Federal Court Rules that Lawsuit by Deaf Californians with Developmental Disabilities Can Move Forward

Press Release

Federal Court Rules that Lawsuit by Deaf Californians with Developmental Disabilities Can Move Forward

Photo of a lone deaf elderly woman. She is looking straight forward using sign language.

(San Francisco, CA) A federal judge has ruled that a lawsuit challenging discrimination against deaf Californians with intellectual and developmental disabilities (“I/DD”) can go forward. The California Department of Developmental Services (DDS) had asked the court to dismiss the case. Click here to read the court’s order denying the motion to dismiss.

Deaf people who depend on critical regional center services that DDS funds and administers filed the lawsuit. Regional centers provide services and supports to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). DDS oversees and funds these centers. The plaintiffs say that DDS discriminates against them because the state agency has not made sure that their programs provide effective communication, including interpreters and staff who use sign language. As a result, many deaf regional center consumers are isolated and cannot communicate with their staff or peers in their group homes, day programs, and other settings.  This lawsuit seeks system-wide change and an end to discrimination against deaf people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

In asking to dismiss the lawsuit, DDS argued that it was not responsible for any discrimination by local regional centers. U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston disagreed with DDS and said that “DDS is charged with ensuring ‘the regional centers operate in compliance with federal and state law and regulation,’ including by ‘tak[ing] all necessary actions’ to secure compliance.”

“The Court’s order recognizes that DDS has a clear responsibility under the law to protect the rights of all regional center consumers, including those who are deaf,” said DRA staff attorney Meredith Weaver. “We hope that DDS accepts that responsibility and makes the changes necessary to end the discrimination that our clients and other deaf Californians with I/DD experience on a daily basis.” 

“Our clients have lived in isolation for years without access to people who can communicate with them,” said Melinda Bird, Senior Litigation Counsel at Disability Rights California. “The Court’s order demonstrates that DDS cannot continue to shirk its responsibility to our clients by hiding behind its contracted regional centers.”

The case is McCullough, et al. v. Cal. Dept. of Developmental Servs., et al., Civ. No. 3:20-cv-02958-SI (N.D. Cal.) and was filed on April 30, 2020.

ASL Version of Press Release

Media Contacts:

Melody Pomraning
Communications Director
Disability Rights California

Chris Maccarone
Disability Rights Advocates



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Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) With offices in New York and California, Disability Rights Advocates is a leading nonprofit disability rights legal center in the nation. Its mission is to advance equal rights and opportunity for people with all types of disabilities nationwide. DRA represents people with all types of disabilities in complex, system-changing, class action cases. DRA is proud to have upheld the promise of the ADA since our inception. Thanks to DRA’s precedent-setting work, people with disabilities across the country have dramatically improved access to education, health care, employment, transportation, disaster preparedness planning, voting, and housing. For more information, visit dralegal.org.

Disability Rights California (DRC) Disability Rights California is the largest disability rights program in California.  For more than 40 years, DRC has been California’s protection and advocacy agency designated under state and federal law to protect and advocate for the rights of Californians with disabilities. The mission of DRC is to advance the rights, dignity, equal opportunities, and choices for all people with disabilities. For more information visit: https://www.disabilityrightsca.org.

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