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Future Buildings on Military Base Must Be Made Accessible to the Disabled

Military Base Must Provide Accessible Housing for the Disabled

FORT LEWIS, WA -- November 23, 2005 -- A landmark settlement requires that 10% of existing homes and apartments on the Fort Lewis military base be made accessible to the disabled. Future buildings as well as sidewalks, parks, and playgrounds must also meet accessibility standards. In addition, the settlement provides a new, speedier procedure when families with a disabled member request special housing accommodations.

The case of Parents Against Disability Discrimination (P.A.D.D.) v. Equity Residential pitted seven military families with at least one disabled member against Equity Residential, a private landlord managing the Fort Lewis housing. It is the first lawsuit in the nation to allege systematic disability discrimination since the military began privatizing its on-base housing in 1998, according to the plaintiffs. They charged that Equity violated the federal Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Washington state law.

Medical Facilities Near Military Posts

A major health care facility, Madigan Army Medical Center, is located near the Fort Lewis military base. It includes a histopathology center, a blood bank, a blood donor center, an audiologic treatment clinic, a dialysis center, and a surgical unit. The Army stationed many disabled soldiers and their families at Fort Lewis so that they could take advantage of Madigan's services. As part of its Exceptional Family Member Program, the Army has a policy of trying to locate injured soldiers near appropriate medical facilities.

Fort Lewis military families hope that the Equity Residential settlement will encourage other military bases, especially those located near large medical centers, to reconsider how they handle housing for the disabled. Summer Krook, one of the plaintiffs and a founder of Parents Against Disability Discrimination, summarized this sentiment well: "This settlement will improve the day-to-day lives of the many soldiers and family members with disabilities at Fort Lewis. We hope that [this case] will serve as a model for improving accessibility for people with disabilities at military bases around the country and abroad."

"The settlement is timely given the numbers of soldiers returning from Iraq with short- or long-term disabilities," commented Desiree Snowden, a plaintiff whose husband is deployed in Afghanistan. "This will make a difference in a soldier's life if he comes back injured. I think it's great for the Army as a whole. I hope other posts will look at it and adopt it."

Finding Out More About the Equity Residential Case

The text describing the settlement terms (the Memorandum of Understanding) as well as the original complaint can be found on the Disability Rights Advocate web site. You will need to obtain a copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader to open these files. If you do not already have this software, you may download a free copy at the Adobe Acrobat web site.

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