As a result of a landmark federal class action settlement secured by Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, New York City and State agencies will begin providing information about Food Stamps and Medicaid in a variety of alternate formats that are accessible to low-income persons who are blind or visually impaired. Prior to the settlement, the City and State agencies had provided information about these public benefits in standard written documents that those who are visually impaired could not read. This unfortunately imposed significant hardships upon some of New York City’s most vulnerable citizens. The settlement will ensure that all low-income New York City residents who are blind or visually impaired will have independent and meaningful access to critically important information about these vital public benefits.
The class action, Rafferty v. Doar, No. 13-1410 (TPG), was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. The case was brought under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and related civil rights laws. The Parties have submitted the proposed settlement to the court and will seek its approval. Under the terms of the settlement, the City and State agencies have agreed to implement new procedures and systems, including:
- Conversion of applications, notices, forms, publications, and other documents into accessible alternate formats such as Braille, large print, audio recordings, CDs, and electronic formats that are compatible with assistive reading technology.
- Ensuring that qualified readers are available at City agency locations to provide assistance.
- Notice to applicants and recipients of the right to obtain information in alternative formats.
- Documentation of requests for alternative formats.
- Training of agency personnel regarding their duties and responsibilities to the visually impaired.
- Updating of City agency websites to comply with internationally accepted web content accessibility guidelines for persons who are visually impaired.
A copy of the full settlement agreement can be accessed by following the link posted at http://nclej.org.
According to Greg Bass of the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, “this groundbreaking settlement will provide meaningful access to these complex public benefits systems by obligating the State and City of New York to convert documents into alternate formats that those who are blind and visually impaired can effectively read.” He added, “through proper implementation, this new program should become a model for the State and for the Nation.”
Michael Daly and Joshua Link of Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP agreed. They stated that “government agencies should make reasonable accommodations so that citizens with visual impairments do not have to rely on others to do things that they otherwise could and would do by themselves.” They said that they are “gratified that these agencies are reforming their practices and are hopeful that other jurisdictions will follow their lead.”