Deaf File Lawsuit in Florida Over Lack of Interpreters

Posted on July 2, 2010

All one deaf woman wanted in Baptist Hospital was an interpreter. Instead she got a stuffed monkey. Another woman thought she was being denied care at Baptist Medical Center South when she was out in a hallway to wait. Again no sign language interpreters were called, a Florida Times-Union article reports, even though her mother had given them a list. A third woman at Baptist Medical Center downtown couldn’t hear the ER workers when her name was called.

They are among the seven hearing impaired and deaf patients who are suing Baptist Health Systems for violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act. They charge that the hospital system could not or would not provide any sign-language interpreters. Jacksonville Area Legal Aid filed the federal court action last week. Since being deaf or hearing impaired is labeled a disability, it is protected under federal law.

A spokesperson for the hospital tells the Florida Times Union that it provides several means of communicating including interpreters and devices. Legal Aid says there has been a pattern of failures at the hospital from 2006 to 2009 that resulted in the deaf patient being denied full access to medical care. The Department of Justice interprets the law to mean that within one or two hours, the hospital should be able to provide an interpreter. Considering that the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind is in St. Augustine, we know that interpreters work there and are within a one hour drive.

And in a departure from a civil action, the plaintiffs are not asking for money except for attorney fees and filing costs. They are asking the federal judge to order the hospital to stop discriminating against hearing-impaired patients and to follow the law. And to the many people who say would paper and pen suffice? No, it would not. American Sign Language and the spoken language are not the same and some hearing impaired have not learned to read and write English with proficiency. Have you learned American Sign Language? This is a simple matter of making communication available in a medical emergency and does not sound unreasonable. Before the end of this, Baptist probably won’t think so either.

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