EQUALITY & DIVERSITY

Justice Department finds Utah segregating people with disabilities

Jun 18, 2024, 3:54 PM

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 21: A seal for the Department of Justice is seen on a podium ahead of a news...

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 21: A seal for the Department of Justice is seen on a podium ahead of a news conference with U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland at the Department of Justice Building on March 21, 2024 in Washington, DC. During the news conference, Garland and DOJ officials are expected to make an announcement about ongoing antitrust investigations. (Anna Moneymaker, Getty Images)

(Anna Moneymaker, Getty Images)

WASHINGTON The Justice Department announced Tuesday that Utah is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, segregating Utahns with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

In a news release addressing Utah Gov. Spencer J. Cox, the Department said that instead of helping people with disabilities find work and spend time in the community, the state relies on segregated settings like workshops and day facilities that negatively impact the integration of adults and people transitioning out of children’s services.

“Full inclusion in society is a central promise of the ADA,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said. “People with intellectual and developmental disabilities are entitled to full inclusion, and to the dignity and purpose that comes with deciding where to work and how to spend their days.”

The Civil Rights Division’s Disability Rights Section investigated the case with assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Utah.

Findings

The investigation found that Utah’s sheltered workshops are often located in industrial warehouses. The release said that people who work in these workshops may spend all day in the warehouse “performing rote tasks like shredding paper often for less than minimum wage.”

In day facilities, people may spend all day at facilities crafting or watching TV, with little say in the activities or work they do, according to the Justice Department’s findings.

The Justice Department said that Utah must provide services in integrated settings when services are appropriate, the individuals do not oppose integration, and the state can make reasonable accommodations to provide these services given it has available resources. This is required by the ADA and U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Olmstead v. L.C.

In October 2023, the ADA issued guidance to publicly-funded employment and day services explaining how this federal requirement applies.

People with intellectual and developmental disabilities want to work and spend their days in their communities. The release said with the right services, people with these disabilities can find jobs in typical workplaces and work alongside coworkers without disabilities, doing the same work for the same pay.

The Justice Department stated that on paper, Utah offers all the services that people with disabilities need to spend their days fully integrated into the community. However, in practice, it’s difficult for them to access these services in integrated settings.

“Instead, Utah funnels people with (intellectual and developmental disabilities) into segregated settings to get services. In these settings, Utahns with (intellectual and developmental disabilities) are grouped together and supervised by staff,” the release said. “They do not interact with people without disabilities other than staff.”

The study found that people with these disabilities may stay in these settings for decades, with little or no opportunity to work or spend time in their communities.

Primary barriers to community listed by the Justice Department

The investigation found that Utah makes it difficult for people with disabilities to learn about and access integrated options. The Justice Department suggests that Utah could provide comprehensive, person-centered service planning so people can choose where to receive their services. Utah could expand and maintain providers to meet individual needs.

Utah should also work to reduce the wait time for services. The Justice Department found that more than 900 people with disabilities are waiting to receive employment services. Utah does not have measurable goals for moving people off the waitlist and into integrated employment settings. The average wait time is 5.4 years, causing people to wait years with no employment services. People with disabilities may miss opportunities to build skills and develop employment history, making it harder to eventually find a job.

Utah should be providing effective transition services to youth with disabilities to ensure they have the opportunity to receive services when they finish school. Utah’s schools and adult service agencies were said to not work together to ensure youth are connected with these services.

KSL has reached out to Gov. Cox following the release but has not received comment on the Justice Department’s findings.

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Justice Department finds Utah segregating people with disabilities