(64) Doggy Dental Floss: How the DOJ takes on small cities to help the disabled

Molly, the service dog

Golly, Miss Molly

A blog about a service dog and her veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the veteran and the family caregiver)


 Antics of a Big Dog 

While the East Coast digs out from a record-breaking snowfall, we enjoy a warm spell that melted the two feet of snow that settled in our small corner of Cheyenne Mountain two weeks ago. Molly enjoys the warmth and settles on our balcony. Her snoring rattles the metal railing, keeping birds in flight above the bird feeder. She sleeps contentedly until an intruder enters her zone. The side of the house shakes, as she jumps to her feet. Barking unbecoming of a service dog echoes through  the canyon, suggesting a horrid catastrophe befell the Graft household. A woman walks her terrier on the road beneath the balcony. No catastrophe at all—just Miss Waverly walking Mini-Muffin.

Miss Molly loves barking down the little dog. I try to keep her away from them for fear of what she might do given her ferocious bark. I envision her digesting the pup and waddling away with a swayed belly. I imagine the terrier’s tail, sticking out between her teeth. In reality, Molly enjoys romping with little canines provided they do not challenge her. One bark of protest sends the little dog rushing back to its owner with tail tucked between its legs.

Project Civic Access 

Not unlike Miss Molly, the Department of Justice (DOJ) takes on the small dog—in this case, small cities. Since 1999, the DOJ routinely tours and inspects small cities throughout the country to find ways cities can improve their access to disabled Americans. The DOJ explained on its website that it focuses on small cities since they are the most common form of cities in the US. The DOJ started its review with university towns and tourist locations.

Known as Project Civic Access, the department works with public officials to find and correct violations of Title II of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). So far, the DOJ has reached 208 compliance agreements with 193 agencies covering all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. A list of the compliance agreements is accessible on the DOJ ADA website.

The DOJ reported that when contacted, cities respond eagerly to correct deficiencies and even help in identifying problems. Some compliance requires a plan due to cost or size of the project. Many improvements are made immediately. 

The project takes on facilities that include, “City and town halls; police and fire stations and sheriff departments; courthouses; centers for health care delivery, childcare, teen and senior activities, conventions, and recreation; animal shelters; libraries; baseball stadiums; parks (including ice skating rinks, public pools, playgrounds, ball fields and bleachers, band shells and gazebos).” The DOJ seeks compliance in the cities’ communication methods, 9-1-1 systems, and policies and procedures that affect public access.

Every week, I receive an email from the DOJ (you can sign up for these emails at the DOJ website), talking about another settlement agreement for improved disability access. Even more impressive than Miss Molly’s ferocious bark is the achievement of the DOJ. Here is a peek at its accomplishments for this week:

Justice Department Announces ADA Title I Settlement Agreements with the cities of DeKalb, Illinois; Vero Beach, Florida; Fallon, Nevada; and Isle of Palms, South Carolina

The Justice Department announced today that it reached settlement agreements under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with the cities of DeKalb, Illinois; Vero Beach, Florida; Fallon, Nevada; and Isle of Palms, South Carolina. Under the settlement agreements, each city agrees not to conduct any medical examinations or make disability-related inquiries of job applicants before a conditional offer of employment is made, and to make its online employment opportunities website and job applications conform with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, which are industry guidelines for making web content accessible.

The Department of Justice wants to hear from the disabled community about barriers to public access and that is a good thing for the veteran community. To find out more about the ADA or these settlement agreements, you can access the ADA.gov website or call the Justice Department’s toll-free ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 or 800-514-0383 (TDD).

Although the DOJ work with small cities may seem like removing a tumor with dental floss, its work makes a big impact (kind of like the impact of a small dog on gigantic Molly). In fact, I think a Golden Paw Award is in order for the Department of Justice. High Five Paw to the Department of Justice! By the way, the DOJ is celebrating its 25th year of improving disability access. This is one birthday cake Molly would love to devour.

Post your Comments: 

Have you identified a barrier to public access for the disabled in your community or in a community you visited? Please comment below. 

About the blogger 

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her grandchildren.