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Justice Department accuses Utah of discriminating against people with disabilities

DOJ says it will work with state to address issue but doesn't rule out legal action

Utah is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by discriminating against people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, according to a ruling by the U.S. Justice Department and sent to to Gov. Spencer Cox, R-Utah (pictured in February). File Photo by Leigh Vogel/UPI
Utah is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by discriminating against people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, according to a ruling by the U.S. Justice Department and sent to to Gov. Spencer Cox, R-Utah (pictured in February). File Photo by Leigh Vogel/UPI | License Photo

June 19 (UPI) -- Utah is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by discriminating against people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, according to a ruling by the U.S. Justice Department.

The department's report released earlier this week found Utah is "unnecessarily segregating youth and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities during the day, instead of helping them find work and spend their days in their communities."

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It also found young people with developmental disabilities are at "serious risk of unnecessary segregation" when transitioning out of state-run children's services.

"Utah also does not provide effective transition services for youth with I/DD. Youth with I/DD receive services from their schools until age twenty-two. When youth with I/DD turn twentytwo, they age out of school, and any services they receive through school end. Board of Education officials call this "falling off the cliff" of State services," reads a 15-page letter addressed to Gov. Spencer Cox, R-Utah, and signed by Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke.

The Justice Department said it is willing to work with Utah to address the issue but did not rule out taking legal action against the state.

"We look forward to working with you to resolve the Department's findings. We hope to collaborate with Utah and agree on changes that the State will make to remedy the violations," the letter states.

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"We must inform you, however, that, if Utah will not negotiate or if our negotiations fail, the United States may take appropriate action-including initiating a lawsuit-to remedy Utah's ADA violations."

The Justice Department contends workers with disabilities in Utah's sheltered workshops "may spend all day at the warehouse, performing rote tasks - like shredding paper - often for less than minimum wage. In day facilities, people with I/DD may similarly spend all day at the facility with nothing much to do other than craft or watch TV."

Cox has not publicly responded to the claim.

State and local governments are required to offer services for people with disabilities available in the most integrated setting appropriate to each person's needs.

The decisions stem from the ADA as well as the U.S. Supreme Court's 1999 ruling Olmstead v. L.C., which found unjustified segregation of people with disabilities violates title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and constitutes discrimination.

"Full inclusion in society is a central promise of the ADA," Clarke said in the Justice Department's statement.

"People with intellectual and developmental disabilities are entitled to full inclusion, and to the dignity and purpose that comes with deciding where to work and how to spend their days."

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Utah is not the only state being targeted by the Justice Department.

The Justice Department on Tuesday unveiled findings that suggest the state of Alaska allegedly is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to provide disabled Alaskan voters with needed access.

The federal government contends that Alaska allegedly violated Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act. The ADA requires that states' voting services, programs and activities be accessible to American citizens with disabilities.

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