Image Archives

You made it off the plane – now what?


Holiday traveling is hard for everyone, but it can be particularly treacherous for people with disabilities. I know that with my multiple sclerosis, I must be continually looking forward (to avoid being knocked over) and down (to keep from tripping on piece of gum or a sidewalk crack).

Nevertheless, I (and so many others I know) am determined to make it home for the holidays. And it’s good to know that some of the laws support us in our “journeys.”

For example, federal laws require that most public buses accommodate people with disabilities. This means that newly-constructed buses have to be equipped with a lift and designated seating for people with disabilities. Bus operators must also be trained on effective communication with passengers with disabilities. In addition, if a person with a disability needs to go somewhere that is not along the bus’s normal route, the rider can arrange to be picked up and transported to his/her destination.

In addition, taxis and similar private transportation vehicles cannot refuse access to an individual with disabilities, and must assist them in boarding and deboarding.

As with most areas of disability law, these specific obligations cease if they would become an “undue burden” for the company or agency providing the transportation. But this kind of burden must be based on objective facts and not unsubstantiated fears or stereotypes. And even then, the agency or company would still need to assist the traveler up to the point where this burden would set in. (Example: the agency or company would not have to provide “lifts” at every door, but the driver must be prepared to physically assist people with disabilities in entering and exiting the bus.)

For more information, see the links below. Have a happy (and accessible) holiday season!


Enter a caption

Disability Rights Extend to the Skies

In his book, “No Pity,” Joeseph P.Shapiro talks about a airline passenger who needed to board his plane. Because he was a quadriplegic, the flight crew decided to just place him on a baggage cart, along with the rest of the “luggage.” Mr. Shapiro also references an incident where a high-ranking federal employee was told that she could not fly without an attendant, because she had a disability.

Because of these and similar instances through the years, Congress passed the Air Carrier Access Act(ACAA)in 1986.

The ACAA is very similar to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It prohibits airlines from discriminating against people with disabilities. It also requires reasonable accommodation, as long as that does not create an undue hardship.

For example, I am able to request “wheelchair assistance” when I arrive at the airport for a flight. That means an employee will bring me a wheelchair and help me board the plane if I need it. Another employee will also meet me with a wheelchair when the plane lands, and will take me wherever I need to go (usually the baggage carousel).

Quite frankly, this is a godsend. I no longer have to worry about falling, becoming too tired to continue or holding up hordes of people when I go to the airport. And I can see that this is also easier for those around me. They don’t have to worry about whether they should try to help me or whether I will delay their flight (both legitimate concerns!).

Airlines still have the right to refuse to let me board if they reasonably believe I could be dangerous or unduly disruptive. And under certain limited circumstances, they can request documentation of my needs. But they cannot charge me extra, deny me certain seats or require that anyone accompany me (just like they can’t do to people who are not disabled).

I’ve only had one bad experience with his system: About a year ago, an employee asked if I could walk from the plane to the terminal, instead of her pushing me. I replied that I wouldn’t have requested a wheelchair if I thought I could safely do that on my own. Inexplicably, the conversation escalated to the point where she stopped pushing me, ignored my request to continue, and angrily demanded that I tell her what she had done wrong.

She was clearly anticipating that that I would complain to the airline, and was already constructing her “defense.” I just kept asking that she take me to their baggage carousel and told her I didn’t want to discuss it. When she ignored me, I vividly remember my feelings of abject helplessness.

Thankfully, another employee emerged and I asked that she become my substitute “pusher.” And (not surprisingly), I did complain to the airline and they responded very quickly and satisfactorily.

I learned a lot from that experience and I hope that the employee did, as well. No one said that accommodation would always be easy, but few things are more worth the effort.

GIn the meantime, Happy Holidays and Safe Travels!

See the link below for more information about the ACAA.


Be thankful for that disabled parking place, and report the people who are cheating you out of it!


I guess I’ve seen it from all angles. Since it’s pretty clear that I have a disability, I don’t worry about people wondering if I’m “faking it” when I pull into a disabled parking space.

I’m also aware that there are a lot of people whose disabilities are not obvious, but who still need and are entitled to that disability placard. So I stop myself from angrily limping up and confronting people who appear to be using that space illegally.

But the truth is that a whole lot of people are taking advantage of a law that was hard-fought for and a long time coming: the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Among other things, this law requires that most stores and other places open to the public must designate a certain amount of their parking places as reserved only for people with disabilities. It has tremendously helped people with disabilities to become more integrated into a society that was (unintentionally) built without us in mind.

So one of the best ways of expressing our thanks for the ADA is to work to maintain it. This includes resisting the numerous recent attempts to chip away at its most important provisions (see my posts for more info). It also means that if we think we see someone who is using a disabled parking place they are not entitled to, we should take the time to write down their license plate number and call the authorities.

That certainly beats the two only other alternatives: We can ignore the issue and hope that more people decide to be law-abiding. Or we can try to take the law into our own hands and confront the suspected offender. And as one who has occasionally used this latter approach, I must sheepishly admit that there are much better ways to use my time and energy!

Helen Russon

For more info, see:

Television show perpetuates a disturbing – and incorrect – way of thinking about the law.

