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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

An Update from the NCIL Mental Health Civil Rights Subcommittee

This year, marking the 25th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), gives us much to celebrate. While the ADA has strengthened civil rights protections and increased accessibility to some public transit and public accommodations (among many other things), it is far from perfect. The provisions relating to employment haven’t greatly increased the number of people with disabilities anywhere near as much as we would have hoped. Those of us who need access to print and/or electronic materials can tell you that said provisions are often disregarded and unnecessarily difficult to remedy or enforce.

Force Is Not Recovery 2012 protest signIn addition, there are other groups within the disability community whose civil rights either weren’t included in the original law and/or have been weakened by subsequent regulations, interpretations, and court decisions. While the amendments to the ADA (passed as the ADA Amendments Act in 2008) brought some clarification and relief, it simply couldn’t be expected to fix all concerns. Many types of disabilities such as multiple chemical sensitivity/environmental illness and other “new” disabilities (as yet uncategorized) are covered very little, if at all, by the ADAAA. In addition, parental and other civil rights issues concerning people with mental health disabilities are largely unaddressed by the ADA and its subsequent amendments.

One of the things that the ADA accomplished was to bring the disability community together as had not happened previously. One of the reasons why this happened was that the disability community put people with disabilities first. To a great extent, however, this hasn’t happened specifically for people with mental health disabilities. Too often, fear and discrimination prevail even though mental health disabilities are the most common type of disability – half of Americans can expect a mental health related diagnosis during their lifetime. And, people with disabilities, including those diagnosed with mental health disabilities, are more likely to become victims of violence than perpetrators of it, despite what keeps sadly appearing in news headlines.

On 4 June, Representative Murphy introduced H.R. 2646, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act. In August, a separate mental health bill (the Mental Health Reform Act S. 1945) was introduced in the Senate. Unfortunately, these bills, especially the one in the House, contain many of the provisions that threatened civil rights in the bill Representative Murphy introduced in the previous Congress, which did not pass. Provisions in the previous and current House bills threaten the structure of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), threaten privacy rights, weaken the ability of the protection and advocacy (P&As) to do their work and increase the use of forced treatment in the community through supporting assisted outpatient treatment (AOT), among other concerns. NCIL opposes any legislation or administrative action that continues or strengthens denial of rights based solely on a diagnosis or disability and any deprivation of liberty based on disability rather than criminal activity. We will, of course, provide updates on relevant legislation as it moves through Congress and are already working vigorously to oppose the above-mentioned provisions these bills.

NCIL’s Mental Health Civil Rights Subcommittee meets monthly via teleconference and also maintains an active page on Facebook. Please contact us through NCIL’s website or via Facebook if you are interested in helping with our work.

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