The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has actively played a leadership role in the interpretation and enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) during the first term of President Obama’s administration. Building on the precedent of the Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision, declaring government-funded services and programs should not unnecessarily segregate persons with disabilities and should support community living and integrated employment options, the Civil Rights Division continues to put pressure on states to rebalance funding to support greater participation in community life.
On April 24th, Michael Morris, National Disability Institute Executive Director and LEAD Center Public Policy Team Co-leader, joined more than 100 leaders in the disability community to share priority issues with the leadership of the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. Morris shared concerns about more the Justice Department can do to examine Title II ADA discrimination claims against states that are unnecessarily segregating individuals with disabilities in sheltered workshops when they could be supported in more integrated competitive employment settings. “There is nothing more disempowering to people with disabilities than poverty,” stated Morris. “States must rebalance their public spending to advance competitive integrated employment outcomes with necessary long-term services and supports. Employment and income production is a first step toward saving and asset building.”
On March 27th of this year the Justice Department filed a motion to intervene in a pending class action lawsuit against the State of Oregon regarding Title II ADA and Section 504 violations for unnecessarily segregating individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in sheltered workshops when they could be served in integrated employment settings. The motion to intervene explains that Oregon failed to provide or make available supported employment services that would allow for their integration into the community.
Oregon is not alone in the segregating of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in sheltered workshops and limiting choices and public funding support for employment options and needed supports in competitive integrated employment settings. In a policy research brief authored by the Research and Training Center on Community Living at the University of Minnesota titled “A Review of Commonly-Used State Employment Measures in Intellectual and Developmental Disability Services” (December 2012) four major data sources (government and non-government organizations) are reviewed and states are ranked on employment outcomes and integrated employment service delivery for the target audience. Large states such as California, New York, Texas and Illinois are ranked in the bottom third in the availability of integrated employment services.
For working age adults with disabilities, employment services in integrated settings are the only pathway out of poverty. Title II ADA and Section 504 inquiries should expand the lens to also scrutinize local education agency practices that limit work experience for youth in transition to segregated settings and examine equal opportunity and full and effective participation by youth and adults with disabilities in the workforce investment system and America’s Job Centers.
During the second term of President Obama’s administration will the Oregon litigation be a high priority for Justice with additional states targeted for further action? Will this interpretation of Title II of the ADA be expanded to cover individuals with other types of disabilities facing similar limited choices and discrimination?
The LEAD Center will report in future issues of this newsletter on updates with the Oregon litigation and further related developments as the Justice Department expands the scope of inquiry.