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Eight proven rules.

1 Know your laws. Your state almost certainly has a barrier removal law. Find out what it says. Your state will also have a human rights law. Check to see if it prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability.

The federal Fair Housing Act now allows you to rent or buy any house or apartment you want. You may have to make your own access modifications, but you must be allowed to; if a landlord or realtor refuses, it's illegal.

The Americans with Disabilities Act forbids discrimination by employers of 15 or more employees; by state and local government services; by places of public accommodation; by public transportation systems and telecommunications services. Churches and programs run by churches are exempt.

2 Read the regulations. This is essential to understand what's required. Final regulations ("rules") from the Department of Justice outline specifically what must be done by "public accommodations" to serve you. Included in these rules are design guidelines to be followed to ensure access. Department of Justice rules are available from the Office on the ADA, Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice, Box 66118, Washington, D.C. 20035-6118, (202) 514-0301 or 514-0381/0383 (TDD). Operating hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday.

The rules also come in large print, Braille, audio tape and on electronic disk. You can also download them from the Department of Justice's computer bulletin board at (202) 514-6193.

Don't be afraid of legal language. Once you've read the rules a couple of times, you will find they're easier to understand. If your local independent living center isn't doing a training session on understanding these rules, get them to contact one of the national groups, who are giving trainings, to offer one in your community -- and go. Ask questions.

3 Believe you have a right. This is the most important thing you can do. Still, you must do your homework. You should know the law and the regulations as they pertain to your situation -- this also involves knowing which agency enforces the law, and how to follow the complaint process.

4 Become organized; learn to document your work. You can't expect to accomplish anything, say veteran barrier-busters, unless you are organized. It's important to document everything. Write letters confirming specific points of conversations; make sure you include dates. Get responses in writing when you ask an agency about a matter of access. Have on hand the specific law and rule that says you have a right to service. Know your facts.

5 Go directly to the source of the problem. You accomplish little by complaining to those without authority to do anything about your problems with access. You must go to the source of your problem and tell them to make their place accessible.

6 Be specific. Tell them precisely what is needed: a TDD; an interpreter; a cassette version or computer disc version of the sales catalog; a ramp; or an accessible rest room. Make sure the party you're complaining to knows there's a right and a wrong way to provide access. Give them a copy of the Department of Justice guidelines. (Order several copies so you'll have some to give away.)

7 File your complaint and stay on the case. If access isn't forthcoming, file a complaint. If you don't know how to file a complaint, contact the agency that's supposed to enforce the law and ask them. It's their job to help you. Be persistent until they do the job.

You may get the runaround; if so, take your complaint to a higher authority in the agency -- up to the office of the "general counsel," if you need to. Be persistent.

You may not win your battle at first. But if you've done your homework, you'll know if you're entitled to access. If you lose, appeal.

8 Do it yourself. Don't bring in a third party, like the American Civil Liberties Union, to fight your battle for you. The person who wants to win this is you -- not some group with little to gain from your fight. You can do the job, so do it. The time to bring in a group like the ACLU is when the enforcing agency itself balks -- but only after you've exhausted all the remedies, and gone to the top of the agency.

Like the Nike ad says: Just do it. Don't give up. Because you have a right.
COPYRIGHT 1992 EP Global Communications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Annual Mobility Guide for Parents of Children and Adolescents; providing access to the handicapped
Author:Phillips, Marilynn; Solas, Gregory
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Mar 1, 1992
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