A class of deaf and hard of hearing individuals incarcerated in Maryland are suing the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) and other Maryland agencies for discriminating against them on the basis of their disability.
The complaint, filed by a team of lawyers from the Washington Lawyers’ Committee (WLC), Foley & Lardner LLP, and the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), alleges that the state-run facilities refuse to provide plaintiffs with access to effective telecommunication devices, visual notifications about events and safety announcements, and other auxiliary aids and services that would allow them to communicate effectively with prison personnel.
“In filing this class-action lawsuit, we wanted to address the serious discrimination that Maryland’s hearing-impaired inmates experience on a daily basis,” said Elaine Gardner, the Director of the Disability Rights Project at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee. “By helping our clients gain access to appropriate auxiliary aids and services, we hope that this case will set an example for other correctional facilities that house inmates who are deaf and hard of hearing.”
The suit alleges that the defendants have violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, and other federal laws that protect the rights of people with disabilities.
“As lawyers, we feel a special duty to ensure that deaf and hard of hearing inmates are able to participate fully in the fair administration of justice toward them, an opportunity that is denied when they don’t have access to appropriate auxiliary aids and services,” said Joseph D. Edmondson, Jr., a partner at Foley.
Foley and the WLC have been investigating these denials for some time, spearheaded by the late Ronald Carroll, a Foley partner who succumbed to cancer last year.
“Ron is remembered fondly by our clients and colleagues who continue to work on this lawsuit, and our continued involvement is a memorial to the passion he had for this cause,” Edmondson said.
Most notably, the complaint alleges that the defendants have failed to provide the deaf inmates with appropriate telecommunication devices that would allow them to communicate effectively with their friends and families. Hearing inmates are able to place telephone calls to their families and friends. However, the deaf inmates are extremely limited in their ability to place telephone calls, due to the lack of videophone services at their institutions. The only telephone technology they are provided is becoming obsolete and no longer in general use. In addition, the deaf inmates are charged higher fees than other inmates to use this old technology.
The complaint also alleges that the defendants discriminate against hearing impaired inmates by failing to provide them with appropriate auxiliary aids and services to alert them to emergencies, and in their educational classes and at their disciplinary hearings to ensure effective communication. As a result, many of these inmates are not able to fully participate in such classes and are also unable to fully understand what is being said at their disciplinary hearings.
For more information contact:
Joseph D. Edmonson Jr., Foley & Lardner LLP
Debra Patkin, National Association of the Deaf
About Foley & Lardner LLP (www.foley.com)
Foley & Lardner is a premier international law firm with a diversified business practice, with offices in Boston, Brussels, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Shanghai, Silicon Valley, Tokyo, and Washington, D.C. Established in 1842, Foley draws on the legal knowledge and hands-on industry experience of attorneys in more than 60 practice areas including, but not limited to, intellectual property, business law, and securities enforcement/litigation, to provide the full spectrum of legal services.
About the National Association of the Deaf (www.nad.org)
Established in 1880, the NAD was shaped by deaf leaders who believed in the right of the American deaf community to use sign language, to congregate on issues important to them, and to have its interests represented at the national level. These beliefs remain true to this day, with American Sign Language as a core value. The advocacy scope of the NAD is broad, covering a lifetime and impacting future generations in the areas of early intervention, education, employment, health care, technology, telecommunications, youth leadership, and more – improving the lives of millions of deaf and hard of hearing Americans. The NAD also carries out its federal advocacy work through coalition efforts with specialized national deaf and hard of hearing organizations, as well as coalitions representing national cross-disability organizations. For more information about the NAD, see www.nad.org. The NAD can be reached via voice/videophone at 301.587.1788 or via TTY at 301.587.1789.
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