By Jean F. Andrews
While it is commonly accepted to provide interpreters in court, deaf suspects and offenders still struggle to get sign interpreters for arrest, booking, medical/psychological intakes, classification, grievance committee meetings and for translation of the inmate handbook. Most vulnerable are hard of hearing persons who use sign language, and profoundly deaf persons with minimal social speech skills.
A dangerous trend seen in some police departments and jails is the use of video productions that are used in place of live interpreters. These videos are useful for review purposes but because they are not interactive, the video product does not allow the deaf person to ask questions to clarify misunderstandings. The videos give police and jail officials the false impression they are meeting ADA requirements. They are not. ADA is clear. The law mandates the Deaf person must have access to information in the same manner as a hearing person. So slick videos, charades and gestures with jail and police officers speaking slowly do not meet the letter of the law.
Granted, jails cannot provide sign interpreters 24/7, but they should be providing live sign language interpreters during times where interactive communication is critical – situations such as the booking, medical/psychological intake, classification and translation of the inmate handbook.
Police and jail officials can avoid costly lawsuits if they put in place policies that require live interpreters in these situations.
Jean F. Andrews is a Reading Specialist and Professor of Deaf Studies/Deaf Education at Lamar University.
- For Police Officers: VRS, VRI or Live Interpreter? (deafinprison.wordpress.com)
- Let the Taser do the Talking, Or… (deafinprison.wordpress.com)
- Health boards ‘failing the deaf’ (bbc.co.uk)
- Nowhere Man In Nowhere Land (deafinprison.wordpress.com)
- Ex-Deaf Inmate Sues DC, Says He Was Mistreated (washington.cbslocal.com)
- William Pierce, deaf former inmate, sues Dept. of Corrections (wjla.com)