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Archive for the tag “sign language”

A Collection of Deaf Law Writings by James W. Cushing, Esquire

Over the course of my career, I have written extensively on a wide variety of deaf law issues.  These writings have been published in The Legal IntelligencerUpon Further Review, and The Pennsylvania Family Lawyer as well as posted onto my blog.  I have collected these articles and blog posts and have listed them below.  Thanks for reading!

A Collection of Employment, Civil Rights, and Labor Law Writings by James W. Cushing, Esquire

Over the course of my career, I have written extensively on a wide variety of employment, civil rights, and labor legal principles.  These writings have been published in The Legal IntelligencerUpon Further Review, and The Pennsylvania Family Lawyer as well as posted onto my blog.  I have collected these articles and blog posts and have listed them below.  Thanks for reading!

Musings:

My Articles:

USPS Listens to Deaf Employees’ Claims

The matter of Hubbard v. Donahoe, Civil Case No. 03-1062, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, is a class action lawsuit that pits the United States Postal Service against its deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission brought a class action suit on behalf of various deaf employees USPS alleging that the USPS denied them communication accommodations (e.g., American sign-language interpreters), especially during meetings, refused to provide them a TTY for telephone communication, failed to give them emergency evacuation notification systems, did not promote them or provide assistance in their effort to get promoted, and subjected them to a hostile work environment as a direct result of their disabilities.

After about 10 years of litigation, the parties have finally submitted a class action settlement agreement to the District Court for $4.55 million.

Over the course of my life, I have been involved in the deaf culture in one way or another and I have learned that although most people think of not being able to hear as the disability of a deaf person, the challenges the deaf have in the simplest act of communication with a hearing person are perhaps the disability that most impacts their lives each day. The inability to effectively communicate serves to isolate the deaf person – likely the only one at a given employment location – and therefore completely separate him from the rest of his co-workers. Therefore, failing to provide an interpreter or basic emergency systems or even a telephone (i.e., TTY) compounds a deaf person’s disability and enhances his or her isolation. I can think of few things that would make a work environment more hostile than near complete isolation.

Regardless of the merits of the case, it reminds us that those with disabilities are equal members of our society and our workforce and all have value. A case like this serves as an important reminder that employers all have the obligation to ensure that they honor their responsibility to take reasonable measures to accommodate the disabilities of their employees and to ensure that the workplace is one in which the employees feel comfortable.

Originally published in The Legal Intelligencer Blog on March 22, 2013 and can be found here.

Hearing from the Deaf

recently discussed in this space how technology has aided attorneys in their representation of the deaf. Since that time, I have received some feedback that I think is worthwhile to share.

When it comes to language, while the deaf and hearing use the same written form of English, when “spoken,” American Sign Language employs very different forms of syntax, expression, word order and grammatical structure as compared to spoken English. As a result, sometimes, especially with deaf people older than the so-called Generation X, the norms of spoken American Sign Language become intermingled with a deaf person’s written English, often to the extent that it causes a language barrier. Therefore, practitioners must be sensitive when communicating with a deaf person and realize that sometimes written communication may not be as effective as it would be with a hearing person.

In addition to the above, a common misconception among the hearing is that the deaf can simply lip read in order to effectively communicate. Unfortunately, lip reading is a very inexact science, withmany words unsuccessfully read during a typical conversation. Even if the general gist of an attorney’s point is communicated, this is insufficient, as legal advice is generally fairly complicated and requires, as much as practicable, the full understanding of the client and not simply getting the gist across. Besides, not all deaf people have the skill of lip reading; presuming that they do is simply a hearing person’s stereotype of the deaf.

The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits an attorney from denying services because of an “absence of auxiliary aids and services.” These services include a sign language interpreter; however, a firm is not required to use an interpreter if it would result in an “undue burden.” While the cost for the interpreter is to be absorbed by the attorney, an attorney may bill for the extra time it may take to effectively communicate with a deaf client. In order to offset some of these costs, the Pennsylvania and Philadelphia bar associations established the Interpreter Access Fund. In addition, it may be possible to secure a tax credit for an attorney’s special expenditures to serve a deaf person pursuant to the Disability Access Credit.

Finally, a variety of organizations exist to help the deaf navigate the legal system and achieve justice. These organizations include the Disabilities Rights Network, the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, the Legal Clinic for the Disabled, the National Association for the Deaf, and deaflegal.org. It is worthwhile for an attorney to investigate each of these if one intends to represent the deaf on a regular basis.

Originally published on May 18, 2012 in “The Legal Intelligencer Blog” and can be found here.

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