Investigation of Communication Problems in Tennessee Prisons

The Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC) and Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT) are currently investigating communication barriers for deaf inmates in Tennessee prisons. This includes prisons operated by the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) and by CoreCivic. If you are a deaf inmate in a Tennessee prison and are having communication problems OR know a deaf inmate in a Tennessee prison who is having communication problems, please contact DRT by phone at 1-800-342-1660 or by email at GetHelp@DisabilityRightsTN.org. Examples of communication problems include: No sign language interpreter for communications like: medical appointments classes classification STRONG-R Using other inmates as “interpreters” Grievance information only in written English No videophones Greater access to telephones than videophones No visual fire and emergency alarms No closed captions on TVs These are only examples. This is not a complete list of communication problems that may be occurring. While the current investigation is focused on Tennessee, if you are experiencing these issues in prisons outside of TN or know others who are, please contact CREEC by phone at 303.757.7901 or info@creeclaw.org. Please post the attached notice in a public space and please share this information with deaf inmates and their friends or family members. PDF Version of Public Notice   PDF Version of Public...

Full and Equal Enjoyment for Sports and Music Fans

Client spotlight:  Kirstin Kurlander Garcia Deaf lacrosse fan and CREEC client, Kirstin Kurlander Garcia has been instrumental in bringing open captioning to both the Pepsi Center and Broncos Stadium. Using CREEC’s Fast Advocacy for Communication program, she was also recently able to secure an interpreter for the Violent Femmes concert at Planet Bluegrass. “Our family enjoys professional lacrosse games at both the Pepsi Center and Broncos Stadium, but I wasn’t able to fully enjoy the events without access to the announcements – players, penalties, and all the other things that entertain us between plays,” Kirstin explained. She approached CREEC about the Pepsi Center; we approached the Pepsi Center to discuss the issue, but ultimately resolved the case in Kirstin’s favor through class action litigation. Soon thereafter, Kirstin and CREEC reached out to Broncos Stadium and were able to work with the folks there – without need for litigation – to ensure open captioning. As a result of the collaboration between Kirstin and CREEC’s Accessibility Project, deaf and hard of hearing lacrosse fans – and hockey, basketball, and football fans – can all enjoy access to the same public address content as hearing fans. Also an avid music fan, Kirstin was interested in attending a summer 2019 Violent Femmes concert at Planet Bluegrass. Long before the concert date, Kirstin reached out to Planet Bluegrass to request a sign language interpreter. The venue owners responded with a common misconception:  that it’s up to the individual bands to provide interpreters. In fact, both owners and operators – venues and performers, in this case – are responsible for ensuring effective communication for deaf...

Spreading the Word: Deaf Awareness Day at the Denver Zoo and the DeafNation Expo in Nashville, TN

CREEC recently had the privilege of joining the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community at two marquee events:  Deaf Awareness Day at the Denver Zoo in Colorado and the DeafNation Expo in Nashville, TN. All together more than 2,400 people attended these two signature events. Deaf Awareness Day at the Denver Zoo – September 22, 2019 Kris Shipley of Sprint Accessibility remarked about this year’s day at the Zoo, “Relay Colorado and Sprint Accessibility sponsored and hosted Deaf Awareness Day at the Denver Zoo on September 22, 2019 to support Deaf Awareness Month. It was a smashing hit! There were over 1,000 attendees including all ages of deaf, hard of hearing and hearing guests from the Denver metro area, Colorado Springs and northern Colorado. This was a good way to bring the community together and celebrate Deaf Awareness Month.” Co-Executive Director Amy Robertson represented CREEC at Deaf Awareness Day at the Denver Zoo and reported, “It was great to see old friends and meet new people in the Deaf community.  It also gave us a chance to introduce our Fast Advocacy for Communication (FAC) program, which folks seemed interested in.”  CREEC looks forward to participating in future Deaf Awareness Days. DeafNation Expo Nashville, TN – October 12, 2019 Director of CREEC’s Accessibility Project, Martie Lafferty joined 74 vendors and more than 1,400 participants at Nashville’s DeafNation Expo on Saturday October 12.  Both vendors and participants came from multiple states including TN, KY, IN, GA, NC, AL, and MS.  Martie and a sign language interpreter staffed CREEC’s booth where many participants stopped by to talk and pick up flyers, magnets,...

