The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) and the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) have issued a joint letter reminding counties of their obligation to ensure equal access to persons with disabilities to state and federal funded programs. This includes providing reasonable accommodations to qualified persons with disabilities and effective communication through auxiliary aids and services. These obligations apply to all county administered programs, services and activities funded by, or with federal pass-through funds from CDSS and/or DHCS. These obligations also apply to county contractors and vendors that provide program benefits or services.
Counties must adopt written policies detailing how they will comply with these requirements. Counties must have a procedure for complaints regarding disability discrimination, including failure to provide a reasonable accommodation. Counties must inform clients of the county complaint procedure and they may file discrimination complaints with the appropriate state or federal agency.
Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits counties from excluding from participation, denying benefits or services to, or discriminating against any qualified person with a disability. A qualified person with a disability is a person with a disability who, with or without accommodation, meets the essential eligibility requirements for the program provided by the public entity. Disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life functions, a record of such an impairment or being regarded as having such an impairment. California law defines disability more broadly by removing the word “substantially” from the definition of disability, and counties are required to follow California law. The ADA also guarantees equal access to individuals who have a relationship or association with a disabled person.
The ADA does not require public entities to allow a person with a disability to participate if that person poses a direct threat to health or safety of others. However, the county must determine whether a person is a direct threat only evaluating whether reasonable accommodations can mitigate or eliminate the risk. The determination of whether a person poses a direct threat must be made based on objective factual evidence and an individualized assessment.
The ADA requires counties to make reasonable accommodations by modifying their policies, practices, or procedures when necessary to provide equal access to persons with disabilities. This includes waiving a program rule or policy to help a person with a disability, or a change in the way a county carries out a policy or practice affecting a person with a disability.
Counties must notify all clients of the right to request reasonable accommodations and the protection against discrimination on the basis of disability.
When the county has actual knowledge of a disability or when the need for an accommodation is obvious, county staff must offer to assist with appropriate disability specific accommodations. Counties are encouraged to train staff to identify disabilities and offer to assist identifying accommodations.
When an individual asks for a change in county policies, practices, or procedures because a disability, this request should be treated as a reasonable accommodation request. While counties can make a reasonable accommodation request form available, counties cannot require individual to use a specific form for a reasonable accommodation request. Reasonable accommodation requests can be made in person, by telephone or in writing by the individual or someone acting on the individual’s behalf. It is not necessary that a person be an authorized representative to request a reasonable accommodation. There is no limit to the number of accommodation requests a person can make, and each request must be individually evaluated. Counties cannot impose an arbitrary limit on the duration of a reasonable accommodation.
County staff must document all reasonable accommodation requests and subsequent county actions in the individual’s case file.
If an accommodation is not immediately agreed upon, or if there is a disagreement about the appropriateness of a requested accommodation, county staff must engage in an interactive process with the individual requesting the accommodation or a person acting on their behalf.
A county can deny a reasonable accommodation request only when the accommodation would fundamentally alter the nature of the program, service or activity, or would impose an undue financial or administrative burden taking into account all resources available to the program, service or activity. The determination that an accommodation request would be a fundamental alternation or an undue burden must be made by the county welfare department director or designee and must be accompanied by a written statement of the reason for the decision. If such a decision is made, the county must take alternative action to ensure that the person with a disability can access relevant benefits or services while avoiding a fundamental alteration or undue burden.
Counties cannot impose eligibility criteria that exclude or tend to screen out individuals with disabilities unless such criteria are shown to be necessary for the operation of the program. Counties must provide programs, activities and services in the most integrated manner possible. Counties cannot change individuals with disabilities for the cost of reasonable accommodations.
Counties must ensure effective communication with individuals who have vision, hearing or speech disabilities. Communication with these individuals must be equally effective as communication with people who do not have these disabilities. This requirement extends to companions of applicants or recipients. For persons who are blind, have vision loss, or are deaf-blind, this requirement includes providing individuals with disabilities with auxiliary aids and services when necessary to communicate effectively. This can include providing written communication in large print, braille, accessible electronic format for use with a screen reader or via audio recording or a qualified reader. For persons who are deaf, have hearing loss, or are deaf-blind, this requirement also includes providing a note taker, qualified sign language, oral, cued-speech or tactile interpreter, real-time captioning, telecommunication devices, or written materials. For persons who have speech disabilities, this requirement includes providing a qualified transliterator. Counties cannot require persons with communication disabilities to provide their own interpreter. Counties may allow another adult accompanying an individual with a disability to interpret only in emergency situations or when requested by the persons with a disability. Counties cannot rely on minors to interpret except in emergency situations when no other interpreter is available.
If counties choose to use Video Remote Interpreting, the service must meet specific technical performance standards.
Counties must consider how the individual normally communicates and must give primary consideration to a request for a particular auxiliary aid or service.
Counties must modify their policies, practices and procedures to allow individual with disabilities to use service animals on their premises. Counties may not require certification or other proof that an animal has been trained or licensed as a service animal. When it is not obvious what service an animal performs, county staff may only ask if the animal is required because of a disability and what work or tasks the animal is trained to perform. (ACL 19-45, May 16, 2019.)