D.C. Center for Independent Living, et al. v. District of Columbia
On September 9, 2014, DRA filed a class action lawsuit together with co-counsel from Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs against the District of Columbia for its failure to meaningfully include persons with disabilities in its emergency planning. People with disabilities have traditionally faced exceptionally high risk of injury and death during natural disasters. This risk is especially magnified when the jurisdictions do not have plans that adequately account for their needs. The lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of United Spinal Association, the D.C. Center for Independent Living and three individuals representing persons with mobility, vision, hearing and mental disabilities, sought to ensure the remediation of District’s current emergency planning in key areas such as sheltering, transportation, canvassing and emergency communications. Among other things, the lawsuit alleged that the District had failed to adequately plan for emergency communications to deaf and blind persons, provide for accessible evacuation options, and guard against supply chain disruptions for medications and durable medical equipment.
In December 2014, the parties began negotiating settlement, and on May 2, 2019, a monumental settlement agreement was reached that will result in significant improvements to the District’s emergency preparedness and response programs for thousands of people with disabilities who live in, work in, or travel to the nation’s capital for purposes such as tourism and communications with their elected representatives.
Under the historic settlement, the District has agreed to a comprehensive three-year plan that includes: (1) creating a Disability Community Advisory Group that will provide disability-specific recommendations for emergency plans and trainings, (2) ensuring that emergency-related public communications are disseminated in accessible formats, (3) considering physical accessibility as a priority when opening emergency shelters, (4) creating a Post-Emergency Canvassing Operation plan, (5) ensuring that transportation resources are sufficient to meet the potential demand for accessible transportation during emergencies, and (6) creating and implementing a work plan to improve procedures for evacuating people with disabilities from high-rise buildings.