2001 Conference Proceedings

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WHEN PUBLIC AGENCIES MUST PROVIDE TECHNOLOGY AS A REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION

Michael J. Kluk, Senior Attorney
PROTECTION & ADVOCACY, INC.
100 Howe Avenue, Suite 235N
Sacramento, CA 95825
ph. (916)488-9950

People with disabilities have the right to receive public benefits and participate in public programs to the same extent as others. If you need an accommodation such as assistive technology to receive equal treatment, the agency administering the public service must provide it at no cost to you.

Assistive technology is any device that helps overcome the effects of a disability, but it does not include personally prescribed devices. The laws do not use the terms "accommodation" and "assistive technology." Instead, they use terms such as "auxiliary aids for effective communication" and "modification to policies, practices and procedures." They mean the same thing.

Eligibility:

To be protected, you must, with or without reasonable accommodations, meet the program's criteria for participation. Second, you must demonstrate that:

You have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of your major life activities (such as learning, working, seeing, hearing, speaking, performing manual tasks, walking, breathing, and caring for yourself); or
You have a record of such an impairment (such as a disease that is in remission); or Other people believe you have such an impairment (for example, you have scarring from severe burns, but have no impairments).

How to Get What You Need:

If the agency has a formal process for requesting accommodations, you should contact the agency's ADA or section 504 coordinator to find out what you need to do. Otherwise, you can make your accommodation request either orally or in writing. Identify yourself as a person with a disability, describe how your disability affects your participation in the program, and set out the specific accommodations you need. To be sure, you should make your request in writing and specify a date by which you expect an answer.

Public agencies must honor your preference unless they can show that an equally effective accommodation exists. A public agency need not provide the accommodation you requested when it would change the essential nature of the program, or it would pose a significant difficulty or expense on the public agency. In such cases, the agency must provide an alternative, if one exists, which ensures that you can participate in its program to the maximum extent possible.

Appeals

If a public agency refuses to provide you with the accommodations you need, or discriminates against you because of your disability, you can do three things. First, file an internal grievance with the agency itself, which you should do as soon as possible. You should contact the agency to find out its process for internal grievances.

Alternatively, within 180 days from the date of discrimination, you can file a complaint with the federal agency that has authority over the agency that has discriminated against you. If you don't know which federal agency to file with, you can file with the United States Department of Justice (DOJ). The DOJ will forward your complaint to the appropriate federal agency. To file a complaint, send a letter to the DOJ that includes complete information about you, the agency and the incident about which you are filing the complaint. The address for the Department of Justice is:

Disability Rights Section
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
Post Office Box 66738
Washington, D.C. 20035-6738.

Finally, from the moment you experience discrimination you also have one year to file a lawsuit in court. For this, you must first file a Tort Claim Act request with the agency within 180 days of the date of the discrimination. You do not have to file an internal grievance or a complaint with a federal agency before you file a lawsuit. You can go to court even if the federal agency finds no discrimination. You can represent yourself in a court action but you probably should get an attorney.


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