National Federation of the Blind of Colorado, Two Blind Prisoners Resolve Suit against Colorado Department of Corrections
Department will Correct Systemic Failures that Threatened Privacy and Safety of Blind Prisoners
Denver, Colorado (August 3, 2022): Brian Christopher Mackes and Adrian Chávez, two blind men in the custody of the Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC), and the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado have settled the lawsuit they brought against CDOC last year. The suit alleged that CDOC denied blind prisoners access to the aids and services needed to participate in educational programming, work assignments, and recreation. According to the complaint, CDOC also failed to provide blind prisoners with effective communication of the materials and information that the Department provides prisoners in written form, such as handbooks, regulations, and grievance forms. This conduct forced blind prisoners to rely on other inmates to help them with various tasks, such as reading mail, and to provide them with information, threatening their privacy and safety.
The settlement requires that each blind prisoner have access to a laptop loaded with screen reader software, which reads digital material aloud, as well as a typing tutorial program, an ebook reader, and other assistive technology. These devices will also contain accessible-format versions of key prison documents. Blind prisoners will also have access to a scanner and printer to which the laptops can be connected so that they can read mail and other printed documents. All job and education information will be made accessible, and blind prisoners cannot be denied access to any such opportunity based on disability.
“Blind prisoners do not seek, and this settlement does not grant, special treatment,” said Jessica Beecham, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado. “Blind incarcerated people will now receive the accommodations they need, and to which they are legally entitled, in order to fully and equally participate in the programs and opportunities available to other members of the incarcerated population. We commend the Colorado Department of Corrections for reaching this agreement, and hope that other corrections systems throughout our nation will take note of the necessary and humane reforms taking place in Colorado. We are grateful for the leadership of our national organization in coordinating the expertise, resources, and talent to make these changes a reality.”
“We recognize and appreciate the courage of the individual plaintiffs, Brian Mackes and Adrian Chávez, who documented the discrimination they faced and worked with us and with the Department to craft this ground-breaking settlement,” said Amy Robertson, an attorney with Denver’s Fox & Robertson who represented the NFB of Colorado and the individual plaintiffs. “We look forward to working with the CDOC to ensure access and privacy for blind people in CDOC custody.”
The plaintiffs were represented by attorneys from the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC), the Denver law firm of Fox & Robertson, and the Baltimore law firm of Brown Goldstein & Levy.