Published in the Press-Republican
March 7, 2010
By Joshua Miner
CHAZY — The Americans with Disabilities Act, passed in 1990, requires that the deaf be treated as equals.
Deaf people in the area, however, have found that some employers and hospitals aren’t aware of what the law requires or ignore it.
The Americans with Disabilities Act bans discrimination of people with disabilities in employment, government, public access and telecommunications.
The law caused many entities to build wheelchair ramps, for example, to allow those who are unable to walk to still have equal access to public buildings.
But some local deaf say they are still struggling to be treated as equals, often waiting hours in hospitals or courtrooms for interpreters that may never come.
Dora Bradley, who helped put on a recent potluck for the deaf at Sacred Heart Church in Chazy, said one of her worst experiences was being called in for jury duty, an obligation everyone has as an American citizen.
When an interpreter was not available and she insisted on staying, they laughed a bit, and Bradley said she was asked to go home.
“I felt kind of invisible, as if I had no rights.”
People without hearing sometimes find employers to be less than willing to take a chance on hiring them. Those with jobs say they are sometimes excluded from meetings or they attend but are unable to understand what is being said.
Edward Dukett of Plattsburgh works at a local factory. There are no interpreters, but he is still expected to attend meetings.
“It’s very difficult to know what’s going on,” he said.
Roxana O’Donnell of Massena, who works at a job that deals with adults with disabilities, said her employer hired an interpreter at one of the first meetings she attended. But after not being paid, the interpreter never returned.
“Now I’m just out of the meetings,” O’Donnell said. “It’s embarrassing. It’s just not right.”
While interpreters are legally required, workers are hesitant to bring legal action against their employers, fearing their jobs would then be in jeopardy.
A common misconception that leads some to believe interpreters are not necessary, Dora said, is that all deaf can lip read.
While most can, to some extent, it is unreliable and no substitute for a certified interpreter, she said.
Andrew Pulrang, executive director of the North Country Center for Independence, said that even skilled lip readers can absorb, at most, only about 40 percent of what is said.
MAKE NEEDS CLEAR
Pulrang said another common assumption is that deaf all have similar needs. There are many types of deaf people, however, and the Americans with Disabilities Act does not address them with blanket regulations that apply to all. Instead, it is the responsibility of deaf people to make extremely clear to employers, hospitals or courts just what their individual needs are — what they require to be comfortable communicating — and make sure they follow through with the request.
HELP FROM FAMILY
One way some hospitals skirt the responsibility of hiring interpreters is to rely on family members to do the signing, said Katherine Duval of Plattsburgh.
Duval has been bringing her daughter to all her doctor appointments since her child was about 8 years old. Her daughter, now 30, is an example of the pressure on deaf parents to assign the job of interpreting to their children.
While doctors often expect family to interpret, deaf people agree that only a certified interpreter is qualified to explain complicated matters, such as court and medical terminology.
Families should be used to interpret only while the interpreter is en route, Pulrang said.
Dora said that if nurses could even learn simple sign-language terms, such as “bathroom,” it would go a long way toward improving their situation while they wait for a certified interpreter.
Deaf Club President Tina Terrence had her own difficulties when her son had legal trouble. The law required that an interpreter be present, however the one provided was not certified.
“The interpreter wasn’t very skilled,” she said.
He was unable to understand what they were saying, making communication with the lawyer extremely difficult.
DIFFICULT TO FIND
An underlying problem is the extreme lack of interpreters in the area.
Michael Hildebran, director of public relations and marketing for CVPH Medical Center, said there are people the hospital can call on in these circumstances, but not many.
“If an interpreter is necessary, we contract with two certified people.”
It is very hard, though, to find people in the area who are willing to be on call 24 hours a day.
Because of the difficulty in becoming certified and the limited market available in the area, Pulrang said, there just aren’t enough local interpreters. As a result, people are called from as far away as Vermont for their services.
“It would be wonderful if there were more people readily available,” Hildebran said. “In an ideal world, we would have employees that were certified. It’s a challenging situation.”
Charlie Bradley, husband of Dora, has been interpreting for more than 30 years. He feels the rights of the deaf under the Americans with Disabilities Act have simply been neglected — with doctors and others expecting the deaf to bring their own interpreter, despite the law.
“You don’t tell people to bring their own (wheelchair) ramp,” he said.