Disability Leaders Call on Los Angeles Community College District to Abandon Reckless Petition to Supreme Court in Accessible Education Case

Press Release

Disability Leaders Call on Los Angeles Community College District to Abandon Reckless Petition to Supreme Court in Accessible Education Case

Front of Supreme Court Building with the words "Equal Justice Under Law"
Facebook icon
Twitter icon
LinkedIn icon
Email icon

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - On December 16, 2021 disability rights leaders across California called on the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) to abandon its reckless plan to file a petition with the United States Supreme Court in Payan v. LACCD. Signatories include two former members of Congress who co-authored the Americans with Disabilities Act – the Honorable Tony Coelho (D) and the Honorable Steve Bartlett (R) – as well as the Honorable Dr. Judith Heumann, who served in the Clinton and Obama Administrations. Heumann was also featured in the Academy Award-nominated documentary Crip Camp.

A letter was sent to LACCD by disability leaders December 10, in response to LACCD informing the federal district court of its intention to file the petition December 15. LACCD has failed to respond adequately to the concerns detailed by disability advocates nor has it promised to withdraw its intent to seek review. In an effort to ensure the public is aware of this critical situation, Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund and partners are now releasing the December 10 letter that initially expressed their alarm. The LACCD Board of Trustees is scheduled to meet again this Friday, December 17, and has until January 3, 2022 to file the petition or request an extension.

The petition, if filed by LACCD, would jeopardize long-established foundations of disability rights – the prohibition of unintentional discrimination under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Furthermore, LACCD’s petition is in direct conflict with their stated commitment to inclusion of people with disabilities. LACCD’s petition is an unwanted, and unnecessary obstacle, in resolving the access issues highlighted by blind students in Payan v. LACCD.

Background: In Payan v. LACCD, blind students sued under the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehab Act because the textbooks, handouts, websites, and other technology they use at school do not work properly with screen-reading technology, and are not accessible to them. The students proved their case, which was affirmed by the judge who then ordered LACCD to upgrade and improve its technology, and affirmed that LACCD is not required to do anything “if doing so amounts to an undue financial or administrative burden or would result in the fundamental alteration” because the ADA and Section 504 already balances the needs of people with disabilities and those of covered entities like LACCD, and has done so for decades.

Problems with LACCD’s Petition: In its misguided petition to the Supreme Court, LACCD does not argue that their programs and services are accessible to blind students, or that providing the access fixes would cause an undue burden or a fundamental alteration. Instead, LACCD recklessly contends that plaintiffs should not be allowed to bring claims under the ADA or Section 504 using the “disparate impact” theory of discrimination. “Disparate impact” discrimination means discrimination that is supposedly unintentional, such as when there is a neutral policy or practice that harms or excludes disabled people. If LACCD is successful with its argument to the Supreme Court, the resulting ruling would turn back the clock by decades for disability communities and cause unprecedented harm far beyond the scale and scope intended with Payan v. LACCD.

The Bottom Line: If the Supreme Court decides that federal law prohibits only intentional forms of disability discrimination, as LACCD is asking them to do, more than 40 years of hard-fought-for civil rights of people with disabilities would be unceremoniously undone in one fell swoop, leaving a trail of destruction and harm that extends far beyond the scale and scope of the case against LACCD or their jurisdiction.

“As a father of two young adults with disabilities enrolled in a LACCD college, I’m disheartened that the District Board of Trustees have opted to pursue this unwarranted discriminatory course of action — one which essentially denies equal access to education to students with disabilities," remarked Jaime H. Pacheco-Orozco, Assistant Executive Director of the City of Los Angeles Department on Disability. "As the judges in 9th Circuit Court of Appeals repeatedly asked, why does the District receive federal funds to serve students with disabilities if not to ensure access to campus resources and educational material?”

"Los Angeles County's community colleges have a moral, legal and ethical obligation to ensure that disabled students, faculty and staff are served equitably by their colleges.  Instead of fighting an access case all the way to the Supreme Court, putting the civil rights of every American with a disability at risk, LACCD should sit down with the blind students and their lawyers to resolve the barriers and settle the case," said Andrew Imparato, Executive Director of Disability Rights California.

“Equal access to education is a cornerstone of civil rights for people in the U.S., including those with disabilities,” said Stephen David Simon, Executive Director of the City of Los Angeles Department on Disability. “We hope LACCD uses this opportunity to work with us to build pathways to greater accessibility and inclusivity consistent with the ADA and Section 504, rather than attempting to dismantle those protections.”

"The prohibition on unintentional discrimination is at the heart of the ADA and Section 504,” reminded Claudia Center, Legal Director for Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund. “Most discrimination against people with disabilities happens because how society has been organized and built, and is due to thoughtlessness rather than intention. If successful, LACCD's petition would eviscerate the cornerstones of disability civil rights."

For additional information, please read the case explainer here and letter here

Media Contacts

Lawrence Carter-Long
Director of Communications
Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund
Email: LCarterLong@dredf.org


Disability Rights California (DRC) – Is the agency designated under federal law to protect and advocate for the rights of Californians with disabilities. The mission of DRC is to defend, advance, and strengthen the rights and opportunities of people with disabilities. For more information visit: https://www.disabilityrightsca.org.

The Department on Disability, on behalf of the City of Los Angeles, is committed to ensuring full access to employment, programs, facilities and services; through strategic management and partnership education, advocacy, training, research and improved service delivery; for the benefit of persons with disabilities, providers of essential resources and policymakers.

Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF) is a national, nonprofit law and policy center led by people with disabilities and dedicated to advancing and protecting the civil and human rights of disabled people. As a Parent Training and Information Center (PTI) funded by the US Department of Education, DREDF serves families of children with disabilities and disabled young adults in 33 California counties.