Segregating people with disabilities in employment and other day programs may violate their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Biden administration says.

In a 13-page document released this week, the U.S. Department of Justice is outlining how the ADA’s so-called “integration mandate” applies to many daytime activities for people with disabilities.

Much as the law requires that housing and other supports be provided in community-based settings when appropriate, the agency is clarifying that this same expectation applies to other services.

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“A public entity may violate the ADA’s integration mandate when it plans, administers, operates, funds or implements any services — including employment or day services — in a way that unjustifiably segregates individuals with disabilities,” the guidance states.

The Justice Department notes that many people with disabilities spend the majority of their time receiving services in segregated settings like sheltered workshops and facility-based day programs. People currently served in such settings and those at risk of ending up in segregated services should be provided accurate information about integrated options, according to the guidance.

“Simply put, people with disabilities are entitled to work alongside their friends, peers and neighbors without disabilities,” said Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for civil rights at the Justice Department. “Employment is fundamental to contributing to and being fully included in society. This guidance makes clear that the ADA requires that people with disabilities have access to the integrated services they need to contribute, grow and advance in typical workplaces throughout the country.”

Still, the guidance also says that people with disabilities do not have to participate in integrated employment or day services.

“Individuals with disabilities may decline to accept a service in the most integrated setting appropriate for them,” the document indicates. “State and local governments are not required to provide community-based services to individuals who oppose receiving those services. On the other hand, state and local governments have no obligation under the ADA to provide services in segregated settings.”

The Justice Department issued similar guidance in 2016 under the Obama administration, but it was rescinded by the Trump administration. Disability advocates have been pressing for the guidance to be reissued.

“Too often, providers claim that activities like segregated day programs or sheltered workshops are ‘community activities’ that meet the goals of integration, but this clarifies that they do not,” said Zoe Gross, director of advocacy at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. “The guidance specifies that people should have as much integrated employment as they want and are able to participate in, but also addresses non-employment day services that people who do not work, or do not work full time, may use.”

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