U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Coordination and Review Section P.O. Box 66118 Washington, D.C.


The Honorable Dale Lynch County Judge Van Buren County Courthouse Clinton, Arkansas 72031 Re: Van Buren County, Arkansas - Department of Justice Number XX Dear Judge Lynch: This letter constitutes our Letter of Findings under title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the abovereferenced matter. Title II prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities on the basis of their disabilities in the services, programs, or activities of a local government, such as Van Buren County. Our office enforces title II's requirements, as applied to the county's services and programs, through investigation, negotiation, issuance of Letters of Findings, and, if necessary, referral for possible litigation. Summary of Facts In a letter dated October 13, 1992, we advised you that we had received a complaint alleging that the courtroom facilities located in the Van Buren County Courthouse are inaccessible to individuals with disabilities -- particularly those with mobility impairments. We requested that you provide us specific information to resolve the merits of the complaint by

November 13, 1992. After repeated delays, Ralph J. Blagg, counsel for the county, provided the requested information by a letter dated June 7, 1993. Subsequently, we obtained additional information during a telephone conversation between Louis M. Stewart of this office and Mr. Ron Bennett, the county's ADA Coordinator, on June 21, 1993. Based on our inquiry, we find as follows. 01-02716 -2The Van Buren County Courthouse is inaccessible to individuals with mobility impairments. To enter the first floor of the courthouse, an individual must climb a flight of stairs. The courtroom facilities are located on the second floor of the courthouse which also is reached by climbing a flight of stairs. With respect to the inaccessible courtroom facilities located in the courthouse, we were advised by Mr. Blagg that: The Van Buren County Law Library is available for use as a courtroom when an individual with physical disabilities desires to attend a proceeding. A sign identifying the library as the 'Van Buren County Auxiliary Courtroom' has been painted on the window in 5" gold letters .... Court proceedings are relocated to this site less than one city block away anytime the need arises. According to information provided by Mr. Blagg and Mr. Bennett, however, there is no written policy for relocating court proceedings to the "auxiliary" courtroom, and such policy as exists has never been published by the county or disseminated to the public. Rather, we understand that information on the availability of the Van Buren County Law Library as an auxiliary courtroom is simply conveyed by the Court and lawyers for parties who are mobility impaired. In addition to the courtroom facilities, the offices of the county judge, county clerk, and county treasurer are also located on the first floor of the county courthouse. Thus, the services and activities of these offices are also inaccessible. Moreover, no information was forthcoming that would indicate that

consideration has been given to or policies developed for providing alternative access to the services and benefits provided by these offices to individuals with mobility impairments. Finally, with regard to the county's overall title II compliance efforts, we note that even though Mr. Bennett was appointed the ADA Coordinator approximately 1 1/2 years ago, that information was never disseminated to the public. Nor does it appear that the county has ever conducted a self-evaluation of its policies to determine whether they comport with the requirements of title II as contained in the title II regulation. In addition, the county has never issued a notification of its obligation to comply with title II. Moreover, the county has never adopted a grievance procedure for title II complaints or developed a transition plan, even though it employs more than fifty employees.

01-02717 -3Applicable Legal Standards and Legal Conclusions of Compliance Status Coverage by Title II Van Buren County is a public entity. As such, it is required to comply with title II of the ADA and the Department of Justice's title II regulation. 42 U.S.C. 12131; 28 C.F.R. Part 35. Program Access to Courtroom Facilities and other Services Located in the Courthouse The county may not deny the benefits of or participation in its courtroom facilities or other programs to individuals with disabilities because the courthouse is inaccessible. Each of Van Buren County's services, programs, or activities, when viewed in its entirety, must be readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. This standard, known as "program accessibility," applies to all programs, services, and activities

offered by Van Buren County as of January 26, 1992, the effective date of title II. See 28 C.F.R. 35.150(a) & (b). The county does not have to take an action that it can demonstrate would result in a fundamental alteration in the nature of its program or activity or in undue financial and administrative burdens. 28 C.F.R. 150(a)(3). However, a specific determination to that effect must be made by the head of the county government or his or her designee and must include a written statement of the reasons for reaching the conclusion. The determination that undue burdens would result must be based on all resources available for use in a particular program or activity. If an action would result in such an alteration or such burdens, the county must take other alternative actions that would not result in such an alteration or such burdens but would nevertheless guarantee that individuals with disabilities receive the benefits of its programs and activities. The county may achieve program accessibility by a number of methods and need not necessarily make each of its existing facilities accessible. In many situations, providing access to facilities through structural methods, such as alteration of existing facilities and acquisition or construction of additional facilities may be the most efficient method of providing program accessibility. As alternatives to structural changes, however, the county may achieve program accessibility by such nonstructural methods as acquisition or redesign of equipment, assignment of aides to beneficiaries, and provision of services at alternative accessible sites. 01-02718

