Enforcing the Disabilities Law
Among college officials, it’s widely known that many campus facilities do not comply with standards for accessibility required by the Americans With Disabilities Act. Most colleges focus on the issue when they are adding new facilities or when they receive complaints from students or employees.
The U.S. Justice Department has become interested in the issue, however, and some colleges may be experiencing more scrutiny than they are used to about the ADA. The department this week announced a settlement in which the University of Chicago has pledged to make a series of improvements in facilities over the next four years and to regularly report its progress. The university denied the Justice Department’s contention that it was violating the law, but agreed to make the changes nonetheless.
Chicago may soon have company. Its review was focused on Title III of the ADA, which deals primarily with facilities. About 10 other colleges are currently undergoing similar reviews, according to Cynthia Magnuson, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department’s civil rights division. To date, only the Chicago review, which has been completed, has been announced.
Magnuson said that the reviews have not necessarily been prompted by specific complaints — and Chicago officials stated that their review was not prompted by a complaint.
But Magnuson described the review process as “not random” and said that institutions are selected for reviews because “we’re aware of certain problems.” Department officials hope that the reviews will lead to improvements not only at the institutions being studied, but more generally in higher education, she said.