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What if a disability makes it hard for you to meet DTA rules or use DTA services?

Produced by Deborah Harris, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed December 2017

The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires DTA to provide equal access to programs and services to qualified people with disabilities. 42 U.S.C. § 12132; see 106 C.M.R. §§ 360.250, 701.390. See also DTA Online Guide (ADA and Reasonable Accommodations).

Under the ADA you are a person with a qualifying disability if you have a disability that substantially impairs a major life activity, such as learning, understanding, walking, working, breathing, or caring for yourself.  Disabilities include physical or mental health impairments, and intellectual disabilities. A temporary health problem like a broken leg may not be a disability under the ADA. You can be disabled under the ADA even if you are not receiving any benefits on the basis of disability and even if DTA has decided you do not qualify for an exemption because of disability. See DTA Online Guide (ADA Definition).

If a disability makes it hard for you do the things DTA asks you to do to get and keep your benefits, you can ask DTA a reasonable accommodation. An accommodation may be appropriate if your disability makes it hard for you to:

  • understand DTA’s notices and forms,
  • meet deadlines,
  • give DTA the proofs it asks for,
  • go to the DTA office
  • communicate with DTA, or
  • meet a specific rule or requirement.

DTA must tailor accommodations to what you need because of your disability. Examples of accommodations include

  • helping you understand notices and complete forms,
  • giving you extra time to meet a deadline,
  • changing a requirement or rule,
  • handling your case by phone and mail,
  • naming someone to talk to DTA for you or get copies of mail DTA sends you,
  • providing an auxiliary aid (such as an ASL interpreter)

Example 1

You have severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). You need help getting verifications and you cannot go to the DTA office in person because taking public transportation and being in crowded waiting areas trigger your PTSD symptoms. You can ask DTA to help you get verifications and to waive any requirements for in-person appointments.

Example 2

Because of your learning disability, you need help understanding DTA notices and help completing the paperwork that DTA asks you to complete. DTA should accommodate you by explaining notices to you and by filling out the forms with you instead of requiring you to fill forms out by yourself. For more information about protections related to learning disability, see Learning Disabilities.

Example 3

You have a hearing, vision, or other condition that makes it hard for you to communicate. DTA should ask you what kind of help you prefer to communicate with DTA. This help is usually called an auxiliary aid. DTA should provide your preferred auxiliary aid. If that is not possible, DTA should work with you to find an acceptable alternative. A rule should not be applied to you unless DTA has communicated the rule – such as a deadline – using the appropriate auxiliary aid. See DTA Online Guide (Working with Clients Who Need Auxiliary Aids).

Example 4

Because of a disability, your child will not finish high school by age 19. DTA should allow your child to continue to receive TAFDC benefits past the age of 18, the usual cutoff date for children who will not finish school by age 19.

Example 5

Your car is worth $20,000 and you need it to take your disabled child to medical appointments. DTA should modify the asset rule so that you can continue to receive TAFDC benefits.

Advocacy Reminders

  • An accommodation can be requested at any time, including after DTA has issued a notice stopping or lowering benefits.
  • DTA cannot require you to accept a specific accommodation (such as requiring a helper or authorized representative to act for the client).  Instead, DTA should work with you to find an accommodation that you agree to.
  • DTA is not required to provide an accommodation that is a fundamental alteration of its programs. If that issue comes up, consult an advocate.

Find Legal Aid

You may be able to get free legal help from your local legal aid program. Or email a question about your own legal problem to a lawyer.

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