-4For example, if the courtroom facilities in the courthouse are inaccessible as a result of physical barriers that prevent access to qualified individuals with disabilities (e.g., visitors, witnesses, jurors, attorneys, parties to litigation, etc.), the county could develop a written policy that provides for the relocation to a site that is accessible, when an individual with a mobility impairment desires to attend a

proceeding. Although the county appears to have taken some steps in that direction here by designating its Law Library as an auxiliary courtroom facility, it has never notified the public of this fact or published procedures so that individuals may request that court proceedings be relocated. In addition, it appears that the unpublished policy is limited to actual participants in a court hearing. Title II, however, is applicable to other individuals including visitors and potential jurors. In addition, the county has not addressed the other services and activities located in the courthouse to insure that procedures are implemented that provide for access to them. While we are mindful of Mr. Bennett's representation during his conversation on June 21, 1993, that the county was unable to make the structural changes necessary to comply with title II of the ADA due to its limited budget, this statement alone is not sufficient to demonstrate undue financial burdens. Moreover, the county has provided no indication that it has considered other less costly alternatives. For these reasons, we determine that the county has failed to provide program access to the programs and services located in its courthouse and is in noncompliance with title II as implemented by 28 C.F.R. 35.150(a) & (b). Self-Evaluation With respect to the completion of a self-evaluation, 28 C.F.R. 35.105(a) states that "(a) public entity shall ... (by January 26, 1993] evaluate its current services, policies, and practices, and the effects thereof, that do not or may not meet the requirements of this part and, to the extent modification of any such services, policies, and practices is required, the public entity shall proceed to make the necessary modifications." In performing the self-evaluation, the county " ... shall provide an opportunity to interested persons, including individuals with disabilities or organizations representing individuals with disabilities, to participate in the self-evaluation process by submitting comments." 28 C.F.R. 35.105(b) 01-02719

-5The county has failed to do a self-evaluation and, therefore, is in noncompliance with title II as implemented by 28 C.F.R. 35.105. Notification to the Public The county must give information on title II's requirements to applicants, participants, beneficiaries, and other interested persons. The notice should explain title II's applicability to the county's services, programs, or activities. The county shall provide such information as the head of the county determines to be necessary to apprise individuals of title II's prohibitions against discrimination. See 28 C.F.R. 35.106. The county has failed to provide the required notification and, therefore, is in noncompliance with title II as implemented by 28 C.F.R. 35.106. Designation of Responsible Employee and Grievance Procedure Because the county employs 50 or more persons, it is required to designate at least one employee to coordinate its efforts to comply with and fulfill its responsibilities under title II, including the investigation of complaints. The county should publish the name, office address, and telephone number of the designated employee. In addition, the county must adopt and publish grievance procedures providing for prompt and equitable resolution of complaints alleging any action that would be prohibited by title II. See 28 C.F.R. l07. Although the county did appoint an ADA Coordinator, it has never published the fact of this appointment so that interested individuals might avail themselves of the services of the coordinator with regard to the ADA. Moreover, the county has failed to adopt grievance procedures and, therefore, is in noncompliance with title II as implemented by 28 C.F.R. 35.107. Transition Plan Where structural modifications are required to achieve program accessibility, a public entity with 50 or more employees must have done a transition plan by July 26, 1992, that provides for the removal of these barriers. Any structural modifications

must be completed as expeditiously as possible, but, in any event, by July 26, 1995. See 35.150(d). The county has not made the necessary determinations or :devised the transition plan required to make any or all of its programs accessible. Therefore, it is in noncompliance with title II as implemented by 28 C.F.R. 35.150(d). 01-02720 -6Conclusion In view of the foregoing, we conclude that the county is not in compliance with title II in the areas reviewed above and that the informal attempts already made by the county have been ineffective in correcting these violations. Because we find the county in noncompliance, we must "[i]nitiate negotiations with ... [the county] to secure compliance by voluntary means." 28 C.F.R. 35.173(a)(2). To remedy these violations, please submit to this office, within 10 days of your receipt of this letter, a plan of action addressing each area identified. If we are unable to obtain voluntary compliance, this matter may be referred for litigation. 28 C.F.R. 35.174. If you have any questions concerning this letter, please contact Louis M. Stewart at (202) 616-7779. Sincerely, Stewart B. Oneglia Chief Coordination and Review Section Civil Rights Division 01-02721