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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQ)

DISABILITY RIGHTS AND SERVICES PROGRAM (DR&SP)

What is The Disability Rights & Services Program?

In 1990, Madison's City Council adopted Madison General Ordinance 39.05, which prohibits discrimination based on disability by City programs and by City-funded agencies. Under this ordinance, the Disability Rights & Services Program monitors both the physical and programmatic access for people with disabilities of the agencies and programs for which the City provides funding. The program also provides technical assistance in helping resolve both physical and programmatic accessibility issues.

The Disability Rights & Services Program is a unit of the City's Department of Civil Rights serving Madison's residents with disabilities. Under the auspices of the Civil Rights Director, this program coordinates the City's efforts to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

The Department of Civil Rights Director, Disability Rights & Services Program Coordinator and the Commission on People with Disabilities (CPD):

  • work to provide citizen input on issues including transportation, recreation, accessibility and housing; and
  • works cooperatively with advocacy and community-based organizations serving persons with disabilities.

What are the services offered by the Disability Rights & Services Program and the Disability Rights & Services Program Coordinator?

  • Collaborates with City department heads to assure their compliance with the physical and programmatic access requisites of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and relevant State Statutes and City Ordinances.
  • Collaborates with community-based organizations, which receive City funding, to evaluate and monitor their compliance with physical and programmatic access requisites of Section 39.05 of the Madison General Ordinances.
  • Consults with the City Building Inspection Unit to ensure that covered construction and remodeling projects are accessible.
  • Collaborates in conjunction with the Affirmative Action Specialist to evaluate and resolve disability-based complaints of employment discrimination from City employees or applicants for City employment.
  • Provides information and referral to the general public regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as well as relevant State Statutes and City Ordinances, and City services which can be useful to persons with disabilities.
  • Provides staff support to the CPD.

How do I file a complaint under MGO 39.05?

Visit our Complaints website for a full description of the complaint procedure.

COMMON QUESTIONS ABOUT MGO 39.05 / TITLE II OF THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT / 504 OF THE REHABILITATION ACT

Many of the questions and answers below have been adapted from a Department of Justice publication.

What is the connection between MGO 39.05 and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act?

The Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs conducted by Federal agencies, in programs receiving Federal financial assistance. Section 504 states that "no qualified individual with a disability in the United States shall be excluded from, denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under" any program or activity that receives Federal financial assistance. MGO 39.05 is patterned after section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act for city assisted programs. Many federal agencies have 504 regulations that include reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities; program accessibility; effective communication with people who have hearing or vision disabilities; and accessible new construction and alterations.

Do we have to retrofit every existing building in order to meet the accessibility requirements of MGO 39.05, the ADA or 504 of the Rehab Act?

No. Title II of the ADA and MGO 39.05 requires that a public entity or city assisted program make its programs accessible to people with disabilities, not necessarily each facility or part of a facility. Program accessibility may be achieved by a number of methods. While in many situations providing access to facilities through structural methods, such as alteration of existing facilities and acquisition or construction of additional facilities, may be the most efficient method of providing program accessibility, the public entity, or city assisted program, may pursue alternatives to structural changes in order to achieve program accessibility. For example, where the second-floor office of a public welfare agency may be entered only by climbing a flight of stairs, an individual with a mobility impairment seeking information about welfare benefits can be served in an accessible ground floor location or in another accessible building. Similarly, a town may move a public hearing from an inaccessible building to a building that is readily accessible. When choosing among available methods of providing program accessibility, a public entity or city assisted program must give priority to those methods that offer services, programs, and activities in the most integrated setting appropriate.

If we opt to make structural changes in providing program accessibility, are we required to follow a particular design standard in making those changes?

Yes. When making structural changes to achieve program accessibility, a public entity, or city assisted program, must make those changes in accordance with the standards for new construction and alterations. See question #5.

What is the time line for making structural changes?

Any structural changes that are required to achieve program accessibility must be made by January 26, 1995. Each public entity with 50 or more employees was required to complete a transition plan by July 26, 1992, setting forth the steps necessary to complete the changes.

Are there any limitations on the program accessibility requirement?

