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Blind Virginia Prisoner Settles Suit to Accommodate Disability

A blind prisoner has settled her federal lawsuit that claimed the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) and Virginia Department of Correctional Education (VDCE) violated Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act by failing to accommodate her disability.

Fluvanna Correctional Center prisoner Mildred Oliver, 44, has been totally blind since the age of 21. “She struggles daily with problems arising from her blindness, including the denial of her benefits made available to sighted people incarcerated in Virginia,” according to the complaint in her suit.

The settlement came while Oliver’s appeal was pending before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, after the district court granted summary judgment to the defendants on April 6, 2010. The appeal was voluntarily dismissed upon execution of the settlement.

The settlement provides that the VDOC “will request the Department of Blind and Vision Impaired (DBVI) provide on-site training to a group of aides for the purpose of providing them with training covering topics such as how to walk Ms. Oliver and how to better understand her condition.” The training may be videotaped for training prisoners assigned to help Oliver. Her counselor or unit manager will assist Oliver in writing any grievances concerning her aides.

The VDOC must also coordinate with DBVI to provide Oliver with Braille instruction or provide a certified Braille instructor to supervise a qualified student to teach her Braille. A Braille prisoner handbook must be provided to Oliver and it must be accurate and kept up-to-date. Educational materials sufficient for Oliver to earn a GED must be provided in Braille.

An aide will be assigned to remain with and assist Oliver while using the recreation yard and its equipment. She will also have an aide or other prisoners protect her from having her food stolen during meals, which was a regular problem prior to the filing of the lawsuit that guards failed to redress. Prison officials must accommodate Oliver’s efforts to have private phone conversations with her attorneys by providing a telephone that is out of earshot of other prisoners and staff.

Finally, the settlement awarded $27,730 in fees and costs to Oliver’s attorneys, Jeffrey E. Fogel and Steven D. Rosenfield of Charlottesville. See: Oliver v. Virginia Department of Corrections, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Va.), Case No. 3:09-cv-00056-nkm-bwc.

Additional source: The Daily Progress

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Related legal case

Oliver v. Virginia Department of Corrections