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45 Years of Impact Spotlight

Fighting for Access to Assistive Technology for Adults

Disability Rights Pennsylvania and its predecessors have fought for the rights of adults to have access to assistive technology.  Assistive technology is a device or service that helps a person with a disability in their daily activities and become or remain independent.  Assistive technology can be found in the home, workplace, school, and community.

In 2014, DRN filed and won an administrative appeal of the decision by the Department of Public Welfare (“DPW”) to deny a standing, motorized wheelchair requested by a 20-year-old Luzerne County man with traumatic brain injury that left him unable to ambulate.  The man was attending college classes and wanted to be more independent. He requested that Medical Assistance provide him with a standing motorized wheelchair, but DPW denied that request as not medically necessary.  The Bureau of Hearings and Appeals ruled that the wheelchair requested was medically necessary for the individual.

Jordan v. Pennsylvania Dep’t of Corrections was filed in 2011, on behalf of an inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Pittsburgh alleging violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and challenging the Department of Correction’s (“DOC’s”) denial of the inmate’s requests for reasonable accommodation.  Although the prison’s medical department prescribed special sunglasses for the inmate to block florescent lighting that exacerbates his panuveitis, a visual disability, the prison refused to provide the item.  Further, after the inmate complained about DOC’s violation of the ADA, he was stripped of his single cell status. The settlement required DOC to provide the prescribed sunglasses and to reinstate the inmate’s cell status.

Granahan v. Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare was filed in 1996, on behalf of a 57-year-old woman with Parkinson’s disease who was unnecessarily confined in a nursing home because the Department of Public Welfare (“DPW”) refused to authorize assistive technology to allow her to return home to live with her husband.  The lawsuit alleged that DPW’s refusal to authorize an automated lift, instead of a manual lift, resulted in the unnecessary institutionalization in violation of the integration mandate of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Due to the woman’s disability, she could not transfer and, therefore, requested Medical Assistance authorization for an automated lift.  DPW denied the requests because an automated lift was not on the fee schedule.  While a manual lift was authorized and on the fee schedule, the family was unable to use it.  After the lawsuit was filed, DPW authorized the automated lift and the woman returned home.

In 1994, Terry v. Houstoun was filed on behalf of residents of the Philadelphia Nursing Home (“PNH”) alleging that the City of Philadelphia, which owned PNH, violated the federal Medicaid statute by failing to provide residents with appropriate wheelchairs to maximize their functioning.  The settlement agreement required the City to provide PHN residents with the type of wheelchairs and any adaptations they need.  The agreement also required appropriate training on use, positioning, and maintenance of wheelchairs.