aT4 Program: A Glance at the Past and Present

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By: Claudia Luna

This summer, I had an incredible opportunity to spend a month abroad in Berlin, Germany. As such a historically significant city, I made it a priority to tour as many museums and monuments as possible. While planning for the trip, I did a lot of research about the various memorials and was surprised to learn that people with disabilities were the first to be targeted by the Nazi regime and the last to receive a monument recognizing their history.t4 monument from a distance in berlin

I dug deeper into the history of the victims and was horrified by what I discovered. In January of 1940, doctors began to meet at a central office at Tiergartenstraße 4 (where the memorial site is now located.) Within those walls, doctors determined who would be targeted based on “usefulness” and ability to contribute to the work force. Those selected would be subject to forced sterilizations or euthanasia. People with intellectual disabilities were the first to be targeted by this Nazi program, known as the T4 Program.

Roughly 70,000 people with disabilities were forcefully euthanized in one of six specially designated T4 centers. Parents were often deceived and told that their children were being sent to improved treatment centers, but in reality were sent to one of these centers. False death certificates were created and families often never found out what happened to their loved ones. While the program officially ended in Germany in 1941, it secretly continued in occupied territories afterward through food deprivation and drug overdoses. Officials now say that there have been more than 300,000 victims of this program across Europe.

Disability advocates fought vehemently for this gruesome history to be rightfully recognized. However, it wasn’t until November of 2011 that the German Parliament agreed to erect the memorial. For years, the site at Tiergartenstraße 4 was simply a bus stop with a plaque describing the horrors that had taken place years before. The memorial was recently completed in September of 2014 and I was fortunate enough to visit it.

The monument consists of a gorgeous 79-foot long bright blue glass wall. Parallel to the glass wall, there is a long counter with information about the T4 program, biographies of the victims and the doctors involved in the planning. I was pleasantly surprised by how accessible the memorial is for various types of disabilities. All the information provided is written with simple language in order to be understood easily. There is also plenty of information transcribed into braille. Multimedia displays offer interpreted videos in sign language for people who are deaf, as well as audio for people with visual impairments. The ground also has a path to follow to accompany the length of the memorial. The surrounding area has been made to be accessible for wheelchair users as well.
I think it’s essential to remember that the victims of the T4 program up close of a panel in the t4 monument in berlinwere the last to have their story recognized and given their rightful memorial. Few of the doctors that participated in the program were ever brought to justice and family members of victims are still fighting for compensation. In spite of this, I am hopeful for the future of disability advocacy in Europe. Throughout my time there, I found small-scale models of monuments labeled with braille in every city, wheelchair accessible swings, and accessible transportation, parks, and museums. The trip was an eye-opening experience and I gained a lot of new perspectives and information that I hope to carry with me for all my future endeavors.

My Summer at DIG

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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
individual.
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.

The View from a DIG Intern

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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.