Friday, April 13, 2018

Fair Housing Conference

50 Years of Fair Housing

By Allison Donald, Independent Living Specialist
I attended the 2018 Fair Housing Conference facilitated by the Tennessee Human Rights Commission. The day long conference focused on the past, present, and future of fair housing in the wake of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The first speakers talked in depth about where the City of Memphis was now. Paul Young, the Director of Housing and Community Development spoke about some of the initiatives the city is backing to address the lack of affordable accessible housing in Memphis.

Mr. Young also acknowledged the barriers to equity, housing, and access in Memphis.  

Vicky Johnson (HUD) noted that there had been an increase in cases filed by people with disabilities requesting reasonable accommodations. Moving forward she thinks that there needs to be more time and research put into reasonable accommodations.

As the conference came to a close there was an emphasis put on best practices and policy. Also, the lawyers on the panel stressed the importance of the tenant being educated about their rights.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

MATA Survey Excludes MATAplus

MATAplus Rider’s Voices Don’t Matter

Christina Clift
By Christina Clift, MCIL Consumer Advocate
On Tuesday, March 27, 2018 members from MCIL attended MATA’s Board of Commissioners meeting in which information was presented from a recent survey of fixed route riders by Transpro.  The survey was conducted from mid-February through the beginning of March of this year.

The results of the survey give MATA and the public a data baseline to measure improvement.  The presentation highlighted five key areas that riders of MATA’s fixed route system identified as most important. They included on-time performance, cleanliness of vehicles, customer service, travel time on vehicles, and bus frequency.  

MATA’s scores were nothing to brag about and clearly demonstrate that there is more than enough room for improvement.  A Net Promoter Score or NPS is a management tool used to gage the loyalty and customer experience of a company’s customers.  It serves as an alternative to traditional customer service satisfaction tools and is used by two-thirds of the country’s fortune 500 businesses.   

MATA’s overall Net Promoter Score was 10 and the highest available score is 100.  Most transportation agencies have a NPS of 31.
But riders of MATA’s paratransit service were left out. I asked of both Mr. Rosenfeld and the Board of Commissioners why the critical baseline data does not include MATAplus.  

The same data that they collected from fixed route riders could have been collected from those who use the paratransit system. Mr. Rosenfeld stated that the frequency of future surveys will be based on available funding.  

So in the meanwhile MATAplus is left waiting, and there will be no similar baseline on which to judge progress for people with disabilities. MATA may be afraid that the results from such a survey of MATAplus riders would lower the NPS even further.  

This blatant exclusion from such an important tool shows that MATAplus and its riders aren’t treated equally and that our opinions don’t matter.  MCIL will continue to provide a voice for all MATA riders who have disabilities whether or not they use MATAplus or the fixed route. We will continue to advocate for our voices to be included in future surveys and therefore in MATA’s NPS.  

We will not be silenced by being excluded nor treated like second-class MATA customers.
MATA operator and bus

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

What we do

How CILS Make a Difference
By Timothy Redd
When I first started working at the Memphis Center for Independent Living it was a complete shift from my previous work experience. At first I had a challenging time understanding the independent living philosophy.  I felt like I was not the most effective independent living specialist and that I was not making a difference. I expected that all my consumers would make and accomplish their goals and that would make me successful as an ILS. I felt deflated when I had to close cases and my consumers just checked out altogether. I pondered how CILs make a difference.

Today I am convinced that CILs are vital and necessary more than ever. 

Our core services are information referral, advocacy, independent living skills and transition to community for people living in institutions and young people transitioning to adult life. I have seen these services help people gain greater independence and they have helped me as well.

When I heard about ADAPT I was absolutely hell bent and convinced that I did not want to go on a national action. After a good deal of arm wrangling, not literally and Tim Wheat’s and Allison Donald’s convincing; I went to DC and took part in the 2017 Spring Action. 

I met so many people with disabilities filled with passion for equality it humbling and affirming. I made new friends and met Maxine Waters, one of my political heroes. By the time I made it back to Memphis I dog tired but really wowed by the experience and it’s something that I will never forget.
After days of action the Affordable Care Act was not repealed. That is when I understood the power of advocacy. These days I’m quick to speak out against things that violate the ADA. 

