Category Archives: Deaf Community

International Week of the Deaf 2017: 5 Civil Rights Issues You Should Know About

international-week-deaf-blog-2017-asl-07This week is International Week of the Deaf, a worldwide celebration of deafness, d/Deaf individuals, Deaf cultures, and signed languages which is held every year at the end of September. This year, the theme of the week is “Full Inclusion with Sign Language.”

Global celebrations like International Week of the Deaf have a ripple effect when it comes to raising awareness. “Full Inclusion with Sign Language” is an important message, as those who are Deaf consider themselves to be a linguistic minority group, and they are very proud of their signed languages. Helping the hearing majority to recognize and appreciate the complexities signed languages can help bring the issues of reasonable accommodations and full inclusion to mainstream discussions.

To celebrate International Week of the Deaf, I wanted to highlight 5 major civil rights issues that Deaf advocates are actively working to address.

Access to Signed Language

Because 9 out of 10 deaf babies are born to hearing parents with no connection to the d/Deaf community, the first few months of a deaf child’s life can be confusing— for both the parents and the developing child. This is a critical window of time for cognitive development. This is a time when babies are learning so much about the world, and they need a language with which they can begin to frame it.

The National Association for the Deaf (NAD) takes a very strong and clear position on the topic of access to signed language, stating: “Deaf and hard of hearing children like all children have a right to language. Signed language, being a visual language, is the only completely accessible language for these children… Research has shown that thousands of deaf and hard of hearing children are experiencing various levels of language deprivation, many to an extent that constitutes harm in the form of educational, social-emotional and cognitive delays. For this reason, it is the position of the National Association of the Deaf that an all-out effort needs to be made to ensure that all deaf and hard of hearing children have full and meaningful access to language from birth and the benefit of visual language and visual learning.”

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NAD has established a Language Deprivation Taskforce to address the issue conscientiously. Deaf-led organizations like LEAD-K and the Nyle DiMarco Foundation are working to fill the gaps when it comes to educating and raising awareness on a community level.

Dr. Peter Hauser, a Clinical Neuropsychologist and associate professor at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) at the Rochester Institute of Technology, has given numerous lectures and conducts ongoing research that makes a strong case for giving deaf children access to signed language. He even wrote book along with his esteemed colleague Dr. Marc Marshark called “How Deaf Children Learn.” Further underlining support of early access to signed language, NTID offers a FAQ on their site about Educating Deaf Children with answers from international experts.

Education

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Piggybacking on the problems caused by delayed language acquisition, access to education is one of the biggest issues that the d/Deaf community seeks to address. So many young people who are deaf suffer, often without complaint, through years in an educational system that simply was not designed for them to succeed.

The World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) website explains: “Deaf children have the right to expect that their needs and human, linguistic and educational rights are respected and supported … Studies by the WFD reveal that the enrollment rate and literacy achievement of Deaf children is far below the average for the population at large. Illiteracy and semi-literacy are serious problems among Deaf people. Without appropriate education, advancement in society as an independent, employed, contributing citizen becomes problematic…. WFD takes the unequivocal position that there is no excuse for this deplorable situation, since Deaf children have the same innate intellectual, social and emotional capacities, as do all children.”

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Access to a curriculum that makes sense for their abilities can determine the course of a deaf student’s future. Schools need to be prepared to offer captioning and high quality interpreting services for students who are deaf, as needed, and these costs need to be built into the budget right from the start.

Deaf leadership is proving to be a strong cornerstone for the slow but steady push toward equal learning opportunities. Organizations like LEAD-K, with the simple goal of creating generations of Kindergarten-ready Deaf children, have been instrumental in enacting public policy reform that shines a light on the inequality faced by deaf children when it comes to education. This continues to be a long and uphill battle.

Employment Opportunities

Although the exact statistics can be a bit fuzzy, the indisputable fact remains: Unemployment is a problem that disproportionately impacts the d/Deaf community. Deaf individuals are unemployed at a significantly higher rate than the hearing population.

