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The Rights and Responsibilities of an Adult with a Learning Disability

May 19th, 2014

Adults 21 and over with learning disabilities may face discrimination or lack of access to services in college or the workplace. These individuals must understand their legal rights and responsibilities.

In College:

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act protect adults with learning disabilities who attend college. The laws apply to public institutions and private colleges that receive federal funding and mandate that students with disabilities receive reasonable accommodations. Examples of accommodations include the use of a tape recorder or note taker, or additional time to complete examinations.

In the Workplace:

The Americans with Disabilities Act protects people with disabilities, including learning disabilities, from discrimination in regard to applications, hiring, firing, compensation, advancement and other employment terms. The ADA applies to employers with 15 or more workers. Employers must make reasonable accommodations to the known disability of a qualified employee or applicant, if it would not cause the business an “undue hardship.” Workplace accommodations may include additional training or supervisor feedback, or a quiet workspace.

If individuals with learning disabilities want accommodations, then they have the responsibility of disclosing their disability and providing documentation, in addition to requesting the accommodations that they want. Adults will probably need to provide documentation of their disability from a doctor. This can be done in a confidential meeting with a college disability services coordinator or with an employer. Documentation may consist of a letter from a doctor or other treating professional.

One must also remember that these protections apply to people who are “otherwise qualified” for the college program or employment position in question. One may have to prove that one is qualified. Also, the legal protections against discrimination do not act as an absolute entitlement to a job or a college education.

Most schools and large employers know of the law and are willing to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified people with disabilities, so it may only be necessary to identify oneself as a person with a learning disability and request the necessary accommodations. If a school or employer accommodations are denied, then these rights are enforceable through the legal process, but it is important to evaluate one’s individual circumstances with the help of a qualified attorney.

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Married Couple with Mental Disabilities Sue for Right to Live Together

July 24th, 2013

A Long Island married couple who are both developmentally disabled has found a group home where they can cohabit, but a lawsuit for their right to live together continues. The case may be the first to raise the question of whether denying mentally disabled people the right to cohabitation in a marriage violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Paul Forziano, 30, and Hava Samuels, 36, married in April of last year. The couple met seven years ago at a day program operated by the Maryhaven Center of Hope on Long Island. Forziano and Samuels both have mild to moderate mental disabilities.

The couple’s wedding had been delayed because they wanted to ensure that they could live together after they were married. Samuels lived at Maryhaven Center of Hope and Forziano lived at Independent Group Home Living, both on Long Island. Both group homes refused to allow the couple to live together. The couple’s parents, who supported the marriage, filed a federal lawsuit as the couple’s guardians against the group homes and the state of New York. The state was named as a defendant because it oversees the licensing of the nonprofit group homes and receives the Medicaid funding that pays for their services. The state Office of Persons with Developmental Disabilities, also named in the suit, is responsible for the program that provides Medicaid waiver services.

Since the lawsuit was filed, another group home, East End Disabilities Associates, has offered to provide the couple with a one-bedroom apartment inside the home, where they can live together. Forziano and Samuels are planning to move into their new home sometime in July. The lawsuit, however, will continue. The two wish to establish their right to live together and obtain compensation for that right having been denied. When the couple expressed to their parents that they wished to be married, their parents found no legal barriers to people with intellectual disabilities marrying, but they found that the group homes where the two resided were not supportive of their desire to marry and would not provide housing where they could live together.

The lawsuit hinges on the ADA’s provision requiring public entities to make reasonable accommodations to avoid discrimination on the basis of disability. The state of New York licensed the couple to marry, and the right to live together as a couple is among the most basic rights associated with marriage. The plaintiffs argue that because they are a married couple and their intellectual disabilities require that they reside in a supervised housing situation, the nonprofit group homes, by virtue of accepting Medicaid funding, should be required to accommodate their wish to live together. The lawsuit also cites the Fair Housing Act and New York State’s Human Rights Law.

It is difficult to know how many people with mental disabilities are married, because such information is not collected in marriage license applications. However, it is known that other married couples with mental disabilities live together in New York State, including in group homes. If Samuels and Forziano’s lawsuit is successful, it may establish their right to do so.

For more information about disability planning, visit www.specialneedsnewyork.com.

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