Feds File Suit Alleging Widespread ADA Violations In Arkansas

In a sweeping lawsuit filed Thursday, the Justice Department says the state of Arkansas is violating the rights of residents with developmental disabilities by giving them a “draconian choice” of living in institutions or receiving no assistance whatsoever. The complaint paints a picture of an outdated system where individuals with disabilities have little choice but to enter one of the state’s six segregated institutions if they want supports. Once there, residents are offered limited opportunities to leave the facilities or interact with anyone who does not have a disability.

The Justice Department alleges that residents are not given the tools to transition to a more independent living situation, nor are they educated about or given the option to choose community living. Further, the complaint indicates that many of the residents who have left the state’s institutional environments returned because too few community living supports were available.

Currently an Arkansas resident with a developmental disability is likely to spend 10 years on a waiting list before receiving a Medicaid home and community-based services waiver to receive care at home. Meanwhile, Arkansas is expanding its system of institutions rather than investing in further community-living options, the Justice Department says.

“Arkansas’ lack of community services requires individuals with developmental disabilities to choose between receiving services in segregated institutions and receiving no services at all,” said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general who heads the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Arkansas illegally segregates hundreds of individuals in institutions across the state and places hundreds more at risk of needless institutionalization. We are acting now to remedy discrimination against these individuals.”

This is not the first time federal officials have alleged wrongdoing in Arkansas’ treatment of those with developmental disabilities. A state facility in Conway, Ark. has been under investigation since 2002.

Earlier this week Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe reportedly told a group of service providers that he believes people should be served in the least restrictive environment but that institutionalization should.