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April 12, 2006

Deaf Woman Sues Schools For Not Providing Signer

From: Tampa Tribune - Tampa,FL,USA - Apr 12, 2006


Published: Apr 12, 2006

TAMPA - A deaf Brandon woman who wanted to take an adult education class on motorcycle riding is suing the Hillsborough County school district for not providing a sign language interpreter.

"They are discriminating against me, which I felt is not right," Merrie Carol Paul said in an interview conducted through a telephone relay system. "One of my dreams is that I wanted to ride my own motorcycle. ... I love to ride motorcycles because I can do it. It doesn't matter if I am deaf or not. I love to feel the spirit. It is me."

Paul, 46, claims in a federal lawsuit that the district violated the Americans With Disabilities Act when officials refused to provide the interpreter when she signed up to take the class last year. The lawsuit, filed by Coral Gables lawyer Matthew Dietz, states that school officials told Paul they didn't provide interpreters for recreational and voluntary classes.

School district spokesman Stephen Hegarty, who had not seen the lawsuit, said he could not comment on cases pending litigation. Asked if the district provides sign language interpreters for people in adult education classes, Hegarty said, "Regardless of what kind of class it is, the law requires that we make reasonable accommodations, and frequently litigation arises over how to define reasonable."

Hegarty said he did not know whether a sign language interpreter ever has been requested for an adult school class.

Paul said she was told the $175 class fee would not cover the cost of an interpreter. In the lawsuit, she says she was told she was welcome to bring her own interpreter, which the suit states would have cost her $2,340.

Deaf from birth, Paul said she rode motorcycles with her parents as a teenager in Michigan. She said she passed a written test but needs to take the course to obtain her license.

"I have my motorcycle in my garage, and it is waiting for me," she said.

Dietz said Paul can read lips but that even the best lip readers can understand only about a third of what is spoken. The attorney said Paul also fears she will miss what the instructor says when he or she is not looking directly at her.

"All state government facilities know they have to provide effective communications to the deaf," Dietz said. "It's just too much of a bother or too much of an expense, so they don't."

Dietz said Paul tried several approaches to get officials to provide an interpreter but was rebuffed at every turn. "This case is an easy case," he said. "They don't really have an option. If they have a course or they have any services, they have to make it available to people, notwithstanding their disability."

© 2006 Tampa Tribune