The new director of the group’s Houston office will be Amin Alehashem.
He says the growing poverty rate in Houston means there are a lot of people here who need pro-bono legal help fighting for social and economic justice.
“You hear on TV all the time how you have a right to an attorney. What they don’t tell you is you only have a right to an attorney in criminal matters when you’re facing punishments of a year or more in jail. You don’t have a right to an attorney in civil matters.”
The Texas Civil Rights Project opened the Houston office on the 22nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The organization also filed 35 disability-related lawsuits across the state.
One of them is on behalf of Oralia Diaz. She’s a polio survivor who uses a wheelchair. Last year she tried to meet a date at a restaurant, but couldn’t get inside.
A staffer tried to help at first.
“But once we get to the front he’s like, 'Oh, we don’t have a ramp; there’s no access.' I said 'Well, you know, maybe near the kitchen, delivery people?' He said, 'No, there’s nowhere where there’s access and there’s not a step.' He says, 'Well, we’ll just get some people to carry you in.' And I felt that was a little – to carry me in would have been embarrassing and humiliating, especially because I’m there to meet a date.”
Alehashem says when he drives around Houston he sees all sorts of curbs, bumps and barriers to wheelchair users.
He says fighting for better access won’t just benefit people in wheelchairs, but also anyone who uses a cane, a stroller, or a delivery cart.
“What we do is advocate on behalf of those people who would otherwise be voiceless. It’s great work but there’s a lot of it and I’m happy to be here doing it.”
Some of the other suits filed involved prisoners with disabilities.