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June 16, 2003

The deaf have rights, too

From: Mansfield News Journal, OH - Jun 16, 2003

Law requires interpreters for the hearing impaired

By Linda Martz
News Journal

MANSFIELD -- Deaf people run a risk of personal harm if they deal with the justice system or medical services without a translator present, Darla Mash said.

Mash is an interpreter for the deaf at The Rehab Center. The agency serves a seven-county region, including Richland.

The rights of deaf people are guaranteed by the Americans with Disabilities Act -- the same law that has helped make public buildings more accessible to people in wheelchairs, Mash said.

But "the deaf community has trouble with agencies -- doctors, lawyers, our court system -- not recognizing their rights under the law," Mash said. "People often refuse to produce an interpreter for the deaf."

Under the ADA, public agencies -- such as government officers, school systems, legislatures or courts -- must accommodate the deaf's handicap. That could mean providing a qualified interpreter, notetaker, transcription service, written materials, telephone handset amplifier, assisted listening device, closed caption decoder, TTY or similar means.

Where a disagreement occurs over the type of accommodation to be provided, the U.S. Department of Justice has maintained the public entity should honor the choice made by the deaf person, unless it can demonstrate that another effective means exists, or use of the means chosen would not be required.

"In our area, a sign language interpreter is the deaf person's top choice -- because English is a second language for them," Mash said.

If a deaf person asks a public entity to provide an interpreter, it's the entity's responsibility to find an interpreter and schedule an appointment so all three people can sit down together, Mash said.

"When they realize the charge involved, and that they are the responsible party for paying for it, not the deaf people, they don't want to pay it," she said.

The Rehab Center charges $35 an hour from 8 to 5 p.m.; $45 an hour prearranged after 5 p.m. or on weekends; and $60 an hour on an emergency basis after hours. Mileage is charged for locations outside of Mansfield, at 30 cents per mile.

Freelance interpreters working on their own also are available, Mash said.

Private agencies that don't comply with the ADA leave themselves open to lawsuits, she said.

If a doctor miscommunicates with a deaf patient, prescribing the wrong medicine, "they can be sued. And if they did not provide an interpreter, they don't have a leg to stand on in court," Mash said.

Several physicians in Mansfield -- including Women's Care -- have been consistently good about providing interpreters, Mash said.

Others have come to learn their responsibility over time. "But it was a struggle at first," she said.

Mash said some area physicians say they'll stop seeing deaf patients because of the extra hassle or expense. That constitutes discrimination, Mash said.

Chesterville resident Gena Stillwell, who is deaf, said she switched from a Knox County gynecologist after he refused to consider hiring an interpreter. "The doctor said, 'You're the only deaf patient I have, so I'm not going to do that.' "

"I showed them the law. They said, 'sorry, we don't accept that.' So I transferred to Mansfield."

Her parents, Frank and Marge Kostecki, say a study by the Royal National Institute for Deaf People showed more than 20 percent of deaf or hard-of-hearing patients leave a doctor's appointment unsure what is wrong with them. Twenty-five percent said their doctor did not check that they understood their diagnosis, and 20 percent felt upset by the way they had been treated.

Court systems in Mansfield have been good about providing interpreters, Mash said. But she knows of judges elsewhere who refused to pay the bill for an interpreter, or said the fee would get added to the deaf person's court costs. "That's against the law," she said.

Mash knows of one attorney in the area -- Ben Kitzler -- who hires an interpreter for deaf clients. "He's been wonderful. But he can't handle everything."

"What perplexes my department (about other attorneys) is, these are the people that know the law?" she said.

Police departments have been inconsistent about finding an interpreter to deal with situations involving deaf people, including Mansfield's, she said.

Rehab Center clients generally think that's OK if it's a simple matter of a traffic ticket, Mash said. Ironically, deaf people frequently get out of tickets because young officers don't know how to handle the situation, she said.

But a deaf person needs an interpreter in any situation where two peoples' versions could be contested in court, she said. It's unfair for an officer hears only one side of the story after a two-car collision.

Successfully telling their side to the officer "depends on how much residual hearing the person was born with and how well they can read lips," she said.

Know the facts

For more information on the Americans with Disabilities Act and how it may affect shops and offices that deal with deaf customers:

U.S. Department of Justice ADA Home Page:

This site contains links to ADA information, 800 numbers for general and technical questions and information on enforcement, including settlement agreements and status reports.

National Association of the Deaf/National Association of the Deaf Law Center:

Enter "Law Center" in the search.

"Don't Hang Up" campaign for better public understanding of relay services for the deaf:

U.S. Department of Justice:

Other helpful links:

Other resources for information:

Ohio Alliance of Community Centers for the Deaf/Mansfield: (419) 756-1133

Ohio Legal Rights Service: (614) 466-7264 or (800) 282-9181

Free TTY equipment:

Sprint makes free TTYs available to deaf or hard-of-hearing Sprint local telephone service customers who qualify for various federal income assistance programs.

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