Federal Court Preliminarily Approves Class Settlement to Improve Communication for Deaf Californians Who Receive Services from the State’s Department of Developmental Services
May 9, 2023—Sacramento, CA—A federal judge has preliminarily approved a class settlement that will bring crucial changes to the way the California Department of Developmental Services (DDS) oversees the provision of services, through regional centers, to deaf Californians with intellectual and developmental disabilities (“I/DD”). The settlement resolves claims that DDS has systemically failed to ensure deaf consumers receive effective communication through accommodations such as sign language interpreters and video phones, in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and California Government Code section 11135. Read the Settlement Agreement here.
Under the settlement agreement, DDS will work with the 21 regional centers that coordinate I/DD services to offer communication assessments to deaf consumers, offer specialized training to regional center staff and service providers, develop a housemate matching system for deaf consumers, and conduct outreach to work with local agencies that have experience providing services to deaf people. In addition, DDS will:
- hire a statewide deaf specialist with knowledge about providing services and supports to deaf people;
- work with experts to help DDS make decisions about how to support deaf people;
- provide funding to each regional center to hire a deaf services specialist to better serve deaf consumers;
- make services for deaf consumers a priority for specific grant funding;
- create a webpage with information about deaf services; and
- send a reminder to Regional Centers of the ADA’s requirements for the provision of effective communication to individuals who are deaf.
Reflecting on the impact the settlement will have, Maya Klein, Plaintiff Lugene McCullough’s guardian ad litem, said, “Deaf consumers like Mr. McCullough have lived for so long in isolation among hearing staff and housemates who do not know sign language. The Housemate Matching program set up thanks to this settlement will be extremely beneficial because it will provide the opportunity to live in deaf community, surrounded by language and it will eliminate language barriers!”
Samond Bishara, the guardian ad litem and brother of Plaintiff Josonia Bishara, noted how the settlement will enable Deaf family members to communicate with their loved ones more reliably and participate in their lives because communication assessments will ensure that regional centers identify Deaf consumers’ needs for things like video phones in their group homes and interpretation during individual planning meetings.
“After almost five years of advocating for communication access, we are relieved to be close to final relief for thousands of Deaf people who have lived for years without any communication partners,” said Melinda Bird, Senior Litigation Counsel for Disability Rights California. “Thank you to DDS for its willingness to work with us on a solution that will make a real difference to people’s lives.”
“If approved by the court, this settlement will ensure that Deaf Californians with intellectual and developmental disabilities receive the full benefit of DDS’s services in a language that is effective for them,” said Meredith Weaver, Senior Staff Attorney at Disability Rights Advocates.
On April 28, 2023, United States District Judge Susan Illston provisionally certified the class, granted preliminary approval of the proposed settlement, and set a date of September 15, 2023 for a Fairness Hearing to be held remotely. Read the Order here. The Parties will be sending a notice to ensure that members of the class are aware of the settlement and the upcoming Fairness Hearing. Read the Notice here. The settlement agreement will not take effect until and unless the court grants final approval following the Fairness Hearing.
The case is McCullough, et al. v. Cal. Dept. of Developmental Servs., et al., Civ. No. 3:20-cv-02958-SI (N.D. Cal.) and was filed on April 30, 2020 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California by three deaf Californians who receive services from DDS. Plaintiffs are represented by Disability Rights Advocates and Disability Rights California, the state’s federally mandated protection and advocacy agency. Plaintiffs did not seek and will not recover monetary damages. View this press release in ASL.
About Disability Rights Advocates (DRA): With offices in California and New York, Disability Rights Advocates is the leading national nonprofit disability rights legal center. Its mission is to advance equal rights and opportunity for people with all types of disabilities nationwide. DRA represents people with all types of disabilities in complex, system-changing, class action cases. Thanks to DRA’s precedent-setting work, people with disabilities across the country have dramatically improved access to education, health care, employment, transportation, disaster preparedness planning, voting, and housing. For more information, visit https://dralegal.org/
About Disability Rights California (DRC): Disability Rights California is the agency designated under federal law to protect and advocate for the rights of Californians with disabilities. The mission of DRC is to defend, advance, and strengthen the rights and opportunities of people with disabilities. For more information visit: https://www.disabilityrightsca.org.