Photo of the courthouse looking up at the pillars

This article was originally published February 13, 2020

I am a person that has lived with multiple disabilities most of my life though I was not diagnosed properly till I was well into my mid 30’s. For many years discrimination and exclusion were commonplace. It was one of those things that I had no power to change so I just tried to ignore it as best I could though it was disheartening to say the least.

Most look upon handicapped people as incapable, I choose to believe I am challenged. With special accommodations and at times rehabilitation most disabled people will surprise you, however; discrimination still intolerance continues.

From the late 1800s until the 1970s, some American cities had unsightly beggar ordinances known colloquially as “ugly laws” . These laws deemed it illegal for “any person, who is diseased, maimed, mutilated or deformed in any way, so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object, to expose himself to public view.” In other words for approximately 100 years there were laws in the United States that further stigmatized disabilities even though they were really intended to target beggars.

Attitudinal barriers exist everywhere and are created by people who only see disability when dealing with a disabled person in some way. That is to say instead of realizing that a person might be a fantastic artist or accountant, they only see a person sitting in a wheel chair. These attitudinal barriers can be seen through bullying, discrimination, fear tactics and include low expectations of people with disabilities. I face these challenges at times on a daily basis however I know that these barriers and discrimination are even stronger in other countries outside of the United States. I have it better than most.

Even though the Disability Rights Movement and advocacy has been active since the late 1960’s, there still exists a majority of people that severely discriminate against people with disabilities. A good example is I have a fractured and osteoporotic hip that makes walking and standing an extreme challenge. After making my way to a bus stop in the pouring rain to stand and wait for the bus, I boarded the crowded bus to find it was packed and there was not one seat available. The seats at the front of the bus have signs that say these seats are reserved for the disabled and elderly, however; there are many people that have no empathy feeling absolutely entitled to sit.

I have exchanged words with able-bodied passengers who simply did not care about my physical capacity and if it weren’t for the potential of being fined up to $50 in NYC, would not move an inch to accommodate me. Another time I boarded a bus in South Carolina to find a lady in the handicapped row in one seat with a chocolate cake resting in the other seat. She was overweight but not obese or in any way disabled, she just wanted to have a convenient seat for herself and cake. The bus driver made absolutely no effort or gesture to enforce the rules and so on that day I had to struggle further down the aisle to find a seat.

Some people say that Civil Accessibility Lawsuits are a scam devised by Legal Justice Advocates to threaten small businesses with litigation, but I say they are necessary. Just imagine like me you are disabled and you boarded a bus to find able bodied people sitting in the designated disability seats. Now imagine there was a law to prevent this situation however there was no enforcement of the law. Without enforcement or fear of sanctions most people would not do the humane thing and move. I know it’s because they cannot imagine the challenges of standing or walking with a broken hip however something needs to be done. They can just as easily get up and move to another seat further down the bus, for me it’s a challenge especially when the bus is crowded and in motion.

I am sure people that are fined for parking illegally in designated disabled parking spots are not thrilled to pay their fine, however for people living with disabilities that spot is vitally important. A five minute walk for you can take me up to 30 minutes depending on my level of pain and by the time I get to my appointment I am exhausted and ready to go back home. For many years I avoided leaving my home opting to depend on friends and relatives to shop and run errands for me but this is not always possible.

Recently, In the last three years there has been a new wave of ADA accessibility claims sparked by the Robles V. Dominos Pizza. The decision which was ruled on by the US District Court and later reaffirmed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said:

“The panel held that the ADA applied to Domino’s website and app because the Act mandates that places of public accommodation, like Domino’s, provide auxiliary aids and services to make visual materials available to individuals who are blind. Even though customers primarily accessed the website and app away from Domino’s physical restaurants, the panel stated that the ADA applies to the services of a public accommodation, not services in a place of public accommodation. The panel stated that the website and app connected customers to the goods and services of Domino’s physical restaurants.”

Now that the Court has ruled that websites are an extension of services offered by a physical location, all websites linked to company services are on notice.

Some ADA access defense attorney’s call Legal Justice Advocates litigation a “shakedown” however — Domino’s had been under notice of its requirement of its general obligations under Title III, including the requirement to provide auxiliary aids and services, since the ADA’s enactment in 1990, and had had notice of the application of the ADA to websites since the DOJ made its first statement to that effect in 1996. In other words, Dominos Pizza had 21 years to comply with ADA regulations and did nothing about it.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision to reaffirm Robles Vs Dominos was a warning to all companies offering services by way of a website or application, your web/app must comply with ADA regulations, period.

For me this is a small victory, albeit not visually impaired; It is a giant step in the direction of accessibility for all people with disabilities (in the United States) regardless if they are a citizen or not.

The United States has always been a progressive leader of the World proposing and adopting changes that open the doors to liberty, fairness and equal access for all people. One question I have to you is why should a website be any different? My second and final question is if the DOJ announced these requirements 24 years ago why is enforcement and litigation regarded as anything but legal today?

I welcome all thoughts and comments on this matter.

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