Minneapolis Disability Committee considers ADA compliance, hiring complaint against city

The City of Minneapolis recently hired an ADA Coordinator to be responsible for program and building access issues.  According to […]

The City of Minneapolis recently hired an ADA Coordinator to be responsible for program and building access issues.  According to members of the Minneapolis Advisory Committee on People with Disabilities, this person falls short of their expectations and has virtually no experience or knowledge of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or the disability community. Committee Chairwoman Margot Imdieke Cross said that “The committee was extremely disappointed in the hire.”

But David Rubedor, Director of Neighborhood and Community Relations for Minneapolis, disagrees. “I’m excited that this new position will elevate our work with a number of communities, including people with disabilities. Filling this position is one very important step toward making accessibility considerations a more integral part of the way city departments do their work.”

Cross said it became evident several years ago that Minneapolis was slipping backward in regard to overall ADA compliance, with so many complaints and alleged violations that the city was eventually going to get sued. Minneapolis always had an ADA officer in the Human Resources department to focus on employment issues, but no one was held accountable for program or building access issues. “This responsibility fell in large part to the Disability Committee and we responded,” said Cross. “We educated city departments on ADA requirements, we intervened and resolved several clear ADA violations and we started meeting with Steven Bosacker, City Coordinator, to reestablish the ADA coordinator position that the city had eliminated several years earlier as a cost cutting measure.”

According to Dorothy Balen, longtime committee member, “We did our best to resolve issues and create good ADA practice and policy to bring the city into compliance, but we’re a group of volunteers.  Many of us have fulltime jobs outside of the committee activity, and there was only so much we could accomplish in this capacity. We needed to get that ADA coordinator position reinstated.”

“We just simply couldn’t believe that after receiving multiple assurances that a qualified person would be hired for this position, first from Bosacker and eventually from Rubedor, we ended up with an individual who knows next to nothing about ADA requirements,” said Joan Willshire, committee member and director of the Minnesota State Council on Disability. The ADA coordinator position was combined with a multi-cultural manager position and even though not required by law, as is the ADA coordinator position, Rubedor gave priority to the multi-cultural component of the position.

But Rubedor defends new Access and Outreach Manager, Ahmen Muhumud, saying he brings not only the right skills to the job, but also has a passion for connecting with communities to make change. He was chosen from more than 80 applicants because of his strong program development and project management skills, and his experience working with cultural organizations and communities.  Muhumud has about 10 years’ experience with the Minnesota Department of Human Services, and Hennepin and Dakota counties.

Michael Foster, committee communication officer, said when Muhumud was introduced to the Committee, he was asked if he had any direct ADA experience and his response was “no”. When Muhumud was asked about his experience with the disability community, he said he had two disabled family members. Muhumud also said he would be relying on the Disability Committee for their experience and resources.

Rubedor said Muhumud is responsible for addressing and removing barriers that exist in some communities. “He will focus on building outreach and meaningful connections to underrepresented communities where language, cultural norms and/or disabilities, as well as knowledge of government, affects communication and access.” He will work with five people on an access and outreach team.

“We’re also putting into place a system of ADA liaisons in all city departments,”  Rubedor said. “With a designated liaison in each department and the core team working with Muhumud, we’ll have a stronger network than we’ve ever had to proactively address ADA issues. That network is extremely important, because our goal is to integrate ADA planning into the city’s business plans and practices they never have before.” He said accessibility will be more and more a part of how Minneapolis does business.

The committee’s first piece of advice to Muhumud is to conduct an access review of his own job site since his office is reportedly in a building that is inaccessible to many in the disability community. “To find out what the access requirements are in Minnesota, Muhumud should contact the Minnesota State Council on Disability for access information,”  Cross said. She works for MNCOD. Minneapolis residents with and without disabilities who are concerned about the City’s apparent lack of commitment on ADA compliance should contact their City Council member and register a complaint.

Christopher Bell, a blind attorney who specializes in ADA, addressed the committee in January and outlined options, which included filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice (USDOJ).  Bell handed out a document from the USDOJ on best practices when filling an ADA coordinator position. The document addressed the benefits of having an ADA coordinator and the knowledge needed for the position to be effective.  During his presentation, Bell noted that USDOJ takes the position that the ADA Coordinator must have the time and expertise to investigate ADA complaints and to coordinate the government compliance efforts. Bell questioned whether a person with no direct ADA knowledge or experience could satisfy the demands of the ADA coordinator position in a city as large as Minneapolis, particularly when he also is responsible for multi-cultural outreach programs.

  

St. Paul Hires Human Rights Specialist and ADA Coordinator

Alyssa Wetzel-Moore was recently hired by the city of St. Paul’s Department of Human Rights & Equal Economic Opportunity (HREEO) as a human rights specialist and also was appointed as Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Coordinator for St. Paul. When ask if she had any concerns about negotiating for people with disabilities as ADA Coordinator she said, “I respect the dignity of all people. I treat people with respect and listen carefully so that those with concerns feel that they have been heard.”