Yes. A public entity, or city assisted program does not have to take any action that it can demonstrate would result in a fundamental alteration in the nature of its program or activity or in undue financial and administrative burdens. This determination can only be made by the head of the public entity, city assisted program or his or her designee and must be accompanied by a written statement of the reasons for reaching that conclusion. The determination that undue burdens would result must be based on all resources available for use in the program. If an action would result in such an alteration or such burdens, the public entity , or city assisted program, must take any other action that would not result in such an alteration or such burdens but would nevertheless ensure that individuals with disabilities receive the benefits and services of the program or activity.

What architectural design standard must we follow for new construction and alterations?

Under MGO 39.05, a building or structure is readily accessible to or usable by persons with disabilities, if it fulfills the applicable standards, guidelines and requirements issued by the federal Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (The Access Board). Under the ADA, public entities may choose from two design standards for new construction and alterations. They can choose either the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS) or the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities (ADAAG). ADAAG is the standard that must be used for privately-owned public accommodations and commercial facilities under title III of the ADA. If ADAAG is chosen, however, public entities are not entitled to the elevator exemption (which permits certain privately-owned buildings under three stories or under 3,000 square feet per floor to be constructed without an
elevator).

Is the Federal Government planning to eliminate this choice and establish one design standard for new construction and alterations?

Yes. The Department of Justice is proposing to amend its current ADA Standards for Accessible Design (which incorporate ADAAG) to add sections dealing with judicial, legislative, and regulatory facilities, detention and correctional facilities, residential housing, and public rights-of-way. The proposed amendment would apply these Standards to new construction and alterations under title II. Under the proposed rule, the choice between ADAAG and UFAS would be eliminated.

What if it is not possible to structurally modify our existing buildings to make them accessible?

MGO 39.05, the ADA, and 504 of the Rehab Act require that, in the rare case that the structure cannot be made accessible, "program accessibility" must be provided, possibly at another accessible location.

Does a city have to provide curb ramps at every intersection on existing streets?

No. To promote both efficiency and accessibility, public entities may choose to construct curb ramps at every point where a pedestrian walkway intersects a curb, but they are not necessarily required to do so. Alternative routes to buildings that make use of existing curb cuts may be acceptable under the concept of program accessibility in the limited circumstances where individuals with disabilities need only travel a marginally longer route. In addition, the fundamental alteration and undue burden limitations may limit the number or curb ramps required.

To achieve or maintain program accessibility, it may be appropriate to establish an ongoing procedure for installing curb ramps upon request in areas frequented by individuals with disabilities as residents, employees, or visitors.

However, when streets, roads, or highways are newly built or altered, they must have ramps or sloped areas wherever there are curbs or other barriers to entry from a sidewalk or path. Likewise, when new sidewalks or paths are built or are altered, they must contain curb ramps or sloped areas wherever they intersect with streets, roads, or highways. Resurfacing beyond normal maintenance is an alteration. Merely filling potholes is considered to be normal maintenance.

Q: Where a public library's open stacks are located on upper floors with no elevator access, does the library have to install a lift or an elevator?

No. As an alternative to installing a lift or elevator, library staff may retrieve books for patrons who use wheelchairs. Staff must be available to provide assistance during the operating hours of the library.

Does a municipal performing arts center that provides inexpensive balcony seats and more expensive orchestra seats have to provide access to the balcony seats?

No. In lieu of providing accessible seating on the balcony level, the city can make a reasonable number of accessible orchestra-level seats available at the lower price of balcony seats.

Is a city or a city assisted program required to modify its policies whenever requested in order to accommodate individuals with disabilities?

No. A public entity, or city assisted program must make only "reasonable modifications" in its policies, practices, or procedures to avoid discrimination. If the public entity, or city assisted program can demonstrate that a modification would fundamentally alter the nature of its service, program, or activity, it is not required to make the modification.

For example, where a municipal zoning ordinance requires a set-back of 12 feet from the curb in the central business district and, in order to install a ramp to the front entrance of a pharmacy, the owner requests a variance to encroach on the set-back by three feet, granting the variance may be a reasonable modification of town policy.

On the other hand, where an individual with an environmental illness requests a public entity or city assisted program to adopt a policy prohibiting the use of perfume or other scented products by its employees who come into contact with the public, adopting such a policy is not considered a "reasonable" modification of the public entity or city assisted program's personnel policy.

