According to court documents, the California Department of Developmental Services has agreed to improve the care it provides to deaf people with intellectual and developmental disabilities as part of a new legal settlement in court. federal.
The settlement is the result of a 2020 lawsuit in which deaf clients, their guardians, and disability advocacy groups across the state allege that thousands of people with disabilities hearings participating in department day programs or living in department housing were “systematically denied interpreters and other services and supports that are necessary for effective communication.” ,” among other injustices.
“They are isolated from society and denied the opportunity to develop important life skills,” the lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit seeks relief not only for the named plaintiffs but also for the entire group of deaf customers, whom the lawsuit alleges is being discriminated against in the state system.
State officials engaged in negotiations with the plaintiffs to resolve their concerns without going through a lengthy trial.
The parties notified the court of the proposed settlement in late March, and U.S. District Judge Susan Illston preliminarily approved the settlement on April 28. The settlement is still needed. last approved.
Under the agreement, the department will assess the communication needs of deaf customers at the 21 regional centers it operates in the state, providing specialized training on those needs to center staff and providers. provide other services, and strengthen partnerships with specialists and other local agencies that provide services to the deaf.
The state will hire a deaf services specialist statewide and provide funding for all 21 regional centers to hire their own deaf service professionals. It will also work on a “housemate matching system” that will give deaf customers more options to live together or with others with whom they can communicate.
The state will create a website with information about services for customers with hearing impairments and notify all regional centers of their obligations under federal law to not discriminate against customers with hearing impairments. hearing, including making sure centers have all the services available to them to communicate with them.
The settlement also anticipates the state to pay $1.3 million to cover the plaintiffs’ legal costs.
Department officials did not respond to a request for comment on the settlement Tuesday.
Meredith Weaver, senior attorney for Disability Rights Advocates, said her organization and other plaintiffs are “really satisfied” with the settlement.
“It was a powerful package of changes, and to get those changes at the state level — to have it really impact the system for all members of the class — was brilliant,” Weaver said. “The state has made some really strong commitments here to listen to the voices of our class members and the deaf community, and to make changes that start almost immediately. “
Weaver said advocacy groups have until the end of June to notify about 10,000 class members of the settlement, and class members have until mid-August to object.
She said the parties will seek final approval of the settlement at a hearing scheduled for September 15.