Class-action lawsuit challenges D.C. emergency preparedness plans

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A coalition of disability rights advocates sued the District of Columbia on September 9, contending that the nation’s capital is violating federal and district law by failing to adequately provide for people with disabilities in its emergency planning.

“The lack of a specific emergency plan for people with disabilities is a matter of life and death for Washington, DC’s most vulnerable residents,” said Julia Pinover Kupiec of Disability Rights Advocates in a news release. “People with disabilities face the greatest risk during disasters and suffer tragic consequences when governments fail to develop emergency plans for all citizens. The District cannot afford to wait for another disaster to strike before taking action.”

The 35-page complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, details a variety of alleged deficiencies in the “District Response Plan.”

Specifically, the disability advocates contend that the District has failed to publicize accessibility information about its emergency shelters, or inspected them for potential barriers. The District also allegedly has failed to plan for how it will communicate its emergency measures to people with visual or hearing disabilities, such as through ASL interpreters, captioning etc.

Moreover, the District has not inventoried its available emergency resources for the unique needs of people with disabilities or designated an official to address these concerns. The Plan also allegedly does not include plans for the District’s paratransit system or potential temporary housing options for the District’s estimated 72,000 people with disabilities.

The complaint states that the District’s failure to address these issues violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the DC Human Rights Act.

“Washington D.C.’s District Response Plan attempts to prepare the general public for an emergency with respect to each component, but does not sufficiently describe how the needs of persons with disabilities will be met in any regard,” the complaint states.

As mentioned in the complaint, Disability Rights Advocates has in recent years brought suits successfully challenging the emergency preparedness plans in both Los Angeles and New York City.

The lawsuit was brought on behalf of the United Spinal Association, the DC Center for Independent Living and three individuals. They are represented by Disability Rights Advocates, Drinker Biddle & Reath and the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.