April 27, 2020
BOSTON – Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey today, April 27, issued guidance to ensure that the rights of individuals with disabilities are protected during the COVID-19 public health crisis.
“This unprecedented public health crisis has forced us to change the way we live our everyday lives, and many of these new practices have created further challenges for disabled people,” AG Healey said. “The goal of this guidance is to ensure that the rights of our disabled residents are protected and that they have access to the goods and services they need.”
The guidance recognizes that the unprecedented pandemic has created new barriers for people with disabilities, and it lays out the types of accommodations they may be entitled to under the law. According to the guidance, individuals with underlying conditions that may increase their risk of infection or illness can seek “reasonable” accommodations in employment, housing, and public places.
Generally, such accommodations are changes to a physical space, policy, rule, or process that allow an individual with a disability equal access to his or her rights.
The guidance also lays out accommodations that may be necessary because of new protocols at stores, apartment buildings, and hospitals during the pandemic.
Workplace Rights: According to the guidance, essential workplaces that remain open during the pandemic should make accommodations for employees with disabilities that put them at greater risk of infection, including allowing them to work from home, if possible, or transferring them to another shift or role that minimizes their interactions with the public.
Health Care Rights: According to the guidance, landlords must make exceptions to any policy barring visitors in order to allow tenants with disabilities access to needed medical professionals, personal care attendants (PCAs), and other caregivers.
The guidance encourages individuals with disabilities to consult with their PCA, caregiver, or medical professional about whether services can be provided by telemedicine. The guidance makes clear that the decision to use this option is up to the individual receiving the services and not their landlord.
Hospitals should also make exceptions to visitor policies to allow PCAs, caregivers, or family members to visit a disabled person, if the patient would otherwise be unable to access the care they need.
Public Accommodation: Under state law, businesses that remain open to the public during the pandemic should ensure that disabled persons have equal access to the premises. For example, businesses that have “curbside access” should allow customers to also arrive on foot or by wheelchair.
AG Healey’s Civil Rights Division enforces federal and state laws protecting the rights of people with disabilities. The Division encourages residents who need further assistance with an accommodation to call its hotline at (617) 963-2917. The Division also urges individuals with disabilities who feel their rights have been violated to call the hotline or file a complaint online.
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