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Your Rights If You Have a Disability or Illness

 
  1. I have a disability or serious illness, or someone in my family does. Should I tell my worker?
  2. What kinds of health problems are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act?
  3. What if I can not do something my worker wants me to do, like go to an appointment or fill out forms?
  4. Do I have to do something special to get this kind of help?
  5. What if I can not work because I have a disability?
  6. What if I can not work because my child or another family member has a disability?
  7. What if DTA places me in shelter far away from my doctors, or someplace that is hard for me to live because of a health problem/ disability?
  8. My worker wants to ask me questions about learning disabilities. Should I answer the questions?
  9. What if I ask for help, and fill out the right forms, but DTA will not help me?
  10. How do I find my local DTA office?

1. I have a disability or serious illness, or someone in my family does. Should I tell my worker?

You do not have to tell your worker. But if you have a disability or illness, or someone in your family does, you may have rights that can help you. For this reason, you may want to tell your worker.

There is a law called the “Americans with Disabilities Act.” This law says that the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) can not take away your benefits or deny you services for reasons that have to do with a serious physical or mental health or learning problem.

The law says that DTA has to give you a “reasonable accommodation” for serious health problems that can be called disabilities. This means that DTA may have to give you extra services, or change what it is asking you to do.

But DTA will not be able to help you in this way unless you tell your worker about the health problem. If you want help deciding whether or not to tell your worker about a health problem, your local Legal Services office may be able to give you advice.

2. What kinds of health problems are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act?

You have rights under this law if you have any kind of health problem that makes it hard for you to do something basic and important – like work, learn, or get around.

The health problem can be physical, like diabetes, asthma, or migraine headaches. Or it can be mental or emotional, like depression, anxiety, or ADHD. It can also be a learning disability.

3. What if I can not do something my worker wants me to do, like go to an appointment or fill out forms?

If you can not do something because of a health problem, tell your worker. Your worker should find a way to help you. You should not lose benefits if you can not do something because of a health problem.

If you can not go to an appointment, or if your health problem makes you forget an appointment, the law says that your worker has to give you a new appointment. If you forget about appointments easily, ask your worker to call you at home to remind you about each appointment. If you can not get to the welfare office at all and need a worker to go to your home instead, DTA has to send a worker to your home.

If you need forms read to you, or you need help filling them out, your worker should help you with that too.

Your worker should find a way to help you with anything you can not do because of a serious physical or mental health problem. If she can not help you do it, then you should ask to be excused from having to do it.

4. Do I have to do something special to get this kind of help?

You can just ask your worker for the kind of help you need, and she may help you without asking you to do anything special.

But you may need to fill out a form and get a letter from a doctor or psychiatrist.

If you can not do something because of a long-term health problem, ask for a form called “Request for an ADA Accommodation.” You can write on this form why you need extra help or why you can not do something. If you need help filling it out, your worker has to help you. Give the form to your worker or your worker’s supervisor. You will have to get a letter from a doctor or psychiatrist to attach to the form.

If you can not do something because of a short-term health problem, tell your worker that

you want to claim “good cause” for the amount of time that your health problem lasts.

You will still need to get a letter from a doctor or psychiatrist saying what your health

problem is and why you can not do what DTA wants you to do.

You can call your local Legal Services program for help.

5. What if I can not work because I have a disability?

If you get TAFDC (welfare), your worker may tell you that you have to work. If you can not work because of a physical or mental health problem, you should not lose your benefits. You should ask for a “disability exemption” from the work requirement. Read Parents with Disabilities to learn how to do this.

If you get SNAP/Food Stamps or Emergency Assistance shelter but no TAFDC, your worker may still tell you that you need to work. If you can not work because of a physical or mental health problem, you should not lose your benefits. But the process for getting excused from working is different than for TAFDC. Just tell your worker that you can not work because of a health problem, and ask for a form that you can bring to your doctor or other health care provider to sign.

