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Guerra v. WLAC – Understanding the ADA after 30 years

Accessibility, Education

By: William Townley*

To celebrate the Americans with Disabilities Act’s (ADA) 30-year anniversary, the Disability Rights Arizona (DRAZ) is posting blogs about recent wins advancing the rights of people with disabilities. These stories remind us of the important principles of the ADA and how those principles affect the everyday lives of people with disabilities. Today’s blog post examines a win in the lawsuit, Guerra v. West Los Angeles College, a decision from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decided in 2020. Disability Rights Advocates and Disability Rights California represented the students.

The appeals court in Guerra reversed a trial court’s decision in favor of the community college. Three students with mobility disabilities attending West Los Angeles College (WLAC), a college in the Los Angeles community college district, sued the college alleging the college’s suspension of a campus-wide shuttle service denied them meaningful access to the classes, programs, and activities. The lawsuit alleged the community college failed to provide take reasonable steps to provide meaningful access after the transportation services were ended.

The students with mobility disabilities had difficulty traveling around campus because WLAC—located on a hill with steep with uneven terrain—made it difficult to navigate the campus. As a result, the students had to drop classes, limit activities, and have longer commute times. In a press release from Disability Rights Advocates, Charles Guerra, a U.S. Army veteran, stated he was injured and hospitalized multiple times as a result of his falls on campus. Guerra further stated: “We’re fighting for access not just for ourselves, but for everyone with a disability who wants to go to college.”

The Ninth Circuit concluded that requiring students with disabilities to access their education in ways that remained after the shuttle was stopped was an unfair burden on them because of their disabilities. As a result, the case will return to the trial court to evaluate what reasonable steps WLAC can take to provide equal access, such as the shuttle service that the college used previously to provide access to all students, staff, and visitors with disabilities. Possible solutions might include restoring the shuttle service or providing other forms of on-campus transportation assistance for students whose disabilities make it difficult for them to utilize campus pedestrian routes.

Click here if you would like to read the Guerra decision.

To learn more about your rights as a student in a post-secondary program and recent settlements involving colleges, read a recent DRAZ post on the ADA in Higher Education.  If you believe you have experienced denial of meaningful access to post-secondary programs, please review the complaint options in the post or contact the DRAZ.

* William Townley recently joined the Disability Rights Arizona. Before DRAZ, William practiced in New Mexico, assisting low-income families with access to public benefit programs.

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