Blind siblings sue the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration

By Brandon Barger
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS—The Indiana Department of Family and Social Services Administration has been sued in federal court to provide tools that would allow blind Hoosiers to access their benefit information.

Siblings Christopher and Sarah Meyer and the National Federation of the Blind filed the lawsuit Tuesday to compel the state and its contractors to communicate in Braille or in screen-to-text speech screen readers. The Division of Family Resources is also named in the lawsuit.

“The Division of Family Resources and the Family and Social Services Administration have been unwilling to provide equal and effective communication to blind Hoosiers who are participating in these programs,” said Tom Crishon, the managing attorney with Indiana Disability Rights.

Crishon said the state agencies send information to clients in regular print or through the portal on the FSSA’s website, neither of which is accessible to blind Hoosiers.

“By offering only inaccessible communications, Defendants and their contractors prevent blind Indiana residents from participating equally in Indiana’s state-administered benefits services, programs, and activities,” the lawsuit says.

The Meyers siblings, both blind, receive benefits such as Medicaid and SNAP—Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. When they requested communications in a format they could access, they were directed to engage a third party who could read the material to them.

That violates their right to privacy, the lawsuit says.

Both siblings have lost access to critical benefits because they missed filing deadlines when the material was sent to them in a regular print format rather than in a medium they could access.

Furthermore, the lawsuit says that the state’s websites for getting information or applying for programs have drop down menus and other features that make it impossible for blind people to use the sites.

Crishon, in the lawsuit, said the state is in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires that people with disabilities have an equal opportunity to access programs, services or activities of a public entity.

In addition to seeking communication in an accessible format, the sibling and the National Federation of the Blind want FSSA to change its internet portal so that blind people can use the website and its tools.

“They have a federal obligation to follow and provide civil rights to these individuals,” Crishon said, “which includes providing effective communication that is tailored to that specific individual’s needs.”

FSSA, the parent agency of the Division of Family Resources, did not respond to a request for comment.

Brandon Barger is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a  news website powered by Franklin College journalists.

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