I am publishing this post in response to a submission I got through the contact form for this website. In their submission, someone asked me whether the ADA requires braille signage on the restroom doors of trains. While the short answer is that the ADA does not specifically require braille signs on the restroom doors of trains, answering the question reminded me I should share a post about how to best advocate for greater accessibility when the law is not entirely on our side.
In order to keep this post organized and short, I will focus on requesting an accommodation to achieve accessibility when you are having issues with an entity covered by Title II of the ADA (Title II), primarily applying to state and local governments. I’m focusing on Title II here, because the transit agency involved in the submission I got through the contact form is a Title II agency.
Requesting an Accommodation Under Title II
In your request, you should describe, in as much detail as you can, the problem you are having, and the accommodation you are requesting and why the accommodation you are requesting will solve your problem. If possible, you should describe how their failure to provide the accommodation is violating your legal rights. We will discuss these three sections individually.
Statement of Facts
The statement of facts does not need to be complicated or long. The goal of the statement of facts is simply to provide an organized way to describe the problem you are having. Since it is a statement of facts, you do need to be truthful. I hope that’s not something you need to think about, but it’s something I thought I should say. In the case of accessible signage on restroom doors, I would state the following five facts:
- As a blind person, I am a qualified person with a disability under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- The lack of accessible signage prevents me from figuring out which doors lead to restrooms.
- The lack of accessible signage means I cannot tell which restrooms I am supposed to use.
- I know the agency (insert the name of the transit agency from which you are requesting the accommodation) provides signage to people without disabilities clearly identifying the restrooms and who is to use each one.
- The presence of a visual representation of the international symbol of disability does not help me, because I cannot see the image.
The fourth fact is, of course, dependent on whether the transit agency does have inaccessible signs clearly identifying individual restrooms and who is to use them. Here, I’m assuming they do. This is something you should confirm before requesting your accommodation.
The fifth fact depends on whether the accessible restrooms on the train use the international symbol of disability. Again, do not include a fact like this unless you can confirm whether or not the international symbol of disability is used.
Here is what I would say if I was submitting this request for accommodation.
I am requesting accessible signage be added to the doors of all restrooms on every train. I am requesting this accommodation, because without it I have no idea which rooms are restrooms or which restrooms I am supposed to use. I cannot think of a way besides providing accessible restroom signs that I can be accommodated so I can use the restroom on your trains.
Statement of Law
Again, you are not required to include a statement of law in your request for accommodation. I include one, because experience has taught me that most people addressing ADA requests no little about the ADA and including one is relatively easy for me. But you can file a sufficient request for accommodation without saying anything specifically about the law. Even if your request says nothing about the law, they will need to respond to you.
Here, I would say the following about the law:
- I recognize the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) rules on accessible trains do not call for accessible signage.
- The FTA does recommend train operators follow the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design (ADAG) when ADAG provides greater accessibility than do the FTA’s rules.
- § 216.2 of ADAG says interior and exterior signs identifying permanent rooms and spaces shall comply with § 703 (defining what constitutes accessible signs).
- An advisory explaining § 216.2 indicates that restrooms are considered permanent rooms.
- § 703.3 defines the specifications for what constitutes accessible braille signage.
- Given the relatively cheap cost of installing accessible signs on trains when compared with the agency’s budget, I do not see how the agency can say installing accessible signs on trains would constitute undue administrative and financial burdens.
- Installing accessible signs would in no way fundamentally alter the nature of providing transportation services.
Without getting too technical, the final two bullet points are demonstrating how the Title II defenses of undue burdens and fundamental alteration are not triggered by the request to have accessible signs on the doors of restrooms on trains.
If you leave out the Statement of Law section, this request for a reasonable accommodation could be filed in eight sentences. By filing, you would force the agency to respond. If they don’t like your accommodation, they would need to propose an equally effective method of accommodating you. In this case, I can’t imagine what they would consider an equally effective method of helping someone understand which rooms they are to use to go to the bathroom. Since the cost of adding accessible signage is not that great, I want to believe this request would be granted without the need to file a complaint. So, by filing this request for accommodation, I believe someone would have a decent shot of getting the accessible signs they need even though the accessible signs they need aren’t mandated.