ACLU Announces Model Settlement in Maryland Disability Rights Challenge

Affiliate: ACLU of Maryland
December 19, 2000 12:00 am

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BALTIMORE, MD–The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland and the Maryland Disability Law Center today announced their settlement of a federal court lawsuit filed last April on behalf of a disability rights advocate against the city of Cambridge.

Today’s agreement calls for top-to-bottom changes in city programs and facilities to ensure access for people with disabilities, and awards $20,000 in damages and costs.

“What people need to understand is that we are all just a heartbeat away from needing this same access ourselves,” said plaintiff Randy Whaples, who became physically disabled as a result of a 1994 stroke and now serves as Executive Director of the Eastern Shore Center of Independent Living.

“Having a disabled child, being stricken with an illness or injured in a car accident, the care of an elderly family member that suddenly falls on our shoulders — all these things can happen to any of us. Then accessibility issues become very important.”

Talks about settlement of Whaples’ lawsuit began shortly after the election of a new Mayor and City Commission last summer. “We are impressed with the willingness of the city’s new administration to act quickly and effectively to remove longstanding barriers to access for people with disabilities,” said attorney Allison Scharf of the Disability Law Center. “The city’s proactive approach and the agreement reached here should serve as models for other public officials grappling with access issues.”

In their lawsuit, the groups alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Many of the violations complained of in the lawsuit have already been addressed by Cambridge officials during the months leading up to the settlement. The city further committed to rectify all remaining violations by June 1, 2001.

In addition to the monetary payment, the settlement agreement specifically provides:

  • The city’s designated ADA Coordinator will arrange for updated training of city officials on ADA issues, and will prepare a new city-wide self-evaluation plan, considering input from Randy Whaples and other residents with disabilities;

  • City Hall will be made fully accessible. Adjustments are also being made to ensure full accessibility of the restrooms;

  • The Rescue Fire Company planned for future construction will be designed and built to be fully accessible. During the interim period until the new fire house is built, Company meetings will be moved to an accessible location upon request. Additional measures will be taken to ensure that fire company members with a disability will have full access to the fire house after hours;

  • Sidewalk curb ramps that have been identified as problematic are being installed or fixed. The city also will conduct an evaluation to determine which additional sidewalks need ramping or correction, and will develop a schedule for completion of all curb ramps;

  • The Municipal Yacht Basin facilities are being changed to provide a fully compliant ramp, parking spaces, and restrooms;

  • An accessible path and parking will be added at the Academy Street Playground;

  • City communication systems are being updated to add appropriate signage at city buildings, subscription and training in use of the Maryland Relay System, and visual alarms at city facilities. The city also will identify auxiliary service providers, such as sign language interpreters and Braille transcription services, to be posted as necessary, at the city’s expense;

  • All city-sponsored functions will hereafter be held in fully accessible locations, and;

  • The city agrees that once made accessible, all city buildings and facilities will be maintained in that condition. All new construction, alterations, programs, services and activities will be carried out in compliance with the ADA.

    “It’s a long list of reforms, and a significant one,” said ACLU cooperating attorney Elliot Andalman, of the law firm Andalman & Flynn. “Overall, this is an agreement that will make Cambridge a better place, and an effort about which we can all be proud.”

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