Deaf and hard of hearing individuals face greater legal challenges due to communication barriers that are typically not recognized by lawyers, courts, or police. In encounters with the police, lack of communication may result in detention without the ability to call one’s lawyer. When a deaf or hard of hearing person is not able to communicate with a lawyer, there is no real representation. When a deaf or hard of hearing person does not understand what is going on in the courtroom, justice has not been served.
The key question to ask is: What must be done to ensure effective communication in the legal setting? For instance, a deaf or hard of hearing individual requires effective communication to truly meet with and communicate with a lawyer. This can be provided in a variety of ways, such as qualified interpreters, real-time captioning (or CART) or other accommodations. Furthermore, deaf or and hard of hearing individuals have similar rights when encountering the police, jail officials, and the courts.
The NAD has won greater access in the legal system for deaf and hard of hearing individuals. Police officers now receive more training about the rights of deaf and hard of hearing individuals. Jails and prisons are implementing procedures to ensure that deaf and hard of hearing inmates have equal access to communication. Courts are providing qualified sign language interpreters and CART more regularly. The NAD continues to advocate for equality and to ensure that lawyers, the police, jails, and the courts comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.
Recent NAD Action Highlights
- Robertson v. Los Animas County Sheriff’s Department – A deaf man alleged that he could not make a phone call from jail or participate in a televised advisory hearing that had no captions. A federal trial court dismissed the case. The NAD joined the case on appeal and won reinstatement of the deaf man’s disability discrimination claims. The case later settled.
- Cuevas v. City of Hialeah, Florida – A deaf couple alleged that the police failed to provide qualified interpreters and involuntarily committed the wife to a hospital on two separate occasions because she was deaf. This matter was resolved.
- Mosier v. Commonwealth of Kentucky – A deaf attorney alleged that the Kentucky state courts have a policy of not providing interpreters to ensure effective communication with deaf attorneys when they appear in court. This case is pending.