Deaf Inmates Will Receive Services in Miami-Dade Jails

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Disability Independence Group and Disability Rights Florida Resolve Lawsuit against Miami Dade Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to Provide Services to Deaf Inmates

Miami FL, October 19th, 2016, Disability Independence Group, a jailcellnon-profit organization that advocates for the rights of people with disabilities, and Disability Rights Florida, Florida’s federally-funded Protection and Advocacy organization, have resolved a lawsuit concerning Miami-Dade County Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (Miami-Dade County) over its systemic failure to comply with federal measures intended to protect individuals with disabilities processed and incarcerated at their locations throughout the County. Upon filing the case, Miami-Dade County endeavored to resolve the matter to ensure that deaf inmates do not suffer from discrimination in the jails.

The case came about because of the experiences of numerous individuals who are Deaf who have faced discrimination in Miami-Dade County jails.  The Complaint recounts the ordeals of two individuals who are Deaf who have suffered directly from Miami-Dade County’s failure to comply with the federal laws intended to protect such individuals.  As a result of non-compliance with disability rights laws, Deaf prisoners are not provided adequate access to communication with their family and lawyers, adequate medical services, and may be assaulted and victimized without recourse.  This follows a nationwide trend as several disability rights groups have filed similar lawsuits.

Joel Martos is a profoundly Deaf individual who communicates primarily using American Sign Language (ASL) which is his native language.  He relies on ASL interpreters and other auxiliary aids to communicate with individuals who do not use sign language.  Throughout a period of more than three years of incarceration, Miami-Dade County failed to provide Mr. Martos with even the most basic communication accommodations.  He was denied accommodations beginning at intake, underwent medical tests and psychological examinations without any communication and was denied other programs in the jail.  Because Mr. Martos was unable to communicate, he had no understanding of programs available or conditions of probation and had no meaningful contact with family, friends or lawyers.

Joshua Santuche is a profoundly Deaf individual who also communicates using ASL.  Mr. Santuche was arrested in October 2015 and was not provided with an interpreter upon arrival at Miami-Dade County jail.  Mr. Santuche attempted to communicate with officers through hand gestures that he was Deaf and needed an interpreter, but was ignored by some officers and ridiculed by others. At no point was Mr. Santuche provided with a videophone or any other means of communication to contact an attorney, a bail bondsman, or his family.  At his bond hearing, no ASL interpreter was provided.  Had Mr. Santuche’s mother not been available and present at the hearing to interpret for him using what she refers to as “survival sign language”, Mr. Santuche would have remained incarcerated.  At the majority of subsequent hearings at the Miami-Dade County Courthouse, no ASL interpreter had been provided despite Miami-Dade County having ample knowledge and time to secure one.

“This settlement ensures that Deaf inmates will be treated fairly.  Like hearing inmates, Deaf inmates will be able to communicate with their lawyers and families, not be subject to discipline or medical examinations without a full understanding, and will not be victimized by other inmates.” said Matthew W. Dietz, Litigation Director of Disability Independence Group, “Without communication, a Deaf inmate is required to become invisible, to avoid confrontation, to avoid medical need, to avoid rehabilitative services, to avoid recreational services, and wait endlessly in isolation for the incarceration to end.”

“As Florida’s Protection and Advocacy organization, we have a responsibility to ensure that the rights and dignity of individuals with disabilities are being respected,” said Molly J. Paris, Staff Attorney at Disability Rights Florida. “The law requires that individuals who are Deaf are properly accommodated and are afforded the opportunity to communicate so that instances of unnecessary incarceration or re-incarceration are avoided.”

dadecountyjail_pretrial_detention_centerThe Settlement requires Miami-Dade to timely provide qualified interpreters for all programs and services of the jails, including: booking, intake process, at classification hearings, medical or psychological treatment, disciplinary hearings, religious services, educational classes, Narcotics and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings or the equivalent, and interactions with staff that implicate an inmates’ due process rights.  It also provides access to and use of video relay phones and TTYs (communication device that allows the typing of messages), and repairs and replacement batteries for hearing aids and cochlear processors.  The county employees will receive training regarding the needs of and effective communication with the Deaf, and procedures for identifying and providing accommodations to Deaf inmates.

The Plaintiffs are represented by attorneys Matthew Dietz from Disability Independence Group and David A. Boyer and Molly J. Paris from Disability Rights Florida.

