Annual federal report to Congress notes progress, highlights gaps in enforcement of disability laws

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For Immediate Release

WASHINGTON – The National Council on Disability (NCD)—an independent federal agency—today released its annual progress report on national disability policy, titled, Has the Promise Been Kept? Federal Enforcement of Disability Rights Laws (Part 2).

In this report, NCD assesses the progress made by the U.S. Departments of Justice (DOJ), Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to implement and enforce federal disability rights laws. In last year’s report (Part 1), NCD examined the progress made by the U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the U.S. Access Board.

The report examines and offers recommendations on DOJ’s, HUD’s, and FCC’s implementation, investigative, and compliance activities related to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Fair Housing Act, and other federal disability rights laws -- laws that play a vital role in ensuring that people with disabilities can fully participate in the U.S. economy, in their local communities, and with their own Federal Government.  

“America’s promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness has a direct correlation with how these rights are upheld,” said NCD Chairman Neil Romano. “In this age of technological advances, people with disabilities should have the expectation of equal access, transparency and protections from our institutions, and as an independent federal agency, we looked at that.”

Each year, NCD submits a report to the President and members of Congress to describe the status and progress of national disability policy and to offer recommendations on continuing, new, and emerging issues that affect the lives of people with disabilities.

Federal enforcement agencies like DOJ, HUD, and the FCC still face, or themselves create, a variety of bureaucratic, communications, budgetary, regulatory, staffing, or technological hurdles that can negatively impact the full realization of equal rights for people with disabilities, which NCD examined in this year’s report.

Among NCD’s key findings are the following:

  • DOJ, HUD, and FCC have developed helpful guidance documents to assist people with disabilities understand their federal rights.
  • DOJ fails to make critical enforcement data available to enable a proper assessment of the Department’s efforts to enforce federal disability rights laws.
  • DOJ has improved transparency through publishing letters of findings, settlement agreements, and consent decrees on the ADA.gov website.
  • DOJ has been inconsistent in using various litigation strategies to enforce federal disability rights laws, including in the critical area of community integration.
  • HUD is required to rely heavily on state and local fair housing enforcement agencies, which can impact the consistency of investigations of disability rights housing complaints.
  • HUD enforcement efforts are negatively impacted by decreasing staff levels in the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.
  • The FCC is able to resolve all complaints by people with disabilities through negotiations without the need for any investigative or enforcement action, but such resolutions negatively impact the transparency of the work of the FCC.
  • Rapid changes in the development and use of telecommunications technology, such as text messaging and Internet Protocol Captioned Telephone Service often outpace the ability of the FCC and DOJ to ensure the availability and quality of such services to people with disabilities.

Among NCD’s recommendations are the following:

  • DOJ should develop regulations on web accessibility for entities covered under Title II and III of the ADA, adopt the Access Board’s guidance on accessible medical equipment and diagnostic equipment, increase Olmstead investigations and enforcement, and maintain a stronger and more consistent level of litigation around disability rights.
  • HUD should increase training and technical assistance around the application of the Fair Housing Act to multifamily housing, increase the use of Secretary- initiated complaints, and increase the number of Section 504 reviews.
  • The FCC should ensure that pay rates for the various telecommunications relay services available are sufficient to attract providers and provide quality service to people with disabilities who rely on such services.
  • Congress should require DOJ to collect and make available statistical information on disability rights complaints and enforcement as already occurs for HUD and the EEOC.

Read the full report at https://ncd.gov/progressreport-publications/2019/has-promise-been-kept2

 

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