Last month I went to my gym and I noticed some new machines that were blocking the aisle making it impossible for me to through. Immediately I spoke to the director letting him know that the gym was now inaccessible and in violation of the ADA because the machines took away clearance need for a wheelchair. They were relocated.

Independent Living Skills & Information Referral
I am a consumer here and I set a goal to learn to drive. I was referred to TN Vocational Rehabilitation Services and assigned a counselor. My goal was to learn to drive.  On February 5th 2018 I attained my driver’s license and I have acquired a new independent skill.

Transitions to the Community
Last year I became a part of the peer-to-peer program where I worked as mentor for Nursing Home Transition consumers.  Bobbie Fields and I have met a great deal of people in nursing homes and seen firsthand some of the less than desirable conditions and how people have been stripped of their independence. 

A few months ago we began working an 80 plus year-old senior and just last month she moved into her own apartment. We accompanied here to the store to pick out her furniture for her new place.  She was so happy about beginning this new chapter of life and what sticks with me most about that day is her smile and sheer joy. 

Many times people with disabilities are relegated to expensive nursing homes because they need homemaker services or additional medical care. Today thanks to direct service workers in home care is possible and it helps people live in the community maintaining freedom. Nursing homes to me are nothing me than pretty prisons and I would hate to send a love one there and I hope I never find myself in one.

Accessible Computer Lab
We live in a digital age. The computer has become so much more than a tool to publish documents. We communicate with others, pay bills, connect the global world through social media, and pay bills and shops. I have seen numerous consumers go from not having computer skills to coming in showing off their first purchased laptops.

The truth is that are many barriers that people with disabilities unknowingly to the mainstream society. When a person has newly acquired their disability they are often in denial, angry, afraid, scared, depressed, and left wondering what kind of life can they still have?  

MCIL is a place of affirmation that says just because your body works different you are normal and a person first. Dealing with stigmas associated with disabilities is hard, being a part of a like community of peers is empowering.

The services offered at MCIL are critical when it comes to independent living, especially when our community is not regarded as vital in the scope of mainstream society and so easily is disregarded and falls through the cracks. I have shared how the Memphis Center for Independent Living has helped others and myself reach greater independence. We are here to support you on your path to independence.

Letter about the ADA Education and Reform Act

The Letter from U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth about HR 620

Dear Majority Leader McConnell:

We are writing to express our strong opposition to H.R. 620 the ADA Education and Reform Act and any legislation that would repeal or weaken rights under title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of a disability in certain places of public accommodation.[1] As a civil rights law, title III of the ADA was modeled after title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, religion and national origin in certain places of public accommodation.[2]

Title III of the ADA does not permit monetary relief in the form of damages or settlements. Similar to title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the ADA only permits non-monetary injunctive relief and recoupment of reasonable attorney’s fees for individuals who prevail in a suit to enforce their rights under title III and secure removal of architectural barriers in public accommodations where readily achievable.

Congress carefully crafted title III of the ADA to make sure private enforcement actions prioritize achieving readily accessible barrier removal and are an affordable avenue for Americans with disabilities to seek relief. The expectation was that businesses would make themselves accessible before people with disabilities showed up at their place of business, rather than waiting until receiving a notice that people with disabilities have been excluded before starting to think about complying with the law.

The ADA is a groundbreaking civil rights law that recognizes the reality that removing an architectural barrier, when readily achievable, is a proven, efficient solution to improving accessibility in public places and providing equal treatment of people with disabilities across the United States. In recognizing the importance of accessibility, Congress also established tax incentives for businesses to lower the cost of making a place of public accommodation more accessible pursuant to ADA guidelines and requirements for architectural barrier removal.[3]

Proponents of H.R. 620 assert that eliminating the right of Americans to seek immediate injunctive relief under title III of the ADA is necessary to address private lawsuits that threaten businesses with punitive damages and demand monetary settlements. However, these private actions seeking damages are filed pursuant to specific State laws that unlike title III of the ADA, authorize monetary damages. H.R. 620 would make no change to those state laws and therefore fails to address lawsuits seeking damages.

