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Being part of the community and living as independently as possible are among the most important values and goals shared by people with disabilities, their families, and advocates. A home of one’s own – either rented or owned – is the cornerstone of independence for people with disabilities. However, across the U.S. people with disabilities, including people with intellectual and developmental disabilities , face a severe housing crisis.
Many people with live with aging caregivers (age 60 and older). As this generation of caregivers continues to age, many of their adult children with may be at risk of institutionalization or homelessness.
The availability of affordable, accessible housing remains far less than the need, leaving far too many people with institutionalized, homeless, or in “worst case” housing (paying too much in rent to afford other basics or living in severely inadequate conditions).
Who Is a Person with a Disability?
Federal nondiscrimination laws define a person with a disability to include any (1) individual with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; (2) individual with a record of such impairment; or (3) individual who is regarded as having such an impairment.
In general, a physical or mental impairment includes, but is not limited to, examples of conditions such as orthopedic, visual, speech and hearing impairments, cerebral palsy, autism, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), developmental disabilities, mental illness, drug addiction, and alcoholism.
Some impairments are readily observable, while others may be invisible. Observable impairments may include, but are not limited to, blindness or low vision, deafness or being hard of hearing, mobility limitations, and other types of impairments with observable symptoms or effects, such as intellectual impairments (including some types of autism), neurological impairments (e.g., stroke, Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, or brain injury), mental illness, or other diseases or conditions that affect major life activities or bodily functions.
The term “major life activities” includes those activities that are important to daily life. Major life activities include, for example, walking, speaking, hearing, seeing, breathing, working, learning, performing manual tasks, and caring for oneself. There are other major life activities that are not on this list. Major life activities also include the operation of major bodily activities, such as the functions of the immune system, special sense organs and skin, normal cell growth, and digestive, genitourinary, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, cardiovascular, endocrine, hemic, lymphatic, musculoskeletal, and reproductive systems.
Under regulations implementing the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 some types of impairments will, in virtually all cases, be found to impose a substantial limitation on a major life activity resulting in a determination of a disability. Such impairments are “predictably assessed” as disabilities by the very nature of the impairment as substantially limiting a major life activity or major bodily function. Examples include deafness, blindness, intellectual disabilities, partially or completely missing limbs or mobility impairments requiring the use of a wheelchair, autism, cancer, cerebral palsy, diabetes, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, obsessive compulsive disorder, and schizophrenia. This does not mean that other conditions are not disabilities. It simply means that in virtually all cases these conditions will be covered as disabilities.
In general, the definition of “person with a disability” does not include current users of illegal controlled substances, but does provide protections for individuals with drug or alcohol addiction. Individuals would also be protected under Section 504 and the ADA if a purpose of the specific program or activity is to provide health or rehabilitation services to such individuals.