Disabled individuals are legally entitled to equal access to government programs and services. This is as true for an incarcerated person as it is for people outside. As I explained in my last post, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, (“ADA”), and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, apply to all aspects of the criminal justice system. The prison system is no exception. State departments of corrections and the Federal Bureau of Prisons cannot discriminate against disabled detainees based on that disability. They are required to provide detainees with reasonable accommodations that allow them to access the programs and services the department provides.
So what types of programs and services are covered under the ADA? Some are straightforward. For example, detainees with physical disabilities that would make sleeping in a top bunk difficult should be accommodated with a lower bunk assignment. Shower facilities should be wheelchair accessible, including handrails for detainees who cannot stand on their own. These are basic accommodations that are necessary for disabled detainees to live their day to day life without barriers. The ADA, however, does not stop there.
The ADA requires that when correctional facilities offering educational and vocational courses that the courses be accessible to those with disabilities. Written materials should be available in braille, large print, or audio formats for low vision detainees, or individuals with other print disabilities like dyslexia. Where detainees are permitted to use computers for legal research or communication, these computers should be equipped with adaptive programs so that disabled detainees can have equal access to them. Work assignments in a facility are also covered by the ADA.
In my next post, I will discuss some ways people have been able to use the ADA nationwide to ensure equal access to prison programs and services. For now, it is important to remember, as always, that the rights of the disabled do not end with incarceration. Officials are required by law to provide reasonable accommodations to insure equal access.