For more copies of the Complaint and the Settlement Agreement, please click the links.

Disability Rights Florida was founded in 1977 as the statewide designated protection and advocacy system for individuals with disabilities in the State of Florida. It has been advocating for access to services, education, employment, independence, and the elimination of abuse and neglect for over 35 years.

 Disability Independence Group is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that promotes recruitment, education and employment of persons with disabilities thereby improving their lives through competitive employment and financial stability; and through the changing of society’s perception of person with disabilities.  

Welcome to The Magic City! Miami, Florida — on Wheels

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by Lorinda Gonzalez

Tropical weather, palm trees on every corner, and delicious Cuban coffee. Welcome to Miami! The city whose heart beats to the sounds of a Latin drum, where beaches and nightlife never end. Miami is one of the world’s most renowned vacation spots because of its rich culture and diversity, which also embraces accessibility.

Known as one of the most populous urban area in the United States, the Miami area is a hub for culture, media, entertainment, fashion, art and international trade. The city boasts modernized infrastructure design and is a central tourist location. Just like the rest of the state, the terrain is smooth with no high mountaintops or steep hills in sight. The vast majority of the city is well paved, with proper cutouts at each street end for wheelchair users. Miami International Airport is a newly renovated hub connecting domestic and international flights directly into the city. The airport was recently linked to the Metrorail Train system, making Miami one-step closer to a fully accessible city via public transportation. However, take note that the trains stop at midnight so if you’re a night owl, you’re better off renting a private vehicle.

The transit system is a bit old – the trains date back to the 70’s – but are ADA compliant. As of 2013, all public transit bus routes were made wheelchair accessible and equipped with a lift. There are two train systems serving Miami Dade County – Metrorail and Metromover – that are fairly easy for a person with a disability to use. All stops have elevator access to platform levels and aside from a two-inch gap between the platform and train car, the Metrorail is easy to get on and off of. The Metromover is a free option, circling Downtown Miami 7-days week. Venues such as the American Airlines Arena, the James L. Knight Center, the Port of Miami and the Perez Art Museum are a few of the hot spots one can easily travel to on the Mover. If you’re interested in going to Miami Beach, a quick Mover ride to Bayside will lead you to a dock where you can get on a water taxi to cross the Intercoastal. That’s where you’ll find south Florida’s premier wheelchair accessible beaches. At select spots, both manual and motorized beach wheelchairs are offered on a first-come first-serve basis, free of charge. The City of Miami Beach provides this service along with a mobi-mat system that allows wheelchair access directly to la playa. Don’t forget your sunscreen!

Interested in the nightlife? You’ll find that Miami is a city where there’s always something going on. From the bustling streets of South Beach, surrounded by the beautiful – while not very accessible – Art Deco district, to the infamous Cuban neighborhood of Little Havana, Miami has something enticing to offer everyone. If you’re interested in embracing Latin history and culture, Calle Ocho is your go-to spot. The streets in this area are somewhat outdated, so getting around in a wheelchair can be a challenge. About half of the stores have one small step to enter the buildings while the others are stuffed wall to wall with knick-knacks to take home. Don’t fret; if you visit Calle Ocho September through May, the weather will be just cool enough to enjoy a stride up and down the main street where you can enjoy great music, yummy treats and a cultural experience you’re sure to never forget. If you’re more into the high end lifestyles of the rich and famous, the plush hotels of Miami Beach and the historic hideaways of Coral Gables may be you’re preference. Both are fairly wheelchair accessible, with Coral Gables boasting some of the most beautiful Spanish Colonial style architecture in the southern US. If you prefer quieter, mom & pop shops, Coconut Grove is a great place to visit. While the main sidewalks are clear of debris, hundred-year-old trees grow naturally out of side street sidewalks making it difficult to get around.

The hottest parties are in South Beach, but it wasn’t until recently that the city updated their bus system to make it accessible for wheelchair users. They now offer a new bus system, the South Beach Local, where you can ride throughout the city for only 25¢ per trip. Buses run every 13 to 30 minutes daily, stopping at popular destinations throughout the area. All air-conditioned buses are wheelchair accessible, making it a breeze to take a leisurely stroll down Lincoln Road or Española Way or down to South Pointe Park for a view of Fisher Island and cruise ships sailing out of the Port of Miami. Hop on again and ride in comfort to any place on Washington Avenue – a prime shopping area in Miami. The South Beach Local makes getting around SoBe a breeze. Just be careful not to drink too many mojitos – the bus stops running at 12:49 am every day.