From the interview process onward, discriminatory attitudes create barriers to career success. Employers might be afraid to hire a person who is deaf because they don’t understand how to open lines of communications and integrate this person onto the team; they may overlook a perfectly qualified deaf candidate in favor of a less qualified hearing person. Once they have been hired, typically deaf individuals are given little support, encouragement, or room for career advancement. Without satisfactory employment opportunities, the cycle of oppression just continues ad infinitum. It never ends.

Those who are d/Deaf deserve the same opportunities to build a life for themselves as everyone else, without being limited by a language barrier or limited by a lack of cultural awareness. Deaf activist groups have to advocate constantly for the basic human right to earn a livable income. In 2015, there was a march on Washington DC to raise awareness about deaf unemployment, and to demonstrate support for opening up better job opportunities.

To learn more about this topic, check out the following blogs:

6 Reasons to Hire Deaf Employees
Hiring And Supporting Deaf Employees
Creating Opportunities for Deaf Employees

Access to Justice

From initial encounters with police officers all the way to sentencing trials, the criminal justice system fails individuals who are deaf time and time again.

For those who are unable to hear, dealing with police officers can be unnerving, it can be humiliating, and in some cases, it can be deadly. Interacting with authorities within the legal system who refuse to provide adequate accommodations can lead to misunderstandings that could mean the difference between a witness statement and a coerced confession. Deaf people get accused of noncompliance because they do not hear police orders, or they are deemed a threat for using their hands to communicate in ASL. These situations escalate so frequently, in fact, that the ACLU teamed up with Academy Award winning deaf actress Marlee Matlin to create a video designed to empower deaf individuals to advocate for their legal rights when interacting with law enforcement.

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According to civil rights advocacy group Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf (HEARD), “There are tens of thousands of deaf people in jails and prisons across the nation. Most departments of corrections do not track numbers or locations of deaf prisoners.” Lost within the prison system, some of these individuals slip through the cracks for years, sometimes their entire lives, serving sentences for crimes they may not have committed without ever having access to a fair trial or the kind of support they would need to build a defense case. Many d/Deaf prisoners can not even make phone calls due to woefully outdated telecommunications systems.

Once they are in jail, deaf prisoners can easily be overlooked for medical or mental health care services, or they might be denied service because they are not able to communicate their needs effectively. Or even worse, these prisoners get taken advantage of and abused because they do not have the ability nor the resources to advocate for themselves from such a disempowered position.

Things don’t get easier once people are returned to citizen life, with the combination of a disability and a criminal record it can be nearly impossible to find decent work. Without equal access to justice at every s

tep along the way, the entire system continues to uphold the oppression of marginalized people.

NAD Law and Advocacy Center
Center for American Progress: Disabled Behind Bars

Inadequate Services

If there is any lesson to be learned from the several highly publicized “fake interpreter” incidents over the past few years, it is that deaf individuals are provided inadequate sign language interpreters on a regular basis. If subpar interpreters are being assigned to interpret major televised events, do you suppose these interpreters are also being sent to doctors appointments and parent teacher conferences?

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Just turn on the local news with the closed captioning, you will quickly witness how live captioning can be almost hilariously inaccurate (or in the case of an emergency, dangerously inaccurate). And, as the “No More Craptions” campaign points out, accessibility for internet content is even worse. The bottom line here is that people who are deaf— when they actually do receive “access” to the communication services they need— are often still being denied an equal experience.

With regards to interpreting services, unfortunately, some organizations just hire the cheapest interpreting agency they can find, and this agency might not even have anyone who is fluent in ASL screening the interpreters before they are sent out on assignment. These unqualified interpreters serve as yet another communication barrier for the deaf consumer, and they might even dramatically impact or endanger the person’s life. At the end of the day, effective communication is not being offered, which is a violation of the ADA.

In 2004, RID and NAD implemented a joint Code of Professional Ethics for all members and certified interpreters. RID has established an interpreter certification program to to help maintain a high level of excellence, and the organization provides a support network for constant professional development. Although these efforts are slowly improving service for deaf consumers, they have sadly not prevented unqualified interpreters from getting work.

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Even now, in the year 2017, there are persistent barriers that people who are deaf must overcome to gain basic access to everyday goods and services. The Americans with Disabilities Act endeavors to protect the civil rights of all Americans, regardless of ability, by requiring businesses and organizations to offer “reasonable accommodations” that allow effective communication. For people who are d/Deaf, this could mean anything from captioning, texting, video relay services, or sign language interpreting services, dependent on the individual.