Wetzel-Moore will facilitate the cities compliance concerning Title II of the ADA. As ADA Coordinator, Wetzel- Moore has been organizing a Citywide Team to developed procedures to work towards making the City’s services, programs, and activities more accessible to those with disabilities.  She is responsible for investigating complaints of discrimination that focus on accessibility issues that take place within St. Paul city. Luz María Frías, Director of HREEO said, “Alyssa has energetically assembled an interdepartmental team of employees that will focus on ensuring that our facilities and buildings are accessible to all residents in Saint Paul. We are committed to eliminating accessibility barriers whether they are based on mobility, vision, hearing, etc.”

Wetzel-Moore is staff liaison to the Mayor’s Advisory Committee for People with Disabilities (MACPD). The MACPD advises and makes recommendations to the Mayor and City Council on problems, issues, and opportunities facing people with disabilities.  The MACPD specifically focuses on issues related to employment, public education, and accessibility.

Wetzel-Moore graduated from University of St. Thomas School of Law, magna cum laude, after being awarded a full tuition scholarship for academic performance. Wetzel-Moore received her Bachelor’s of Arts Degree from the University of Minnesota. Wetzel-Moore’s other relevant experience as ADA Coordinator includes coursework in International Human Rights Law, Trial Advocacy, Poverty Law, Negotiations, Constitutional Law and, Criminal Procedure, Client Interviewing and Counseling and Employment Law class that included the Americans with Disabilities Act and cases of discrimination on the basis of disability, legal memorandum on a hypothetical case assigned in her legal writing course requiring a thorough analysis and application of the ADA, she attended workshops on an Employer’s Guide to Reasonable Accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act (ADAAA) at a Human Rights Day Conference. She also attended forums on analyzing the Title II requirements under the ADA. She has already presented to the Citywide Functional Team of City Departments to analyze their responsibilities as a city, Developed Title II Notice and Grievance Procedures and forms. 

Wetzel-Moore has been active in a number of organizations working to advance civil rights and empower marginalized people. During law school, she was a Minnesota Justice Fellow at Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota and represented asylum seekers, crime victims, and families in their immigration cases. She also represented asylum seekers at Immigration Court as a certified student attorney at UST’s Immigration Clinic.  Wetzel-Moore is a Bilingual and has worked with migrant farm workers with a variety of legal needs in Greater Minnesota with Migrant Legal Services, a project of the Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services. Prior to law school Wetzel-Moore worked for the Minnesota Literacy Council for three years. Wetzel-Moore has also been involved in international human rights efforts as an election observer for 2004 Presidential Elections in El Salvador and as part of a sister community delegation to the peace community of Mogotes, Santander, Colombia.  Wetzel-Moore is currently an active member of the Asamblea de Derechos Civiles (Assembly for Civil Rights) which builds leaders and promotes civil rights.

Members of the disability community have an ADA coordinator, a go-to-person that is knowledgeable about the ADA and discrimination. With Wetzel-Moore negotiation background she will be able to walk a complaint through to the right department and lay out the laws or city building codes, through her own investigations for the individual with the complaint.

You can contact Alyssa Wetzel-Moore at ADACoordinator@ci.stpaul.mn.us

  

Effective ADA Coordinator

There are many benefits to having a knowledgeable ADA coordinator, even for smaller public entities that are not required to have one.

For members of the public, having an ADA coordinator makes it easy to identify someone to help them with questions and concerns about disability discrimination. A knowledgeable ADA coordinator will be able to efficiently assist people with disabilities with their questions. The coordinator will also be responsible for investigating any complaints.

Having an ADA coordinator provides a specific contact person with knowledge and information about the ADA sothat questions by staff can be answered efficiently and consistently. In addition, this person coordinates compliance measures and can be instrumental in ensuring that compliance plans move forward. The ADA coordinators can take the lead in auditing their state or local government’s programs, policies, activities, services, and facilities for ADA compliance.

  

What Makes an Effective ADA Coordinator

The regulations require state and local governments with 50 or more employees to designate an employee responsible for coordinating compliance with ADA requirements.

Here are some of the qualifications that help an ADA coordinator to be effective: local government’s structure, activities, and employees knowledge of the ADA and other laws addressing the rights of people with disabilities, such as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act experience with people with a broad range of disabilities, knowledge of various alternative formats and alternative technologies that enable people with disabilities to communicate, participate, and perform tasks ability to work cooperatively with the local government and people with disabilities familiarity with any local disability advocacy groups or other disability groups skills and training in negotiation and mediation organizational and analytical skills

The regulations implementing the law state: Designation of responsible employee.

A public entity that employs 50 or more persons shall designate at least one employee to coordinate its efforts to comply with and carry out its responsibilities under this part, including any investigation of any complaint communicated to it alleging its noncompliance with this part or alleging any actions that would be prohibited by this part. The public entity shall make available to all interested individuals the name, office address, and telephone number of the employee or employees designated pursuant to this paragraph.

[Source: www.ada.gov/pcatoolkit/chap2toolkit.htm]