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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 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.

In 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, they simply couldn’t be expected to fix all concerns. For example, 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 diagnosis during their lifetime. And, people with disabilities, including those diagnosed with mental health disabilities, are more likely to become victims than perpetrators of violence.

Stop Psychiatric Profiling Logo - Black TriangleOn 4 June, Representative Murphy introduced H.R. 2646 “To Make Available Needed Psychiatric, Psychological, and Supportive Services for Individuals with Mental Illness and Families in Mental Health Crisis, and for Other Purposes” (this was listed as the official title of the bill as introduced). As of this writing, the bill text has yet to be made available by the Government Printing Office. We understand, however, that this bill contains many of the provisions that threatened civil rights contained in the bill Representative Murphy introduced in the previous Congress, which did not pass. Provisions in the previous and current bills threaten privacy rights and increase the use of forced treatment in the community, 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 the bill as it moves through Congress and are already working vigorously to oppose this bill.

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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