At the same time, the d/Deaf community is becoming stronger and more cohesive than ever, connecting across countries, languages, religions, genders, races, and disabilities. As this happens, we begin to recognize where these discussions intersect and overlap with other systems of oppression, finding greater strength even still. Deaf issues have seeped into the mainstream consciousness and will continue to find footing in the ongoing public discourse on diversity, chipping away at the cultural ignorance that places a lifetime of limitations on a person just because of their hearing ability.

Deaf Community Working to Change Perceptions

asl-deaf-advocacy-changing-perceptions-01Over the last few years, there has been an exciting trend of Deaf influence on mainstream culture. We are seeing deafness featured in entertainment: from the critically acclaimed DeafWest production of Spring Awakening on Broadway, to various reality TV shows, to the new Smirnoff ad campaign featuring deaf dancer Chris Fonseca. But media visibility is just the tip of the iceberg. There is a massive cultural shift underway— a change in power structures happening right below the surface— and this movement is being spearheaded by d/Deaf/HoH people themselves.

asl-deaf-advocacy-changing-perceptions-02The past half century has seen mounting advocacy efforts improving access to education, thus creating a positive cycle of change. The ADA combined with ongoing deaf rights movements has helped the community work toward better access in schools across the country. A well-educated population is generally more effective at communicating their grievances, calling for reform, and permanently impacting social policy.

asl-deaf-advocacy-changing-perceptions-03The exponential effect of education is the cornerstone of the recent Language Equality and Acquisition for Deaf Kids (LEAD-K) campaign. A Deaf-created movement to promote ASL use and bilingualism among deaf children, LEAD-K asserts that “language deprivation or delays between ages 0-5 is the main cause of Deaf children’s eventual reading, academic, and social struggles.” By working with schools, community agencies, parent organizations, and associations of the Deaf, this movement strives to help deaf children stay on par with their hearing peers during critical early development stages. Those at LEAD-K have turned their own experiences into opportunities for generations to come, which in turn has a spiraling effect. Imagine how the future will be shaped by large numbers of teachers, tech innovators, medical practitioners, and politicians who just so happen to be deaf!

asl-deaf-advocacy-changing-perceptions-04Living in this digital age, the Deaf community is more well-informed and connected than ever. Where, in the past, people who are deaf were often excluded from discussions about current events, they are now able to participate and voice in on the issues. Where people who are deaf were once segregated by language and distance, they are now able to strengthen and reinforce the narrative of the Deaf community through online discussions. The d/Deaf community can now easily communicate, organize, and mobilize for action.

Technology, specifically the Internet, has played a key role in the modern deaf rights movement. People are able to tap into a wealth of global knowledge from anywhere at any time, and they can just as easily contribute. Social media and video sharing sites have become bustling hubs for deaf content— ranging from activism to entertainment and everything in between.

asl-deaf-advocacy-changing-perceptions-05Published on YouTube in April 2016, “Beyond Inclusion” is a thought-provoking short film produced by Communication Service for the Deaf (CSD), the nation’s largest nonprofit advocacy organization for the deaf, deaf-blind, and hard-of-hearing communities. Set in the near future, featuring deaf Dancing With the Stars and America’s Next Top Model winner Nyle DiMarco, this film tackles the controversial issue of “curing” disabilities and challenges audiences to reconsider the value of diversity. Launched with a corresponding social media campaign, the goal of this film is #DeconstructingDisability through open cross-cultural dialogue. CSD is only one of many different deaf groups, organizations, and individuals utilizing the speed and efficiency of the Internet to facilitate cultural understanding.

asl-deaf-advocacy-changing-perceptions-06Technology offers d/Deaf people a new set of tools to create meaningful connections and makes it easier than ever for individuals to participate in community advocacy efforts. But there are times when the most effective way for deaf people to raise awareness in the hearing world is to make themselves visible via public protest. Last year, there was a two-day Deaf Protest in Washington, DC where more than 1,500 Americans marched for fair opportunities in employment. There have also been small protests at various schools to rally for deaf representation in education. In May of this year, The Deaf Grassroots Movement (DGM) successfully held protests at state capitols across the nation, bringing awareness to a variety of deaf issues including access to communication, education, and employment. These deaf-led efforts are increasing in frequency and gaining traction as they continue.

