A Hoboken-based charter bus company that failed to provide access to a 74-year-old paraplegic U.S. Army veteran for a tour of Arlington National Cemetery has agreed to not let that happen again, authorities said.
Academy Express will also pay a $10,000 civil penalty to the United States and $10,000 in damages to the aggrieved veteran, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito said.
The former 189th Assault Helicopter Company staff sergeant, who was gunned down in Vietnam, wanted to join dozens of fellow combat unit veterans on an Academy charter bus for a multi-day “Honor Flight” tour of Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia and other Washington, D.C. area sites, Carpenito said.
Academy received a request more than a month in advance that at least one of the buses headed to the Washington, D.C. area from New Jersey have a wheelchair lift to accommodate him, Carpenito said.
Academy violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by not providing a working wheelchair lift or a replacement bus with a working lift, the U.S. attorney said.
As a result, the veteran, who also suffers from combat-related PTSD, “was separated from his comrades and compelled to endure lengthy, embarrassing and unsuccessful attempts to board him on an inaccessible bus,” he said.
“The men and women of our Armed Forces have made extraordinary and selfless sacrifices to protect the rights and freedoms of all Americans,” Carpenito said.
“This Office remains resolute in its commitment to honor those sacrifices and ensure that the rights of service members and veterans be respected,” the U.S. attorney said. “Through our enforcement of the ADA, we will continue to protect veterans and other individuals with disabilities from unequal and unfair treatment.”
Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Victor Williamson of Carpenito’s Civil Rights Unit in Newark secured the settlement announced Thursday.
Academy agreed as part of the settlement to “implement policies and procedures to ensure that persons with disabilities receive accessible transportation on the day and at the time and place requested, to publish on its website a statement of that policy, and to provide mandatory employee training on the ADA in accordance with regulatory requirements.”
The ADA requires over-the-road, demand-responsive bus operators to ensure that passengers with disabilities who request accessible service receive accessible service.
A bus operator may require 48 hours advanced notice, but if a request is made within 48 hours of a trip, the operator must provide a lift if it can do so by making a reasonable effort, Carpenito noted.
A bus operator also must, among other things, also establish a system of regular and frequent maintenance checks of wheelchair lifts to determine that they work and to train their employees in how to proficiently conduct those checks.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the ADA, which offices like Carpenito play a critical role in enforcing.
Individuals who believe they may have been victims of discrimination may file a complaint with the U.S Attorney’s Office at http://www.justice.gov/usao-nj/civil-rights-enforcement/complaint.
MORE INFO: www.ada.govOr call the Department of Justice’s toll-free ADA information line at 800-514-0301 or 800-514-0383 (TDD).
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