Linda Aase has spent much of her life helping disabled people navigate their daily routines — as a disability program manager with the federal government, as a board member for disability advocacy groups and, above all, as a mother.
So when her 25-year-old daughter, Shannon, who has Down syndrome and autism, had an emotional outburst at a Leesburg public library, she was not surprised. But she was surprised, she said, at the library staff’s reaction.
While Aase was trying to calm down her daughter, she said, an employee of Rust Library demanded that Aase remove her daughter from the building. Then, Aase said, the employee threatened to do so herself. After that, she threatened to call police.
What could have been a passing tantrum has now become a fight over the rights of the disabled, a fight that Aase, well versed in such matters, has vowed to continue. She has filed two complaints under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) — one with Loudoun County and one with the U.S. Department of Justice.
Loudoun officials, citing the confidentiality of personnel matters, said they could not discuss the March 15 incident described in Aase’s complaint.
Aase said it began when her daughter, who likes to borrow romance novels and CDs from the library, became upset and started crying when told she could not take out any more books. Aase said the library employee told her to take her daughter from the building because she was causing a disturbance. The librarian then said that she would remove Shannon Aase herself if her mother did not, Linda Aase said.
“I told [the library employee] that she was not going to put her hands on my daughter,” Aase said. The employee threatened to call the police, she said.
“That immediately raised a red flag, especially given the recent Robert Saylor incident,” she said, referring to the case of a 26 year-old Frederick man with Down syndrome who died after being taken into police custody. After about 10 minutes, Aase took her daughter outside, ending the confrontation.
To Aase, what happened at the library represents a potentially dangerous lack of knowledge of federal guidelines and appropriate practices when interacting with people with disabilities. She is convinced that the incident was a violation of Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act, a statute requiring that state and local government entities make “reasonable modifications in policies, practices, and procedures” to accommodate people with disabilities.
But Loudoun officials reviewed Aase’s complaint and concluded that there had been no ADA violation and that “personnel acted within the parameters of Loudoun County Public Library policies.”
Aase refused to take Loudoun’s ruling as a final answer.
“I don’t care about the library’s practices. Federal law trumps their practices,” she said. She promptly filed a complaint with the civil rights division of the Department of Justice.
A representative of the civil rights division said that Aase’s complaint is under review, a process that could take up to three months.
Aase also brought her story to Loudoun’s Disability Services Board, on which she serves as secretary, at an April 18 meeting.
At the meeting, Aase read the county’s response to her complaint and expressed her frustration.
“I’m appalled by the response to my request,” she said. “Basically, they tried to snow me over.”
Board Chairman Frank Lombardi agreed that the matter should be addressed by the group, which is charged with advising county leaders on policy matters related to disabled citizens.
The board voted unanimously to send a written communication to County Administrator Tim Hemstreet and the Board of Supervisors, outlining concerns about the outcome of Aase’s complaint and requesting clarification about the applicable county policies, training procedures and compliance with federal law.
Lombardi said Friday that the letter would be sent in the coming weeks, and that Hemstreet had indicated support for the group’s efforts to review the matter.
“We want to see what training the government has in place, so we can compare it against Title II requirements under federal law, and common sense requirements, if you will,” Lombardi said.
The hope, he said, is that the incident might offer an opportunity to conduct a wider review of the county government’s policies and training and possibly implement broader reform.
“Even though we’re addressing the library situation specifically, our desire is to also take a broader look at the governmental system and see where other fixes may be needed,” Lombardi said.
Chang Liu, Loudoun’s director of public libraries, emphasized that customer service is a top priority. Loudoun’s library system was ranked the highest-performing department in the Loudoun in a public survey last year, she said.
“All customer experiences are teachable moments for our staff, and I do believe there is always room for improvement,” Liu said.
Because Aase’s complaint is classified as a personnel matter, Liu said, she could not discuss the results of the county’s review or directly address Aase’s description of events. Liu noted that library policy allows employees to request the removal of any patron who is disturbing the atmosphere of the library.
“What [Aase] has been saying to other people, it’s her perspective,” Liu said. “She’s entitled to her perspective.”