Reasonable Accommodations for Disabilities.

Counties are required by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. section 12101, 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 also apply to county contractors and vendors that provide program benefits or services. [ACL 19-45.]

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. [ACL 19-45.]

Title II of the 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. [ACL 19-45.]

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. [ACL 19-45.]

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. [ACL 19-45.]

Counties have an affirmative duty to determine wither a CalFresh applicant/recipient needs additional assistance because of a disability and, if applicable, to provide a disability related accommodation.  This means that, even if an applicant/recipient does not request an accommodation, the county must ask if a CalFresh applicant/recipient needs a reasonable accommodation when the need is obvious or known.  If such disabilities are discovered, the county must assist the individual in self-identifying the disability and/or the appropriate accommodation.  Counties can also identify a possible disability related need by reviewing application or recertification forms. [ACL 21-78.]

If the county notices that an applicant/recipient is having difficulty completing CalFresh eligibility requirements, they must still offer assistance and document it in the case file even if the assistance is not disability-related.  [ACL 21-78.]

The county computer systems have a flag that counties must use when an applicant/recipient indicates the need for a disability accommodation and/or the applicant/recipient has disclosed a disability. [ACL 21-78.]

Counties must ask the applicant/recipient if they need assistance, but counties cannot ask the applicant/recipient if they have a particular diagnosis or condition. [ACL 21-78.]

CalFresh applicants/recipients may request a reasonable accommodation at any time in their interaction with the county.  Reasonable accommodation requests can be made in person, by telephone, or in writing by the applicant/recipient or be someone acting on their behalf.  There are no “magic” words to request a reasonable accommodation.  An applicant/recipient does not need to disclose a specific diagnosis or condition to request a reasonable accommodation.  An applicant/recipient can request a reasonable accommodation for another person with whom they are associated.  The county cannot question the need for an accommodation.  The county can ask to clarify the nature of the disability-related need and related accommodation request. [ACL 21-78.]

Counties cannot require a particular form to request a reasonable accommodation.  There is no limit on the number of reasonable accommodation request a person may make.   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.  A reasonable accommodation can be considered and granted if a person cannot comply with a program requirement because of a disability.  If the applicant/recipient requests a reasonable accommodation, that accommodation must be provided in all interactions where the need arises.  The county cannot require the person to re-request the accommodation in every interaction. [ACL 21-78.]

Counties must document all reasonable accommodation requests and subsequent county actions.  If there is an interactive process, that process must documented in the case file.  The county must document a reasonable accommodation every time it is provided. [ACL 19-45.]

Counties must provide annual civil rights training to all of their employees.  Counties must train public contact staff, program managers, and supervisors on hiring and at least annually, on providing reasonable accommodations to persons with disabilities. [ACL 19-45.]

County staff must document all reasonable accommodation requests and subsequent county actions in the individual’s case file. [ACL 19-45.]

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. [ACL 19-45.]

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. [ACL 19-45.]

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. [ACL 19-45.]

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.  [United States Department of Agriculture, Ensuring Language Access for Limited English Proficient (LEP) Individuals and Effective Communication for Individuals with Disabilities In Consideration of the Recent Unwinding of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Emergency Allotments (EA) and Upcoming Unwinding of COVID-19- Program Flexibilities, CRD 01-2023, May 30, 2023 at p.3.]  In general, effective communication for individuals with disabilities may require providing auxiliary aids and services, such as Braille, large print, captioning, plain-language explanations, qualified sign language interpreters, qualified readers, qualified speech-to-speech translators, and accessible public-facing websites. [Id.]  These services must be provided free of charge for the individual with a disability.  [Id.}

For persons who are blind, have vision loss, or are deaf-blind, the effective communication requirement includes providing individuals with disabilities with auxiliary aids and services when necessary to communicate effectively. [ACL 19-45.]  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.  [Id.]  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.  [Id.]  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.  [Id.]  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.  [Id.]  Counties cannot rely on minors to interpret except in emergency situations when no other interpreter is available. [ACL 19-45.]

If counties choose to use Video Remote Interpreting, the service must meet specific technical performance standards. [ACL 19-45.]

Counties must consider how the individual normally communicates and must give primary consideration to a request for a particular auxiliary aid or service. [ACL 19-45.]

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.]

Counties must notify all CalFresh applicants, recipients, authorized representatives, and other interested parties, of the right to request reasonable accommodations.  Counties must prominently display posters on nondiscrimination, give printed notices (including having the PUB 13 available in all waiting rooms and reception areas), on websites, and verbally at initial application and recertification. [ACL 21-78.]

The new semi-annual reporting form SAR 7/SAR 7B allows disclosure of a disability or a request for assistance because of a disability.  When households report having a disability or state that they need assistance because of a disability, counties must contact the household to assist and provide information, resources or needed accommodations.  [ACL 24-06.]