It’s Time to Fight for Disability Rights | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

It’s Time to Fight for Disability Rights

At its core, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act is about discrimination. The federal act was passed in 1990, and Title II "prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by public entities." Cities and states were and are required to follow the law, still today. The intention of ADA is to ensure that those with disabilities—from mental illness to physical handicaps—are able to access public services, programs and activities.

That's where the City and State come in.

ADA compliance was and is a slow process for states and cities, alike. Throughout the '90s, the federal government worked with states and municipalities to address discrimination and care for those in communities with disabilities.

Then in 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Olmstead case that not only are those with disabilities supposed to have access to the same services as everyone else; they also needed to be integrated into communities as a first and best choice—not shipped off to institutions.

There's a reason for this. Research shows over and over again that institutionalization and hospitalization do nothing to help those with disabilities improve their conditions or enhance their quality of life. Community-based services are supposed to be the remedy for, and a better alternative.

States and municipalities that didn't follow Olmstead began to face lawsuits, and the U.S. Department of Justice launched an effort to enforce the ruling in 2009.

Mississippi and Jackson are both subjects in litigation as a result. The state is facing an Olmstead and ADA lawsuit and has been since 2010, for failing to provide enough community- and home-based services for children with mental-health needs.

Jackson is the subject of an ADA-compliance lawsuit and is still under a consent decree to provide public transit for those who live in the city with disabilities— service that must be at the same level as those who do not have disabilities.

Technically, the State and the City are long overdue in properly applying ADA regulations and Olmstead standards in their systems of care. No signs of change seemed apparent until lawsuits hit, anyway, but now, at least in Jackson's case, a consent decree should mean change that matters, change that's life-giving and essential for some people in our city.

We need to address the City's inability to accommodate community members with disabilities. Public transit is a good place to start because due to our lackluster and lagging infrastructure, some citizens with disabilities are completely dependent on JATRAN to make it to their medical appointments, in addition to access to their everyday needs such as groceries. For many Jacksonians, if JATRAN fails, so do their opportunities for independence.

The City and the State are both in obvious budget crunches, but if we don't look in the mirror and address the problems in front of us, it could mean costly litigation in the future and—more importantly—affect local lives, silence voices and end with people ignored and forgotten.

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