This Summer, the Center for Disability Access, filed two somewhat unique cases involving exclusions based on perceived security threats; threats attributed solely to clients’ use of wheelchairs.
In Ramirez v. Gateways Hospital and Mental Health Center et al., Case No. 3:14-cv-01403-JLS-RBB (C.D. Cal), filed June 9, 2014, our client was told that wheelchairs were simply “not allowed” in the visitors’ area. As a result, he was denied the ability to visit his hospitalized step daughter along with other members of his family.
In Ibarra v. Los Angeles Superior Court et al., Case No., 2:14-cv-04726-MRP-AS (C.D. Cal), filed June 19, 2014, our client was denied access to the Compton Courthouse because she could not stand up to allow her wheelchair to be searched, despite the fact that she could undergo a comprehensive pat down and shift from side to side in her seat to allow inspection of her seat cushion.
Ensuring the ability of individuals with disabilities to participate in and benefit from public services and fully access and enjoy places of public accommodation were special concerns contemplated by Congress in enacting the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Occasionally, a client may exhibit behaviors that pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others, in which case exclusion may be warranted, but such instances are very rare.
A “direct threat” is defined for purposes of the ADA as “a significant risk . . . that cannot be eliminated by a modification of policies, practices, or procedures, or by the provision of auxiliary aids or services.” 28 C.F.R. §35.139(a); 28 C.F.R. §36.208(b). In determining whether an individual poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others, a public entity or accommodation must make an individualized assessment, based on reasonable judgment that relies on current medical knowledge or on the best available objective evidence. 28 C.F.R. §35.139(b); 28 C.F.R. §36.208(c). Assumptions, stereotypes and/or subjective fears and biases will not suffice, and a blanket ban on wheelchair users due to unverified and unsupported security concerns is never going to be justified.
If you are a person with a disability and have encountered these types of discrimination, don’t hesitate to contact the Center for Disability Access. Our firm will represent you at no out-of-pocket expense to you.