If you’re ready for the warm Florida sun on your face, miles of blue ocean and a never ending night, pack your bags and get ready to enjoy the Magic City! Bienvenidos!

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lorinda and isreal Lorinda Gonzalez resides in South Florida with her family and service dog, Remy. She was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy at the age of three, and has used a motorized wheelchair for mobility since the age of nine. Lorinda holds a Bachelor in the Arts Degree in English Writing and Rhetoric, and is currently completing a Masters of Arts Degree in Communications. She is a co-founder of NMD United, 501 ©3 and on the board of multiple non-profit organizations. In her free time, Lorinda enjoys spending time with family and friends, painting, listening to music, and traveling to historical locations.

Miami Is Kind Foundation: “Let’s put Autism and developmental disabilities to work”

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By: Silvia Planas Prats

a boy looking confusedLetting go of her career at DuPont from Barcelona, in Spain and moving to Miami, FL was not easy, but Silvia knows it was the most important decision of her life. Marc is now an adorable 12 year old boy that just happens to have autism. He loves riding his bike, dancing to Michael Jackson and baking. He’s come a long way with the help of the Miami-Dade County Public School system.
But Silvia soon questioned what does the future hold for Marc and young adults with autism and other developmental disabilities (DD)? The challenge begins after they turn 22. She quickly realized that employment opportunities looked bleak. “Companies seldom hire adults with two people bakingAutism/DD. I will not sit and wait for companies to change their hiring policies. Instead, I have created solution. I’m a true believer that hard work determines who we are as individuals in society and that every member of society—including adults with autism, DD —should have the chance to excel and contribute.” Silvia decided to take this employment challenge head on, and opened Miami Is Kind, an industrial bakery determined to be the first factory for professionals with autism, DD in South Florida.

Miami Is Kind will employ bakers, packers, warehouse operators, customer service reps and dispatchers that have autism or other disabilities. Silvia knows that with adequate instruction, a properly structured workplace, and an enjoyable learning atmosphere, young adults with autism, DD can excel at a workplace and can make the companies they work for profitable.
“It will be a social revolution that will give job opportunities and hope to so many young adults with autism and other DD in Miami. Through our success, we will inspire other companies to follow similar paths and allow society to appreciate their capabilities.”
“Miami Is Kind vision is to help individuals with autism, DD strive for independent living, fulfilling their dreams and personal
choices with their salaries” The program serves all socio cultural backgrounds and ethnicities and all the colors of the spectrum. Each individual will be assigned tasks that better match their interest and skills. Some contribute to the packing and shipping parts of the Business program, while others might support selling or marketing and others will bake.
Miami Is Kind Foundation employs two bakers, sells online to all U.S. in http://www.miamiiskind.org/ and as of October 2015, is based at Joanna’s Marketplace 8247 S Dixie Hwy, Miami, FL 33143.
pillowboxesThe first product line is Gluten Free deliciously healthy Macaroons in a variety of flavors and packaging sizes. They are sweet but not too sweet. Let almonds and sweet potato surprise you! If you’d like supporting Miami Is Kind Mission you can subscribe in the “how can you help” section in their website and you will monthly receive some European Style pillow boxes of Macaroons at your doorstep. You can also buy in “products” section any of your favorites Macaroon’s flavors. They are delicious for all the family, for on the go snaking and they are the perfect gift.

A note from Matt – March 2014

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Matt and Phyllis

When I started practicing Disability Rights in 1998, one of my first clients was Edward Resnick. Edward was a renowned attorney who contracted polio in 1954, and was an attorney and became a quadriplegic. Following passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, he had the hope that his community would quickly comply with the law so he, and his wife Phyllis, could be fully integrated in the community. Despite letters and pleading, it didn’t happen.

After eight years of asking, Edward and Phyllis founded Access Now, Inc., found attorneys willing to learn, and compelled compliance with this civil rights law.   Edward passed away several years ago, and Phyllis recently passed the torch to a new group of disability rights activists with David New as the president.  We all stand on the shoulders of the great people who come before us, and because of what Edward and Phyllis had accomplished,  Miami has become a more inclusive community.