While at-home COVID testing served as a lifeline for many during the pandemic, the District of Columbia failed to ensure access to this essential resource for people who are blind or with visual disabilities. This failure impacted five percent of people in DC and disproportionately affected Black residents who, despite being half of the population, make up seventy-five percent of people with disabilities in the District.
Erica J. Kraus, Partner at Sheppard Mullin, stepped forward to take on this injustice with our team at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee and Sheppard Mullin. In November 2022, the District agreed to maintain an accessible in-home testing program in an impactful disability rights settlement. In honor of Disability Pride Month, we interviewed Erica Kraus about her experience with the case and the impact that this work has on the disability community in DC.
What motivated you to take on this disability rights case? What stood out to you while you were representing Rev. Raymond Raysor and our other plaintiffs?
Hearing about the plaintiffs’ experiences was eye-opening. In the midst of a pandemic, these individuals were doing their utmost to keep themselves and their community healthy by testing for COVID while minimizing exposure, and were not getting the bare minimum of support to do so. What stood out even more, though, was their positivity, optimism, concern for others – and sense of humor – in addressing a status quo that was not just frustrating, but frightening. It was an honor to be able to help.
What was your reaction when you saw the DC government’s response? How did you ensure the word got out about the decision?
I was relieved to see that much needed change would be implemented quickly and without protracted litigation that could have delayed the result and left the community at unnecessary risk. We reached out immediately to Rev. Raysor and the other plaintiffs with this good news, and to get their input and support in spreading the word, so that the community could begin to benefit from the change as quickly as possible.
What impact do you think this work has had for people with disabilities in DC?
My hope is that the work has made DC materially safer for people with disabilities, who can now access safe, effective testing in their homes, as well as for the community – we all benefit from better access to testing. More broadly, I hope this change underscores that people with disabilities are equal members of our community and their fair access to services is a right.
What does this pro bono work like this mean to you?
It’s gratifying to have a small part in making change that’s so deeply relevant – it’s a fantastic reminder of how powerful the practice of law can be, and of the difference we can make with it.
Is there anything else you would like to add about your experience, your work, or this case?
It was an absolute pleasure to work with the Washington Lawyers’ Committee, the DC Council of the Blind, Rev. Raysor, and the other plaintiffs. I look forward to doing more work to advance the rights of people with disabilities in the future, and encourage others to get involved.
Read more about this case here.
Hear from Rev. Raymond M. Raysor about the issue and importance of this case below!