INVESTIGATION: County, utilities violating federal law

DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – People are being denied basic services even though federal law is on their side.

2 NEWS Investigates started asking questions after a Dayton man with limited sight showed us the efforts he’s made to get his own personal information in a print he can read.

Unfortunately, those with disabilities are still being ignored more than two decades after the Americans With Disabilities Act took effect.

Carl Farley, Jr. was the victim of a crime in 2004.  His case is closed now after the suspect pleaded guilty, but it’s not over for Farley.  He’s been trying to get the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office to give him documents relevant to his case, documents he can actually read.

Farley is legally blind.  He can see objects and colors, but not much else unless the words in front of him are big enough.

Carl Farley, Jr. shows us his box of records he keeps on his case (WDTN Photo)

Carl Farley, Jr. shows us his box of records he keeps on his case. (WDTN Photo)

“I don’t get the majority of what I require and it’s aggravating,” he says.

Farley has documented calls to county, state and federal offices.

As he was showing 2 NEWS Investigates the box he keeps of notes he pointed out, “There’s my case number and she has actually been doing her best to get me the proper books after going to Congressman Turner’s office.”

Yes, Farley’s gone in person to Turner’s office and it was his idea to go up to County Commissioner Dan Foley’s the day we joined him.

When we met Farley at the Dayton-Montgomery County Court Building, he showed us how courtroom signs are difficult to read and there’s no way for him to distinguish between the men’s and women’s restrooms.  The “no smoking” sign is raised, but that is all.  We made sure Court Administrator Ann Murray saw the problem.

Farley told her, “It’s been an emotional rollercoaster for me.”  Murray replied, “I want to thank you for bringing to our attention.”

2 NEWS Investigates followed up with Murray a month later and she said she had relayed Farley’s concerns to the county’s maintenance person since the county owns the building.  She said they are looking at improving signs as they renovate the building’s lobby.

Chaim Segal has been blind from birth.  He’s able to work at Sinclair Community College because Sinclair provides him the software he needs to assist students over the phone.

Segal can’t get Vectren and Dayton Power & Light to provide him bills in Braille, something he got from utility companies in the Chicago area sixteen years ago.

“They don’t understand that even if there is only one or two customers who need it, a person with disability must be provided accommodation if they are a public company, providing a service to the general public,” Segal told 2 NEWS Investigates.

That is what the law says. The Americans With Disabilities Act addresses communications this way:

“A public entity and a public accommodation must provide “auxiliary aids” which include Brailled materials and large print materials”

Furthermore, Vectren and DP&L receive federal money to provide home energy assistance programs, so they are required to provide equal access according to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which predates the ADA.

Government offices and utilities might think they are accommodating those who are visually impaired by having someone read their information to them, but that’s not something they can file and revisit.

“The bottom line it comes down to is if sighted people can have access to this personal information in writing, hard copy, then blind people should have access too,” Segal explained.

When asked if he considered legal action to help get groups to follow the law, Segal said that was an expensive option.

“Aside from my part time job here at Sinclair and social security I don’t have that much money coming in,” he added.

Unfortunately, that’s what it often takes for change to occur, a lawsuit, and civil rights attorneys tell 2 NEWS Investigates few of their colleagues want to take on such cases because there’s not much of a payoff.

Barb Corner is an attorney with Disability Rights Ohio. It’s the federally funded agency charged with protecting and advocating the rights of people with disabilities in our state. 2 NEWS Investigates met with her and her guide dog Deluxe at her Columbus home.

“The problem is even though you have the right to get information in accessible format from a utility company or the courts or you know your charge card bills, etc. Actually enforcing that is you know, can be time-consuming and difficult,” she explained.

2 NEWS Investigates found records that indicate for years the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel has been urging Vectren to provide bills in Braille but the state commission which regulates the utility companies has let Vectren off the hook because it would be “cost prohibitive.” The President of Vectren Energy Delivery Ohio, Colleen Ryan, said the company has been offering bills in large print since 2007.

“But if you can’t see at all that’s not going to help you, a large print,” I explained.

“That is true I’m assuming most people like that have somebody, some caregiver to help them,” Ryan said, “Again, we haven’t had a lot of requests for a Braille bill.”

But it’s not about numbers, it’s about people’s rights. Remember, when Segal was living in Chicago in the late 90s he was getting Braille bills. We got a sample bill from Commonwealth Edison.

ComEd says it spends $400 a month to provide Braille bills to nearly 120 customers.

“When a service isn’t provided that could be, that I’ve actually seen done in other communities, it makes me feel that my customership isn’t valued, they don’t care that I’m using some of my hard earned money to pay for power from them or to pay for gas,” Segal said.

Vectren said it is changing print vendors this year and will look at providing Braille bills.

Just before this report was put online, DP&L send 2 NEWS Investigates the following statement:

Dayton Power & Light (DP&L) accommodates our customers with disabilities whenever possible.

For example, with our hearing impaired customers we publish the TDD/TTY numbers to provide them access to DP&L’s customer service. Hearing impaired customers may also contact us via the dplandl.com website. Some employee examples include large screen monitors for those with vision impairments and modified door handles to permit easier access. All of our locations are wheel-chair accessible.

For our employees, DP&L is committed to equal employment opportunity and the use of affirmative action programs to ensure that persons are recruited hired, trained, transferred and promoted in all job groups regardless of race, color, religion, age, disability, national origin, veteran status or sex in accordance with federal and state law.

DP&L monitors all personnel actions to make sure they are nondiscriminatory and communicates our policy throughout the organization, especially to all levels of management and those individuals engaged in recruiting, employment and training activities.

And Kerstin Sjoberg-Witt, Director of Advocacy and Assistant Executive Director of Disability Rights Ohio, provided us the following statement:
“Disability Rights Ohio looked at the issue of individuals who are blind or low vision who need bills or other information in alternative formats from local utility companies and are having trouble getting what they need. These individuals do have a right to receive important communications such as a billing statement in a format that they can read. If someone is having a problem with this, they can file complaints with the U.S. Department of Justice. Here is a website that should help www.ada.gov/cguide.htm.  Individuals can also contact Disability Rights Ohio to find out more information on their rights.”

Using census numbers Disability Rights Ohio estimated more than 14,000 people in Montgomery County have vision difficulties.  The US Census defines vision difficulty as “blind or having serious difficulty seeing, even when wearing glasses”.

 

 

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