Bringing your facility into ADAAA compliance

By Cherrie Greco

As Title II agencies under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), prisons and jails across America have worked for many years to be compliant with architectural standards, as well as ensuring no qualified, disabled offender has been subjected to discrimination regarding access to programs and services. Now, with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendment Act (ADAAA) in 2008, agencies are determining the best approach for achieving compliance to include managing an expanded group of offenders whose disabilities fall within the scope for broad interpretation of intellectual disabilities. This includes mental retardation, learning disabilities, and mental illness.

With rule making completed in the summer of 2010, prison and jail administrators may want to plan aggressively to ensure their facilities are abiding by the amended law. Tweaking existing policies and procedures is an excellent place to begin. Start by updating staff training materials and developing and implementing a means for reviewing offenders’ requests for accommodations.

Tracking critical data, monitoring offender health care appliance property, linking to programs and institutional jobs, initiating special dietary and housing needs, emergency preparedness/planning, and tracking? offender movement are also all critical for establishing operational systems and keeping staff informed about the ongoing needs of disabled populations.

Finally, communication with re-entry partners is essential to guarantee eligible offenders have equal access to community programs and services. Often, offender health care is assumed to be the chief area impacted by ADAAA and, while no doubt significant, all facility operations are affected.

The ADAAA of 2008 focuses on discrimination, broadens the definition of “disability,” and expands the description for “major life activities.” It includes a definition for “major bodily functions” and focuses on reasonable accommodations agencies may adopt to ensure eligible offenders enjoy equal access.

For example, an offender may need to complete certain programs as part of consideration for parole or other community placement. But, if program materials are presented at a grade level too difficult to master because of an intellectual disability, the offender may not complete the program, thus reducing chances for favorable consideration for parole. Instead, the agency may need to package program materials in a different format or revise to an appropriate grade level for equal access to be achieved.

For prisons and jails seeking voluntary compliance with ADAAA, there are additional strategies to consider, like developing an agency self-evaluation that includes community corrections and parole. Strengths and vulnerabilities should be identified with a follow-up transition plan put in place in order to clarify goals and make adjustments to facility operations. The responsibility for voluntary compliance should be shared, in a multidisciplinary approach, since all areas of public safety are affected. Across the country, Title II agencies are in various stages of litigation related to alleged ADA violations. There is obvious benefit when agency legal representatives stay informed about cases and decisions having long-term impact. Educating public officials about agency goals for implementing ADAAA will help bridge an understanding of risks posed by failure to take corrective measures.

ADAAA, 2008 is an expansion of civil rights. Accordingly, incarcerated men and women are not exempt from enjoying protection under this law.

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