People with Disabilities at Risk During Emergency Due to Non-Compliant Communication

Posted on

March 27, 2020

Edie Surtees, Disability Rights Texas
Communications Director

Texas Emergency Information Not in Compliance with the ADA

Letter to Texas Governor and Department of Emergency Management Demands Immediate Resolution

AUSTIN—People with disabilities are being put at risk during the cororavirus pandemic – and not just because of age or underlying health conditions.

As several Texas cities and counties released emergency declarations and stay-at-home orders this past week, some government entities have failed to comply with the Americans Disabilities Act in making their public communications accessible to people with hearing or visual disabilities.

In a letter sent today to the Office of Texas Governor Greg Abbott and the Texas Department of Emergency Mananagement, Disability Rights Texas (DRTx) reminds these entities of their legal duty to adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act in distributing emergency communications.

The letter states that In order to provide notice to the entire public about the current public health disaster, emergency orders and any information related to COVID-19 must be accessible to individual with disabilities.  For example, individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing will not receive information from a broadcast without American Sign Language interpreters and open captioning. Individuals who are blind or have low vision cannot recognize visual cues and will need auditory supports when documents are subsequently posted on-line.

“We are receiving reports that not all broadcasts are being supported with interpreters and captioning and that documents posted on-line are not formatted correctly to utilize screen reading technology,” said Stephanie Duke, an attorney at DRTx. “This practice is out of compliance with the ADA and wrongly puts many people with disabilities at risk during this pandemic.”

Another problem with inaccessibility of government orders relates to enforcement of the order. If a person is criminally charged for not complying with an order, and yet the notice of the order was not accessible to that person, the person technically cannot get charged.

The letter goes on to list specific issues as well as resources for how to remedy the problems. Disability Rights Texas asks for an immediate response and resolution to these issues.

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Disability Rights Texas (previously named Advocacy Inc.) is the federally designated legal protection and advocacy agency (P&A) for people with disabilities in Texas. Its mission is to help people with disabilities understand and exercise their rights under the law, ensuring their full and equal participation in society.


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