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

NCIL Policy on Civil Rights & the Americans with Disabilities Act: Overview

Civil Rights and the Americans with Disabilities Act

A NCIL Member carries a sign that reads "Civil Rights Not Special Needs #ADAPT"With each new Congress we see attacks on the Americans with Disabilities Act. Each of the past few years, these attacks have intensified yet have failed to move forward. But we cannot take for granted that it will be the same in this Congress. Pressures on Congress have grown, particularly in states that allow monetary damages for ADA-related lawsuits.

Because of the increase of “drive-by lawsuits,” as they are labeled by the business community, legislators from those same states are filing legislation that requires notification and cure periods. Legislators are receiving a lot of feedback from those who support the bill in the business community. We must make sure Members of Congress understand the disastrous effect this bill will have on the civil rights of Americans with disabilities.

ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017: H.R. 620

H.R. 620 states its intention as: “to amend the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 to promote compliance through education, to clarify the requirements for demand letters, to provide for a notice and cure period before the commencement of a private civil action, and for other purposes”.

We strongly oppose the bill’s requirement that a very specific written notice to be provided to the owner or operator of the inaccessible business. The bill states that “the written notice required under subparagraph (B) must also specify in detail the circumstances under which an individual was actually denied access to a public accommodation, including the address of property, the specific sections of the Americans with Disabilities Act alleged to have been violated, whether a request for assistance in removing an architectural barrier to access was made, and whether the barrier to access was a permanent or temporary barrier”. We similarly disagree with allowing a total of 180 days for the owner or operator to “remove the barrier or make substantial progress in removing the barrier”.

Businesses have had almost 28 years to remove access barriers and remedy non-compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. They should not require a notice and cure period to resolve issues that should have been rectified years ago. This legislation puts the onus on the disability community to monitor access, and it allows businesses to continue with their wait-and-see approach and to only resolve access issues after someone issues a complaint.

The NCIL Emergency Preparedness Subcommittee addresses the need for people with disabilities to be involved in the development, assessment, and implementation of emergency preparedness and all stages of a disaster. The Subcommittee educates and advocates for the needs of people with disabilities at all stages of a disaster. We work with FEMA, other agencies and partners, and the NCIL membership to address the needs of persons with disabilities before, during, and after a disaster at the federal, state, and local levels.

Mental Health

A NCIL Member holds a sign that reads "Force Does Not Equal Recovery"NCIL recognizes that mental health disabilities are common – half of Americans can expect a diagnosis during their lifetime. NCIL also recognizes that people with disabilities, including those with mental health labels, are more likely to become victims than perpetrators of violence. NCIL continues to oppose all legislation or administrative action that denies rights based on a diagnosis or disability and any deprivations of liberty based on disability rather than criminal activity. Legislation must also assure continued support for mental health peer support and advocacy.

People with psychiatric disabilities have been left out of many mental health policy discussions. Their experience is crucial and must be represented, at least in equal proportion to other stakeholders, in these discussions.

NCIL opposes two current bills: the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment Accessibility Act of 2017 (H.R. 1253) and the Medicaid Coverage for Addiction Recovery Expansion Act (S. 1169). Both bills encourage more institutionalization of people with disabilities. H.R. 1253 would provide Federal loans and loan guarantees for more psychiatric and substance use treatment beds.

The Senate bill would modify the Medicaid Institution for Mental Disease (IMD) exclusion. This policy, in effect since the beginning of the Medicaid program, excludes Medicaid payment for mental health and substance use services in facilities with more than sixteen beds, except for patients younger than 22 or at least 65 years of age. If passed, the bill would allow Medicaid to pay for sixty consecutive days of inpatient treatment in larger facilities.

The IMD exclusion was included in Medicaid from the beginning to prevent a Federal take-over of state support for institutions seen as warehousing people with mental health disabilities. Proponents of S. 1169 claim that it would expand access to much needed treatment for opioid addiction. However, the bill would actually do little to expand access to treatment while posing a significant threat to civil liberties. The legislation does not require states to make suitable outpatient treatment available and would not prevent someone from being subject to involuntary treatment – institutionalized against their will. The Act’s sponsor, Sen. Durbin (D-IL) states that, if enacted, eighteen additional facilities in Illinois would become available.

Members who have assisted consumers to reintegrate back into the community from some of these facilities find it hard to imagine that any of these facilities would be the least bit helpful or an appropriate placement for anyone seeking treatment for an opioid addiction.

Emergency Preparedness and Response

NCIL Member Doug Toelle engages in conversation at the 2017 Annual Conference on Independent LivingThe 2017 Hurricane Season has been historic in the number of lives lost, lives uprooted, damages incurred, people misplaced, and costs involved. We must improve our emergency preparedness, response, and recovery for people with disabilities, including our aging population.

The following are our recommendations to Congress and are based on the testimony of NCIL Emergency Preparedness Subcommittee member Paul Timmons before the Senate Special Committee on Aging in November, 2017. Paul is CEO of Portlight Strategies and Founding Board member of the Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies. NCIL endorses these recommendations and has requested that the House Homeland Security Committee seriously consider them.


  1. Create an inclusive disaster relief fund for Centers for Independent Living and other consumer-controlled community disability and aging organizations to engage in emergency preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation. Invest 1 billion dollars over five years to serve the people of their community before, during, and after disasters. Those who are aging and those with disabilities are the experts on housing, access to health maintenance services, accessible transportation, getting people back to work, and keeping people out of facilities. Currently, Centers for Independent Living and other consumer-directed agencies receive no funding to do their emergency preparedness and disaster response, recovery, and mitigation work. Funding for these efforts should not compete with first responders, public health, and state and local emergency managers. So it is essential to fund preparation and response work through separate sources.
  2. Establish a National Center for Excellence in Inclusive Disability and Aging Emergency Management. The initial focus of the Center should include community engagement, leadership, training and exercise development, studying the use of volunteers to determine efficacy in sheltering services to individuals with disabilities and older adults, reviewing the Post Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act to better define state and federal government obligations to plan for, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards in compliance with disability civil rights laws.
  3. Direct the US Department of Justice, and provide the Department with resources, to monitor and enforce the use of all disaster funds to ensure compliance with the civil rights requirements of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended.
  4. Provide Department of Homeland Security grant funds to specifically fund qualified and experienced statewide Access and Functional Needs Coordinators for all states and territories. Several states, including California and Mississippi, have already taken this step and these coordinators are serving as statewide subject matter experts across preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation. They are coordinating whole community collaboration among disability leaders, community organizations, first responders, emergency managers, public health and safety, private sector and other stakeholders and establishing best practices. In addition, consider the establishment of an American Independence Corps, similar to FEMA Corps, made up of at least 5,000 citizen members with and without disabilities to carry out planning and preparation activities in each State, DC, and Territory year round.
  5. Exempt the cost of disability-related repairs and replacement from the FEMA Individuals and Households maximum Grant ceiling (currently $33,300). Disability-related repairs and replacement of durable medical equipment and other disability items includes replacing wheelchairs, customized vehicles, medical devices, entrance ramps, elevator installation to meet home elevation requirements, and other items that provide equal access for people with disabilities in recovering from a disaster.
  6. Finally, direct FEMA and the Administration for Community Living to lead a coordinated effort across Federal government agencies, the states, community based organizations, foundations, and other sectors, with those who are aging and people with disabilities in leadership roles, aimed at achieving on-going planning, preparation, and implementation of these recommendations.

Updated: March 5, 2018.