asl-deaf-advocacy-changing-perceptions-07In this age of activism, we are witnessing a massive shift in social power. People who are deaf no longer need the help of hearing media gatekeepers to share their own stories with the world. People who are Deaf now have the tools for communicating and community organizing right at their fingertips. Deaf culture is trickling into mainstream consciousness, forcing our society to finally let go of harmful stereotypes and misconceptions. Deaf people are reframing the very concept of deafness to better reflect the unique people who proudly wear that identity.

Getting Involved in the Deaf Community

getting-involved-with-deaf-hoh-community-01So you’re interested in Deaf culture and want to connect with the larger community. Great! But how do you go about taking that first step?

Everyone has been in a situation where they feel completely out of place. Maybe it was the first day in a new school or at a new job. These moments, as uncomfortable as they might seem, often provide us opportunities for personal growth. For hearing people, the thought of entering a Deaf space — a place where all conversations happen in American Sign Language— can be a little intimidating. Ultimately, however, stepping outside of ones’ comfort zone is a priceless experience that has the potential to open our minds to a whole new reality.

getting-involved-with-deaf-hoh-community-02If you are nervous or shy, just take it slow. A good first step is to get involved in an online community where Deaf people dictate the conversation. This is an excellent way to “get to know” people without feeling too much social pressure. The way you connect with others will depend on your personal and professional interests. Try searching the #Deaf hashtag on Twitter, or find an active community on Facebook or LinkedIn. Follow the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID), World Federation of the Deaf, Deaf Nation, and Deaf World as a place to get started.

getting-involved-with-deaf-hoh-community-03The internet has given deaf people a public voice like never before! From online discussions you can get a feel for the tones people use to communicate with each other, the types of things they find funny, and what issues they find important. Like and share content created by deaf individuals to amplify their voices, and don’t be afraid to follow new people and jump in on discussions if you have something to contribute. Help bring attention to issues that are “hot topics” or in need of support. Pay attention to what is being discussed, what rumors are going around, and what events are coming up in your area.

Be sure to add some Deaf-created content to your RSS Feed or Blogroll to get educated while exploring the many dimensions of Deaf culture. Follow news and views from d/Deaf/ HoH activist Rikki Poytner, watch the hilarious “Don’t Shoot the Messenger,” or explore any number of other YouTube channels for videos that help bridge the culture gap. “Fridays” is a new ASL web series about two deaf best friends just trying to figure out life and relationships, it’s written and produced by Shoshannah Stern and Josh Feldman. For cute and totally relevant comics about Deaf and CODA life, follow “That Deaf Guy” Matt Daigle.

getting-involved-with-deaf-hoh-community-05Getting involved with the online community will make it easier to take the next step, which is to get out and meet new people! Some people find that using Meetup, a site and mobile app that allows users to form groups and arrange meetings, offers a comfortable transition between online discussion and in-person engagement. Look for a Meetup group in your area and, if there isn’t one, create a group! You never know, there might be other likeminded individuals who are looking for the exact same thing.

getting-involved-with-deaf-hoh-community-07If meeting people off the internet isn’t up your alley, there are plenty of other options to connect with the Deaf community. Try Google searching for a Deaf coffee chat or Deaf club in your city. If you live near Rochester, NY, check out the National Technical Institute of the Deaf (NTID) campus. Or, if you live near Washington, DC, look for events at Gallaudet University. Don’t be afraid to reach out to local deaf organizations or the local interpreter training program for more information, you will find that most people are happy to help.

