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Issue Alert - 09-10-01

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Date:

Aug 26, 2009

Program Area:

All Programs Administered by the Department of Human Services

Issue Summary:

The Department of Human Services (DHS) has issued a comprehensive policy on reasonable accommodations to ensure equal access to benefits and services for persons with disabilities

Persons Affected:

Persons with disabilities who are applying for or receiving services or benefits administered by DHS

For More Information:

Center for Civil Justice 320 S. Washington, 2nd Floor Saginaw, MI 48607 (989) 755-3120, (800)724-7441 Fax: (989) 755-3558 E-mail: info@ccj-mi.org

Michigan Poverty Law Program 611 Church Street, Suite 4A Ann Arbor, MI 48104-3000 (734) 998-6100 (734) 998-9125 Fax


Background

Federal laws (the Americans with Disabilities Act or “ADA” and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act) require the Department of Human Services (DHS) to provide persons with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from the programs it administers as persons who do not have disabilities.   When necessary to achieve that objective, DHS must make reasonable  accommodations for a person’s disability-related needs or limitations. 

 

What's Happening?

As the result of advocacy by a number of organizations that represent persons with disabilities and low income persons, the Department of Human Services has issued a policy on nondiscrimination in service delivery that requires DHS to make reasonable accommodations to ensure persons with disabilities (and their family members) have an equal opportunity to benefit from services and programs administered by DHS.  The policy explains DHS responsibilities and the procedures individuals may use to obtain reasonable accommodations and to seek corrective action when discrimination occurs or reasonable accommodations are denied.

This alert outlines key provisions of the new DHS policy, which can be found in the DHS Administrative Handbook at AHJ 1313, available online at http://www.mfia.state.mi.us/olmweb/ex/ahj/1313.pdf.  A separate Alert will address the Grievance process for individuals who suffer discrimination or are denied reasonable accommodations.

The policy is a huge step forward but advocates are continuing to push for improvements and for outreach to applicants and recipients who may not know about their rights.

1.  GENERAL POLICY REQUIREMENTS

Individuals with disabilities must be treated on a case-by-case basis consistent with facts and

objective evidence of their particular circum­stance.  Individuals with disabilities must not be treated on the basis of stereotypes.” p.1. The Policy contains examples of impermissible stereotypes.

The new policy also recognizes that “family members or others asso­ciated with a person with a disability” are entitled to equal access under federal law.  See AHJ 1313 p. 2. This means, for example, that a parent caring for a child with disabilities has rights under the policy.

 “DHS may not use policies or procedures for operating programs that have the effect of excluding or discriminating against persons with disabilities.   This general obligation applies regardless of whether DHS knows a particular individual has a disability.” See AHJ 1313 p. 1.

Under the policy, DHS must

  • afford a qualified individual with a disability an equal opportunity to participate in, and receive the benefits of available services, programs, or activi­ties.” See AHJ 1313 p. 2.
  • “make all programs and services available and fully accessible to persons with disabilities…to the same extent as individuals who do not have disabilities”.” See AHJ 1313 p. 1.
  • “provide appropriate services; policies, practices and procedures, which may include making reasonable accommodations.”  See AHJ 1313 p. 1.
  • make an accommodation in its typical program and procedures” when required to provide equal access. See AHJ 1313 p. 1.

The policy contains a section on Communication Assistance which incorporates the policy on providing interpreters for persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, and which also requires caseworkers to forward requests for materials in alternative format (such as Braille or large print) to the ADA coordinator, who will requisition the materials. See AHJ 1313 p. 4-5.

The policy contains definitions of an “individual with a disability” and “major life activities” that basically follow the federal ADA definitions.  See AHJ 1313 p. 1-2.

 

2.  INFORMATION ABOUT RIGHTS   See AHJ 1313 p. 5-6  

DHS workers are required to inform ALL clients “that it is their right to request a reasonable accommodation if the client discloses a disability or if the worker feels an accommodation might be necessary for participation.”  Workers also are required to provide clients with the form that may be used to request accommodations. 

In addition, “workers must ask clients during the application and review process whether they need assistance due to a disability.“ caseworkers also must explain that disclosure of disabilities is voluntary.

Every DHS office is supposed to have a poster explaining these rights, but the posters have not been produced yet and advocates are working to be sure that the content is appropriate.

DHS must be alert to common signs indicating that individuals might have a dis­ability. 

3.  VOLUNTARY SCREENING AND ASSESSMENT  See AHJ 1313 p. 6.

DHS must offer ALL applicants and recipients “screening for disabilities that may affect their ability to understand and comply with program requirements. … When voluntary screening identifies a 

As the result of advocacy by a number of organizations that represent persons with disabilities and low income persons, the Department of Human Services has issued a policy on nondiscrimination in service delivery that requires DHS to make reasonable accommodations to ensure persons with disabilities (and their family members) have an equal opportunity to benefit from services and programs administered by DHS.  The policy explains DHS responsibilities and the procedures individuals may use to obtain reasonable accommodations and to seek corrective action when discrimination occurs or reasonable accommodations are denied.

This alert outlines key provisions of the new DHS policy, which can be found in the DHS Administrative Handbook at AHJ 1313, available online at

http://www.mfia.state.mi.us/olmweb/ex/ahj/1313.pdf.

A separate Alert will address the Grievance process for individuals who suffer discrimination or are denied reasonable accommodations.

The policy is a huge step forward but advocates are continuing to push for improvements and for outreach to applicants and recipients who may not know about their rights.

 


What Should Advocates Do?

1.     Inform clients about the new ADA policy. 

2.     Be alert to disabilities that may prevent clients from getting DHS services or benefits. 

3.     Help clients with disabilities identify any reasonable accommodations they may need in order to have full access to DHS programs and benefits.

4.     Help clients put their requests for accommodations in writing and keep a copy, so there is a record of the request. 

5.     Help clients document their disabilities and any needed  accommodations.

6.     Educate DHS caseworkers and Administrative Law Judges, who may not be familiar with the new policy, about clients’ rights under the policy.

7.     Read the issue alert about DHS’s grievance policy and help clients file grievances if their requests for accommodation are denied or they experience other discrimination based on disability.

Share successes and problems with the Center for Civil Justice (contact information is at the top of this alert).

What Should Clients Do?

WHAT SHOULD CLIENTS DO?

1.      If you or someone else in your family is having trouble meeting DHS requirements because of a medical problem or a physical or mental condition, tell DHS about the problem and ask for help.

2.        If you cannot put your request in writing, ask for help and keep a copy of the written request.

3.        Seek legal help if DHS will not help you or you think DHS has not followed the requirements explained in this Alert. See below for information about finding legal help.

Finding Help

Most legal aid and legal services offices handle these types of cases, and they do not charge a fee.

You can locate various sources of legal and related services, including the free legal aid office that serves your county, at MichiganLegalAid.org.

You can also look in the yellow pages under "attorneys" or call the toll-free lawyer referral number, (800) 968-0738.