Pro Bono Opportunities: The “HEAT” Team
The Housing, Employment, Accessibility, and Transportation (HEAT) team exclusively handles matters related to housing, employment, accessibility, and transportation. This important legal work is vital to safeguarding the rights of people with disabilities in work environments, and ensuring that employers do not discriminate against them because of disability. Representing clients on employment matters often involves requesting reasonable accommodations under the ADA and ensuring that the client is provided with an equal and fair work environment as well as adequate opportunities for hire and advancement.
The HEAT team helps ensure that people with disabilities have access and opportunities to rent or own homes and apartments in their communities. This work includes ensuring that landlords and property owners do not discriminate against persons with disabilities in renting or selling property, making sure that housing is accessible to people with disabilities to the extent required by law, and advocating to increase the amount of accessible, affordable and integrated housing for individuals with physical and mental disabilities.
The HEAT team also helps ensure that people with disabilities have full access to private businesses and government facilities, programs and services. This includes working to remove architectural barriers and improve mobility, ensuring that necessary aids and services are provided for people with communication disabilities, such as sign language interpreters for people who are deaf or hard of hearing and braille text for people with visual impairments. The HEAT team often advocates to modify policies and procedures so that persons with disabilities have equal access and effective communication.
Finally, the HEAT team works on matters involving all public and private transportation providers, such as bus companies, trains, airlines, taxis and shuttles follow the law in making their services available and accessible to persons with disabilities.
Pro Bono Opportunities with the HEAT Team
The Housing, Employment, Accessibility, and Transportation (HEAT) team specializes in advocating on behalf of persons with disabilities so that they can be fully integrated into the communities within which they live, and be free from unlawful discrimination.
Persons with disabilities often need assistance in requesting reasonable accommodations and asking for assistive technology and/or other devices or related services that aid in effective communication. Additionally, Texans with disabilities often need short term assistance with requesting disability related accommodations or modifications where they live or attend school, and obtaining paratransit services. Finally, employers often try to demote, fire, or refuse to hire people with disabilities without providing reasonable accommodations at the workplace that would otherwise support their efforts to be employed.
The HEAT team assists persons with disabilities in obtaining and retaining employment, utilizing public transportation services, having access to fair housing, obtaining accommodations at college and ensuring effective communication with healthcare providers. Clients often need assistance with filing complaints with the Department of Justice (DOJ), Transit Authority, Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The vast majority of HEAT team cases resolve at the administrative level, or after mediation.
The most common pro bono opportunities in the areas of housing, employment, accessibility, and transportation are:
Department of Justice Effective Communication Complaints
Quite often, persons with hearing impairments are denied access to sign language interpreters and other assistive technology that are necessary for effective communication with key service providers. Many businesses, including doctor’s offices, diagnostic clinics, labs, hospitals, dentist offices, and other medical facilities do not have appropriate policies and procedures in place to provide effective communication for persons with hearing impairments. DRTx utilizes pro bono attorneys to advocate for effective communication for persons with disabilities. This representation typically involves drafting a complaint on behalf of the client to be filed with the Department of Justice (DOJ). These complaints are often referred to and resolved through mediation. Representation by a pro bono attorney during mediation greatly increases the likelihood of a favorable outcome for the client. Pro bono attorneys can elect to draft the complaint only, appear at the mediation only, or both.
Transit Authority Appeals
Transit authorities are required to provide paratransit services to persons with significant disabilities who cannot access the mainline bus system. A person with a disability may appeal the denial of paratransit services by a transit authority. The appeal is an informal administrative hearing usually conducted by phone where the person with disabilities submits additional evidence to support their request for paratransit services. A pro bono attorney can assist the client in compiling the necessary medical documentation and representing them in this informal hearing. Not surprisingly, persons with disabilities who are represented by counsel are more likely to prevail in these appeals than those who are not.
Requests for Reasonable Accommodations in Housing and Employment
Federal and State laws provide that persons with disabilities can request reasonable accommodations to assist them in places where they live and work. These accommodations can range from wheelchair ramps and designated parking spaces to special equipment to unrestricted access at home or the workplace for service animals. Persons with disabilities also have the right to file formal complaints when they are discriminated against an employer or landlord. DRTx has enlisted the assistance of pro bono attorneys to advise clients and assist them in understanding what their rights are with regards to requesting accommodations or filing formal complaints. The pro bono attorney usually interviews the client, gathers any necessary documents to support the request or complaint, and drafts the request or complaint on behalf of the client. Most requests or complaints are resolved at this stage.
Disability Discrimination by Colleges and Universities
Under state and federal law, community colleges and universities are required to provide reasonable accommodations to students with disabilities. This could include providing note-takers, recording devices, sign language interpreters, extended time for testing and screen-reading or voice-recognition software for college computers. If a college discriminates against a student, the school is required to have its own grievance procedure. If the student is dissatisfied with the outcome of the college’s grievance procedures, the student may file a complaint against the college with OCR or DOJ. A pro bono attorney could assist the student in exhausting the college’s grievance procedures to filing an OCR or DOJ complaint against the college.
Disability Rights Texas would be happy to provide training on handling HEAT cases to any attorneys interested in pro bono representation. Additionally, we provide ongoing support and assistance ranging from technical support to co-counseling depending on the need and desire of the pro bono attorney handling the case.
If you are interested in becoming a DRTx Pro Bono Volunteer Attorney for the HEAT team in or scheduling a CLE for your office, firm, or corporate law department, please contact Cicely Reid, Pro Bono Coordinator, in one of the following ways: