Domestic Violence and the Deaf


The deaf and hard of hearing world is unique because of the difficulty in communicating with others. The world of the victim of domestic violence is also one of isolation and lack of access to the outside world. A batterer typically isolates their victim to instill dependency. When you combine both realities, it is easy to understand why a deaf victim takes up to seven times longer to leave his or her abuser than it would for a hearing victim.

Deaf victims must also struggle with the decision to use the systems and services that even hearing victims find almost im
possible to navigate. There are so many questions that must be addressed: where will I live if I seek a restraining order? What will happen if I go to a shelter? Will someone be able to communicate with me? What will happen to my children? Will I be treated equally if my abuser is a hearing person? Because most folks are unfamiliar with the deaf culture,the victim sometimes has to spend
his or her time educating the providers on the communication and cultural differences of the deaf community rather than being
the recipient of support and services.
The National Association for the Deaf published an article in 2007 titled “Domestic Violence: we can’t ignore it anymore.” It explored why deaf women suffer a greater risk of domestic violence. They
(who?) found that while there has been a lot powerful advocacy work on other issues, the issue of domestic violence and sexual assault have largely been overlooked or misunderstood in the deaf
community. Deaf survivors are unable to seek help from either the hearing or the deaf community. This is largely caused by misconceptions, putting blame on the survivor and the code of silence that still exists in the deaf community.
Now that I have raised the issue… What do we do? We need a two-
prong approach that addresses both outreach and education. We have begun that effort with a committed group of folks who are creating a training for deaf high schoolers in Dade public schools,
and we have begun a dialogue with the provider community and the courts. We will keep you posted on our efforts. If you are
interested in the effort email me…

My Summer at DIG

By: MacKenzie Ruroede
 As a legal intern for Disability Independence Group (DIG), I was introduced to many legal issues that are incurred by individuals with hearing impairments, significant illnesses, and service and emotional support animals. I also worked on cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender. Many of the issues faced by DIG’s clients are unbelievable, unless you have spoken with the discriminated individual, or you have seen video footage of abuse. There were several times when I found myself extremely frustrated with the lack of consideration or thought used by those in positions of authority when determining how to communicate with deaf and hearing impaired individuals. One such example of this is the lack of availability of effective communication methods to deaf individuals in hospitals.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, deaf individuals are entitled to effective communication by hospitals. Whether the deaf individual is a patient in the hospital or the parent of a minor child
being treated in the hospital, effective communication must be provided. Effective communication is not the same for
every hearing impaired individual. An interpreter may be needed for one individual, but a video remote interpreting device may be sufficient for another individual. It is imperative for hospital staff- including doctors and nurses–to listen to their patients in order to determine what method of ASL interpretation is best for the
Hospital staff cannot simply disregard the wishes of its patients and their family members who are in need of effective communication aids. If a method of communication, such as finger spelling or written communication, is not adequate, there must be a change in the method used to communicate with the deaf individual. So long as a person in a decision-making position is asked to change a method of communication to a more efficient method, the hospital must comply. It should not be determined by hospital staff if a communicative method is sufficient for a specific
individual; rather, the individual should determine if communication is sufficient for his or her own benefit.
In order to change these practices by hospital staff, the hospital staff should be educated. It may not seem obvious to the staff that a video interpreter is not sufficient in effective communication. However, if hospital physicians and nurses are educated on the difficulties that deaf and hard of hearing individuals incur when
using a video interpreter, these misconceptions may be eliminated. Education may also alleviate the frustration of deaf and hearing-impaired individuals who require interpreters in hospitals.

My Summer at DIG


By: Kristin Westerhorstmann

Much like racism or sexism, discrimination based on a disability often falls within the common, yet mistaken, school of thought that these issues simply do not exist anymore, or at the very least, happen rarely. I am a law student getting ready to enter my second year at the University of Miami and have been interning with Disability Independence Group for the summer. From day one, it was apparent that this kind of discrimination is still very prevalent and expands into all areas of law, including criminal, landlord-tenant, federal, state, employment, and many more.

           These problems seem to be largely a result of a lack of awareness, not just on the part of those who may be perpetuating the discrimination, but also on the individuals who are being discriminated against and who may not know the full extent of their rights, attorneys who are unfamiliar with this area of the law, and the community at large. Nearly every instance of disability discrimination I have come across at DIG was due in some part to one or more parities unable to understand the nature or extent of an individual’s disability. I was also very surprised to learn that DIG was one of only a few organizations in Florida that specialize in disability law, and even more surprised to learn that this was not only typical in the majority of states, but considered to be advanced.
Many of these issues are also aggravated by communication problems, particularly when an individual is deaf, blind, or has some other kind of impairment to communication. In many
of these cases, individuals are entitled to an interpreter, although this is not a fail-safe. Sometimes, the interpreter is insufficient or ineffective at communicating the user’s needs or intentions,
resulting in miscommunications. This may put the disabled individual in a difficult position of requesting additional services, which can potentially damage the relationship if the other is unwilling or unable to provide them. This can become a serious problem when the services being sought are significant, such as with a doctor or an attorney. In this situation, the individual can
either make due with an ineffective interpreter, or look to
administrative or legal remedies.
Although the general lack of awareness was eye-opening to me, organizations like DIG, that promote and advocate for disability rights, represent a step in the right direction. I have strong hope that others can learn from this example and join the fight to promote awareness, and to help protect the rights and freedoms of individuals with disabilities.

The View from a DIG Intern

Tiffany Blackmon

Intern Tiffany Blackmon

As a law student interning with DIG, I spoke with a client recently and I was frustrated to learn that there are attorneys who disregard their duty to communicate with clients who are deaf. When someone is already in a difficult situation, it’s hard to believe that a lawyer would make the situation even worse, by refusing to provide an interpreter for a family member that needed one. Although I realize that some lawyers would have a difficult time paying for interpreters, most lawyers should be able to afford to pay for an interpreter for the clients that need them.
It is a basic tenet of professional responsibility that Lawyers have an ethical duty to communicate with their clients, and most lawyers try to fulfill that duty. There are unique challenges when trying to communicate effectively with a client is deaf. However, it’s still that lawyer’s responsibility to handle those challenges.
If a lawyer refuses to provide a qualified interpreter, it forces the deaf client to make a difficult choice. If he or she files a complaint against the attorney, to require them to provide an interpreter, the attorney may no longer be pleasant to work with. If you want to work with them despite their refusal, and do not file a complaint, the client is left paying for the interpreter yourself. This is a situation that seems very unfair because the client is paying more money for the same service that hearing clients are receiving.
When you’re calling a lawyer, it’s usually because you need help with a legal issue you’re having. You’re likely already in a difficult place in your life, and in need of legal advice or assistance. For an attorney to be able to help you, you need to be able to communicate with them, so they can get all the information they need to help you, and so you can understand the process, and ask any questions you have. I know that most lawyers are willing to fulfill their duty to communicate, and will provide a qualified interpreter when one is needed. For the attorneys who are unwilling, I hope that they become better educated on their duty to communicate with all clients, including those who are deaf. In South Florida, there are many sign language interpreters who are available to assist, and with the technology that exists now, which allows you to communicate with an individual who is deaf through a sign language interpreter via the video relay phone service, or in person through video relay interpreting with a webcam on your workstation, there is no reason for any deaf person to not have the equal opportunity to effectively communicate with their attorney.