Lawsuit tackles Ohio residential and employment segregation

man standing with aid of a frame, with a caregiver taking notes
Home-Based Services

Disability Rights Ohio, the Center for Public Representation, Sidley Austin LLP and attorney Samuel Bagenstos hit the state of Ohio with a class-action lawsuit [PDF] March 31, accusing it of unnecessarily institutionalizing thousands of people with developmental disabilities, while refusing to provide the necessary services for thousands of others to integrate into their local communities.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, states are required to provide services ensuring people with disabilities can live “in the most integrated settings according to their needs.” Regardless, the state of Ohio is holding approximately 5,800 people in so-called intermediate care facilities, although most, if not all, of these individuals could live in more inclusive settings with the support of additional services, the complaint asserts.

Meanwhile, more than 40,000 people are on state waiting lists for home-and-community based services, 22,000 of whom are at serious risk of being institutionalized, according to a DRO fact sheet. The estimated wait time for people on the list for such services is 13 years.

“Large ICFs offer few opportunities for community involvement and are typically unable to facilitate the pursuit of individualized activities consistent with people’s unique interests, abilities and preferences,” the lawsuit stated. “Once placed in institutional settings, individuals frequently become isolated from their families, friends, and social networks. They often have little or no contact with their non-disabled peers, other than paid staff.

“These substantial limitations on personal liberty, choice, privacy, and autonomy all contribute to the discriminatory segregation that permeates nearly every aspect of life in a large ICF.”

The advocacy groups also take aim at the state’s allotment of job-related services for people with disabilities. The state allegedly directs 93 percent of these funds to so-called sheltered workshops, where employees do little more than “repetitive manual tasks” and are provided few opportunities to build the necessary skills to join competitive employment.

About 17,000 people statewide are placed in sheltered workshops, the most of any state in the country.

In addition to the ADA, the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, contends that these practices systematically violate Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Medicaid Act.

“Ohio needs to give real options to people with developmental disabilities and their families so that they can live in the community with the care that they need, find jobs in the community with the help that they need, and pursue activities in the community with the support that they need,” Tim Harrington, executive director of The Ability Center of Greater Toledo, a named plaintiff in the lawsuit, in a news release.

Disability Rights Ohio and Disability Rights Washington, the publisher of Rooted in Rights, are the designated protection and advocacy agencies in Ohio and Washington, respectively, and are members of the National Disability Rights Network.