Attending Deaf Expos is an awesome way to meet new people and immerse yourself to an environment where ASL is the primary language. These expos are growing in popularity, making their way from major cities to more regional venues. Learn about all the services, events, and cool things happening within the Deaf community. Another option is to find out if there is an ASL Slam or Deaf cultural events coming up nearby. Maybe there’s a monthly Deaf coffee meetup, or another type of casual social meeting that is open to the public. There are deaf-owned and operated restaurants popping up in major North American cities, such as Mozzeria in San Francisco, Signs in Toronto, and DeaFined in Vancouver where you communicate with mostly deaf waitstaff. Remember that it’s perfectly natural to be nervous the first time you do something, but that should never prevent you from seizing the opportunity to expand your horizons.

getting-involved-with-deaf-hoh-community-08If you are training to be an ASL interpreter, sign up with your local RID chapter. It helps to not only be connected with the Deaf community, but also to participate in the Interpreting community. Learn about upcoming workshops and events. Meet other interpreters from all backgrounds, expertise, and experience levels. If anyone understands how scary it can be to push yourself outside your comfort zone, it’s others who work in this field.

If you want to get involved with the Deaf community, there is no reason not to. Deaf people spend their lives marginalized by the hearing majority culture, so taking the initiative to form a connection is generally appreciated. Start by practicing your ASL and learning about the different methods of deaf-hearing communication, which will lessen any anxiety about engaging new people. Educate yourself on Deaf issues, understand what it means to be an ally, and attend an upcoming event in your area. Then just find a friendly face in the room, and strike up a conversation!

If you are in an interpreter training program and looking for ways to get involved with the Deaf community, consider mentoring through LC Interpreting Services. Our mentorship programs are individually designed to offer exactly what you need to feel confident as an intepreter, from strengthening skills to providing guidance, and everything in between!

Inquire about mentoring services

 

How the Criminal Justice System Fails the Deaf Community

deafness-criminal-justice-01Imagine a situation where you are accused of a crime– perhaps a crime you did not commit, or maybe even a crime you were the victim of. The arresting officers use a different language; you’re unable to communicate what happened before you get brought to jail. There is no way for you to contact your family or an attorney. Your legal rights are not accessible to you.

From frightening and dangerous arrests, to the lack of access to reentry services, our justice system fails deaf Americans every step of the way. I recently spoke with Talila A. Lewis, an attorney and civil rights activist, about the fight for deaf access to justice. In 2011, Lewis founded the DC-based all-volunteer nonprofit organization called Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf (HEARD).  HEARD is dedicated to ensuring deaf and disabled people receive equal access to the legal system. HEARD focuses on educating justice professionals; correcting and preventing deaf wrongful convictions; ending abuse of deaf and disabled prisoners; and on increasing deaf involvement in the justice, legal, and corrections professions.

talia-lewis-deaf-02Most recently, HEARD has teamed up with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Academy Award-winning actress Marlee Matlin, to lead a campaign to end police brutality against the deaf.

“Deaf wrongful convictions often begin when police officers fail to ensure that communication is effective pursuant to federal disability rights laws,” said Lewis.

To contact law enforcement, a deaf individual might use a videophone, which places an interpreter between the deaf caller and the 911 dispatcher. The dispatcher must then relay all information accurately from the interpreter to the responding officer. If it is a hearing person who dials 911, they might not tell the dispatcher that there is a deaf person on the scene.

According to Lewis, who is tracking incidences of police brutality and discrimination against deaf people across the nation, effective communication during this initial stage is critical to preventing wrongful arrest and convictions. Unfortunately, police officers sometimes rely on unqualified third parties—including children, and even alleged abusers—to facilitate communication during these interactions.

deafness-criminal-justice-911Rarely, if ever, do ASL interpreters arrive on the scene with the police. Many times, police show up completely unaware that they are working with with a person who is deaf. This can lead to dangerous misunderstandings.

For instance, Philip Wolfe escaped a domestic dispute and had a friend call the police. Although the dispatcher was informed that Wolfe was deaf and required an interpreter, the police showed up without one and completely misunderstood the issue. The domestic abuse charge was never filed. Wolfe’s partner returned that night and abused him again. In Oklahoma, sixty four year old Pearl Pearson was pulled out of his car and beaten by police as he attempted to show them a card that said “I am deaf.” The officers were not charged for the attack; but Pearson was charged with resisting arrest.

pearl-pearson-deaf-police-brutality-04Once a deaf individual has been taken into custody, it is the responsibility of police officers to ensure that access to communication is effective. Communication may require releasing a hand from handcuffs, cuffing hands in front of a person, providing Certified Sign Language Interpreters or Certified Deaf Interpreters, or perhaps another accommodation, as there are many. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) makes clear that police departments are responsible for providing reasonable accommodations and that preference for the type of accommodation goes to the deaf person; but deaf people nationwide report that police departments are not in compliance with the law.

