May 2021 E-News: May News from DRA

In This Issue

Letter From the President & CEO

Dear DRA Supporters,

Two months into my tenure at DRA and three things are clear:

  • We’ve got a GREAT team of staff, clients, donors, board members, and advisors;
  • We’re fighting a righteous battle; civil rights and human rights for people with disabilities need DRA’s protection now more than ever; and
  • The future is full of opportunity to deepen DRA’s roots in the disability community (especially black, indigenous, and people of color communities) and bring about justice so that access, participation, contribution, and empowerment become a reality for all people with disabilities.

In this e-newsletter’s impact report, you’ll read about DRA’s most recent precedent-setting legal work to ensure equal access to education, housing, technology, and transportation, as well as DRA’s work to protect the rights of some of our nation’s most vulnerable; people who are houseless, incarcerated, and held in immigration detention centers.

Simultaneous to this cutting-edge legal action, DRA has begun the process of strategic planning; including developing new mission, vision, and values statements. We’ve kicked off a process to update our website. We’re working to develop more equitable hiring practices leading to more diverse candidate pools and an inclusive DRA staff culture. We’ve built a comprehensive disability-community outreach strategy. We’ve started building a plan for long-term financial sustainability. And we’ve launched the planning for our October 7th virtual gala!

I look forward to keeping you all apprised and involved as we undergo the change process ahead. Together we will emerge stronger, more connected, and even more impactful.

With gratitude and hope for the future,

Kathy Martinez, President & CEO

Kathy Martinez signature
Image: Kathy Martinez signature


Conversation with Board Member Darren Minarik

Headshot of Darren Minarik
Headshot of Darren Minarik

DRA is excited to welcome Darren Minarik to our board of directors! Darren is an associate professor in secondary social studies and special education teacher preparation and serves as co-director for the Virginia Inclusive Practices Center at Radford University.

Why did you decide to join DRA’s Board of Directors?

I felt that my presence on the board as a teacher educator and former public school teacher would provide an additional perspective to the DRA outside of the tremendous legal expertise that already exists.


DRA’s 2021 Virtual Gala

Save Thursday, October 7th for DRA’s 2021 Virtual Gala!

Please mark your calendars today for DRA’s 2021 virtual gala on Thursday, October 7th starting at 4pm Pacific/7pm Eastern. Through the not-to-be missed program, DRA President & CEO, Kathy Martinez, will share her vision for DRA’s future and you’ll learn from esteemed honorees and special guests including The Honorable Tony Coelho, Founder of The Coelho Center for Disability Law, Policy and Innovation at Loyola Marymount University Law School, and DRA’s National Advocate Awardee, The Honorable Eric. H. Holder 82nd Attorney General of the United States. More exciting event updates coming soon!


Impact Report


Empty elementary school classroom with desks, chairs, etc.
Image: Empty elementary school classroom with desks, chairs, etc. via Wikimedia

DRA’s first case of 2021 was a class action filed in January challenging New York City’s segregated school system for students with disabilities on Staten Island, District 75.  The District forces students with certain disability-related needs into separate schools without access to their peers and the benefits of a community school setting in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In March, DRA filed another lawsuit against the NYC Department of Education, this time challenging the NYC DOE’s failure to provide accommodations for a Bronx teacher with mobility disabilities who has been unable to use a restroom at her school building for the past 13 years due to lack of facilities that meet her disability-related needs, and has been denied an accessible evacuation space in the event of an emergency.

Housing and Houselessness

RV parked outside
Image: RV parked outside (via Flickr/Trela S)

Also in March, DRA and partners filed a class action lawsuit challenging a discriminatory RV parking ban in Pacifica, a blatant attempt to banish those who rely on RVs as their only source of shelter. The ban’s impact has been particularly severe on people with disabilities who are already disproportionately impacted by the lack of affordable, accessible housing in the Bay Area.

Prisons and Immigration Detention

View from behind bars inside ICE detention center
Image: View from behind bars inside ICE detention center

In April, DRA filed a class action lawsuit against the Oregon Department of Corrections on behalf of people with disabilities who are incarcerated and who have been charged for the costs of the prostheses and other medical equipment they need to accommodate their disabilities. The lawsuit also challenges ODOC’s policy of denying some accommodations outright if the person lacks sufficient funds.

After a federal court granted DRA’s motion to enforce a preliminary injunction back in October in our class action lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ordering ICE to comply with an earlier injunction that required enhanced COVID-19 protocols and custody redeterminations for persons at heightened risk due to COVID-19 in ICE detention facilities nationwide), DRA and partners achieved another victory in March when the court granted a motion to appoint a special master, or independent third party, to oversee ICE’s compliance with the injunction—since ICE had repeatedly failed to comply on its own.


Man sitting in front of large television, browsing options
Image: Man sitting in front of large TV, browsing options (via Piqsels)

After DRA and partners reached a landmark agreement with HBO to increase the accessibility of HBO Max by utilizing audio descriptions back in October, HBO successfully delivered the first phase of significant upgrades in March, including nearly 1,500 hours of audio described content, with additional improvements to come.


Concrete stairs inside a subway station, flanked by metal handrails and tiled walls. A sign above says "Exit, 72 Street & Central Park West, SW corner."
Image: Staircase in NYC subway station (via Flickr/Derek Key)

In February, DRA achieved another victory in our ongoing battle with NYC’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority when the NY Supreme Court certified a class of all people with disabilities for whom the use of stairs is difficult or impossible and who are unable to access over 75% of the MTA subway system. This decision allows the civil rights lawsuit to be addressed on behalf of not just the plaintiffs, but all New Yorkers with disabilities who cannot access the subway.

DRA reached another victory in March when a federal court of appeals rejected Uber’s argument and ruled that plaintiffs in Pittsburgh suing Uber for failing to provide accessible transportation cannot be forced out of court and into arbitration. The lawsuit challenges Uber’s failure to provide its transportation services to persons who need wheelchair-accessible vehicles.