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DTA process for screening clients with disabilities and offering additional help with application, verification, interviews and more (Harper v DTA class action)

The information below is from Lizbeth Ginsberg of Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS). This update was shared at the SNAP Coalition this AM (thanks to all who attended!!) and we are sharing the information with statewide Coalition members.

DTA recently implemented key portions of the Settlement Agreement in Harper v. DTA.  Harper is a federal disability discrimination class action lawsuit that GBLS settled in 2013.

The changes described below are to improve the DTA’s process for providing “reasonable accommodations” to persons with disabilities. Under the law, DTA is required to accommodate people with disabilities who need extra help, or need a rule changed, in order to have access to DTA’s services.  As described below, DTA will now screen clients to discuss the need for reasonable accommodations.  GBLS also urges advocates to ask clients with disabilities that affect their ability to deal with DTA if they need an accommodation from DTA, and monitor if DTA actually offers accommodations.  Accommodations can include getting DTA help to get verifications, coming into the local DTA office, keeping appointments, understanding written notices, and more.

Here's a summary of recent changes:

1. Screening for disability and recording of disability information

Screening for disability:  Based on scripts (written text) built into BEACON, DTA workers will screen clients for disability. Workers will explain what DTA expects clients to do in order to get and keep benefits, and will ask if the client has a health problem that could make any of those tasks difficult. This screening is programmed in BEACON and must be completed for all clients at application, eligibility reviews involving interviews, and if a client discloses disability.

If a client discloses disability and says s/he needs an accommodation, DTA staff will discuss the accommodation(s) needed and whether the accommodation is needed only once, or on an on-going basis.  Note: Community organizations can help client's with disabilities request an accommodation at any time! 

If a client indicates that she doesn'€™t need an accommodation (whether or not the client disclosed disability), DTA will ask the client to sign a "Declination Form".  The client is not required to sign this form, and there is no negative case action if the form s not signed or returned to DTA. 

Recording:  DTA created a new Accommodation/Special Assistance€ tab in BEACON to record the response to the screening, as well as information about approved accommodations.  If a client discloses disability and says that she needs an accommodation, DTA will record that information in BEACON.  This will include the type of disability, the difficulties the client may have in dealing with DTA as a result of the disability, and specific accommodations requested.

2. Client Assistance Coordinators (CACs)

DTA has appointed supervisory-level staff to a new position, referred to as Client Assistance Coordinators or CACs, in every DTA office (with 2 in the larger DTA offices). CACs will help clients and caseworkers troubleshoot around disability-related barriers.  Their duties include:

  • Working with DTA staff to support them in handling accommodation requests, as well as other disability protections (i.e., good cause, disability exemptions);
  • Working directly with clients who are referred by a case worker, or who prefer to talk with a CAC about disability-related issues; and, in some cases, implementing accommodations when it is not feasible for the case worker to implement a specific accommodation; and
  • Reviewing all accommodation requests and monitoring the provision of approved accommodations.

Attached please find the names of the CACs and their TAOs.  A few positions still need to be filled.  We hope to have contact info to share soon.  For now, if anyone works with a CAC, we’d love to hear about the experience as well as any direct contact info.

3.Improvements to the system for individual accommodations

DTA has implemented several improvements to the accommodation process, including:

  • The accommodation process is built into BEACON so clients’ responses are properly recorded and available to anyone in BEACON to see.  As mentioned above, DTA created a new Accommodation/Special Assistance tab in BEACON for this purpose.
  • When a client has an approved accommodation, it will be immediately apparent to anyone who looks at the case in BEACON because there will be a blue ADA bubble” next to the client’s name on designated BEACON pages.
  • If a client asks for help due to disability, it will be treated as a request for accommodation, even if it’s something a worker should do regardless (such as help with verification or planning appointments around a client's schedule).  That way, the fact that it is needed due to disability will trigger accommodation rights.  
  • The CACs will review all accommodation requests to ensure that adequate accommodations are provided.  For example, even if a worker provides the help requested and treats it as an accommodation, the CACs will review the accommodation to see if it is adequate.  (E.g., if one time help was provided, is there reason to think it will be needed on an ongoing basis?  Does the nature of the client's difficulty suggest some other accommodation may be needed?)
  • An accommodation request can be denied only after review by the TAO Accommodation team.  BEACON does not allow workers to deny accommodation requests.  If a worker is uncertain how to respond to an accommodation request or thinks it should be denied, the CAC must review it.  If the CAC is unsure or determines that a request should not be approved, the CAC must convene the TAO Accommodation Team (usually consisting of the Director or Assistant Director, the CAC, and the worker) to review it before deciding.

4. Staff Training

TAO Directors and Assistant Directors attended a training that addressed both disability issues generally and the mechanics of changes and BEACON programming.  The CACs have also had specialized training.  All workers were provided with a webinar training.  However, we can expect that there will be a learning curve.

5.  More to come . . .

In coming months, DTA will make additional changes, including:

  • Improve its access to auxiliary aids for clients who are blind or deaf, including immediate access to ASL interpreters through video interpretation.
  • Undertake a pilot to review how contacting clients known to have disabilities prior to taking an adverse action affects the outcome.

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about any of the Harper-related changes as you seen them implemented, please contact Sarah Levy (617-603-1619, slevy@gbls.org) or Lizbeth Ginsburg (617-603-1624, lginsburg@gbls.org).

Given the magnitude of the changes DTA has rolled out, we anticipate that some problems and/or technical glitches may arise.  We are working with DTA on Harper implementation and have gotten some fixes by raising specific issues.  If you have concerns with how these new accommodation procedures work, please contact us.  (For example, we have concerns with the notices that DTA has created for the accommodation process and are addressing these with DTA.)

For more details, see:

  • DTA's Online Guide has a chapter specifically about Harper and ADA issues, see:

https://eohhs.ehs.state.ma.us/DTA/PolicyOnline/%21SSL%21/WebHelp/userguide_test.htm Go to:  Home > Cross Programs > Harper/ADA

 

 

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