Category Archives: ADA

Hooray For ADA! 25 Years of Disability Rights

ada-25-years-01It’s an exciting time to live in America! All across the country, activists are successfully raising awareness about social injustice and amplifying the voices of marginalized groups. While we gain ground in the fight for equality, it can be easy to forget that not so long ago people with disabilities were openly excluded from all areas of public life. Young people today might not remember that there was a time where disabled children were quietly forgotten in schools, and disabled adults only dreamed of basic access to jobs, medical care, and popular culture. One piece of landmark legislation changed all that.

ada-25-years-02The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed on July 26, 1990. In the 25 years since the ADA became law, the quality of life for people with disabilities has dramatically improved across the board. Wheelchair ramps on buildings, elevators in subway stations, braille signs, closed captioned TV— while the pieces might seem small on their own, they each fit into the larger puzzle of inclusion. More than ever before, individuals with disabilities have access to the everyday rights and privileges that we enjoy as American citizens.

ada-25-years-criminal-justice-03The sad truth is that without any laws in place to ensure adequate access, organizations feel little obligation to consider the needs of disabled patrons or employees. Before the ADA became law, discrimination was happening everywhere from churches to movie theaters to jailhouses. The rights of people with disabilities were being trampled, and there was little anyone could do to prevent it.

The most important function of the ADA is to make the rights of disabled individuals clear for all to see. Titles I-IV of the ADA establish a basic set of expectations, and gives people recourse if they believe that they are being discriminated against due to their disabilities. People now have the ability to pursue legal action if they feel their rights are being violated, and organizations are less able to defend discriminatory practices.

ada-25-years-title-1-5-04Unfortunately, progress doesn’t happen overnight. The whole country did not immediately understand and begin accommodating the needs of disabled individuals the day the ADA was passed. To further establish these rights, several amendments were added to the legislation. Passed in 1990 and updated in 2004, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), formerly known as Public Law 94-142, requires public schools to recognize the right of children with disabilities to receive a free public education of the same quality as their peers. The law mandates that qualified individuals in public schools must identify the needs of each student, and that the school must make reasonable accommodation to meet these needs. Promoting education is a critical step toward equality.

ada-25-years-college-scholarships-05Exclusion from everyday life keeps people in a cycle of oppression. Prior to the ADA legislation, it was nearly impossible to break this cycle. Let’s say a deaf student began to fall behind in school. Instead of providing the deaf student with communication access in the classroom (an interpreter or note taker), the administration would just move the student to a remedial class. This student might be absolutely brilliant, but because they were unable to access the materials or participate in classroom dialogue, they would be sent to a slower learning group. If this same student pursued professional development elsewhere, for example attending seminars or networking events, they would encounter yet another barrier: negative attitudes from organizers who felt providing equal access was a burden. Now imagine this individual applying for jobs. Employers would be thrilled to interview such a qualified candidate, until they discovered that the applicant was deaf and required a few workplace modifications to perform their duties. Without any federal regulation, discrimination was shockingly common and the cycle of oppression was allowed to continue.

ada-25-years-06The Rehabilitation Act was one of the first sets of laws to protect the rights of people who are disabled. Passed in 1973, the Act “prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs conducted by Federal agencies, in programs receiving Federal financial assistance, in Federal employment, and in the employment practices of Federal contractors.” We have come a long way since the first civil rights movements. In 1990, Title I of the ADA expanded on the provisions of the Rehabilitation Act to prohibit discrimination in all workplaces. Now we live in a country where blind computer programmers and doctors with mobility impairments can achieve success.

ada-25-years-education-07Opportunities for education and employment are finally opening up, thanks in part to legislation; but also because each day, thousands of disabled people are slowly but surely breaking down barriers and continuing to pave the way for equality. There are deaf teachers working in mainstream classrooms. Deaf dentists, physicians, and therapists who serve the unique needs of their community. Just this year, Derrick Coleman became the first deaf football player to compete in the Superbowl. Deaf actors, bloggers, artists, and musicians are using their talents to smash through pop culture stereotypes. Other disabled individuals are rising up to change public policy from the inside out, such as Claudia Gordon, who works in U.S. Department of Labor’s office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs and was the very first deaf woman of color to become an attorney. Or Gregory Hlibok, the deaf chief of the FCC’s Disability Rights Office. When given the chance to pursue their dreams, the biggest limitation disabled people usually face is doubt from others.