6. What if I can not work because my child or another family member has a disability?

If you get welfare (TAFDC) and your child or another family member has a health problem that makes it hard for you to work, ask your worker for a “TAFDC-4” form. Read Parents Caring for a Disabled Child or Family Member for more information about how to do this.

If you get SNAP/Food Stamps or Emergency Assistance but no TAFDC, your worker will give you a different form for the doctor to sign. You can also just ask the doctor for a letter explaining why you can not work, and give that to your worker.

7. What if DTA places me in shelter far away from my doctors, or someplace that is hard for me to live because of a health problem/ disability?

There is a rule that says that DTA has to place you in shelter within 20 miles of your home town if there is space. However, if there are no openings within 20 miles, DTA may try to place you in shelter far away.

But DTA should not make you go far away if this will make you or a family member unable to get medical care for a serious health problem, or if it will cause other problems related to a medical condition.

Do not refuse to go to a shelter placement that is far away. This can lead to DTA stopping your shelter benefits. Tell DTA in writing that you need a “reasonable accommodation.” This means that you need to be treated differently from other families because of the disability or serious health problem. Ask your worker for a form called “Request for an ADA Accommodation.”

Write down on the form that you are willing, but unable, to go the shelter placement that is far away. Ask DTA to find a way to place you closer by. For example, you can ask DTA to move you to the top of the waiting list, and let you stay with friends or family until a nearby space is ready for you. Or you can ask DTA to put you in a hotel nearby until the nearby shelter space is open. You will have to get a letter from a doctor or psychiatrist to attach to the form.

If you need help filling out the form, your worker has to help you. However, it is a good idea to call Legal Services for help filling out the form and getting the letter from the doctor. You will have a better chance of keeping your shelter benefits and getting a nearby placement if you get help from a Legal Services advocate.

8. My worker wants to ask me questions about learning disabilities. Should I answer the questions?

You worker will ask you if you want a “learning disabilities screening.” If you say that you do, she will ask you 13 questions about whether you have trouble reading, doing math, or doing certain other things. The reason for these questions is to see if you need extra help with education, training, job search, or doing things like getting papers together or reading notices.

You do not have to answer these questions if you do not want to. However, if you answer the questions, you might be able to get extra help from DTA. Extra help might mean that you will get the chance to go to a training program or GED program with a teacher who is trained to teach in special ways that will make it easier for you to learn. Or it might mean that your worker will offer to read all of your notices to you over the phone to make sure that you understand them. So you might want to answer the questions.

If you want help deciding whether or not to answer the questions, your local Legal Services office might be able to give you advice.

If you decide to answer the questions, some of them may sound confusing. If you do not understand a question, tell your worker that you do not understand and ask her to explain what it means.

If your answers show that you might have a learning problem called a “learning disability,” DTA will give you the chance to get tested by a psychologist. If you decide to do this testing, you may find out information that will help you learn better. You may also get the chance to go to training programs or GED classes with teachers who can help you learn more easily.

9. What if I ask for help, and fill out the right forms, but DTA will not help me?

First, you can ask for help from the Central DTA office. You can do this by telling your worker that you want a review from the “DTA Central Accommodation Team.” She should help you ask for that.

You can also file an “appeal.” This means that you are asking for a hearing. If you get a written notice saying that DTA will not help you, there will be an appeal form on the back. Fill out that form. If there is no form on the back, or if you do not get a notice, just write a short letter saying “I want a fair hearing because DTA will not give me an accommodation that I asked for.” Mail or fax the form or letter to:

Division of Hearings
P.O. Box 167
Essex Station
Boston, MA 02112

or

Fax: (617) 348-5311

You can also file complaints with state and federal civil rights offices. To get help with any of these things, call your local Legal Services office.

10. How do I find my local DTA office?

To find your local DTA office, call DTA Recipient Services at 1-800- 445-6604.


Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Last updated June, 2009


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