I wanted to take some time and blog to you all about my experience with filing a DOJ complaint. By the nature of the process I must comply with confidentiality so can not go into great detail about the actual claim, but did want to chat about the process itself.
Last November I had an experience out of state traveling that I felt violated my ADA rights. I did try to approach the managing body of the establishment about my issues before making my complaint. The managing body offered what was their best solution and when I felt it did not adequately resolve my complaint I made the decision to file a claim with the Department of Justice.
I found all the info I needed to file at this website: http://www.ada.gov/fact_on_complaint.htm#2
It was pretty simple: My name and contact info and the offending party’s; A description of the offence, included dates and details; other relevant information and what sort of accommodations I might need to receive written contact from the DOJ. I chose to mail it in but, there is a provision to send e-mail as well.
I sent this off in November of 2011. I received a packet back from the DOJ in September 2012, letting me know that my case could go to mediation. I did, and sent the signed agreement to go to mediation back to the DOJ. In December of 2012 I received a call from the mediator who would preside over my claim. It took over a year to get to the mediation, which I know feels like a long time to wait for justice to be served. Unfortunately, because the ADA is a complaint driven law, unless people go through the complaint process change will not happen.
The mediator was very available to me before the mediation to answer any questions I had about the process. I think the most important thing for any of you out there, thinking of filing a complaint, is to know that mediators through this process are not ADA experts. There is a provision through the process to use federal resources for law interpretation, that said I would highly recommend you do your homework before hand. The party you are making a complaint against will most likely have lawyers representing them and I guarantee you the lawyers have done their homework.
The day of the mediation arrived about three weeks after my first contact by the mediator. While it was a little intimidating at first, the discussion went well and the mediator did a wonderful job capturing the key issues and restating them for the group so everyone was on the same page. When the time came the mediator also clarified the agreements that each party was stating. I felt very satisfied with the out come which included policy recommendations, etiquette training and small fiscal compensation.
I imagine not all people who go through this process will be as satisfied with the outcomes. I think for me I was more focused on acknowledgement by the other party that my experience was not in keeping with spirit of the ADA and that they would take the steps necessary to be in alignment with the law. I did want financial restitution for the money I put out through the incident but I was not looking to make money out of it or be compensated for “pain and suffering”. I am not trying to say, when and if you go through this process, you should not ask for financial compensation if you feel you have been abused or oppressed to the point that it does cause you emotional trauma. I do think though that when we as a community hold companies, organizations and institutions responsible to the law that protects our civil rights we should, when possible, focuses on changes that will help those that come after us and not monetary gains.
The nature of the ADA as a complaint driven law puts the responsibility on all of us to call out when we see violations and injustices. I know this can feel like a big responsibility at times, and it is human nature to want to be able to make a phone call and get instant results. Unfortunately this is not the way it works in regards to the ADA. I hope this encourages and not deters you from going through the process the next time you feel your rights are violated. If you aren’t sure whether your experience is a violation you can call the DOJ for technical support at 1-800-541-0301 ex 7 and of course you can always call us here at the disability program.