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.  

Deaf Woman Denied Career Choice at Keiser University

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Katy Daniel-Rivera is a Deaf woman who lives in Florida, and works at the Bay Pines Veterans Administration (“VA”) Hospital as a Radiology Medical Support Assistant in the Imaging Service Department. After receiving many positive performance reviews over her three years at the VA, Katy sought to advance her career by becoming licensed by the State of Florida in Radiologic Technology. As a Deaf woman, Katy has been successful in her chosen career and has had sign language interpreters or other services through all of her education and other licensing opportunities.

As Katy began researching programs in 2014, Keiser University had reached out to Katy and told her what a good match she would be for the University and its program in Radiologic Technology. Keiser University has an enrollment of over 20,000 students and earns over 300 million dollars in revenue per year. Its main campus is in Fort Lauderdale, with fifteen additional branches located in other parts of Florida.

After finding out about the program, Katy wanted to meet personally with the admission new student orientationcounselor to discuss the assessment test and the program, and requested a sign language interpreter for the meeting. The counselor denied her request, but assured her that Keiser
would provide accommodations once she was admitted. Over a twelve-month period, Katy had numerous meetings about the accommodations she needed, but was not provided an interpreter for any of them. On September 29, 2015, Keiser accepted Katy into the Radiologic Technology Program and told her to show up at orientation on October 22nd, where they finally would provide an interpreter. At the orientation Katy was handed a letter from the Office of the Chancellor of Keiser rejecting her from the Keiser program because she is deaf, claiming that she posed a safety risk to others and that providing interpreters would be “inordinately expensive and extremely difficult to maintain.” Katy was crushed.

On January 7, 2016, National Association of the Deaf Law and Advocacy Center, and Miami-based Disability Independence Group filed suit on behalf of Ms. Daniel-Rivera. Keiser’s reasons for rejecting Katy Daniel-Rivera were based on stereotypes and out-moded beliefs and not on the actual capabilities of Ms. Daniel-Rivera. She has been successfully practicing in this field for several years, not once compromising other’s safety because she is deaf. Further, numerous ASL-using deaf and hard of hearing individuals have successfully trained for and performed healthcare jobs that exceed the demands of Radiologic Technology. For example, ASL-using deaf individuals currently or previously have worked as pediatricians, and as hospitalists in teaching hospitals. Regarding expense, universities routinely provide sign language interpreters for all programs or services, as required by law. Indeed, Keiser accepts tens of millions of dollars of federal financial assistance each year conditioned on a promise to provide interpreters when needed.

Katy Daniel-Rivera would like the opportunity to succeed in her chosen career and earn a license to be a Radiologic Technologist. With appropriate auxiliary aids and services, a person who is Deaf can perform any job. To deny a person that opportunity is discrimination.