Communicating Effectively with the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Corrections

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The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) was signed into law on July 26, 1990. It envisioned a nation where Americans with disabilities would become fully integrated into the American Society.

Today, we more than expect Americans with disabilities to be properly integrated into American Society with reasonable accommodations. Hotels have accessible showers for elderly guests. Ramps in our government buildings are designed for people with wheelchairs. These very same ramps are now widely used by parents pushing their baby carriages, reinforcing how accessibility can be for everyone.

Closed-captioning is available in all television sets in America, including English or Spanish captioning. Disability accommodations have become more “universally accessible,” making product and service designs far more available to the greater general public, including housing, transportation, telecommunications and jails.

Title II of the ADA, regulated by the Department of Justice, requires that state and local government entities provide reasonable accommodations to Americans with disabilities. As state and local taxpayers, they are entitled to local government services. The ADA also requires state and local government entities provide effective communication with Deaf or Hard of Hearing Americans.

For Deaf or Hard of Hearing Americans, reasonable accommodations should be tailored to individuals’ specific disabilities and capabilities. Accommodations vary widely among Deaf person or Hard of Hearing individuals and they are not always easily understood.

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Deaf woman says Jefferson County failed to provide interpreter after arrest

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A deaf woman alleges authorities in Jefferson County did not provide her with an American Sign Language interpreter when she asked for one after she was arrested and then jailed overnight in October.

Angela Kasinger, 40, said in a tort claim notice filed in Jefferson County on Feb. 22 that authorities violated her civil rights enshrined under state and federal law. Through her Portland-based attorney, Daniel Snyder, she states that she plans to sue the county, alleging discrimination.

Kasinger was arrested on Oct. 27 around 4 p.m. by Warm Springs Police officer Nicholas Ulery, according to a copy of the claim obtained by The Bulletin. She would later plead guilty to one count of reckless driving stemming from this incident, according to court records.

Ulery took Kasinger to the Jefferson County jail, the tort claim states. She remained there overnight and part of the next day. She asked Ulery and jail staff for an interpreter but didn’t get one, she alleges. She was released on Oct. 28.

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‘Prison Within a Prison’: New Mandate Offers Lifeline for Deaf People in Custody

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  The new Federal Communications Commission rule will require all prison phone companies to provide video communication services for deaf and hard of hearing prisoners.  

For four years, while incarcerated in Maryland state prison, Alphonso Taylor, 49, said he was the only deaf man in his unit. And he had no way to call or communicate with his loved ones outside of prison, who used sign language.

“I feel really alone,” he told advocates in a September 2020 videophone call from a Baltimore County jail. “I’m constantly holding back a rage from deprivation of information.”

During the pandemic, phone calls became an even more vital lifeline for people in prison. But many deaf incarcerated people were still cut off from meaningful communication, as few had access to the technology needed to sign with family at home.

In a major step in the fight over accommodations for deaf people behind bars, the Federal Communications Commission will soon require all prison phone companies to provide video communication services for deaf and hard of hearing prisoners. The new order, which goes into effect in January 2024, also applies to people in jails, immigration detention, juvenile detention, and secure mental health facilities nationwide.

“Incarcerated people who are deaf, hard of hearing, deafblind, or who have a speech disability are in a prison within a prison,” wrote Jessica Rosenworcel, chairwoman of the FCC, announcing the new rule last September.

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