Is it really that big a deal if a disabled parking space is a couple of inches shorter than the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations say it should be?

And is it right that a business can be sued for an ADA violation if they haven’t first been given a chance to correct the problem?

I would say that the answer to both of these questions is a resounding “Yes.” The difference of a couple of inches could determine whether or not a wheelchair can be maneuvered in and out of a van. And if someone was unable to go into an establishment because it was not accessible, why should that person then have the burden of “educating” the owner about the law?

The television show “60 Minutes” addressed these issues last December. In a segment called, “What is a Drive-By Lawsuit?” Anderson Cooper interviewed some business owners who had no idea they were not in compliance until they were hit with a lawsuit. Mr. Cooper also spoke to an attorney who had filed approximately 2000 of these suits, as well as a couple of individuals with disabilities who said they had been recruited by attorneys to visit various establishments and report if they were ADA-compliant.

As an attorney myself, I just have to shake my head and wonder about these tactics. I am also concerned that this tends to camouflage the real problem: Business owners – not the people with disabilities – were made to look like the victims. It also made me think about a bill that is currently before Congress, which would not allow these kinds of public accommodation lawsuits unless the business first received written notice of the problem and given 6 months to correct it. That time period could then be extended if the business could demonstrate “substantial progress” towards compliance (see my post of September 7, 2017).

Something else on that program also confused me: The owners (and frankly, Mr. Cooper himself) seemed somewhat outraged that someone could sue a business for lack of accessibility when the person had never actually entered the premises and/or tried to use the facilities. The main example was that of a hotel without a “pool lift,” when no one with a disability had ever asked to use one.

There is first the obvious point – if a pool has a pool lift, it is usually quite visible and it is natural that a person with a disability would refrain from inquiring about one if they don’t see it. Second, it made me think of a recent instance where I attempted to enter a building, only to confront a big flight of stairs at the doorway. After determining that there was no other entrance, I grabbed the railing and slowly heaved myself and my walker up the stairs. This was quite dangerous and really pretty stupid. But if I had chosen to stay safe and leave, does that mean I should lose my right to sue because I never was “there?”

And this begs the larger question: Why does there seem to be a growing trend of thinking that people with disabilities should not have the same rights as other victims of illegalities?

Mr. Cooper did mention that a business does not have to comply with these standards unless compliance is “readily achievable.” Although that issue seemed to get lost in the rest of the drama, it is a point well worth repeating: Many accommodations do not need to be made unless they are readily achievable, which is defined as “without much difficulty or expense.” For many other accommodations, they don’t have to be made if it would cause the establishment an “undue burden” or create a “fundamental alteration.”

And although Mr. Cooper griped about the extensive and detailed regulations governing accessibility in public accommodations, he neglected to mention that these standards only apply when a business is either building a new structure or altering portions of existing ones. Studies have shown that at that stage, the cost between building an “accessible” and “non-accessible” facility is negligible. And when that is weighed against the benefits of giving access to people that have traditionally been denied it, the gains are incalculable.

For more information, see: Title III Highlights


Unnecessary – and Illegal – Trauma for a Hospital Patient

Who isn’t nervous before surgery? Even if your condition is not life-threatening, it is always quite unnerving to go under the knife. One of the best ways to minimize your anxiety is to ensure that you and your doctor have a good relationship and are in constant communication – both before and after the procedure.

Unfortunately, that is not what happened to “B.W.,” who checked into Highline Medical Center in 2014 for a cervical laminectomy. B.W. was deaf, and according to the complaint he filed with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the hospital did not comply with his request to have an interpreter present both before and after the surgery. The interpreter was there beforehand, but not at any other time.

B.W. filed an ADA complaint with the U.S Department of Justice…and he won. Here is part of what the judge wrote:

“When the doctor tried to talk to him about his condition being worse than was thought, he was relegated to writing notes which B.W. had trouble reading because he was just out of anesthesia and had difficulty moving his neck. This included communications regarding the fact that the surgeon found more damage in Complainant’s spine than expected, necessitating a bilateral decompression.”

“Complainant was also unable to effectively communicate regarding the significant pain he was experiencing and was unable to effectively ask questions regarding his condition. Instead, the Hospital relied upon note-writing, despite the fact that Complainant was recovering from general anesthesia, was unable to move his head or neck, and was in significant pain, and was without the use of his reading glasses or hearing aids.”

“Highline Medical Center also failed to provide an ASL interpreter during Complainant’s discharge from the hospital. Further, Highline Medical Center failed to provide an ASL interpreter for Complainant’s companion, his wife, who is also deaf, during both of these times of critical communication. These failures caused significant distress to both Complainant and his wife.”

The DOJ put out a press release earlier this month, announcing that the case has been settled. Although the hospital did not admit any wrongdoing (which is standard in these kinds of settlements), it has agreed to rewrite its policies about interpreters and to also provide training to its employees about being ADA-compliant.

So B.W. was able to turn his traumatic experience into something positive, at least for future patients.

To read the settlement agreement, click the link below.

Settlement Agreement between the United States and Highline Medical Center