Maggie Hart, Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs email@example.com, 202-319-1000 ext. 162
Steven Hollman, Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-747-1941
WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Friday, June 3, 2002, blind District residents and the District of Columbia Council of the Blind filed a complaint in the District Court for the District of Columbia seeking equal access to DC Health’s at-home testing program, Test Yourself DC. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, five percent of District residents have a disability related to their vision. Despite being less than half of the District population, Black residents make up seventy-five percent of the persons with disabilities and are disproportionately impacted by diseases related to vision loss, including diabetes. Moreover, Black residents are more than twice as likely to sicken and die from COVID-19 as white residents.
One of the most effective tools to slow the spread of COVID-19 is testing. Yet, as COVID cases increase in the District, blind individuals are isolated and at risk of contracting the virus and are unable to confirm their diagnosis because they cannot use the at-home COVID tests distributed by DC Health without assistance. The District’s test instructions are not available in accessible formats and results can only be visually read.
Plaintiffs are asking DC Health to provide accessible instructions and at-home testing appointments, similar to the at-home vaccination appointments DC Health already offers, as reasonable accommodations so that they can safely determine their COVID-19 status as all other District residents are able to do.
Rev. Ray Raysor, President of the DC Council of the Blind, stated: “The Americans with Disabilities Act made people aware that persons with disabilities live, work and play in this world. When no thought goes into including blind and low vision persons in COVID Tests, it erases thirty-two years of gains.”
Kathleen Gosselin, a plaintiff in this case who is not able to administer an at-home COVID-19 test kit independently, stated: “I was glad when I first heard the tests were available but when I got it I realized there was no way I could use it. Also, it will be hard to find someone to assist me because people are, reasonably, afraid to be near someone who might have COVID-19. And, I would feel terrible if I spread COVID-19. I wish the District would just send someone to read the test results for me.”
Steven Hollman, Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, LLP observed: “The District has a real opportunity here to address the disparate impact that COVID-19 has had on Black residents and those in our community who must navigate the healthcare system with the additional challenges presented by blindness or low vision. There is an easy fix that is consonant with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. We earnestly hope this lawsuit will convince the District to make that fix.”
Maggie Hart, Senior Counsel at The Washington Lawyers’ Committee said: “COVID-19 has exacerbated the historic discrimination against blind individuals in our healthcare system that the Americans with Disabilities Act was meant to ameliorate. We urge the District to act swiftly so Plaintiffs do not have to continue facing the inhumane choice of living with uncertainty or risking exposure to COVID-19 to know if they have the virus.”
Counsel for this case include Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, LLP and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights & Urban Affairs.
About the District of Columbia Council of the Blind (DCCB): DCCB is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, membership in which is open to blind, visually impaired and sighted individuals. It advocates for full independence and equality of opportunity for all blind and visually impaired residents of the nation’s capital and surrounding metropolitan areas. DCCB is a state affiliate of the American Council of the Blind. Learn more by visiting www.dccounciloftheblind.org.
About Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP: Sheppard Mullin is a full-service Global 100 firm with more than 900 attorneys in 15 offices located in the United States, Europe and Asia. Since 1927, industry-leading companies have turned to Sheppard Mullin to handle corporate and technology matters, high-stakes litigation and complex financial transactions. In the U.S., the firm’s clients include almost half of the Fortune 100. For more information, please visit www.sheppardmullin.com.
About the Washington Lawyers’ Committee: Founded in 1968, The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs works to create legal, economic and social equity through litigation, client and public education and public policy advocacy. While we fight discrimination against all people, we recognize the central role that current and historic race discrimination plays in sustaining inequity and recognize the critical importance of identifying, exposing, combatting and dismantling the systems that sustain racial oppression. For more information, please visit https://www.washlaw.org or call 202-319-1000. Follow us on Twitter at @WashLaw4CR.