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R.I. Dept. of Children, Youth, and Families ordered to provide interpreters for people who are deaf or hard of hearing

The US attorney’s office said the agreement was reached to resolve alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

PROVIDENCE — The state Department of Children, Youth, and Families must provide interpreters for people who are deaf or hard of hearing and develop policies on how to communicate with people with disabilities.

That’s according to a settlement agreement with the US attorney’s office and the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services, which investigated multiple complaints from parents with disabilities.

The US attorney’s office said Wednesday that the agreement was reached to resolve alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Three complaints alleged that DCYF failed to provide sign language interpreter services to parents who are deaf during child protection investigations, even when DCYF removed the children from their homes. A fourth complaint alleged that DCYF based conclusions about a parent’s capacity on their epilepsy and intellectual disabilities and failed to provide reasonable modifications.

The investigation concluded that DCYF “may not have taken appropriate steps to ensure for effective communication with parents and caretakers who are deaf or hard of hearing,” the US attorney’s office said. The investigation also found that DCYF was lacking in sufficient policies, procedures, and training to ensure that individuals with disabilities have an equal opportunity to access to DCYF’s services.

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Under the terms of the agreement, DCYF will be required to create and implement a policy on how it will communicate effectively with people who have communication disabilities. DCYF will have to obtain contracts with qualified interpreting services, provide training to all employees on federal civil rights laws and accommodations for individuals with disabilities, designate an ADA coordinator, and report quarterly for three years.

“Eliminating disability discrimination is important in any context,” US Attorney Zachary A. Cunha said in a statement, “but nowhere more so than when interactions that affect the integrity and unity of families are on the line. We are pleased that, as a result of today’s settlement, DYCF is committing to meet its obligations to remove barriers to full and appropriate service in these critical encounters, regardless of disability.”

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The investigation handled by Assistant US Attorney Amy R. Romero and HHS investigator Timothy Stark.

“Recipients of federal financial assistance, like state agencies that provide child welfare and other services, have a fundamental responsibility under law to take necessary steps to eliminate unnecessary barriers for those who are deaf or hard of hearing,” said Office of Civil Rights Director Lisa Pino. “This agreement sends an important message to organizations to examine and update their policies, procedures, and training programs to fulfil their obligations to those that they serve.”


Amanda Milkovits can be reached at amanda.milkovits@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMilkovits.