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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Trump, Sessions, and the Americans with Disabilities Act

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the issue's role in presidential campaigns.  Trump has a bad record on disability issues more generally.

At Jewish Journal, Michelle K. Wolf writes that disability advocate worry about ADA enforcement in the Trump administration.  Trump properties have been subject to ADA lawsuits.
Moreover, the ADA is enforced by the Department of Justice civil rights division, which is under the purview of the U.S. attorney general. Because Trump’s nominee for that position is Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, disability advocates are deeply worried that the Justice Department is likely to ignore ADA complaints.

A coalition of more than 200 national organizations committed to protecting civil rights and human rights sent a letter last week to Senate leaders of both parties, expressing “strong opposition” to Sessions’ confirmation. They cited, among other complaints, his opposition to efforts in Alabama “to provide community-based services to individuals with disabilities who were needlessly institutionalized.”

The Justice Department has the option of investigating complaints, then deciding if corrective steps need to be taken, such as mediation or litigation. If the department does nothing, the complaints will go nowhere.
In light of Trump’s history with ADA compliance and Sessions’ becoming the chief ADA enforcer, various disability organizations are wondering what will happen.

In the autism community, there are concerns that Sessions will halt the progress of community integration and inclusion for children and adults with disabilities. As the Autism Self Advocacy Network said in response to Sessions’ nomination: “For the past several years, the Department of Justice has actively enforced the Americans With Disability Act and the Olmstead decision (which advocates for integrated living), resulting in increased community inclusion for disabled people across the country. But Sessions has suggested increasing the segregation of disabled students in public schools, calling the inclusion of students with significant disabilities ‘the single most irritating problem for teachers throughout America today.’ ”
The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights has posed the letter on its website.  Here is the relevant passage:
Senator Sessions opposed efforts to implement Alabama’s obligation to provide community-based services to individuals with disabilities who were needlessly institutionalized. In addition, he called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act's requirements to include children with disabilities in mainstream education "the single most irritating problem for teachers throughout America today" and “a big factor in accelerating the decline in civility and discipline in classrooms all over America.”[xiv] This opposition to integration and inclusion is extremely concerning given the active role that the Justice Department plays in enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act to enable people with disabilities to live independent lives, be full participants in their communities, and to be educated in neighborhood schools and regular classrooms. Senator Sessions also opposed ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

[xiv] Floor Statement, Education Discipline and IDEA (May 18, 2000), available at