I spoke with Maria Dollhopf, a deaf woman who experienced injustice during the legal process. According to Dollhopf, the arresting officers in her case made excuses and persuaded her that she did not need an interpreter.

deafness-criminal-justice-05“I kept gesturing for them to take me out of the cuffs to communicate, but they wouldn’t,” said Dollhopf. “The police said they couldn’t get an interpreter, so I had to stay in jail overnight. It was over 24 hours that I did not have an interpreter. I felt like i had no lifeline of communication.”

According to Lewis, officers sometimes draft statements without providing accommodations; and sometimes without consulting the deaf person at all.  “Many deaf people who use sign language as their first or only language have expressed to me that they did not—and often still do not—understand what was written but they felt intimidated, frustrated, fatigued and pressured into signing these documents. Even the best attorney will struggle to defend against a signed statement.”

Justice and legal professionals often lack deaf cultural competency, which plays a major role in deaf discrimination and oppression. Cultural competence refers to the ability to effectively interact with individuals from different cultures. For example, if detectives and attorneys do not understand that ASL is its’ own language, they may assume that writing notes back and forth with a deaf person is adequate. Lewis reminds us that several of the possible deaf wrongful conviction cases HEARD is currently investigating resulted from this very situation.

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“A recent Disability Rights California study on law enforcement training and mental health crisis intervention revealed that California’s police academy standards only require six hours of 664 hours of training be dedicated to disability,” said Lewis. “Within those six hours, cadets are supposed to cover a wide variety of disability-related topics and numerous disabilities. That is simply not enough. Moreover, the training should be developed and taught in conjunction with people within those specific disability communities.”

By getting to know the diverse communities they serve, law enforcement agencies can help eliminate some of the barriers to justice. Cultural competency means spending far more than 6 hours learning about people with different abilities.

 

Jason “JT” Tozier is the HEARD Deaf Community Liaison. JT offered to share his experience with the legal system 20 years ago. “When I went to the station for fingerprints and to have my photo taken, I had no idea what was going on. The police kept talking to me and trying to force me to read their lips, but I am Deaf and I sign! I told them I needed an interpreter but they kept denying me this access.”

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“When I first arrived in court, the judge tried making my brother interpreter for me,” recalls JT. “He wasn’t certified, he was only 17 or 18 years old. He didn’t want to interpret, but he felt very pressured to.” JT’s trial was postponed 3 times before a court interpreter was provided.

Legal interactions are critical, so a qualified interpreter is the most effective accommodation for deaf people. Courtrooms and jails are both required by the ADA to provide reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities. The same goes for attorneys. To deny an interpreter is to deny equal access. Yet, time and time again deaf people are refused interpreters through every step of the legal process.

 

“The possibility of a person being wrongfully convicted only increases as time passes without consulting an attorney,” explains Lewis. “Immediate and effective attorney client communication is key. If the only way to access your attorney is via sign language and the jail fails to provide a videophone, you have no way to communicate with your attorney.”

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In many cases, lawyers do not know that they are required by law to provide ASL interpreters. Both Dollhopf and JT recall feeling confused and alienated from their respective attorneys throughout the legal process. “I didn’t really feel like the lawyer’s client because he did not offer me access,” said JT. “By the time an interpreter was finally provided, I just felt like everything was going over my head.”

Part of HEARD’s mission is educating those who work in the criminal justice system about providing access for the deaf. Lewis explains that in many cases, the courts themselves do not even understand where a deaf person’s rights have been violated. “There are lawyers who do not understand that they are required to provide interpreters pursuant to the ADA. Judges, public defenders, the bar. Administrators of justice have to become more culturally competent.”