ada-25-years-disability-access-07Growing up, I witnessed the struggles my mother and other deaf individuals endured when trying to perform everyday activities such as going to the bank or a doctors appointment. I am so grateful to live in this progressive time where the rights of disabled people are recognized and protected by the law. While the ADA definitely improved the quality of life for those with disabilities, I realize that we still have a long road ahead. My young deaf nieces deserve the same freedoms and opportunities to thrive that hearing children have. They deserve to live in a world where people do not judge or reject them just because they use another language. When I think of the world I want my nieces and children to grow up in, I know that the fight for equality has only just begun.
LCIS is thrilled to offer ADA Compliance Consulting for businesses and organizations. Our ADA Compliance Consulting program works in conjunction with relevant stakeholders and committee of Deaf advisors to assist organizations with reducing legal risk and ensuring that their business has all the tools for success when working with Deaf/ HoH customers, clients, or employees.

10 Things All Deaf People Should Know About the ADA

ada-american-with-disabilities-act-faq-011. What’s ADA?

ADA stands for the Americans with Disabilities Act. This civil rights law was passed on July 26, 1990 to help secure the rights and freedoms that disabled citizens are entitled to. It was expanded in 2008 by the ADA Amendments Act.

2. Why do we need the ADA?

America is known “as the land of opportunity,” but discrimination prevents many disabled people from participating in everyday life. People who are disabled are regularly denied access to businesses, hospitals, schools, workplaces, and many other locations. Unfortunately, a lack of cultural understanding about disabilities results in a prejudiced population.

3. Who is the ADA for?

ada-american-with-disabilities-act-faq-02From deafness to mobility issues to intellectual disabilities, the ADA protects the rights of ALL Americans who have mental and/or physical medical conditions. The list of disabilities also includes autism, cancer, cerebral palsy, diabetes, epilepsy, HIV, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, and other physical or mental health conditions.

4. How does the ADA apply to people who are deaf?

The ADA requires public and private entities to consider the needs of people who are deaf. Living in a large multicultural country, entities must take responsibility to be accepting and competent of other lifestyles. Instead of just assuming every person who enters a business or uses the services of an organization is able to hear, the ADA requires these entities to plan for deaf consumers.

5. How does the ADA effect jobs?

ada-american-with-disabilities-act-faq-03Title I: Employment is a critical piece of the ADA which helps deaf individuals access employment opportunities. It prohibits employers from inquiring about the existence, nature, or severity of a disability or medical condition until after a job offer has been made. Title I makes it clear that organizations may not reject qualified job candidates on the basis of their disability, and requires employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” for deaf employees.

6. What is a reasonable accommodation?

Reasonable accommodation often calls for a minor alteration to the typical communication strategy, which will vary on a case-by-case basis. For deaf individuals who use ASL as their primary form of communication, a qualified sign language interpreter is generally the best accommodation for things like meetings, where important information will be exchanged. Other deaf or hard of hearing employees will prefer a text version of the meeting provided by computer aided transcription services (CART).
For brief interactions, say the boss just needs a little more information on a report, an email exchange might be sufficient, or a Video Relay Service might be utilized. The best way to figure out what a reasonable accommodation might be for a certain situation is to simply ask the deaf individual.

7. Where else does the ADA apply?

ada-american-with-disabilities-act-faq-04Under Title II, agencies which operate at a local or state level are required to provide equal access to all services offered by the organization. This includes public hospitals, municipal government buildings, public schools, police stations, and public transportation. A public entity must ensure that its communications with deaf citizens are as effective as communications with others.
Title III expands the ADA to privately owned places of public accommodation and commercial facilities, such as business offices, social service centers, entertainment events, airports and so on. With the exception of private clubs and religious organizations, almost any place open to the public is required to provide some form of auxiliary aid, interpreter, or CART service for deaf/HoH patrons upon request. Deaf individuals aren’t asking for special treatment, they simply expect the same quality of access as everyone else.

