Veterans and service members with disabilities cannot access bathrooms at Walter Reed
WASHINGTON, May 2, 2018 — The Equal Rights Center, a national non-profit civil rights organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., together with Sylvester Fiers, a military dependent with disabilities and a member of the Equal Rights Center, filed a lawsuit against Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and the Navy Exchange (Walter Reed) for failing to meet a basic need of many of the center’s patients – access to restrooms. The filing comes after months of unsuccessful negotiations with Walter Reed to commit to actionable and measurable steps to expeditiously address the barriers the Equal Rights Center’s civil rights testing uncovered and Plaintiff Fiers personally experiences each time he visits Walter Reed.
Walter Reed is one of the nation’s largest military medical facilities and provides comprehensive services to active service members and veterans from all branches, as well as their families. The lawsuit alleges that the medical facility and shopping center are violating Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Department of Defense’s own standards by not providing accessible restrooms for individuals who use wheelchairs.
Mr. Fiers, who uses a wheelchair, receives primary medical care at Walter Reed and shops at its Navy Exchange. According to the complaint, the restrooms on Walter Reed’s campus are largely unusable to him and others who use a wheelchair, even those designated as accessible.
“When you state that something’s accessible, it should be accessible,” said Mr. Fiers. “It’s appalling that a hospital would have bathrooms that are not accessible to wheelchair users. I would think a military facility that has a lot of people using wheelchairs would do a better job of having accessible bathrooms. It’s unbelievable and this needs to be corrected.”
Mr. Fiers visits Walter Reed several times a month for care and to purchase groceries and other basic necessities. He explained to the Equal Rights Center that he and others who use wheelchairs cannot easily and safely open restroom doors, access and use the toilets, or reach the soap and paper towels in key areas of both the medical facility and Navy Exchange.
Mr. Fiers’ experience prompted the Equal Rights Center to conduct a civil rights testing investigation to assess how accessible the bathrooms are to individuals who use a wheelchair. The investigation confirmed Mr. Fiers’ experience and revealed multiple ways in which the restrooms are inaccessible and unsafe to individuals like him. Many restrooms have incorrectly placed or no grab bars at all. In others, wheelchair users run the risk of getting burned while using the restroom because of inadequately insulated hot water pipes.
“It’s a cruel irony when a medical provider designs its facilities in a way that makes it difficult, or dangerous, for people to seek care,” said Melvina Ford, executive director of the Equal Rights Center. “Walter Reed needs to make the necessary changes to provide people who use wheelchairs full access to its restrooms.”
Deepa Goraya, Disability Rights Staff Attorney at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, said: “The fact that veterans and service members with disabilities cannot access such a basic necessity as a bathroom at a major federal hospital dedicated to addressing their health needs demonstrates Walter Reed’s indefensible indifference to those who are entitled to its critical services. By bringing this lawsuit, Mr. Fiers and the Equal Rights Center seek to ensure that all Walter Reed patients, visitors and family members, whether or not they use a wheelchair, have equal access to the facility.”
The Equal Rights Center and Sylvester Fiers are represented in this matter by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights & Urban Affairs and Beveridge & Diamond, P.C.
Director of Accessibility Rights
Equal Rights Center
Gregg A. Kelley
Director of Development & Communications
Washington Lawyers’ Committee
(202) 319-1000 x155
ABOUT THE EQUAL RIGHTS CENTER: The ERC is a civil rights organization that identifies and seeks to eliminate unlawful and unfair discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations in its home community of Greater Washington DC and nationwide. The Equal Rights Center’s core strategy for identifying unlawful and unfair discrimination is civil rights testing. When the Equal Rights Center identifies discrimination, it seeks to eliminate it through the use of testing data to educate the public and business community, support policy advocacy, conduct compliance testing and training, and, if necessary, take enforcement action. For more information, please visit www.equalrightscenter.org.
ABOUT THE WASHINGTON LAWYERS’ COMMITTEE: The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs was established in 1968 to provide pro bono legal services to address issues of discrimination and entrenched poverty. Since then, it has successfully handled thousands of civil rights cases on behalf of individuals and groups in the areas of fair housing, equal employment opportunity, public accommodations, immigrant rights, disability rights, public education, and prisoners’ rights. For more information, please visit www.washlaw.org.
ABOUT BEVERIDGE & DIAMOND, P.C.: Since 1974, Beveridge & Diamond, P.C. has defined the practice of environmental law in the U.S. With almost 100 attorneys nationwide, the Firm has helped clients achieve success in numerous venues and in every substantive area of environmental practice, including litigation and environmentally-related toxic torts. The Firm has a longstanding commitment to remedying accessibility and other civil rights issues in partnership with the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and the Equal Rights Center. Firm lawyers partner with our clients, helping them meet local, national and global legal challenges and business opportunities. For more information, please visit www.bdlaw.com.