The United States Department of Justice is responsible for enforcing the core provisions of the ADA. Unfortunately, said Lewis, there has been very little focus on these cases for myriad reasons. Lewis also explained that agencies sometimes have procedures related to working with deaf people, but policies are often outdated, or never implemented. Even the best policies become meaningless without enforcement. The end result is a criminal justice system full of entities that do not understand or comply with the ADA.

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There are thousands of deaf prisoners all across the country, yet only 6 prisons have video phones. Inmates are denied access to their family, friends, and legal counsel because effective communication technologies are not present, or because the staff does not know how to operate or “supervise” calls on the antiquated and unreliable equipment. Incarcerated deaf people are subsequently isolated, left out of prison orientations and safety meetings. Both Dollhopf and JT recall the guards in jail simply ignoring them, as if they were not human beings.

It’s practically impossible to overturn a wrongful conviction when you have no line to the outside world. A deaf man in Florida, Felix Garcia was sentenced to life in prison after his siblings framed him for murder in the 1980s. They have since admitted that Felix was not involved with the crime but, with only a 4th grade education, Garcia did not know or understand his rights throughout the legal process. He was unable to advocate for himself, and nobody came to his aid then. Former HEARD board member Pat Bliss, has worked on Felix’ case for nearly two decades and is currently supporting a bid for clemency for him. Like many deaf people who receive little or no access to communication throughout life, Garcia had simply gotten used to smiling and nodding his way through things. To date, Garcia is HEARD’s longest serving deaf wrongfully convicted prisoner—now on his thirty-third year in prison.

One major problem, notes Lewis, is that no one knows exactly how many deaf people are in the criminal justice system. HEARD created and maintains the only national database of deaf and deafblind prisoners, but Lewis emphasizes the importance of mandated tracking of deaf prisoners by government agencies and is pushing for the Department of Justice to create national standards for inclusion of and protection for deaf incarcerated people.

Empowering deaf individuals to become effective self-advocates is another major focus of HEARD. The organization has teamed up with the ACLU to produce videos that educate Deaf Americans about their civil rights, and Lewis and her deaf students at Rochester Institute of Technology/National Technical Institute of the Deaf are developing the first deaf-accessible resources on mass incarceration.

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“The hearing community talks non-stop about mass incarceration,” said Lewis. “Deaf people and people with disabilities are overrepresented in the prison population and the school-to-prison pipeline. I was trying to teach my students about mass incarceration, but there was just no accessible material available– nothing captioned or signed. So we had to actually create the videos for the Community.”

JT also emphasizes the importance of self-advocacy. “Know the Miranda rights, know your civil liberties, study the ADA. If you inform yourself and become educated, you can protect yourself. The police and legal system are going to try to oppress you. Be ready to stand up against that and know what you are entitled to!”

Lewis’ believes that creating equal access to justice requires intentional infusion of diversity into our justice system. “We need deaf professionals involved at every level. We need deaf consultants creating training programs and advising management. We need to see more deaf police officers, attorneys, judges, and prison officials.” Certified Deaf Interpreters and/or Certified Legal interpreters should be mandatory for legal proceedings involving a deaf signing individuals. More advocates within the system increases the odds of justice being served.

Deaf Americans deserve their constitutional rights, as guaranteed by the ADA. The legal process can be overwhelming for anyone, but for deaf people with no access, it can be confusing, dehumanizing, isolating, and treacherous.

“Honestly, it’s just not easy when you are deaf,” admits Dollhopf. “You can’t fight with the police, you can’t force them to get an interpreter. I was not able to get the services I needed, from the beginning. But what are you supposed to do? They make you feel like you have no voice.”

Deaf Interpreter Goes Viral

lamberton-deblasio-ebola-press-conference-aslLast week, Mayor Bill de Blasio addressed the citizens of New York to discuss the city’s first confirmed case of Ebola. During the press conference the mayor’s ASL interpreter, Jonathan Lamberton, gained a bit of attention on the Internet. Most of the commentary centered around Lamberton’s expressiveness, which is actually just part of sign language, but missed the most compelling aspect of this particular interpreter: he is Deaf.

