Providing Solutions Beyond the Law
Report by Allison Lukanich, '12
On the 2011 Public Law & Leadership course at Elon Law
For Public Law & Leadership this Winter Term, my group and I were given the opportunity to work with After Gateway, Inc. After Gateway is a day program for developmentally disabled adults who are aged out of the public school system and its participants range in age from 19 – 73. Participants can attend the program for a minimum of three and a maximum of five days a week. After Gateway’s mission is to help its participants attain the highest possible quality of life, and achieves this goal through recreational activities, life skills training, community integration, and medical services.
Carolyn McManus, After Gateway’s Program Director approached Elon Law students to address various accessibility issues for the program’s participants. While After Gateway is licensed to serve 45 participants, it currently serves 28. Ms. McManus attributed this to difficulties in securing public transportation to and from the program center daily. Furthermore, she expressed concern over accessibility in terms of public bathrooms and elevators. She charged us with the task of researching the City of Greensboro and Guilford County’s current transportation laws, as well as the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) Federal standards to find out if the local laws were in compliance.
Dividing up the research tasks, a few students focused on learning what the current public transportation system for those with disabilities is throughout the county, while others researched the current ADA and North Carolina laws, to make sure these systems were in compliance. Our group of seven worked incredibly well together, with everyone aware of their individual task and working diligently to report their findings back to the group to put everything together.
Although we did find many issues within Guilford County’s public transportation system for riders with disabilities as well as discrepancies in the minimum size requirements for public restrooms, through our findings it was apparent that both the City of Greensboro and Guilford County are in compliance with ADA standards. However, through hearing about experiences on Guilford County’s transportation system, it appeared that the policy setting out their paratransit system and the actual implementation of it were two different things. We suggested to Ms. McManus that After Gateway begin to document any discrepancies she found in the system, to bring it up with officials at a later date proving that the service was not everything it claims to be.
In addition, because we could not offer any legal remedies for Ms. McManus or After Gateway, through further research we recommended she partner with a few local nonprofits to lead a public relations or advocacy campaign for After Gateway’s participants. Transportation Advocacy Center (TAC) is an organization in Greensboro that advocates for greater mobility for those with disabilities through accessible transportation. Likewise, Disability Rights North Carolina works to ensure the rights of all citizens through individual advocacy and system change.
We recommended that After Gateway partner with these groups because they have very similar goals to solving the difficulties that After Gateway participants face daily. While there were not many legal options for Ms. McManus to take with After Gateway, the issues her participants face are very real and change needs to happen. This is why our group decided on an advocacy campaign to educate the public on the daily struggles that the developmentally disabled face, as well as to advocate change in the ADA Federal standards.
We were not given an easy task by any stretch of the imagination and the biggest difficulty our group had to face was that we could not offer our client any legal remedies. As law students, we often focus on law suits and litigation as the means to accomplish a result. However, our work with After Gateway forced us to think outside the box of the traditional law student to find what we hope are adequate remedies for the difficulties faced by After Gateway and its participants.