Members of the Wisconsin Legislature,
Over the last week, I had hoped that the people of Wisconsin would convince Assembly Speaker Robin Vos that his decision to deny my request for reasonable accommodations violated my rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. That seems to have failed.
I am making a final request to Speaker Vos before moving forward with legal action. I am asking for the following accommodations on the basis of my disability:
1. To allow for me to use the speakerphone system currently being used by the state Senate to attend committee hearings in those rare occasions I cannot attend in person;
2. To no longer hold overnight floor sessions unless there is an emergency purpose for doing so;
3. To hold all committee hearings and floor sessions during reasonable hours;
4. To assign an ADA Coordinator as is outlined in the U.S. Department of Justice’s ADA Toolkit for State and Local Governments. The ADA Coordinator will determine when disability accommodation requests should be granted in order to maintain ADA compliance.
While Speaker Vos has offered an alternate proposal, it should be obvious why it is insufficient. By allowing me to only watch the proceedings, it completely strips me of my ability to fully participate in the legislative process and disenfranchises the people of the 47th Assembly District. My constituents elected me wheelchair and all. They do not deserve half a legislator. Our state constitution guarantees them full representation just as the ADA guarantees me full access to civic life, including the opportunity to serve in office.
The accommodations I have requested are very reasonable and any federal court will agree. In fact, in the DOJ’s Primer for State and Local Governments, it specifically discusses this exact scenario where an elected official required access to a telephonic system for hearings. There is nothing ambiguous about the ADA’s mandate in this situation. Speaker Vos is needlessly opening up the state of Wisconsin to considerable liabilities, both to our taxpayers and to our reputation.
Regardless of where you are on the political spectrum, the inclusion of disabled people in American life should not be contentious. The ADA was championed by Democrats and Republicans alike, and I have personally worked with my Republican colleagues on policies that have improved the lives of people with disabilities. In that spirit, I am asking you, my colleagues, to join me by signing on to the attached letter reaffirming the spirit of the ADA and the need to provide the disability accommodations I have requested. The deadline to do so will be Monday, August 12.
Rep. Jimmy Anderson