Americans with Disabilities Act Overview

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Americans with Disabilities Act Overview

Title II The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), codified as Title 42 of the United States Code, Section 12131 (42 USC §12131, herein after §12131), applies to "any State or local government, any department, agency, special purpose district, or other instrumentality of a State or States or local government..." (§12131[1][A][B]). The ADA defines a "qualified individual with a disability [as] an individual with a disability who, with or without reasonable modifications to rules, policies, or practices, the removal or architectural, communication, or transportation barriers, or the provision of auxiliary aids and services, meets the essential eligibility requirements for the receipt of services or the participation in program or activities provided by a public entity."(§12131[2]).

Disabled prisoners in state facilities come under the auspices of ADA provisions.

"[S]tate prisons fall squarely within definition in 42 USCS §12131(1)(B), of 'public entity' subject to Title II, (2) text of ADA provides no basis for distinguishing recreational activities, medical services, and educational and vocational programs provided to prison inmates from 'services, programs, or activities' provided by other public entities ...[.] [T]itle II's definition of 'qualified individual with disability' [...] which refers to 'disability' requirements and 'participation' in programs, does not exclude prisoners."(Pennsylvania Department of Corrections v. Yeskey, 118 S.Ct. 1952)

In the landmark case Ball v. LeBlanc, 792 F.3d 584, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit held: Under the ADA, Louisiana state prisoners on Angola's death row were to be considered disabled if:

"[They have] 'a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.' (42 U.S.C. § 12102[1][A]). The statute defines a major life activity in two ways. First, major life activities include, but are not limited to: caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, thinking, communicating, and working.

"Second, a major life activity includes 'the operation of a major bodily function.' Such functions include, but are not limited to: the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, endocrine, and reproductive functions. The prisoners can prove themselves disabled if their ailments substantially limit either a major life activity or the operation of a major bodily function."(42 U.S.C. § 12102 [2][A][B])

The ADA requires prison officials to reasonably accommodate disabled prisoners in regard to all activities afforded able-bodied prisoners. "[D]eliberate refusal of prison officials to accommodate inmate's disability-related needs ([in] virtually all [ ] prison programs) constituted exclusion from participation in or denial of benefits of prison services, programs, or activities. '[P]ublic entity' under 42 USCS §12131(1) includes prisons."(United States v. Georgia, 126 S.Ct. 877; Loye v. County of Dakota, 625 F.3d 494)

Though the ADA bestows on disabled state prisoners the right to reasonably participate in all prison activities, probably of paramount importance to disabled prisoners is participation in requisite programs that must be attended per consideration for early release from prison to limited liberty on parole. The ADA ensures disabled prisoners access to these activities as well.(United States v. Georgia, supra.; Yeskey, supra.; Jaros v. Illinois Department of Corrections, 684 F.3d 667; Gorman v. Bartch, 152 F.3d 907; Paulone v. City of Frederick, 787 F.2d 360; Raines v. Florida, 983 F. Supp. 1362)

An organizational tactic that disabled prisoners might employ in combating discriminatory exclusion from prison programs, activities, and/or services, could be to pursue litigation as a class, or group, of plaintiffs pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (FRCP) Rule #23. To identify as a class, disabled prisoners must establish "numerosity, commonality, and typicality."(Kerrigan v. Philadelphia Board of Elections, 248 FRD 470; Marcus v. Department of Revenue, 206 FRD 509)

In short, a contingent of disabled prisoners must convince the Federal court there is a significant number of "similarly situated" prisoners being denied their rights and entitlements guaranteed by the ADA, thereby identifying a class the court can certify as such.(Armstrong v. Schwarzenegger, 261 FRD 173) Once a class has been certified, any injunctive relief enforcing the ADA encompasses all prisoners identified as the class of prisoner plaintiffs.(Schwarzenegger, supra; Benjamin v. Department of Public Welfare, 807 F.Supp.2d 201)

Monetary damage awards can be obtained if the state actors are deliberately indifferent to prisoners' disability or if violations of the ADA are intentional.(United States v. Georgia, supra; Tennessee v. Lane, 124 S.Ct. 1978; Panzardi-Santiago v. University of Puerto Rico, 200 F.Supp.2d 1).

The ADA enjoins prison systems to provide disabled prisoners auxiliary or adaptive aid devices ensuring disabled prisoners are reasonably able to participate in prison programs, activities, and/or services. (Robertson v. Las Animas County Sheriff's Department, 500 F.3d 1185). This means if you are disabled or impaired as recognized per the provisions of the ADA, the state must provide you with implements and apparatus so as to assist you in participating in common daily and required programmatic activities.

In sum, to prevail on an ADA violation claim, a disabled state prisoner would submit to a Federal district court with jurisdiction a civil rights violation complaint pursuant to 42 USC §1983 (United States v. Georgia, supra) (a §1983 form can be obtained from the clerk in the district in which the civil suit is to be filed) citing §12131 as statutory provision authorizing the claim. In the complaint a prospective plaintiff must show they are a qualified person with a disability, they were excluded from participation in or denied benefits of a prison system's programs, activities, and/or services, and the exclusion and/or denial of benefits was due to the prisoner's disabilities.(United States v. Georgia, supra; Panzardi-Santiago, supra; Constantino v. Madden, 16 FLW Fed D 321)

Prison administrators are to be trained, and to train or to have trained prison officials and personnel that are to supervise and have contact with disabled prisoners.(Gorman, supra) Moreover, it is important disabled prisoners be aware non-medical prison officials can in no way supersede any medical directive affecting a prisoner's disability or accommodation thereof. (Chisolm v. McManimon, 275 F.3d 328; Beckford v. Irvin, 49 F. Supp. 2d 170; Saunders v. Horn, 959 F. Supp. 689; Arnold on Behalf of H.B. v. Lewis, 803 F. Supp. 246)

The above is a very brief and truncated overview of the ADA as it applies to state prisoners and should not be construed as a comprehensive examination of disability law as it pertains to prisoners. This article is no more than a primer meant to initiate disabled prisoners with their legal rights and remedies. If a disabled prisoner is experiencing abuse and discrimination at the hands of prison officials, the disabled prisoner should take it upon themselves to research pertinent precedents and authorities necessary in remedying the situation and pursue those via the various avenues of relief.

The U.S. Department of Justice provides a free 211 page booklet entitled "ADA Title II Regulations: Non-discrimination on the Basis of Disability in State and Local Government Services." The booklet can be had in large print, audiotape, Braille, and DVD. The booklet can also be provided in Cambodian, Chinese, Hmong, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Spanish, Tagalog and Vietnamese. Or it could be, that is until the Jingoist xenophobe Trump took the imperialist helm. The DOJ can be contacted at:

U.S. DOJ
Civil Rights Division
Disability Rights Sec.
950 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20530

There are a number of non-governmental organizations that assist disabled prisoners on a pro bono basis. The DOJ can provide contact information for disability rights advocates in your area.

Finally, the law library at your facility may have available for review the annotated version of §12131. This annotated edition of Title II of the ADA provides synoptic court rulings of the rights afforded disabled prisoners.

Very important is to document and keep records of all acts of disability discrimination and violations of the ADA — incidents, names, dates, witnesses, etc. This can best be accomplished via the administrative grievance procedure at your prison, while at the same time executing the required exhaustion of administrative remedies prior to filing suit.

In closing, it is my sincere desire that this overview proves to be of effective utility to those disabled prisoners facing the barbarous conditions of existence imposed on them by the enforcers of the carceral state.

To any able-bodied prisoners that may read this brief overview, I would remind you, an injury to one is an injury to all!

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