Demand for Deaf Rights Often Falls on Deaf Ears



Another news story about a deaf man detained for over six weeks WITHOUT access to a sign language interpreter. Did HE know the law? Did the arresting officers know the law? How about whoever was in charge at the jail?

So what exactly are deaf people entitled to when it comes to the law and more specifically the Americans with Disabilities Act? How would a deaf person know what they are entitled to along with how they may have been discriminated against if they are not an expert in the law? What if they hire a lawyer who is also not an expert in the law as it pertains to deaf people?

One lawyer named Andrew Rozynski  specializes and focuses his practice on the protection of the rights of deaf people. He focuses on combating discrimination against the deaf. Hospitals? Government? Businesses? Education? The list is endless. He claims awareness of only a handful of attorneys who focus their practice on the protection of the deaf. He clarifies that the term ‘reasonable accommodation’ is actually evaluated on a case-by-case basis. There are critical situations where passing notes back and forth is just not acceptable.  The deaf person is entitled to effective communication,  especially in cases where communication is lengthy and complex.

Regarding businesses, hospitals, courtrooms… how do they know when an interpreter is required? There are venues where note writing may be the best that can be done in places like shopping centers and restaurants,  but this is not a viable solution when speaking with an attorney or with a physician where precise and specific information needs to be shared clearly.

We are seeing video relay interpreter systems in areas where it is not often easy to obtain a sign language interpreter quickly. However, many deaf people complain that VRI does not provide effective communication as sometimes the equipment doesn’t work properly. Often, the people using it are unfamiliar and don’t know how to use it. This creates an additional obstacle to communication. Is recommended that if you are a hearing individual responsible for providing reasonable accommodation, then it is best to contact a reputable interpreting agency.

As one of those agencies, we find that we serve as educators in addition to providing interpreters. We are often contacted by facilities who have very little understanding of the needs of the deaf person in question. We find we need to ask many questions that they did not anticipate. It is recommended, that if you are a deaf person requesting sign language interpretation, that you communicate with a manager and make your request in writing just to be clear and keep a record that you’ve made this request. Keep going up the chain until you are satisfied with the response that you’re receiving. As an agency, we do often hear that medical offices, dentists, schools, and other various places will claim they cannot afford to hire a sign language interpreter.But the ADA looks at the financial strength of an entire organization when considering if an interpreter is cost-prohibitive or not. If you’re an employer or a place of public accommodation… even a concert venue or a political rally, you are obligated to provide effective communication to that deaf person. If you do not, you could potentially be opening yourself up to liability resulting in a lawsuit that could cost a lot more than an interpreter. If a deaf party still feels equal access is not being provided,  they just might have a legal claim. There are attorneys and there are also local advocacy organizations. Attorneys sometimes offer free consultations and will let you know if you have a viable case or not. Most people are concerned about the cost of even getting advice from an attorney, so this may be a possible solution. Deaf mentors, who also act as advocates for the deaf, can help in the process while teaching and empowering other deaf individuals to actively advocate for themselves. Information is a powerful thing.

We must remember that it is our obligation as a whole society to ensure deaf people have equal participation and they can access the same kind of information that hearing people do in any type of setting.

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About Evelyn

Evelyn Hunter is a SODA with years of experiential study in Deaf Culture. She attended Gallaudet University to immerse herself in this unique deaf world while working for the University and studying sign language to hone her skills. Evelyn has served in training, relationship sales, and marketing -- always seeking to expand awareness of Deaf Culture and the unique challenges the deaf face on a daily basis. The Sign Language Company has recently established a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and a website with a blog, as Evelyn coordinates the marketing and outreach efforts for the agency. Her goal is to attract new clients seeking exceptional service, while maintaining optimal relationships with clients who have selected The Sign Language Company for over 20 years.

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