Court Holds Case Challenging TDOC’S Failure to Accommodate Deaf Prisoners Can Proceed

  In an important decision for the enforcement of disability rights in Tennessee, the Middle District of Tennessee held that Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT), the state’s Protection & Advocacy (P&A) organization, has standing to file a lawsuit to protect the civil rights of individuals with disabilities. On November 12, 2020, Federal District Court Judge Aleta A. Trauger issued an opinion in the case of Trivette & Disability Rights Tennessee v. TDOC, recognizing DRT’s plaintiff status and affirming DRT’s ability to bring claims on behalf of its constituents in order to vindicate their rights. DRT, as Tennessee’s P&A, has been mandated by Congress to protect and advocate for the rights of people with disabilities. DRT and Ernest Kevin Trivette filed a lawsuit in the Middle District of Tennessee on March 30, 2020 based on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The suit alleges that the Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC) is failing to provide D/deaf inmates with effective communication, including sign language interpreters and videophones, so that they can have equal access to TDOC’s programs and services. For example, Mr. Trivette was unable to get his GED because TDOC did not provide him with a sign language interpreter who would interpret the course, which was taught in English, into his primary language of American Sign Language (ASL). TDOC filed a Motion to Dismiss, claiming, in part, that DRT lacked standing to bring suit on behalf of D/deaf inmates in TDOC custody. DRT has long advocated for TDOC to provide effective communication to D/deaf and hard of hearing inmates as required by law. In...

D/deaf Coloradans: please take our health care communication survey!

CREEC is investigating D/deaf Coloradans’ communications access to health care.  We are starting with a survey to collect information about interpreters and other accommodations at medical facilities. Take our survey for a chance to win a $50 Target gift card! Your responses will later help CREEC advocate for more accessible health care systems in Colorado!     Please take our survey if you are: A D/deaf patient who needs an interpreter for medical communications; A D/deaf person who is a companion (spouse/parent/adult child) of a hearing patient; or A hearing parent of a D/deaf child who needs an interpreter for medical communications. Survey in ASL and English: https://forms.gle/dxV4jxoZ1bDRC3Zx6 Survey in ASL and Spanish: https://forms.gle/9CSEjzvhvzk7XYh9A If you take our survey, you will be entered in a drawing for a $50 Target gift card.  Based on your responses to this survey, we may contact you for follow-up questions on VP. Everyone contacted for follow-up will receive a $20 gift card....

Lawsuit: Law enforcement fails to provide Oregonians with disabilities equal access to Portland demonstrations

Dispersal tactics violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, chill plaintiffs’ right to free speech Portland, Oregon—A lawsuit filed last night on behalf of people with disabilities in federal district court in Portland argues that law enforcement tactics fail to provide equal access to public demonstrations calling for racial justice, robbing them of their constitutional right to assemble and protest. People with disabilities who participate in public demonstrations are subjected to force and crowd control policies that fail to accommodate or consider their disabilities in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Law enforcement gives little or no notice or opportunity to comply before law enforcements’ use of overwhelming force. This failure to provide reasonable accommodations or effective communication denies people with disabilities their freedom of speech under the First Amendment. “As a person with a disability, I rely on my service animal to navigate the world, including participating in protests, and I have a right to that accommodation. When law enforcement denies my right to protest, they silence my voice. No one should be silenced because they have a disability,” said Juniper Simonis, a plaintiff in the case. “It’s important to me to stand shoulder to shoulder with my community in public demonstrations for Black lives and against police violence. Mass movements for social justice are indispensable in the fight for equality.” “Taking part in public demonstrations reflects a cherished American value. No one should be prevented from participating just because they have a disability,” said Brendan Hamme, senior staff attorney with Disability Rights Legal Center. “People with disabilities should...

CREEC Receives Two-Year Grant from The Colorado Health Foundation

Grant will support a project to help remove communications barriers to health care for Deaf people. The Colorado Health Foundation (CHF) awarded CREEC a $150,000 grant over two years through its Amplifying Health Advocacy program. CREEC’s project proposes to investigate denials of legally required effective communication to Deaf Coloradans at health care facilities and then work to remedy violations systemically by providing effective policies and training. By removing this significant barrier – lack of effective communication – this project will help bring health within reach for the Deaf community in Colorado, a community that tends to be marginalized in our current economic, political, and health care systems. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) require medical providers to ensure that communication with Deaf people is as effective as communication with hearing people. For many medical providers working with Deaf people, this requires a qualified sign language interpreter, and not – as commonly but mistakenly assumed – written notes or lip reading. At CREEC, we know from our legal advocacy work with Deaf clients and from our disability rights advocacy colleagues that, unfortunately, Deaf people are frequently denied qualified sign language interpreters in medical settings despite the requirements of the ADA and ACA. As a result, Deaf people are often unable to access important information about their own health, describe their medical history and symptoms, or ask their health care providers questions. Health care providers also often require Deaf people to provide or pay for their own interpreters, which is both explicitly illegal under the ADA and ACA and puts an additional burden on low-income...

Landmark Accessibility Settlement Reached with the City of San Jose

The Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC), along with co-counsel Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian & Ho (GBDH), reached a landmark settlement with the City of San Jose on behalf of a class of persons with mobility disabilities. The settlement requires San Jose to install or remediate over twenty-seven thousand accessible curb ramps throughout the City over the next eighteen years, and to appropriate more than $130 million to fund this work. Importantly, class members are able to request curb ramp construction and remediation at specific locations according to this settlement. The settlement was approved by the Court on September 2, 2020. Curb ramps provide people with mobility disabilities a safe way to get on and off sidewalks as they travel through the pedestrian right of way. In San Jose alone, there are approximately 157,000 people with mobility disabilities. Missing, broken, or poorly maintained curb ramps prevent people with mobility disabilities from safely using city sidewalks, crosswalks, and other walkways to participate in daily activities like getting to work or going to school. Tim Fox, Co-Executive Director at CREEC and attorney in this case commented, “We initiated this case after receiving reports of people experiencing life-threatening situations as a result of unsafe curb ramps – including being thrown out of their wheelchairs and onto the pavement of busy streets when the wheel of their chair became lodged in a curb ramp gap or hit other construction defects. One person had to wait for more than ten minutes on the pavement before someone stopped and helped them back into their chair. Clearly this is unacceptable.” In 2014 and in response to...

Tennessee Launches New Accessible Absentee Voting Process

July 21, 2020 NASHVILLE, TN — The State of Tennessee has begun offering accessible absentee ballots for people with print disabilities in response to a demand by Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT) in collaboration with the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center and National Federation of the Blind of Tennessee. The recent expansion of absentee voting during the COVID-19 pandemic is offering many a pathway to exercise their right to vote without risking exposure to the virus. However, until now absentee voting in Tennessee has not been accessible to voters with print disabilities due to the use of paper ballots. A print disability interferes with the ability to effectively read, write, or use print materials and includes blindness, low vision, and some physical disabilities such as paralysis. The new accessible absentee ballot process allows voters with print disabilities to use supporting technology like screen readers and others to complete absentee voting forms. “This month we celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The State’s decision is a timely reminder that it is possible to ensure that public services are available for all,” says Brian Keller, DRT Public Policy and Voting Attorney. This new offering by Tennessee ensures that people with print disabilities will be able to exercise their right to vote independently and privately while voting absentee, not only during the current crisis, but in future elections as well. “We are pleased that the state moved swiftly to secure the rights of blind voters without the need for litigation,” said Terry Smith, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Tennessee. “Equal access to voting...