[Nfbnet-members-list] FW: National Federation of the Blind and Disability Advocates Charge Federal Health Agency with Civil Rights Violations

Kuhnke, Kristian KKuhnke at nfb.org
Wed Feb 10 17:30:14 UTC 2016


Press Contacts:

Chris Danielsen
Director of Public Relations
National Federation of the Blind
(410) 659-9314, extension 2330
(410) 262-1281 (Cell)
<mailto:cdanielsen at nfb.org>cdanielsen at nfb.org

Silvia Yee
Senior Staff Attorney
Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund
(510) 644-2555
<mailto:syee at dredf.org>syee at dredf.org

National Federation of the Blind and Disability 
Advocates Charge Federal Health Agency with Civil Rights Violations

After forty years of the federal Rehabilitation 
Act and a new world of technology, blind people 
still forced to rely on others to read inaccessible materials

Springfield, Massachusetts (February 10, 2016): 
The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and 
individual plaintiffs Juan Figueroa, Derek 
Manners, and Martti Mallinen announced the filing 
of a major federal lawsuit today in US District 
Court, District of Massachusetts, Western 
Division. The lawsuit charges the US Department 
of Health and Human Services (HHS) through its 
sub-agency, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid 
Services (CMS), and its CMS sub-contractors, with 
systemically violating the civil rights of blind Medicare recipients.

The action seeks to require HHS to provide blind 
individuals meaningful and equally effective 
access to their Medicare information, as required 
by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 
29 U.S.C. § 794 (Section 504). CMS, a sub-agency 
of HHS, is the largest single payer for health 
care in the United States, providing health care 
coverage to nearly ninety million Americans 
through Medicare, Medicaid, and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

CMS regularly communicates information to blind 
persons via inaccessible print and electronic 
formats which they cannot read. Mr. Figueroa, Mr. 
Manners, Mr. Mallinen, and many other NFB members 
have thus faced or been at risk for loss of 
benefits and healthcare disruption. For example, 
Mr. Mallinen has received information about 
denial of benefits and his right to appeal said 
denial that he could not read, potentially 
adversely affecting his appeal rights.

Mark A. Riccobono, President of the National 
Federation of the Blind, said: "We are outraged 
that blind people do not have access to their 
personal Medicare and Medicaid information forty 
years after the passage of the Rehabilitation act 
and almost a year after CMS promised to implement 
a plan for equal access. Today blind people 
readily access information in more ways than ever 
before but even large print access, the simplest 
possible solution for those with sufficient 
residual vision, is not made available. This 
continued disregard for the privacy and civil 
rights of the blind is inexcusable, and blind Americans will not tolerate it."

At a time when smart technology is presumed to be 
improving the lives of people with a variety of 
disabilities, blind Americans who rely on 
healthcare services provided through Medicare and 
Medicare contractors are forced to divulge 
personal and financial data to a sighted 
third-party when responding to CMS.  Electronic 
and online materials may not be any more 
accessible than printed ones. As a result, blind 
Medicare beneficiaries are often unnecessarily 
prevented from independently reading, filling 
out, signing and submitting online forms.

Appropriate auxiliary aids and services for blind 
individuals may include providing documents in 
alternative formats such as Braille, large print, 
audio CD, and digital navigable formats supported 
by computers and digital talking-book players, 
transmitted through data CD, e-mail, or other requested media.

The filing follows an investigation launched by 
Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund 
(DREDF) to establish that there were widespread 
incidences of communication access barriers in 
CMS systems. In August 2014, in response to 
complaints filed with the HHS Office for Civil 
Rights (OCR) in 2011 and 2012 under Section 504, 
CMS entered into an agreement with OCR. The 
complaints were filed on behalf of blind Medicare 
beneficiaries, and those similarly situated, who 
were not provided with notice of their rights or 
with effective communication under Section 
504.  The agreement signed by CMS and OCR, 
entitled the “Commitment to Action to Resolve 
DREDF Section 504 Complaints” (Commitment to 
Action), established a timeframe within which CMS 
would take specified actions to ensure the 
agency’s compliance with Section 504 in the areas 
raised in OCR’s investigation of the complaints, 
found at 

DREDF Senior Attorney, Silvia Yee, said, “CMS was 
required to complete a ‘Long-Term Action Plan’ by 
April 2015 that would ensure effective 
cross-disability communication access, as well as 
the timely provision of auxiliary aids and 
services to CMS beneficiaries and consumers. To 
date, we have not seen a Plan. People with 
disabilities have not been notified of any such 
plan. As a public entity that deals every day 
with people with disabilities and older 
Americans, CMS should lead the way to ensure 
compliance with disability civil rights laws, not lag behind by four decades."

Plaintiffs are represented by DREDF; Brown, 
Goldstein & Levy; and Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen (SRBC).


The National Federation of the Blind
The National Federation of the Blind knows that 
blindness is not the characteristic that defines 
you or your future. Every day we raise the 
expectations of blind people, because low 
expectations create obstacles between blind 
people and our dreams. You can live the life you 
want; blindness is not what holds you back. <https://nfb.org>https://nfb.org

Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund
Founded in 1979 by people with disabilities and 
parents of children with disabilities, the 
Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund 
(DREDF) is a national law and policy center based 
in Berkeley, CA and is dedicated to protecting 
and advancing the civil rights of people with 
disabilities. <http://www.dredf.org>www.dredf.org.

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://nfbnet.org/pipermail/nfbnet-members-list_nfbnet.org/attachments/20160210/696e5ed3/attachment.html>

More information about the NFBNet-Members-List mailing list