[NFBOK-Talk] National Federation of the Blind and Disability Advocates Charge Federal Health Agency with Civil Rights Violations

Jeannie Massay jmassay1 at cox.net
Wed Feb 10 20:46:43 UTC 2016

Press Contacts:
Chris Danielsen
Director of Public Relations
National Federation of the Blind
(410) 659-9314, extension 2330
(410) 262-1281 (Cell)
cdanielsen at nfb.org <mailto:cdanielsen at nfb.org> 
Silvia Yee
Senior Staff Attorney
Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund
(510) 644-2555
syee at dredf.org <mailto: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

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
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
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.
www.dredf.org <http://www.dredf.org> . 

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