Settlement funds will be used for interpreting services for the deaf
The money will be used to pay for interpreting services for initial job interviews, birthdays, weddings, funerals, and community events where interpreters are not legally required
“CODA,” a funny, smart, and uplifting feature film about a “Child of Deaf Adults,” is enjoying a moment after taking Best Picture at the 2022 Academy Awards.
The timing couldn’t be better for South Florida attorney Matthew Dietz, who is also celebrating a recent “award” — this one related to a deaf client who sued a hospital for allegedly denying access to an interpreter.
U.S. District Judge Rodolfo Ruiz found the hospital violated the terms of a two-year-old settlement agreement and ordered it to pay $16,000 to the Center for Independent Living of Broward County for an interpreting services fund.
“This fund is so important and will allow more inclusion for the Deaf members of our society to become part of everyday activities,” said Dietz, litigation director for the Disability Independence Group, Inc.
Dietz and his client, 60-year-old Seminole Ridge High School teacher Rose Adams, specified that the money pay for interpreting services for initial job interviews, birthdays, weddings, and funerals, community events where interpreters are not legally required.
The distinction is important, Dietz said.
“There’s a group of interpreters that volunteer all of the time for these types of events, and they never get paid,” Dietz said, adding that each interpreter will receive $55 an hour.
In addition to the fund, the hospital was ordered to pay $22,078 to the Disability Independence Group, Inc., for Dietz’ legal services.
Adams, who has been deaf since birth, said she was sent to the hospital in 2018 to get treated for a rare blood disorder, and expected to spend no more than four hours.
When she arrived, she claims her requests for an interpreter were repeatedly denied, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Adams said she was unable to read notes from the hospital staff because she failed to bring her glasses for such a short stay.
At one point, she learned that she was mistakenly being admitted when she was handed a hospital gown. Despite her history of bad reactions to the drug, she claims she was given Benadryl.
The hospital offered an online interpreting service, but Adams said the connection was so poor the service was of little value.
“I felt below human. I felt like an animal,” Adams told the Palm Beach Post. “I don’t want that to happen to any more deaf people, to any more deaf patients.”
Adams and the hospital signed a settlement agreement on November 23, 2020. The hospital denied any wrongdoing or violating the ADA but agreed to provide staff training within two months.
But Adams was eventually forced to file four motions to enforce the agreement when she saw no evidence of the training.
Judge Ruiz’s order makes it clear he was not pleased.
“As explained below, the Court will no longer tolerate Defendant’s contumacious disregard for this Court’s directives, which has unnecessarily delayed — for over a year — the completion of disability training to ensure that the staff…know how to communicate with the hearing-impaired,” he wrote.
Throughout his representation of Adams, Dietz said he relied on the services of a translator.
“I always have an interpreter,” he said. “I know some basic, basic, signs, but I would never think of representing someone without an interpreter.”
Dietz explores the issue in an article he wrote for the upcoming edition of the Bar Journal — “What We Got Here is Failure to Communicate — The legal, ethical, and monetary consideration of effective communication.”
“The rejection of a potential client because that person does not speak English or may be deaf is considered to be discrimination — the decision to reject is based upon a protected status,” the article states.
Dietz, who has represented deaf and hearing-impaired clients for decades, said the Deaf community tends to be tightly knit.
“The community is so small in a given area, they know each other, they know the interpreters, they know who is deaf-friendly, who is not deaf-friendly, what doctors provide interpreters, which ones don’t.”
American Sign Language is not another version of English, Dietz said.
“It’s a different linguistic style, it’s a different culture,” he said. “It’s more similar to French.”
Communication and isolation in the Deaf culture are a major theme of “CODA.”
The story centers on the travails of a hearing teenager who is asked to surrender her college education so she can stay home and continue her lifelong role as a free interpreter for her deaf parents and older brother.
That’s why Judge Ruiz’s order is so timely and expanding the availability of interpreting services is so vital, Dietz said.
“People who see the movie will understand,” Dietz said.