Sunday, August 14, 2005
Lawsuit seeks to make Va. Lottery more accessible
The lawsuit says convenience stores, including four in the Roanoke Valley, violate federal law and Virginia Lottery regulations on accessibility.
Four Roanoke Valley convenience stores have been named in a lawsuit filed against the Virginia Lottery, which claims that the lottery continued to do business with the convenience stores even though they violated disability laws and its own regulations.
The lawsuit was filed by four men with disabilities throughout Virginia - including the chairman of the board of the Blue Ridge Independent Living Center in Roanoke - and names convenience stores in Roanoke, Salem, Abingdon and Winchester.
"To me, it's not just the lottery," said Roger "Terry" Winborne, the Blue Ridge board member who has used a wheelchair since 1967 because of an accidental gunshot wound. "It's that if I live near that store, I can't go in there to buy anything."
The lawsuit, which was filed in Richmond Circuit Court on July 26 - the 15th anniversary of the federal Americans With Disabilities Act - claims that the stores named in the suit exclude people with disabilities by not having handicapped parking or ramps. They have also sued the interim director of the Virginia Lottery, Donna VanCleave.
The men who filed the lawsuit are seeking full access to Virginia Lottery products for people with disabilities, injunctions against the lottery to prohibit it from discriminating against them, and unnamed costs and attorneys' fees.
"It is just astounding that, 15 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act became law, many Virginia businesses are still inaccessible to people with disabilities," said a statement released by Colleen Miller, director of the Virginia Office for Protection and Advocacy. The agency, which is charged with protecting and advocating for the rights of the disabled, is representing the plaintiffs in the case.
Virginia is not the only place in which a state's lottery system has faced legal action because of accessibility concerns. In 1997, the U.S. Department of Justice reached a settlement with New Hampshire to make the state's lottery program accessible, according to Eric Holland, a spokesman for the Department of Justice.
Also, Holland said he knows there have been lawsuits filed by private citizens in other states, such as Florida, Kansas and California, but he did not know the outcomes.
Jill Vaughan, director of communications for the Richmond-based Virginia Lottery, said in an e-mail that "because of our position as a Virginia state agency, we are unable to comment on pending litigation."
In fiscal year 2005, the Virginia Lottery had sales of more than $1.3 billion, according to the lottery Web site. Of that amount, retailers earned $75 million, according to the site. They receive payment equal to 5 percent of lottery sales, the lawsuit claims. Profits go toward financing public education in Virginia.
The suit names four Roanoke Valley convenience stores, though the stores themselves are not sued. The shops are Sparky's Food Shop on Elm Avenue in Roanoke; Smokers' Choice on East Fourth Street in Salem; Apple Market on West Main Street in Salem; and Sparky's Food Mart on East Main Street in Salem.
Winborne, who is 51 and works as a senior systems analyst for MFX Roanoke, said he has worked with the Virginia Office for Protection and Advocacy in the past on issues such as restaurant accessibility. He said he knew the office was interested in the lottery issue.
An occasional lottery player, Winborne said he took his dog out for a walk on July 11 and found a winning lottery ticket on the ground. When he went to try to cash it in, he said he found that four Roanoke Valley convenience stores named in the lawsuit had no designated handicapped parking spots and no ramps to get inside. That's when he got involved in the lawsuit, he said.
Winborne said that other places that sell lottery tickets, such as grocery and liquor stores, tend to be accessible to people with disabilities. But he said many of the smaller and older convenience stores in rural areas are still inaccessible to people with disabilities.
And this is not the first time that issues of accessibility and the lottery have surfaced, according to the lawsuit.
In 1999, the Virginia Lottery surveyed businesses in Virginia that sell its products and found that more than 2,000 locations in Virginia were not accessible to people with disabilities, according to the lawsuit. Since then, the lottery has done nothing else to require that these businesses make themselves accessible to people with disabilities, the lawsuit claims.
The Virginia Lottery has also not confirmed that new or prospective Virginia Lottery clients are in accordance with accessibility requirements mandated by state and federal law and the lottery's own regulations, the lawsuit claims.
Roanoke attorney Robert Ballou represents Workman Oil Co., which owns the Apple Market named in the lawsuit. He said that his contact at the company said he had received no complaint about the condition of the premises. But he will also investigate the matter and if required to make changes, will do so, Ballou said.
Jignesh Patel, president of Sparky's Food Shop on Elm Avenue in Roanoke, said sometimes people with wheelchairs do come into his store and that he is going to try to make it more accessible. The owner of Sparky's Food Mart in Salem could not be reached for comment.
A person who spoke on behalf of Smokers' Choice in Salem hung up on this reporter.