However, it would destroy any incentive under the ADA for timely removal of architectural barriers in public accommodations. Because title III of the ADA does not provide for damages, a business would have no reason to comply with the law unless and until it received written notice from a person with a disability who had been harmed, informing the business that it had violated the law, and the business would then have four months to remove the barrier or make “substantial progress” in doing so. There would be no consequence for breaking the law until the notice was received and the waiting period expired.

When supporters of the discriminatory H.R. 620 argue for its necessity by citing examples of alleged “minor” accessibility infractions, they miss the point that this bill undermines the rights of people with disabilities, rather than protects them. There is nothing minor about a combat Veteran with a disability having to suffer the indignity of being unable to independently access a restaurant in the country they were willing to defend abroad. There is nothing minor about a child with cerebral palsy being forced to suffer the humiliation of being unable to access a movie theater alongside her friends.

Simply put, we reject in the strongest terms the offensive suggestion by supporters of H.R. 620 that a civil rights violation denying access to a public space could ever be “minor.” A ramp a few degrees too steep or a shower head a couple inches too high from the legally prescribed standards are the difference between accessibility and discrimination. To efficiently address the aforementioned examples, we would urge operators of public facilities to simply fix the problem by lowering the ramp a few degrees or lowering the shower head a couple inches. This will not only make sure entities comply with the law, but more importantly, providing accessibility will protect the health, safety and dignity of Americans with disabilities, as promised under a civil rights law passed nearly 28 years ago.

We share many of the concerns on the potential impact of H.R. 620 expressed by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Civil Rights Division, which administers and enforces the ADA. We believe DOJ is right to be troubled by the premise that H.R. 620 would, “…[s]ubstantially change the balance Congress struck for private enforcement actions pursuant to title III of the ADA.” We also share DOJ’s concern that:

“The proposed notice and cure process would also unnecessarily limit individuals’ abilities to obtain much-needed barrier removal in a timely manner by imposing additional requirements that may not result in the collaborative process that the proposed bill intends, but may instead result in additional areas of litigation.”[4]

Congress should promote ADA compliance nationwide by improving existing tools and resources, rather than advancing a harmful and duplicative proposal such as H.R. 620, which would upend a carefully crafted legal framework that has boasted strong bipartisan support for nearly three decades. It would be more productive to enhance funding for existing ADA education and mediation programs rather than requiring lengthy notice periods that remove any incentive to follow the law until violations are detected and civil rights are denied.

We are ready to work with any Senator who is interested in developing pragmatic and bipartisan solutions that improve business’ compliance with the ADA. For example, we support strengthening the capabilities of the DOJ Civil Rights Division’s ADA Technical Assistance Unit, which provides education and technical assistance to help businesses comply with the law. We should also expand the ADA National Network, which supports ten regional ADA Centers and an ADA Knowledge Translation Center. These resources, funded through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research, provide free assistance to entities seeking to comply with the ADA.

However, we will strongly object to any time agreement or unanimous consent request with respect to consideration of H.R. 620, or any similar legislation that seeks to weaken Federal protections for an entire protected class of Americans. By preserving title III of the ADA, Congress will uphold the intent and principle of the underlying statute that disability rights are civil rights.

No American should be forced to endure discrimination for any length of time so that places of public accommodation may learn how to follow a seminal, bipartisan civil rights law that was enacted in 1990. Respectfully, we urge you to join us in supporting the rights of Americans with disabilities by making clear that H.R. 620, or similar legislation, will never receive a vote in the United States Senate during the 115th Congress. 


 U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL)

The letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Bob Casey (D-PA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tom Carper (D-DE), Chris Coons (D-DE), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Edward Markey (D-MA), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Gary Peters (D-MI), Jack Reed (D-RI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Tina Smith (D-MN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Jon Tester (D-MT), Tom Udall (D-NM), Mark Warner (D-VA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).