High Impact Project Case Update: District of Columbia Sued for Failure to Provide for People with Disabilities During Disasters

Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, along with Disability Rights Advocates and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee, in coordination with the Barbara McDowell Foundation’s High Impact Pro Bono Litigation Project, secured a groundbreaking settlement that will have a profound, positive impact on those with disabilities in the nation’s capital and beyond. 

The agreement settles a 2014 lawsuit filed on behalf of the United Spinal Association, DC Center for Independent Living, and two District residents with disabilities that alleged numerous critical deficiencies in the District’s emergency preparedness plan which, if left unaddressed, would have resulted in people with disabilities being left behind in large-scale disasters. These problems included not putting accessible evacuation options in place and not planning for emergency communications with persons with hearing and vision disabilities. This case was part of the Drinker Biddle Barbara McDowell High Impact Pro Bono Initiative.

As a result of this historic settlement, the District has agreed to a comprehensive three-year plan that includes: (1) creating a Disability Community Advisory Group that will provide disability-specific recommendations for emergency plans and trainings, (2) ensuring that emergency-related public communications are disseminated in accessible formats, (3) considering physical accessibility a priority when opening emergency shelters, (4) creating a Post-Emergency Canvassing Operation plan, (5) ensuring that transportation resources are sufficient to meet the potential demand for accessible transportation during emergencies, and (6) creating and implementing a work plan to improve procedures for evacuating people with disabilities from high-rise buildings.

(June 2019)