58th Annual international conference / february 18-21, 2021 / new orleans, la

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I work at a two-year community college that offers programs to the local correctional facility. Are those students with diagnosed learning disabilities eligible for accommodations?

Prisoners with disabilities are protected by § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794(a), and by Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12131, et seq. The Rehabilitation Act was created to apply to federal executive agencies, including the Bureau of Prisons, and to any program that receives federal funding. The ADA was created to regulate state and local government programs, even those that do not receive federal funding. Title II of the ADA states that “no qualified individual with a disability shall…be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity.” The United States Supreme Court ruled in the case of Goodman & United States v. Georgia that prisoners can sue for monetary damages if they are being discriminated against due to a disability.

However, prison officials are not required to provide accommodations that impose “undue financial and administrative burdens” or require “a fundamental alteration in the nature of [the] program.”  Prison officials are also allowed to discriminate if the disabled inmates’ participation would pose “significant health and safety risks” or a “direct threat” to others.  Finally, some courts have said that prison officials can discriminate against disabled prisoners as long as the discriminatory policies serve “legitimate penological interests.” (Above information retrieved on 05/02/16 from https://www.aclu.org/files/images/asset_upload_file735_25737.pdf ).

The bottom line seems to be that prisoners with learning disabilities do have the right to request reasonable accommodations; however, the prison officials may impose some parameters on how those accommodation requests are approved and/or applied.