For hearing people who do not have any experience with Deaf culture, it might be hard to understand how Certified Deaf Interpreters (CDI) are used, and why they are necessary. In this instance, the CDI was working as a team with a hearing interpreter who sat in the audience. The hearing interpreter was signing the message to Lamberton, who was interpreting it on camera. But why have two interpreters?

asl-interpreter-nycNew York City is truly a melting pot with people of all ethnic backgrounds, education levels, and ability. In times when peoples’ health or lives might be in danger, communication becomes absolutely critical. There is no room for miscommunication when state officials are addressing the public safety.

Utilizing an interpreter whose native language is ASL can be a good match when your audience is unknown. While a high quality hearing interpreter may be able to do a great job, a CDI has the ability to reach ASL users on every level. This ensures that the message is conveyed to a broad audience.

lydia-callis-asl-bloomberg-press-conferenceDeaf people who use sign language to communicate may read and write English quite well; or they may not know English at all. Many deaf people have excellent ASL skills, while others only know informal sign languages called “home signs.” Additionally, in a large city like New York there is a whole audience of foreign born deaf people for whom ASL is a second language.

Deaf interpreters come from a background of visual language, so they are able to “let go” of the English form more easily. Because sign language is their native language, deaf interpreters can communicate with deaf consumers on a level that other interpreters just may not be able to get to. CDIs tend to be more intuitive when it comes to foreign sign languages, informal signs, and translating cross cultural messages.

american-sign-language-interpreter-04Imagine you’re an older person who immigrated here from Cambodia at a time when that country did not have any official sign language. The language you’ve used your whole life is a combination of signs and gestures which does not correlate in any way to ASL. A hearing sign language interpreter might have a very challenging time interpreting your doctor’s appointment, finding it difficult to explain technical terms in a way you understand. Our ethical obligation as interpreters is to ensure the deaf consumer receives the service they deserve. This is one example where a CDI could be called in.

doctor-patient-asl-communicationDelivering health and safety information is an important role, not an entertainment event. It puts a lot of pressure on ASL interpreters when their performance is judged not only by deaf consumers, but by hearing audiences who have little understanding of the job at hand.

obama-with-asl-interpreterDuring the press conference, one Twitter user claimed that everyone around him thought the interpreter was “faking it” like the infamous Nelson Mandela memorial interpreter. Other hearing commenters critiqued the deaf interpreter’s signing style, as if he was putting on a show for them. When an interpreter’s signing does not match the speaker’s vocalizations, or the signing is very passionate, it does not mean the interpreter is making up a language or just acting. Sign language interpreters exist to serve the needs of deaf consumers in the best and most ethical way they are able.

american-sign-languageIt’s wonderful when sign language gets so much Internet attention, because it provides new opportunities for mainstream society to become educated about Deaf culture. I think it is important that when general audiences to see ASL interpreters in the media, they understand the true the function we serve.

Hearing the Voice of the Deaf Community

Often, people ask me “what is going on?” with Deaf culture. More than ever, we are seeing deaf individuals on TV, in the news, and other mainstream sources. For thousands of years, deaf people were silent members of society, sometimes denied basic rights simply because they could not hear. But with new communication technologies emerging… Continue Reading

Deaf Rights: What You Need to Know

Working in the Deaf community, I’ve noticed a great deal of confusion surrounding the legal rights of the Deaf. Both Deaf and hearing individuals have difficulty understanding what accommodations deaf people are entitled to, and how exactly those needs get met. I recently had a chance to discuss these important issues with Sheryl Eisenberg-Michalowski, who… Continue Reading

How Do I Know What Interpreting Agency to Work For?

Last year, audiences watched in disbelief as the South African sign language interpreter for Nelson Mandela’s memorial service earned the nickname “the fake interpreter.” Insulted, but not entirely surprised, the global deaf community used this public example to bring attention to an unfortunately common problem. The agencies which provide interpreters, even for large televised events,… Continue Reading

Can Digital Devices Replace Interpreters?

While walking the streets of New York, nearly every person I see is staring down at a screen, fully engaged with digital devices. Through technology, our world has become incredibly connected; yet disconnected at the same time. There is comfort in being able to communicate without regard to time or distance but, somehow all this… Continue Reading

Inclusion For All

New 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… Continue Reading