8. What steps should be taken to ensure civil rights are not violated?

ada-american-with-disabilities-act-faq-05People who are deaf need to be aware of their rights and ask, preferably in writing, for the accommodations they are entitled to receive under the ADA. I suggest going beyond the gatekeepers, who are often secretaries and administration professionals, to contact management or the HR department. Take the request up the chain of command.
If they are still denied these accommodations, deaf people can contact a local advocacy organization or a licensed civil rights lawyer. While a lawsuit is not the ideal course of action, discrimination based on disability is an act of oppression. Liability lawsuits are often far more costly than providing equal access in the first place.

9. How can businesses ensure they are ADA compliant?

Awareness about these issues usually begins from the top level down. All employees, but especially those who work in administration and management positions, should receive thorough cultural competency training. Additionally, we need to see more disabled employees and consultants in the workforce. The more the general population is exposed to disability, the better they will be able to understand the needs of disabled individuals.

10. How does the ADA help everyone?

ada-american-with-disabilities-act-faq-06At the end of the day, most deaf or otherwise disabled people just want the opportunity to participate in society. Diversity is a great asset, and providing reasonable accommodation for our diverse population should be an expected cost of doing business. Welcoming deaf individuals into all spaces is the law, yes. But it is also the right thing to do.

Inclusion For All

deaf-event-interpreting-services-nyc-1New York City has so many incredible Summer street festivals, art exhibits, and cultural events to enjoy. Now, imagine how many shows you would go to if you had to contact the event organizers weeks in advance, explain that you need special accommodations, and possibly even explain how to secure those resources. This is the burden placed on deaf people every time they want to attend and event, and it is a far cry from equal access.

Deaf Access

deaf-event-interpreting-services-nyc-2Organizer’s work long and hard to ensure their events are successful, but somewhere along the way they come to the conclusion that providing deaf access is a choice. We live in one of the most diverse countries on the planet, with laws that specifically protect the deaf and hard of hearing, but still excuses are made to exclude interpreters from event budgets. Without considering how challenging this makes it for deaf people to ever show up on a whim, event planners make the assumption that deaf attendees will always go through the steps to identify themselves and their needs.

The message being sent to deaf people is that they are not really invited.

deaf-event-interpreting-services-nyc-3Yes, deaf people still get out, they still attend events, and they still know how to have a good time. But, as an event planner, why make that difficult? It’s long past time we stop making excuses and remove the barriers to equal access. Providing an interpreter is so easy and it is an act that deaf people definitely notice.

deaf-event-interpreting-services-nyc-4The Americans with Disabilities Act requires auxiliary aids be available at any event that is open to the public, whether it is free or paid. Instead of assuming their event will draw a diverse audience, some event organizers still choose to make deaf attendees go through the steps of requesting accommodation. This is a subtle form of audism, the belief that those who can not hear are inferior, and it is in fact discrimination.

deaf-event-interpreting-services-nyc-6Why put months of effort into an event if you don’t want people to feel welcomed? Be proactive– plan for deaf people, and people of all abilities, so that everyone can participate equally. Not only because it’s the law, but because it’s the right thing to do. Hiring interpreters for all your events is not difficult, it is not an outrageous financial burden, and it is a responsible step in ensuring equal accessibility. There are even tax write offs and other forms of financial assistance available to assist organizations with ADA compliance.

deaf-event-interpreting-services-nyc-5Having interpreters at music venues, fairs, or outdoor events may seem like a small detail, but for those who rely on ASL, it can make a huge difference. The deaf community truly appreciates organizations which consistently provide access, and regularly patronize establishments which are known to be deaf friendly. Deafness knows no racial, gender, or religious boundaries; it is a beautiful mix of all cultures. I would love to live in a society that truly embraces diversity, instead of one that marginalizes it’s own citizens.

_______

If you are seeking an event interpreter in New York City, LC Interpreting Services is available. My goal is to make equal access as seamless as possible for both venues and deaf consumers. I am passionate about providing high quality services, and experienced in a wide variety of settings. Let’s work together this summer to remove communication obstacles and ensure the deaf community feels welcome in all spaces.

 

When Will the Oppression Stop?

Imagine a police officer suddenly approaches and grabs you. This officer does not speak the same language as you, and as you try to communicate– to find out what the heck is going on–the officer becomes increasingly aggressive. How would you feel? Scared? Isolated? Confused? Powerless?

This scenario is not as uncommon as you may think, and it occurs right here in America. Deaf individuals attempting to interact with hearing authorities, emergency responders, or hospital staff are denied basic access to communication and, in some instances, their lives are put into jeopardy.

