What Civil Rights Laws Protect People with Disabilities?

An overview of disability rights in Maryland, and what to do to protect them

Sadly, individuals with disabilities are still forced to endure discrimination in the workplace, housing, transportation, and other aspects of their day-to-day life. While there are very important state and federal laws in place that provide much needed legal protections against disability discrimination, private companies and government entities do not always comply. As civil rights laws are notoriously complex, navigating the legal process can be difficult.

“Disability rights issues touch every facet of life: employment, housing, transportation—but also just interactions with the world, especially in the face of emerging technology,” says Jessie Weber, an attorney at Brown Goldstein & Levy in Baltimore. "A lot of the work I do focuses, broadly, on access to information. I do a lot of work on behalf of blind individuals seeking access to the internet, communications from the government about benefits or tax notices. I also do a lot of work around voting.”

Disability Rights in the Workplace

Employees should never be discriminated against on the basis of their disability status. A disabled worker has the right to be assessed on their individual qualifications for a position, not on stereotypes and assumptions about their capabilities. “Employment issues are a really big disability issue—both getting into the workplace and, once you’re in the workplace, getting the proper accommodations and getting ensured that you’re being treated fairly,” says Weber.

Disability discrimination in the workplace is prohibited under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act (FEPA). Both the ADA and FEPA require covered employers to provide reasonable accommodations to help disabled workers. A reasonable accommodation is simply an adjustment to a disabled employee’s job duties or position that enables them to perform. Reasonable accommodations come in a wide range of different forms—from modifying a desk or an office to better suit an employee who is in a wheelchair or to allow an employee to telework on a part-time basis. While employers are not required to offer any specific accommodation, they must engage in a good faith bargaining process to find one that works.

Disability Rights in Housing

As explained by the Maryland Department of Disabilities, persons with disabilities have housing rights under both the federal Fair Housing Act and the Maryland Accessibility Code. To be clear, these laws only apply to certain landlords, developers, and public entities. Landlords and developers that control a sufficient number of units are required to make a portion of them fully accessible for people with disabilities. When buildings, landlords, or developers violate the Maryland Accessibility Code, they can be sued.

Disability Rights in Transportation

Finding reliable transportation can be challenging for people with disabilities or restricted mobility. If you currently utilize the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) paratransit services or you wish to utilize them, you have certain access rights. Both Maryland law and the Americans with Disabilities Act guarantee equal access to transportation services and public accommodations. The MTA and certain private carriers are required to make reasonable accommodations and modifications for people in need.

What to Do If Your Civil Rights are Violated

Unfortunately, despite the state and federal civil rights laws, disability discrimination remains a serious problem in Maryland. If you or your loved one is a person with disabilities and you believed that your rights have been violated, contact an experienced Maryland civil rights attorney right away. Whether you were a victim of employment discrimination, housing discrimination, transportation discrimination, or any other form of disability discrimination, a civil rights lawyer will be able to advise of your rights and help you take action to get justice and accountability.

“Although the ADA is becoming an older law, the intent of Congress was for it to keep pace with technological advancements. … We continue to apply the law in a variety of new contexts with the goal of ensuring that people with disabilities are fully integrated into the modern world,” Weber says. “What I love about this work is that the ADA can be used in all facets of life. It’s a very broad and powerful law; it’s a great tool to have in the toolbox.”

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