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A Big Win for Accessibility

Sometimes the support of the Vermont Bar Foundation can result in better lives for a whole class of individuals.

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Danielle,” a 50-year old stroke victim, was denied emergency housing and spent a cold night in a rainy park, sleeping in her wheelchair. She appealed the denial on her own and was approved for emergency housing assistance from the Department for Children and Families (DCF).

A Complicated Situation

That’s when things got complicated. DCF repeatedly refused to pay the extra cost to get Danielle a wheelchair accessible motel room, and she was sent again and again to an inaccessible motel. Unfortunately, her wheelchair did not fit into the bathroom, and she fell trying to use the non-accessible bathroom and broke her arm.

A Resolution with Broad Impact

When Danielle was released from the hospital, DCF sent her to a different motel—one in which the staff had to carry her up a flight of stairs to get to her room. Eventually, with the assistance of Vermont Legal Aid (VLA), Danielle obtained accessible permanent housing through a local domestic violence program. But finding housing for Danielle was just the first step.

Next, VLA filed a discrimination complaint with the Human Rights Commission under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Danielle’s individual claims against DCF were settled, and an agreement on the bigger issue of accessibility for peopled with disabilities seeking emergency housing was also reached.

A Better Future for People With Disabilities

In the agreement, DCF adopted new procedures regarding payment for accessible motel rooms under their emergency housing program. In addition, the state agreed to use VLA staff to train all 900 DCF employees on the state’s responsibilities under the ADA to treat Vermonters with disabilities with dignity and respect and to make the reasonable accommodations necessary to insure that they get the same benefits as other Vermonters. With the help of the Vermont Bar Foundation, VLA was able to achieve a big win for Vermonters with disabilities.

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