Does the requirement for effective communication mean that a city or city assisted program has to put all of its documents in Braille?

Braille is not a "required" format for all documents. A public entity or city assisted program must ensure that its communications with individuals with disabilities are as effective as communications are with others.

A public entity or city assisted program is required to make available appropriate auxiliary aids and services where necessary to ensure effective communication. Examples of auxiliary aids and services that benefit various individuals with vision impairments include magnifying lenses, qualified readers, taped texts, audio recordings, Brailled materials, large print materials, or assistance in locating items.

The type of auxiliary aid or service necessary to ensure effective communication will vary in accordance with the length and complexity of the communication involved.

For example, for individuals with vision impairments, employees can often provide oral directions or read written instructions. In many simple transactions, such as paying bills or filing applications, communications provided through such simple methods will be as effective as the communications provided to other individuals in similar transactions.

Many transactions, however, involve more complex or extensive communications than can be provided through such simple methods and may require the use of magnifying lenses, qualified readers, taped texts, audio recordings, Brailled materials, or large print materials.

Must tax bills from public entities be available in Braille and/or large print? What about other documents?

Tax bills and other written communications provided by public entities are subject to the requirement for effective communication. Thus, where a public entity or city assisted program provides information in written form, it must, when requested, make that information available to individuals with vision impairments in a form that is usable by them. "Large print" versions of written documents may be produced on a copier with enlargement capacities. Brailled versions of documents produced by computers may be produced with a Braille printer, or audio tapes may be provided for individuals who are unable to read large print or do not use Braille. Brailled documents are not required if effective communication is provided by other means.

Does a city or city assisted program have to arrange for a sign language interpreter every time staff members deal with people who are deaf or hard of hearing?

Sign language interpreters are not required for all dealings with people who are deaf or hard of hearing. A public entity or city assisted program is required to make available appropriate auxiliary aids and services where necessary to ensure effective communication.

Examples of auxiliary aids and services that benefit individuals with hearing impairments include qualified interpreters, notetakers, computer-aided transcription services, written materials, telephone handset amplifiers, assistive listening systems, telephones compatible with hearing aids, closed caption decoders, open and closed captioning, telecommunications devices for deaf persons (TDD's), videotext displays, and exchange of written notes.

The type of auxiliary aid or service necessary to ensure effective communication will vary in accordance with the length and complexity of the communication involved.

For example, employees can often communicate with individuals who have hearing impairments through written materials and exchange of written notes. In many simple transactions, such as paying bills or filing applications, communications provided through such simple methods will be as effective as the communications provided to other individuals in similar transactions.

Many transactions, however, involve more complex or extensive communications than can be provided through such simple methods and may require the use of qualified interpreters, assistive listening systems, videotext displays, or other aids or services.

Do all city departments or a city assisted program have to have TDD's to communicate with people who have hearing or speech impairments?

No. Public entities or city assisted programs that communicate by telephone must provide equally effective communication to individuals with disabilities, including hearing and speech impairments. If telephone relay services, such as those required by title IV of the ADA, are available, these services generally may be used to meet this requirement. The city currently uses Textnet to communicate by phone with those that are deaf.

Relay services involve a relay operator who uses both a standard telephone and a TDD to type the voice messages to the TDD user and read the TDD messages to the standard telephone user. Where such services are available, public employees must be instructed to accept and handle relayed calls in the normal course of business.

However, State and local agencies that provide emergency telephone services must provide "direct access" to individuals who rely on a TDD or computer modem for telephone communication. Telephone access through a third party or through a relay service does not satisfy the requirement for direct access.

Are there any limitations on a public entity's or city assisted program’s obligation to provide effective communication?

Yes. This obligation does not require a public entity or a city assisted program to take any action that it can demonstrate would result in a fundamental alteration in the nature of its services, programs, or activities, or in undue financial and administrative burdens.

Is there any money available to help local governments comply with the ADA?

Yes. Funding available through the Community Development Block Grant program at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development may be used for accessibility purposes, such as installation of ramps, curb cuts, wider doorways, wider parking spaces, and elevators. Units of local government that have specific questions concerning the use of CDBG funds for the removal of barriers should contact their local HUD Office of Community Planning and Development or call the Entitlement Communities Division at HUD, (202) 708-1577, for additional information.