What Civil Rights Laws Protect People with Disabilities?
An overview of disability rights, and what to do to protect themBy Super Lawyers staff | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on September 1, 2023 Featuring practical insights from contributing attorney Jessie Weber
Use these links to jump to different sections:
- Disability Rights in the Workplace
- Disability Rights in Housing
- Disability Rights in Transportation
- Disability Rights in Local Government Services
- The ADA in an Age of Technological Advancements
- What to Do If Your Civil Rights are Violated
“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, a civil rights attorney at Brown Goldstein & Levy in Baltimore.
While there are very important state and federal laws in place that provide much-needed legal protections against disability discrimination, private companies and federal agencies do not always comply, and there are many situations where discrimination on the basis of disability can arise.
“A lot of the work I do focuses, broadly, on access to information,” says Weber. “I do a lot of work on behalf of blind individuals seeking access to the internet and communications from the federal government about benefits or tax notices. I also do a lot of work around voting.”
As civil rights laws are notoriously complex, navigating the legal process when your rights have been violated can be difficult.
Disability Rights in the Workplace
Employees should never be discriminated against on the basis of their disability status.
A 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 of 1990 (ADA) as well as state laws such as the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act (FEPA).
State and federal anti-discrimination laws require covered employers to provide reasonable accommodations to help disabled workers and qualified individuals.
What is a Reasonable Accommodation?
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. For example:
- Modifying a desk or an office to better suit an employee who is in a wheelchair;
- Allowing 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. Individuals can report employment discrimination to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) field office.
Disability Rights in Housing
Persons with disabilities have housing rights under federal law through the Fair Housing Act and through state and local government laws.
To be clear, these laws only apply to certain landlords, developers, and public entities. Landlords and developers who control a sufficient number of units are required to make a portion of them fully accessible for people with disabilities.
When buildings, landlords, providers, or developers violate the housing nondiscrimination laws, they can be sued.
Disability Rights in Transportation
Finding reliable transportation, especially public transportation, can be challenging for people with disabilities or restricted mobility.
If you currently utilize or wish to utilize public transportation, you have certain access rights. Both state law and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act guarantee equal access to transportation services and public accommodations.
For example, in Maryland, where Weber practices, the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) and certain private entities are required to make reasonable accommodations and reasonable modifications for people in need.
Disability Rights in Local Government Services
TItle II of the ADA requires state and local governments to give people with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from public services and activities such as public education, social services, courts, and town meetings.
Voters with disabilities should have access to polling places. Violations of Title II may be enforced by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The ADA in an Age of Technological Advancements
“Although the ADA is becoming an older law, the intent of Congress was for it to keep pace with technological advancements,” says Weber.
“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,” she 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.”
What to Do If Your Civil Rights are Violated
Unfortunately, despite the state and federal civil rights laws, disability discrimination remains a serious problem.
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 the rights of people with disabilities and help take action to get justice and accountability.
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