Deaf Oppression

Deaf Injustice NYCRecently, the story of California resident Jonathan Meister made headline news. Profoundly deaf, Meister was loading some personal items into his car at a friends house when the police arrived on the scene for a reported burglary. Because he was unable to hear the officer’s orders, Meister did not comply with their requests. The police allegedly approached Meister and detained him by grabbing his arms behind his back which, for a person who uses ASL to communicate, can be extremely disempowering. Meister, panicking, pulled his arms away and attempted to let the officers know he was deaf. The police mistook his gesturing for aggression and used tasers and brute force to subdue the man. Beaten until he was unconscious, it turned out Meister was completely innocent of any wrongdoing.

pearsonA few months ago, 64 year old Pearl Pearson alleges he was punched in the face until his eyes bled for failing to obey orders from Oklahoma Highway Patrol Officers that he could not hear. In February 2012 a deaf man named Robert Kim sued the City of Bridgeton, MO after he was tasered by police during a roadside incident in which he had fallen into life-threatening diabetic shock. Unable to communicate, and in a state of disorientation, the man was berated by an officer and tasered at least 3 times before receiving the medical attention he so badly needed.

hospital-man-aloneA hospital stay can be a frightening experience for anyone, but imagine how powerless it feels to be in a medical setting where you cannot communicate. A recent example of this occurred over in the UK when a deaf couple was not provided an interpreter during the birth of their son. The couple claims the London hospital did not provide a sign language interpreter during the labor or birth of their child, nor during the 8 day hospital stay that followed; although they were told repeatedly that there was an interpreter on the way. Because they were denied access, their monumental life event became a frustrating, confusing nightmare.

While the Americans With Disabilities Act requires equal accommodation in public settings, hospitals have been charged time and time again with neglecting the needs of deaf patients. Many people assume it is acceptable to write messages back and forth with a deaf patient. This is incorrect. Some individuals who use sign language as their primary means of communication are not familiar enough with written language to have an important medical discussion on paper. Without an interpreter available, a deaf person who uses ASL to communicate simply can not receive the same level of care as a hearing individual– this is not equality.

A few years ago in Florida, a lawsuit was brought against Baptist Medical Center by seven hard of hearing patients who claim they were denied their ADA rights. The patients all reported feeling neglected, isolated, and afraid when they were not provided sign language interpreters during their hospital stays. The plaintiffs were not seeking financial compensation in the case, they just wanted to make sure no future patients endured the same treatment.

Best ASL Interpreter NYC

In recent news, we have seen the tragic story of Alfred Weinrib, an 82 year old deaf man from Long Island who died after 3 hospitals failed to give him his diagnosis. Weinrib died of malignant melanoma without ever being told he had cancer. Over the course of 7 months, Weinrib was denied basic human rights, even attempting suicide after his pleas for assistance using the bathroom went ignored by employees at the facility. This is sick. And wrong. And absolutely not equality.

Suicide attempts are not that unusual among deaf individuals who are unable to communicate. When they feel trapped and alone in an institution that does not respect them, it can be hard for people to see any alternative. A few years ago, the family of Shawn Francisco Vigil filed a lawsuit after Vigil attempted to hang himself in a Denver jail, and then died a few days later. Vigil, who was serving a one month sentence, was segregated from the general prison population because he was deaf, and was never provided an interpreter for any interactions which occurred within the jail– including a mental health screening. Had he received the same preliminary treatment as hearing prisoners, and not been forced into a form of solitary confinement, it is possible this 23 year old man could have rehabilitated himself and gone on to live a successful life. But now we will never know.

ASL-interpreter-hospital

The Americans with Disabilities Act provides legal protection for deaf Americans, yet it’s a constant battle to have these rights recognized. Deaf individuals aren’t asking for special treatment, they only want access to the the same quality of experience hearing people have. Communication is especially important in situations which are already traumatic, isolating, and stressful. Times of personal crisis are not when we want to be advocating for our basic human rights.

deaf_hearing_interpreterWhen does the oppression stop? When will our society accept that deaf people can do literally everything hearing people can do, except for hear?  It is 2014 and there are more than half a million people in the United States who rely on American Sign Language to communicate. Deaf children in schools, deaf patients in hospitals, and deaf citizens of the world deserve equal opportunity. People should never suffer because of a simple communication barrier.