The U.S. Department of Justice has issued letters to the attorneys general of all 50 states as well as U.S. territories, hoping to end the exclusion of individuals with HIV and AIDS, covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, from occupational training and state licensing.

The ADA provides federal civil rights protections to persons with disabilities in public accommodations, employment and state and local government services. The DOJ learned that public and private trade schools for barbering, cosmetology, massage therapy, home health care work and other occupations, as well as state licensing agencies, may be illegally denying individuals with HIV/AIDS admission to trade schools or occupational licenses because of their HIV status. Because HIV cannot be transmitted by casual contact or by circumstances present in these occupations, according to the DOJ, the status of such individuals is irrelevant.

In the letter, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Thomas E. Perez asked state officials to review their respective jurisdictions’ admission and licensing criteria for trade schools and licensing agencies to identify the existence of any criteria that unlawfully exclude or discriminate against persons with HIV/AIDS, and to make necessary adjustments to bring those programs into compliance with the ADA.

“It is critical that we continue to work to eradicate discriminatory and stigmatizing treatment towards individuals with HIV based on unfounded fears and stereotypes,” Perez said. “The ADA clearly protects individuals with HIV and other disabilities from this kind of exclusion or marginalization.”

The letter follows a December 2010 settlement agreement with Modern Hairstyling Institute Inc., a private cosmetology school in Puerto Rico, for delaying the admission of an HIV-positive person. The agreement requires the school to remove questions about applicants’ HIV/AIDS status and to promptly enroll the aggrieved person in its program.

DOJ officials have also developed a white paper (.pdf) covering issues raised by HIV/AIDS and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The National HIV/AIDS Strategy has called for a significant reduction of the stigma and discrimination experienced by people living with HIV. It is believed such practices undermines ongoing efforts to encourage all people to learn their HIV status, and to disclose their status to others who can provide understanding and support.


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