A reasonable accommodation (RA) is a change to a system so that a person with a disability can get the services they need. Government agencies like the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) must adjust their rules and procedures so people with disabilities can have equal access. If you have a disability and need DHS shelter, DHS must give you what you need to use DHS shelter and services. There are many different RAs that DHS can give you, depending on what you need because of your disability.
The Department of Homeless Services (DHS) must adjust their rules and procedures so people with disabilities can have equal access. If you have a disability and need DHS shelter, DHS must give you what you need to use DHS shelter and services. There are many different RAs that DHS can give you, depending on what you need because of your disability.
What is a Reasonable Accommodation?
What is a disability?
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a person with a disability is a “person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” If you have a physical or mental health condition that repeatedly and seriously affects your daily life, you probably have a disability under the ADA. It is against the law to discriminate against someone because they have a disability.
What are my rights to a Reasonable Accommodation from the Department of Homeless Services?
If you need shelter from DHS and you have a disability that makes it hard for you to use DHS services, you can request an RA.
The Department of Homeless Services (DHS) must accommodate you and your family’s disability-related needs, even if you have not been found eligible for shelter yet. Some common reasons someone may need an RA are if they use a wheelchair or other walking aide, if they have trouble hearing, or if they have a learning disability.
What types of Reasonable Accommodations can I get?
Each RA request is unique and specific to the person asking for it. There is no limit to the types or number of RAs a person might need. Some examples of common RAs are shorter wait times at DHS offices if you cannot wait for long periods of time, access to an elevator if you cannot walk up and down stairs, access to an air conditioner if you have a disability that makes it difficult for you to breathe in warmer temperatures, or special meals if you must follow a certain diet due to an allergy or medical condition.
How do I request a Reasonable Accommodation?
There are multiple ways to request an RA. The most common ways are to ask a staff member at your shelter or to complete the DHS Reasonable Accommodation Request Form. If you need help completing the form, staff at the shelter must help you.
If your disability is “apparent” or obvious, you do not need to submit any documentation or forms to get what you need. For example, a person who uses a wheelchair may request to be in a building with an elevator or on the first floor. In this case, the client would not need to document that they need a wheelchair because staff can see it.
If your disability is not “apparent,” you may need to document your RA request so it can be approved. After you have made the RA request and included documentation (if it is required), the shelter staff should send the request and any documents to DHS. Then, DHS staff will make a decision about whether your RA is approved.
What kind of documentation does DHS require for an RA request?
If your disability is apparent, you should not be required to provide any documentation to have your RA request approved by DHS. Also, if DHS already has copies of documentation about your disability and RA need for an RA that was approved by DHS before, you should not need to submit the same information again. Sometimes DHS does not keep copies of records that they should have, and they might ask you for them again.
If your disability is not apparent, you may need to document your disability need(s) to DHS. The documentation needs to come from a professional who knows about your disability. For example, the documentation could come from a doctor, social worker, rehabilitation counselor, or other medical professional.
The documentation you need to submit with your RA request is not the same as a medical record. In fact, the documentation you need to provide is much more limited than a medical record. The only information you need to submit is a letter that should include the following three pieces of information:
1. The RA that you need
2. The relevant disability
3. AND the connection between your disability (or disabilities) and the RA that you need. This third part of the letter should explain how having the RA will help you access shelter in a way that you can’t without the RA.
In addition, the following information is very helpful to include in the letter but not required:
4. Any problems you have had without the RA (for example, having worse symptoms, needing to see your doctor more often, or having to increase your medication)
5. What bad things may happen in the future if you do not get the RA you are requesting
6. A phone number or email that DHS can use to contact the person who wrote the letter
How will DHS use my disability-related information?
DHS will use the disability-related information that you share only to make a decision about your RA request. DHS is not entitled to your entire medical history. You only need to share information that is relevant to your RA request.
The information that DHS receives about your disability in your RA request is confidential. That means that DHS is not allowed to share the information with other people or organizations without your permission. DHS may ask you to sign a HIPAA form so that they can speak to your doctor about your RA. A HIPAA is a form that allows your doctor to speak to people other than you about your medical condition. It is your decision whether to let DHS talk to your doctor or not, but it can often be helpful to speed up the time it takes DHS to make a decision about your RA request.
How long will it take for DHS to make a decision about my RA?
DHS is supposed to make a decision about your RA quickly. The time it takes DHS to respond to your RA request depends on the type of disability you have and what could happen if you do not immediately receive the RA. In urgent situations, DHS must make sure that the time it takes to make a decision about your RA is not so long that it has the same effect as a denial. For example, if you need an RA to be able to access shelter at all, DHS should immediately make a decision on your RA request.
DHS may give you a “provisional RA” before it makes an official decision. A “provisional RA” means that DHS agrees to give you the RA as soon as you ask for it, even though it isn’t officially approved. DHS is supposed to give you a provisional RA if you are likely to suffer harm if you don’t get the RA right away. Once DHS reviews all of your information, it will decide whether or not you can keep the provisional RA.
If you think the determination on your RA is taking too long, you can reach out for assistance (see “What if I need help with my RA request or have questions about the RA process?”).
What happens once DHS makes a decision about my RA request?
If DHS approves your RA request, your shelter will give you an official decision form to sign. You do not have to sign it if you don’t want to. DHS will provide the RA at no cost to you. Once an RA is approved, all shelter locations must provide you with the approved RA.
If DHS denies your RA request and you think that the decision is wrong, you can appeal the decision. To appeal, it is best to write out why you think DHS is wrong. You can include any additional information you have about your need for an RA. Sometimes, it can be helpful to get another letter from a professional who knows about your disability. DHS will review your appeal and decide if the denial was wrong. You must appeal DHS’ decision within 15 days of receiving your denial. Someone at your shelter must help you fill out the appeal form if you need help. If 15 days have passed after your denial, you also have the option of submitting a new request for the same RA. There is no limit to the number of times you can submit an RA request.
Can I be transferred if I submit an RA request?
If DHS thinks that your current shelter cannot accommodate your RA needs, they may need to transfer you to a different room or a new shelter after you make your RA request(s). You can refuse the transfer, but DHS will assume that means you no longer need the RA. This means that you will not get the RA unless you re-apply and are approved again.
What if I need help with my RA request or have questions about the RA process?
You can call Legal Aid’s Homeless Rights Project at 800-649-9125 with questions or for help with your RA request. The Homeless Rights Project helpline is open from Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
You can also contact the Office of Disability Affairs at DisabilityAffairs@dss.nyc.gov to ask DHS questions about the RA process.
To learn more about making an RA request and how to complain if you think someone at DHS discriminated against you for having a disability, you can visit the DHS Applicants and Clients with Disabilities webpage.
Please note: you have the right to receive services in the language you prefer. If you have a preferred language other than English, DHS must provide reasonable accommodation services and notices to you in your preferred language. Please visit the Language Access webpage for the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs or The Legal Aid Society’s webpage on your language access rights.
The information in this document has been prepared by The Legal Aid Society for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. You should not act upon any information without retaining professional legal counsel.