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Communications Access and Law Enforcement

Communications Access and Law Enforcement

We often hear stories about law enforcement agencies violating citizens’ legal rights; it seems to happen far too often. For people with hearing loss, however, it is often much worse. Their fundamental right to communication in a law enforcement situation is often violated. It seems that many law enforcement agencies are becoming more aware of these issues. However, there are still too many who are oblivious to these injustices.

October 2000 – The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) recently published their position paper on communications access for people with hearing loss in law enforcement situations. This paper caused quite a stir among our readers, and we’ve included several reader responses with the article.

October 2000 – In response to the police handling of Eric Plunkett’s murder at Gallaudet, Diane Edge wrote a timely  rebuke of the DC police department and their deaf awareness. Shortly after the publication of Diane’s essay, the DC police announced a settlement of a Federal lawsuit that addressed many of these issues. A short article on that event  and other related articles follow Diane’s essay.

December 2001 – Deaf Inmates Struggle for Basic Rights

April 2007 – ADA Guide for Law Enforcement Officers

May 2007 – Making Courthouses Accessible to People with Hearing Loss

May 2008 – Deaf Irish Woman Sues for Right to Sit on Jury

October 2010 – Comfort Contego to be Supplied to the New Mexico State Courts in 2010


Deaf Inmates Struggle for Basic Rights

December 2001

Have you ever thought about what it would be like to be in prison? It’s not an appealing prospect for anyone. Now imagine that you’re in prison and you can’t hear. You get disciplined for missing roll call, for failing to turn your light off when instructed, and for a variety of other bewildering reasons. It’s not that you’re trying to be troublesome; you just can’t hear the announcements that tell you what to do!

You can’t make a phone call, because the prison has no TTY. You are concerned for your safety, because there are no visual fire alarms. You don’t have access to basic medical care, because you can’t communicate with the doctor. Your isolation is nearly complete, because you can’t communicate with anyone.

I’ve seen a couple of recent articles that address the difficulties of inmates with hearing loss. Hopefully the situations discussed in these articles were the exception rather than the rule, but I doubt it. My guess is that almost none of the progress that has been made in the hearing loss world has filtered into our nation’s prisons.

The Richmond, Virginia Times Dispatch recently reported on a man named Freddie Lee Cephas. He’s bitten an officer, committed a long list of infractions, and attempted suicide. His family maintains that he is not a troublemaker, but is only expressing his frustration at his isolation. He has limited access to a TTY, no captioned television, and no interpreter.

Cephas has obtained representation from the NAD Law Center and is striving to obtain basic rights. His lawyers argue that he is being discriminated against under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). But officials at the Virginia Corrections Department and the Attorney General’s Office point out that a federal judge in Roanoke has found the ADA unconstitutional in application to the states. A spokesman for the Corrections Department states that their attorneys report that they are in compliance with the law.


Deaf Irish Woman Sues for Right to Sit on Jury

May 2008

A DEAF mother of two barred from jury service because she cannot hear is to launch a landmark legal action aimed at quashing the ban. Joan Clarke, a former factory worker from Galway who has been deaf since birth, will claim she is entitled to serve on a jury by means of a sign-language interpreter. Ms Clarke, who wants to perform “this important civic duty”, is seeking to have a decision to exclude her from jury service set aside, claiming that the blanket ban on deaf people carrying out jury duty is a breach of her rights under the Constitution and the European Convention of Human Rights. The High Court judicial review action, the first of its kind, gets under way next week amid mounting criticism of Ireland’s outdated Juries Act and less than a week after Justice Minister Dermot Ahern approved a proposal to abolish the upper age limit for jury service.  Full Story