Persons With Physical Disabilities Should Have Equal Access To Social Services

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture
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Persons with physical disabilities in Schenectady, N.Y., will now have improved access to existing social service buildings, according to a voluntary agreement signed between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Schenectady County Department of Social Services (SCDSS).

The voluntary agreement signed by HHS' Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and SCDSS ensures all SCDSS public buildings are accessible to individuals with physical disabilities, including individuals with mobility impairments.

"HHS commends the Schenectady County Department of Social Services for its efforts to make all of its offices accessible to individuals with physical disabilities," said OCR Director Winston Wilkinson. "Schenectady County's removal of barriers from existing social service buildings will provide equal access to county services, privileges, and accommodations for all individuals."

The voluntary agreement also brings SCDSS in compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). From the onset of OCR's evaluation of a public complaint concerning accessibility of SCDSS buildings, OCR and Schenectady County have worked together to establish the following objectives under the agreement:

* Physical accessibility of its new 797 Broadway office, which is currently being constructed by SCDSS to be a fully accessible office space free of architectural barriers;

* Structural modifications at its existing 104 Erie Boulevard office to ensure the physical accessibility of its parking lot, entrance doors and public restroom;

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* The continued use and improvement of interim procedures to ensure program accessibility at its existing 487 Nott Street office, including establishing a dedicated telephone line so that individuals with disabilities can be served, if possible, within 24 hours and posting outside signage with the telephone number and a statement that services are available at other locations;

* Development and distribution of a notice informing consumers of their rights and responsibilities under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and/or Title II of the ADA;

* Establishment and publishing of procedures for consumers to file grievances alleging disability discrimination under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and/or Title II of the ADA;

* Appointment of a senior SCDSS staff member to coordinate its compliance efforts under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the ADA, train SCDSS employees on approaches to prevent and/or address disability discrimination, and respond timely to grievances filed by consumers alleging disability discrimination; and

* Regular compliance reports and access to its offices provided by SCDSS to OCR for the one year term of the agreement.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires that state and local governments ensure that qualified individuals with disabilities have equal access to programs, services, or activities receiving federal financial assistance. Similarly, Title II of the ADA protects qualified individuals with disabilities from being discriminated against on the basis of their disability, in the services, programs or activities of state and local governments.

"This is the culmination of the efforts that Schenectady County has taken for the past five years in finding a long term solution," which resulted in a "new fully accessible location for its offices," SCDSS Commissioner Dennis J. Packard explained. "I think that HHS has recognized that it has a partner in Schenectady County in furthering the goal of providing equal access to persons with disabilities.

While awaiting construction of its new 797 Broadway office, "SCDSS has introduced many creative procedures to provide access to services to people who could not physically enter the old location. Those procedures were included in the voluntary agreement and improved through collaboration between the agencies," added SCDSS Commissioner Packard.

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