July 26, 2022 marks the 32nd Anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This legislation banned discrimination against all people with disabilities, whether diagnosed or perceived. The ADA affirms and promotes the rights of people with disabilities to ensure their ability to participate in all aspects of society. It requires accommodations be made to ensure people with disabilities have equal access to employment, transportation, telecommunication, public spaces, and public services. Despite the over 30 years since its passage, efforts to fully implement the mandates of the ADA continue.
Opportunities for Positive Growth, Inc. (OPG) provides support to people with developmental disabilities and is one of the agencies to which the ADA applies both as a provider and an employer. OPG offers supports to people in the areas of behavioral, music, and occupational therapy, employment services, and residential supports. OPG strives to achieve inclusivity in the organization and communities it serves, both through direct support and community action. Following are some examples of the ways OPG employees support people to exercise their rights under the ADA.
Title I of the ADA applies to all employers with 15 or more employees, including employment agencies and labor organizations. It prohibits employers from discriminating against people with disabilities. It also requires reasonable accommodations be made to allow an otherwise qualified candidate with a disability to perform the duties of a position, if requested by the person. Unfortunately, many people with disabilities continue to have difficulty gaining and maintaining employment.
Though every employee who provides direct support to a person may have some role to play in helping that person find and keep a job, OPG has two positions that are specifically related to employment. The first is the Employment Specialists who work to identify interests and talents, teach skills, and offer work-based support to so that the people we work with can engage in competitive, integrated employment opportunities. The second employment specific position at OPG is the Benefits Information Network (BIN) Liaison. The BIN Liaison works with people and families to provide the information they need to be able to work while maintaining benefits and health care coverage as needed. The risk of losing benefits and supports is a real barrier to pursuing competitive employment for some people with disabilities, and the work of the BIN Liaison helps to minimize this risk.
Both Title II and Title III of the ADA include protections for preventing discrimination against and ensuring facilities are accessible for people with disabilities. Title II specifically applies to activities of state and local government, while Title III applied to privately owned businesses and nonprofit services. Ensuring accessibility includes both removing barriers to access and making modifications to ensure access to public spaces.
Any publicly accessible buildings constructed after 1990 are required to be ADA compliant, but there are still buildings that are difficult to access for people with mobility issues. OPG employees across all services advocate through community partnerships and education to promote accessibility in areas still not meeting this expectation. For example, a person’s residence may not have accessible entrances. In that situation, an OPG employee may support the person to work with their landlord to make reasonable accommodations to the residence. If there is an issue with a public space, OPG staff may support the person or advocate on their behalf to request modifications from the public agency.
Both Title II and Title III of the ADA address issues related to transportation. Title II applies to public transportation, like city buses, trains, and paratransit (like Medicaid funded ride services). Title III applies to private transportation services, such as hotel shuttles, private buses, taxis, and ride share services like Uber. None of these transportation agencies can refuse service to a person based on disability status. They can’t require a person with a disability to use any specific service, sit in any specific area, or have an attendant to use transportation services. They must also provide the option of priority seating and ensure that their facilities are accessible.
Transportation remains a significant barrier for people with disabilities. Though public and private transportation services are now more accessible, they are not available in all areas and may be limited in others. Lack of transportation impacts a person’s ability to access the services they may need to maintain their health and participate in the life of the community.
This article was written by Beth Garretson, Director of Quality and Policy for OPG, and member of OPG’s Human Rights Committee.