Programmatic accessibility is one of the key elements of the ADA and allows all individuals with visible and invisible disabilities to benefit from all City services, programs and benefits offered to the public. In order for all City programs and services to be “accessible to and usable by people with disabilities”, as mandated by the ADA, modifications to policies or practices may be necessary.
Consider, for example, a City-funded soup kitchen. The usual rule is that people must stand in line to be served. Consequently, individuals who find it very difficult to wait in line due to anxiety attacks or a physical condition that makes it hard to stand, may be effectively excluded from that program. Title II of the ADA, however, mandates that city funded programs or services must modify their policies, practices or procedures to allow people with disabilities to fully participate. Therefore, the soup kitchen staff may give a number to the person waiting in line and allow her to wait elsewhere or be seated until her turn comes.
- A modification to a policy, practice or procedure (commonly referred to as an accommodation) implies that people with disabilities are, in fact, encouraged and welcomed to participate in all city programs and activities. Some examples of policy modifications may include, but are not limited to, the following:
- A public building with a “no pets” policy allows individuals with service or support animals to enter the premises.
- A person who is unable to fill out complicated forms due to confusion, high levels of anxiety, etc. can ask for assistance in organizing and writing down information.
- An individual with a psychiatric disability who receives eviction notice from a publicly funded building because he talks loudly to himself and disturbs other tenants, may ask for an extension and reconsideration while he gets treatment to help him manage the symptoms of his disability, and while the public housing provider sound-proofs his room.
- A person who, because of significant health problems, cannot leave the house long enough to apply for benefits could request (and receive) a home visit, or phone services in order to complete the application and receive the benefits.
Sometimes the City and County of San Francisco may sponsor programs that are designed specifically for people with disabilities, but that does not eliminate the obligation to make modifications to all programs when requested to do so. For example, the department of Parks and Recreation may sponsor an adaptive swim class for people with physical disabilities but, the existence of such a class would still not permit the exclusion of a person with a disability from participating in any recreational swimming program available to the general public.