Press Release: Colorado Department of Corrections Ordered to Provide Videophones to Deaf Prisoners.

For Immediate Release Thursday, September 19, 2019   COLORADO DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS ORDERED TO PROVIDE VIDEOPHONES TO DEAF PRISONERS Ruling comes three years after prisoner-initiated lawsuit filed. DENVER — A Denver federal court yesterday ordered the Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC) to provide videophones for Deaf prisoners.  This order ensures that Deaf prisoners will be able to communicate with their family and friends in sign language. The order comes after three years of litigation initiated pro se by lead plaintiff Bionca Rogers. Ms. Rogers, a prisoner in the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility (DWCF), can hear, but her mother is Deaf. Before Ms. Rogers was incarcerated, she and her mother communicated by videophone – the now-widespread technology providing telecommunications for deaf people who communicate in sign language. In late 2015, after arriving at DWCF, Ms. Rogers asked to contact her mother – guardian of her two young children – by videophone.  CDOC refused, and told Ms. Rogers that she would have to use the teletypewriter, or TTY, 60-year-old technology that requires both parties to have TTY machines, and to type back and forth to each other. Since her mother – like most Deaf people – did not own a TTY, this required a three-step relay process:  Ms. Rogers typed into the TTY; a TTY relay operator spoke her words to a video relay operator; who then interpreted them into ASL.  When Ms. Rogers’s mother responded, the three-step process was repeated in reverse. Because this is a very ineffective way of communicating – in no way equivalent to hearing prisoners speaking by phone with hearing friends and family – Ms. Rogers...

Fighting for the Rights of Deaf Immigrants in Detention

“I was so sad. So afraid I’d never see my son again. I had no idea that they [US Customs and Border Patrol] would separate us, especially in the case of my son who is deaf and who can’t communicate easily,” says an asylum-seeking mom from Guatemala who prefers to remain anonymous for safety reasons. She goes on to say that CREEC’s Liz Jordan “helped me communicate with my son, and closely followed what was happening to me. Without CREEC’s help I would not have been able to figure out what was happening with my son and I would not have been able to fight my case.” Separated from his mother soon after crossing the border in April 2018, a 17-yr old deaf asylum seeker was transported alone hundreds of miles away to an Office of Refugee Resettlement shelter in Arizona – without interpretation services or accommodations of any kind. His only means of communication? Drawing pictures. Meanwhile, the boy’s mother was sent to the ICE detention center in Aurora, Colorado where she asked for a video call with her son. Her requests were ignored. She says, “I felt so alone when I first got to Aurora. I didn’t know what I had to do. I met with a pro bono attorney and explained everything that had happened with me and my son and that he was deaf. They referred my case to CREEC. I remember my first visit from CREEC. I felt so much more supported. I felt myself come back to life a bit.” “It was a long fight involving multiple requests for a video call, consistent...

Accessibility Project Update: Rights of Disabled Inmates

CREEC is pleased to announce a new resource called Inmates with Disabilities: Know Your Rights.  This resource provides an overview of the rights of disabled inmates and gives examples of potential violations. Please share it with anyone who may benefit from it. We greatly appreciate the work of our summer intern, Jordan Staley, on this project and wish him all the best as he begins his third year at Denver Law. A more detailed discussion of the rights of disabled inmates follows below. Applicable Laws Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)[1] and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504)[2] protect people, including inmates of jails and prisons, from disability discrimination. This means jails and prisons[3] must not discriminate against inmates because of their disability and must give disabled inmates equal access to the programs, services, and benefits of the facility. So, for example, a jail cannot provide classes only in a building that is physically inaccessible to wheelchair users. Similarly, prisons cannot segregate blind inmates by automatically housing all of them in the medical unit.  Individuals with a relationship or association with a disabled person are also protected by these federal laws. So, jails and prisons also cannot discriminate against family members and friends of disabled inmates or disabled family members and friends of nondisabled inmates. Changes Needed Due to Disability Sometimes disabled inmates need the facility to make a change to allow them to fully participate in its programs, services, or benefits. The ADA and Section 504 require prisons and jails to make such changes (referred to as accommodations or modifications) as long as...