Legislature should ensure V.I. complies with ADA
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This is an open letter to the members of the 30th Legislature: We the people of the USVI, in order to promote a more compassionate and just society, humbly and respectfully request that the 30th Legislature pass a Resolution of Compliance with the Federal Americans with Disabilities Act in a special session. This is absolutely necessary for two reasons, and time is of the essence.
First, for too long, persons with disabilities have been discriminated against and adversely affected in the workplace and in the greater Virgin Islands community in general.
Second, by passing the resolution, the Virgin Islands can, in good faith, protect itself from yet another embarrassing and costly "Consent Decree."
As Virgin Islanders, we are mature and ethical enough to know that doing the right thing is in itself its own reward. We do not need to be reprimanded by the federal government and forced into providing justice to our own people.
This resolution can be a win-win for us all. It will allow the 30th Legislature to start with a clean beginning with the people of the USVI. As we continue to progress forward in this new millennium, we can look back at the 30h Legislature and not demonize the same legislators we selected in 2012. For review, the following summarizes the federal law.
The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, state and local government, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation and telecommunications.
It also applies to the United States Congress. Title I requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide qualified individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from the full range of employment-related opportunities available to others. For example, it prohibits discrimination in recruitment, hiring, promotions, training, pay, social activities and other privileges of employment. It restricts questions that can be asked about an applicant's disability before a job offer is made, and it requires that employers make reasonable accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities, unless it results in undue hardship. Religious entities with 15 or more employees are covered under title I.
Title II covers all activities of state and local governments regardless of the government entity's size or receipt of Federal funding. Title II requires that State and local governments give people with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from all of their programs, services, and activities (e.g. public education, employment, transportation, recreation, health care, social services, courts, voting, and town meetings).
State and local governments are required to follow specific architectural standards in the new construction and alteration of their buildings. They also must relocate programs or otherwise provide access in inaccessible older buildings, and communicate effectively with people who have hearing, vision, or speech disabilities. Public entities are not required to take actions that would result in undue financial and administrative burdens. They are required to make reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures where necessary to avoid discrimination, unless they can demonstrate that doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of the service, program, or activity being provided.
We are the USVI and in a short five years we will be celebrating the centennial of being a U.S. territory. We cannot afford to continue following a path contrary to the United States.
We must adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act because it is the law of the land. A Resolution of Compliance by the 30th Legislature will go a long way in restoring good faith in our local body politic. For all these reasons we are appealing to the 29th Legislature to perform this task.
- John Canegata, Ella Jean Forbes, Akil Johnson, Glenn Webster on behalf of Citizens for Responsible Government