Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act require state and local government entities and any organizations receiving federal funding to appoint a person responsible for overseeing compliance with the respective laws and their implementing regulations. The ADA Title II requirement is described in 28 CFR § 35.107, which reads as follows:
(a) 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.
(b) Complaint procedure. A public entity that employs 50 or more persons shall adopt and publish grievance procedures providing for prompt and equitable resolution of complaints alleging any action that would be prohibited by this part.
Regulations for Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act were developed on a per-department basis, and each include a similar requirement to what is now found in the ADA. As an example, see the regulation from the Department of Transportation (49 CFR § 27.13), which states the following:
(a) Designation of responsible employee. Each recipient shall designate at least one person to coordinate its efforts to comply with this part.
(b) Adoption of complaint procedures. A recipient shall adopt procedures that incorporate appropriate due process standards and provide for the prompt and equitable resolution of complaints alleging any action prohibited by this part and 49 CFR parts 37, 38, and 39. The procedures shall meet the following requirements:
(1) The process for filing a complaint, including the name, address, telephone number, and email address of the employee designated under paragraph (a) of this section, must be sufficiently advertised to the public, such as on the recipient’s Web site;
(2) The procedures must be accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities;
(3) The recipient must promptly communicate its response to the complaint allegations, including its reasons for the response, to the complainant by a means that will result in documentation of the response.
Employees designated with this responsibility are often referred to as the “ADA Coordinator” or “504 Coordinator,” though no specific job title is proscribed by law. The employee is supposed to oversee regulatory compliance and the investigation of any complaints from disabled people that allege discriminatory policies or practices.
In its ADA Best Practices Toolkit for State and Local Governments, the Department of Justice states that an effective ADA Coordinator will have the following qualifications:
- Familiarity with the state or 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, 29 U.S.C. § 794.
- 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 ADA and Section 504 require state and local governments, public entities and all organizations receiving federal funding to appoint a person capable of fulfilling the required duties.
Many of the institutions and organizations we deal with on a regular basis are required to have such an employee, including the following:
- Federal agencies, from the National Park Service to NASA and even the CDC.
- State and local governments, which often oversee services like police and fire departments, public transportation, utilities and the like.
- Publicly and privately owned airports.
- Schools and universities.
- Any business which has been the recipient of federal funding.
Disabled persons who believe they have been subjected to discriminatory policies or practices are always free to file a complaint against a public entity or private business directly with the Department of Justice. For issues relating to a public entity or a business that receives federal funding, it may be wise to communicate with the designated ADA Coordinator instead. Contact information for the ADA Coordinator and a basic outline of the ADA grievance procedure should be provided online, but if not, the information can be requested via telephone or a general contact form/email address.
By first submitting a complaint to the ADA Coordinator, you may achieve a faster resolution that does not require involving the Justice Department.
Have you contacted an ADA Coordinator about a problem, or with a request for more information about accessibility? Let me know in the comments below!