Segregated Employment, Day Programs May Violate ADA
Just as people with disabilities have a right to live in the community, the U.S. Department of Justice is warning states that the same rights apply to employment and other activities too.
In a 13-page guidance document issued this week, the federal agency says that the integration mandate of the Americans with Disabilities Act applies broadly.
“The integration mandate of Title II of the ADA is intended to allow individuals with disabilities to live integrated lives like individuals without disabilities, including by working, earning a living and paying taxes,” the guidance states.
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“The civil rights of persons with disabilities, including individuals with mental illness, intellectual or developmental disabilities, or physical disabilities, are violated by unnecessary segregation in a wide variety of settings, including in segregated employment, vocational and day programs.”
Nationally, the Justice Department said that millions of people with disabilities spend most of their day at sheltered workshops or in other segregated programs. Many of these individuals could be successful in competitive work environments earning at least minimum wage, but have not been given the resources to pursue such opportunities, the agency said.
The rights of people with disabilities under the ADA to access services in the most integrated setting possible were affirmed by a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court decision in a case known as Olmstead v. L.C. With the new guidance, the Justice Department is making its viewpoint clear that the nearly two-decade old ruling applies to more than where people with disabilities are housed, but also how they spend their days.
While state and local government offerings can include sheltered workshops and facility-based day programs, the Justice Department said that other opportunities need to be available and that individuals with disabilities must have an opportunity to “make an informed decision” about what setting is right for them.
The guidance comes on the heels of two significant cases where the Obama administration stepped in to pressure states to provide integrated employment options.
In 2014, the Justice Department reached a settlement with the state of Rhode Island to overhaul its system of sheltered workshops and day programs for people with developmental disabilities after an investigation by the federal agency found that the state’s approach to transition and employment violated the ADA.
More recently, federal officials helped broker a deal in a class-action suit brought by people with developmental disabilities who accused the state of Oregon of violating the ADA by failing to provide supported employment services.