs in the cabins as carry-on luggage

  • disabled travelers' personal equipment has been broken, damaged, or lost, leaving them stranded without any means of mobility

  • reservation and gate agents are often unfamiliar with which seats offer removable armrests

  • airline personnel still lack training in how to transfer people in chairs, how to take apart and re-assemble power chairs and how to treat people with disabilities.

Disney World sued

A five-year old deaf child and her parents have sued Walt Disney World under the Americans with Disabilities Act, claiming discrimination because the theme park refuses to provide sign language interpreters, reports the NAD Broadcaster. When Emily's parents began planning their trip to Disney World last summer they contacted the fun park and asked for interpreter services. Disney refused and instead sent the Harrisons scripts for four of the more than 100 attractions. The parents told Disney that Emily could not read yet; but Disney offered no other accommodation. The National Association of the Deaf Law Center is representing Emily Harrison and her parents. Since that suit was filed, the Center has filed another suit on behalf of Ryan Barrett and his parents, who had virtually the same experience with Disney as the Harrisons.

Attorneys for Disney World claim they are under no obligation under the ADA, reports the Broadcaster, since to do so would cause an "undue burden" on the multi-million dollar fun park . They claim that to do so would "fundamentally alter the nature" of the "services" at Walt Disney World. The ADA does not require accommodation if to do so would "fundamentally alter" a program or would result in an "undue burden."

"Since we filed the Harrison suit, we have received a staggering number of complaints from deaf people who have been subjected to similar discriminatory treatment," NAD Law Center director Marc Charmatz told the NAD Broadcaster.

More Disney problems

Mark Rappa of Deer Park, NY has been circulating a press release describing his frustrating experiences trying to enjoy Walt Disney World in a wheelchair. Rappa, who purchased accommodations for six at the Shades of Green Resort at Walt Disney World for Thanksgiving, 1995, writes that he found his "accessible room" to be inaccessible, with a bathroom door too narrow for his chair to fit through. He says he was told the resort was "not required to comply with the law" and was told he could use the resort's public restrooms during his stay.

His Disney World visit was no better, he says. Among the barriers he encountered was the monorail with a 5-inch step; the portable ramp offered was too narrow for his wheelchair.

But who's paying attention?

Nursing homes wrong, says Supreme Court

A groundbreaking appeals court decision that confirms the right of disabled people to stay out of nursing homes was confirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court but has drawn virtually no national media attention.

A Pennsylvania woman, Idell S., who was forced to live in a nursing home because the state refused to pay for community-based personal attendant care, sued the state under the Americans with Disabilities Act, claming she was "unnecessarily segregated" into a nursing home when she could have lived in the community with her family had the state welfare department paid for attendant care. The state even agreed that the woman qualified for the state's attendant care program. Therefore, she said, the state's failure to provide her those services in the "most integrated setting appropriate" violated the ADA.

The appeals court agreed, and pointed out in its decision that Pennsylvania was paying $45,000 a year to keep the woman confined to a nursing home -- nearly $10,000 more than it would have had to pay for an attendant for her at home.

"The fact that it is more convenient, either administratively or fiscally, to provide services in a segregated manner [such as in a nursing home] does not constitute a valid justification for separate or different services ... under ADA," the court said.

Steve Gold of Pennsylvania ADAPT, the attorney who brought the case, said the court's decision could, if used, "assist in freeing people from nursing homes in other states."

ADAPT, Gingrich agree (!)

Attendant Services Law promised next year

House Speaker Newt Gingrich will introduce legislation in early 1997 for a national Community Attendant Services Act, according to a written agreement hammered out with American Disabled for Attendant Programs Today activists in early November. that "capped 3 years of dogged efforts by thousands of ADAPT activists across this country." This time, ADAPT says, Gingrich's promise had better be serious.

Current Medicaid policy requires states to provide nursing home care to America's older and disabled citizens, but does nothing to guarantee equal access to home- and community-based services. CASA would make Medicaid guarantee equal access to at-home help.

Although Gingrich had promised action before, ADAPT activists discovered the House Speaker was not keeping his word. This time they got him to nail his promise down in writing, capping off their national action in Atlanta this past fall.

ADAPT says Gingrich has agreed to Congressional hearings in February and March and involvement of the National Governors' Association, the Congressional Budget Office and the appropriate House and Senate committees; he promised them in writing that he'd seek CASA's passage "prior to the end of the first session of the 105th Congress."

But "until this legislation becomes reality," says ADAPT organizer Stephanie Thomas, "ADAPT will remain guardedly optimistic. Newt has broken promises to ADAPT before. We hope this time is different and we expect him to keep his word."

Deaf Purdue engineering students
find online mentors

A model program designed to attract hearing-impaired students to engineering careers was unveiled at Purdue University last spring. The program, the first of its kind in the country, provides students with on-line mentoring from deaf and hard-of-hearing engineers and scientists already working in the field via sites on the Internet's World Wide Web. The engineering program's Web site address is http://dhhe.www.ecn.purdue.edu.

By electronically communicating with hearing-impaired professionals, hearing-impaired students will be able to ask questions and get honest answers from people familiar with situations unique to deaf and hard-of-hearing engineers and scientists.

"There are few role models in the deaf community for students interested in careers in science and engineering," said Carol Santos, director of the program. Explaining the program, she said, "It's not just a bunch of hearing people telling deaf students what they can do. It's advice from deaf people who are already out there doing it." Most science and engineering programs for hearing-impaired students are located at schools specifically for the deaf, Santos said. Purdue's program will instead mainstream students. "We want to help them learn to integrate with the hearing community while they're in college instead of waiting until they get on the job, where it may be more difficult," she said.

The Purdue program was established with a $100,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. Santos can be reached by email at deafengr@ecn.purdue.edu or by calling 317/494-0836.

-- Douglas Page

Sports stadium renovations disregard
access for disabled spectators

MCI Center sports and recreation complex under construction in Washington DC violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, says a lawsuit filed by the Paralyzed Veterans of America. The suit claims that spectators at up to 80 percent of the planned wheelchair locations would be unable to see the field of play when non-disabled spectators stand up. For wheelchair users, this means they would miss critical moments of events they pay to see. Wheelchair users who wanted to see all the action at basketball or hockey games would be forced to buy tickets for a limited number of locations -- "basically, behind the backboards or goals," reports the disability newspaper Horizons.

Other stadiums sued

A separate suit has been filed against Crossroads arena in Buffalo, NY, claiming similar ADA violations. Like MCI Center, Crossroads was designed by Ellerbe Becket Architects and Engineers.

And Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, Calif. has been sued for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. "Despite over $100 million of new construction and renovations over the past two years, the stadium still does not meet the requirements of the ADA," said Jan Garrett, attorney with the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, which filed the suit on behalf of a number of disabled plaintiffs, including the Berkeley-based Center for Independent Living. "We tried everything we could to avoid this lawsuit," said Garrett. "The Coliseum was simply unwilling to take the problems facing disabled fans seriously."

Like the problems with the other stadiums being sued, most of the supposedly accessible seats built in the new part of the stadium violate ADA standards, says the suit: fans who use wheelchairs will miss the most important parts of games when non-disabled fans in front of them stand up.

The Oakland Raiders and The Oakland A's, two teams that use the Coliseum, are named in the suit.

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