Del. lawmakers aim to tackle discrimination against those living with disabilities

DELAWARE – State Representative Krista Griffith trying to tackle how the state deals with discrimination against disabled people. Typically, those cases would be handled by Delaware’s Human Relations Commission (HRC).

House Bill 311

“The Human Relations Commission, which is charged with mediating allegations and complaints of discrimination, were dismissing cases involving individuals with disabilities, contending that the Delaware Equal Accommodations Law didn’t force them to consider whether a reasonable accommodation was made by an entity,” said Rep. Griffith.

But, Rep. Griffith says she believes the law does cover discrimination against disabled people. To make that more clear, she has introduced House Bill 311 to make that process more airtight. “What this bill does is highlight that the Delaware Equal Accommodations law is meant to allow for cases that involved allegations that a person did not receive reasonable accommodations to go before the Human Relations Commission,” said Rep. Griffith.

Plus, the bill could prevent individuals, and entities accused of discrimination money and time, according to Rep. Griffith. “It works for both the entity that’s been accused of discrimination, along with the individual who faced that discrimination, to come to and understanding potentially, and resolve the issue without having to go through these legal battles,” she said.

Beyond that, Rep. Griffith says she wants to stress that hearings held by the HRC provide an opportunity for discussion and improvement, and not necessarily punishment. “When we change and become more inclusive, we all do better. So, the hope is that the discrimination ends, and if it occurs, that person who’s already been humiliated or gone through a painful experience doesn’t have to go through that twice,” she said.

But, Rep. Griffith says because of these repeated denials, disabled people have been left facing humiliation and discrimination. “The state has to, and is charged with resolving that, or at least attempting to resolve that. Indeed, the very mission of the Human Relations Commission is to take, investigate, and mediate situations where individuals are discriminated against when they are in a protected class. That includes individuals with disabilities,” she said.

Case Denial

The Ray family experienced this situation firsthand. Michelle and Brian Ray’s son, Matthew, is a Special Olympics of Delaware Athlete. Matthew lives with Down’s syndrome.

When it came time for him to get a physical ahead of a tournament, Matthew was denied an eye examination. Matthew’s mother, Michelle, says the doctor would not conduct an eye exam for him. Michelle says that’s because the doctor claimed Matthew could not verbally articulate the letters on the eye chart, and she could not provide a reasonable, alternate accomodation.

Michelle says Matthew’s ten-year-old sister was in the room when this conversation happened. Matthew is his sister’s hero, according to the Rays. “As you can imagine, our ten-year-old daughter was hearing a doctor say that she doesn’t feel comfortable doing this physical because he has Down’s syndrome. It really was humiliating and it was very painful,” said Michelle.

The Rays took the incident to the HRC, which ultimately turned down the case. The HRC said it did not have the legal purview to cover this kind of discrimination, according to the Rays. “The words ‘reasonable accommodation’ were not written in that specific paragraph. But, that was the intent of it,” said Michelle.

Fighting For Future Families

In the end, Matthew did get to participate in that tournament. But, the Rays say they want to see this bill passed, to make sure others don’t have to go through the same battle they did. “We didn’t want another family to go through this. That was the reason why we did file our claim with the state. It wasn’t just about Matthew. It was about every person with disabilities in the state of Delaware,” said Michelle.

Matthew’s father, Brian, says if a law like HB 311 had been on the books back then, it would have saved the family nearly three years of legal battles. More importantly, it would have prevented that feeling of humiliation and discrimination. “We would have been able to have recourse, have support, and have this taken care of at the time,” said Brian. “There’s the spirit of the law, and there’s the letter of the law. With the letter of the law, I can see what they’re saying. But, truly, the spirit of the law is inclusion and accommodations for all.” 

HB 311 has been assigned to the House Economic Development, Banking, Insurance & Commerce Committee.

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