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Disability Rights Settlement with State of California Ensures Communication Access for Medi-Cal IHSS Recipients

Friday, February 24, 2017

Disability rights groups and the State of California have reached a novel settlement agreement to ensure effective communication for blind and visually impaired Medi-Cal IHSS recipients.

Blind and visually impaired Californians who are enrolled in the Medi-Cal In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program can now read their IHSS communications and submit timesheets privately and independently. Disability Rights California (DRC) and Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) reached a collaborative and creative agreement with the California Department of Health Care services (DHCS) and the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) to ensure equal and effective communication for blind and visually impaired IHSS recipients and applicants.

IHSS program recipients are required to sign bi-weekly timesheets verifying the hours worked by their in-home caregivers. But in the past, recipients like Xiomara Diaz of Merced, who is blind, could not verify the printed timesheets by herself, or read other program notices or information. DRC and DREDF negotiated with CDSS and DHCS to find a solution for blind and visually impaired individuals which would allow them to independently verify timesheets and receive information in accessible formats. This solution was accomplished collaboratively with DHCS and CDSS, and without the filing of a lawsuit, through a process called "structured negotiation".

This settlement also included a $10 million investment (in the 2014-2015 budget year) that funded, among other things, a telephone timesheet approval system (TTS) which blind IHSS recipients can use to independently approve their worker's hours and bypass paper timesheets. Visually-impaired IHSS recipients can choose to receive their timesheets in large font. IHSS recipients can also choose to receive their program notices, information, and appeal documents in accessible alternative formats, including braille and electronic formats.

"Before we had this program I didn't feel comfortable signing documents I couldn't read," said Xiomara Diaz. Now it's so much easier to verify my caregiver's timesheets."
DRC attorney Elizabeth Zirker says she is "pleased with the results of using structured negotiation to reach settlement, and hope that as technology improves, the State will continue its efforts to expand access to public programs."

DREDF attorney Silvia Yee believes "this is a positive commitment by the state toward creating more of the kinds of accessible communications that enable people with visual impairments to fully participate in state programs. I encourage IHSS participants with disabilities who need the TTS or alternative formats to try these accommodations for themselves."

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