Brooke Donald, Associated Press
Saturday, May 22, 2010
Deaf and hard-of-hearing state employees in California are regularly denied sign language interpreters for meetings and have been left behind during emergency evacuations because of a failure to accommodate their disability, according to a lawsuit filed Friday.
“Our investigation reveals a systemic breakdown,” said Joshua Konecky, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. “Deaf employees describe a haphazard and patchwork environment for requesting and securing accommodations, if they get them at all.”
The problems have resulted in workplace “isolation, exclusion, prejudice and overall pervasive discrimination,” the suit says.
The lawsuit filed in San Francisco Superior Court cites problems at the Department of Rehabilitation, Department of Justice, CalPERS and Department of Social Services.
It seeks class-action status and includes seven named plaintiffs, including a woman who works in the Office of Deaf Access for the Department of Social
There are about 1,500 state workers who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.
Requests for comment from the governor’s office and state attorney general’s office were not immediately answered.
The lawsuit alleges that the state has violated the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
It claims deaf employees are often denied sign language interpreters for work-related events, including staff meetings, job training, performance reviews
and meetings with the public and clients.
It also says the state frequently substitutes insufficient or ineffective forms of communication – lip reading, e-mail, videophones and interpretations
by co-workers unskilled in sign language – rather than provide qualified interpreters.
The state often fails to caption videos shown to employees and cites budget limitations as a reason for denying interpreter requests, the lawsuit states.
“On paper, the state recognizes the need for sign language interpreters and other forms of reasonable accommodations, but in practice, the state has no
reliable systems in place to ensure that its deaf employees have effective communication with their clients, co-workers and management,” said Laurence
Paradis, executive director of Disability Rights Advocates and a lawyer for the plaintiffs.
The lawsuit seeks improvements to state procedures and attorney fees.
This article appeared on page D – 2 of the San Francisco Chronicle