Oswego County (NY) Department of Social Services Adopts Comprehensive Disability Rights Policy

NCLEJ’s ADA Public Benefits Access Project is successfully using federal disability rights laws to improve access to public benefits for low-income New Yorkers with disabilities. The focus of the project is to obtain improved policies and procedures in local departments of social services (DSSs), to train advocates across the state on using disability rights laws in their advocacy on behalf of clients, and to get local districts to better identify clients’ disabilities so they can secure and retain eligibility for benefits and can obtain both appropriate work assignments and accommodations in work activities.

In August 2013, the Oswego County DSS issued a comprehensive ADA policy, available here. This is the most recent of many counties who have vastly improved policies in response to our efforts.

The Oswego policy requires DSS to provide reasonable accommodations to people with disabilities and provides many examples relevant to DSS programs. It discusses the obligation to provide a wide range of accommodations to individuals with mental health problems, to offer accommodations to clients who haven’t requested them in some situations, and to provide accommodations on an ongoing basis once the need has been established. It requires staff to provide applicants, recipients, and the public an easy-to-understand notice of ASA rights, contains a grievance procedure requiring decisions within 10 days, and contains detailed information on what staff must do to provide effective in-person and remote communication with individuals with speech and hearing impairments.

In addition, the Oswego County DSS policy requires disability and accommodation-related information to be recorded in a client’s case record, contains language on service animals that tracks current ADA regulations, and requires ADA/504 training for all staff who interact with the public. The policy identifies several situations in which DSS cannot require documentation of a disability before providing a reasonable accommodation.

On a few topics, the policy provides even greater protection than other ADA policies issues by other upstate counties over the law few years. The definition of disability used in the policy is from the NY State Human Rights Law, which contains broader definition of disability than the ADA/504, as it does not require an impairment to substantially limit a major life activity. In addition, Oswego DSS requires staff to offer cash assistance applicants and recipients disability screening using OTDA’s Employability assessment (attached to 11-ADM-06). Many districts have been resistant to addressing disability screening for cash assistance recipients in their ADA policies, or to identify a screening tool to be used.

The policy was issued after the National Center for Law and Economic Justice (NCLEJ) and Legal Services of Central New York (LSCNY) contacted Oswego DSS and urged them to develop an ADA/504 policy and related materials. The policy and other materials were developed with input from NCLEJ and LSCNY.