Equal and Effective Communication is Guaranteed by the ADA

Disability Law United and 17 other civil rights organizations file amicus brief supporting the right to effective communication

The day after Christmas, 2013, Stanley Cropp was wrongfully arrested (based on his confused response to police) and taken to the Larimer County Jail. There it was determined he could be released on bond, but would have to sign the legal documents necessary to make that happen. Because he has Alzheimer’s, he did not understand the documents, so his wife, Catherine Cropp, asked to sit with him and explain them.

image of talking bubbles behind prison barsLarimer County said no. Its policy was to require family members to meet with detainees in a “non-contact” booth, separated by a glass partition, and requiring the conversation to take place through a telephone. Mrs. Cropp explained that, based on her experience with Mr. Cropp’s condition, this would not permit him to understand what he needed to sign. The County was adamant: absolutely no accommodation would be made for Mr. Cropp’s disability. This occurred despite the fact that the County knew Mr. Cropp could not understand its complex legal paperwork without assistance, and despite the fact that the County regularly permitted attorneys to meet directly with detainees, no glass partition required.

The Cropps challenged Larimer County’s refusal under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which requires public entities such as Larimer County to provide effective communication with disabled people and – crucially – to defer to the requests of such individuals concerning the mode of communication. The Cropps lost before the district court, and that decision was affirmed by the Tenth Circuit last month in a 2-1 decision. The majority incorrectly deferred to the County in its refusal to make accommodations, and required the Cropps to prove that the existing policy – the non-contact booth – was “wholly ineffective,” rather than requiring the County to prove it was equally effective. This decision is inconsistent with the ADA.

Judge Carlos Lucero published a thorough and well-reasoned dissenting opinion, observing that “[b]ased on the information about Mr. Cropp’s disability that Mrs. Cropp provided, harm to Mr. Cropp’s ADA … rights without accommodation was not just ‘substantially likely,’ it was virtually certain.”*

The Cropps have petitioned the Tenth Circuit to review the case with all eleven active judges on that court weighing in. Today, Disability Law United along with 17 other public interest organizations** filed an amicus brief supporting that full-court review. As we told the Court in our brief,

Many of the Amici were founded by, are staffed by, represent, and/or provide services to individuals with communications disabilities: people who are deaf, blind, or nonspeaking, or have intellectual disabilities or mental illness. Amici thus have both deep expertise in the interpretation and application of the Americans with Disabilities Act’s guarantee of effective communication, and a justifiable concern that the majority’s decision here may undermine that guarantee. Amici urge that the right to effective communication will be secured only through en banc review and adoption of Judge Lucero’s well-reasoned dissent.

Disability Law United believes the Cropps have a guaranteed right to the equal and effective communication they reasonably requested in 2013 and are outraged by the district court’s and Tenth Circuit’s unjust interpretation of the law. We wholeheartedly support the Cropps’ long, brave fight to stand up for this right in the belief that those who come after them deserve better treatment than they received six years ago.

You can read the amicus brief here.

Would you like to support Disability Law United’s work? Please give a contribution to Disability Law United today!

Cropp v. Larimer Cty., Colo., 941 F.3d 1237, 1243 (10th Cir. 2019) (Lucero, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part).

** AdvocacyDenver; American Civil Liberties Union; American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado; The Arc of the United States; Autistic Self Advocacy Network; Brooklyn Law School’s Disability and Civil Rights Clinic; Center for Public Representation; Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition; CommunicationFIRST; Disability Law Colorado; Disability Rights Advocates; Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund; Equip for Equality; Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of Deaf Communities; National Association of the Deaf; National Disability Rights Network; and National Federation of the Blind.

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