Settlement requires Los Angeles jails to improve wheelchair access

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News from California

A federal judge granted preliminary approval November 24 to a class-action settlement aimed at addressing accessibility concerns for people with mobility disabilities in Los Angeles jails.

Filed in 2008, the lawsuit accused the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department of systematically violating the Americans with Disabilities Act at the facilities. It described a range of horror stories from inmates in wheelchairs, including those from people who soiled themselves due to inaccessible bathrooms and falling because toilets were not equipped with handlebars.

Claims were also brought under 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses, as well as the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

While disability advocates are pleased the settlement is moving forward, many questioned why the settlement took so long.

“There was no rational basis for the county to dispute the fact that there were bathrooms that wheelchairs could not access,” Jessica Price of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, told the Los Angeles Times. “That was not a factual question, yet the litigation went on for six years.”

Along with the ACLU of Southern California, Disability Rights California, Disability Rights Legal Center, Winston & Strawn represented the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Under the settlement, the Sheriff’s Department will install ADA-required equipment and build new wheelchair accessible housing.

In addition, it will ensure that people with mobility disabilities have equal access to educational and vocational programs, including physical therapy and exercise opportunities.

The Sheriff’s Department will also improve its complaint procedure and appoint an ADA coordinator to oversee the implementation process.

“The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department has come a long way, but this settlement is just the beginning,” Price said in a news release. “The agreement provides the plaintiffs a mechanism for court intervention if there are any violations of the terms of the agreement.”

The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California will hold hearings for final approval of the settlement in March.

Disability Rights California and Disability Rights Washington, which operates this Galaxy website, are part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and members of the National Disability Rights Network.