The Florida Legislature concluded a session last month that made national headlines. The Florida House and Senate passed new gun control measures after the Parkland shootings and debated new sexual harassment rules spawned by allegations that resulted in the resignation of a powerful state senator in the midst of his gubernatorial campaign. This legislative activity was covered gavel-to-gavel on television and on the legislature’s websites.
Deaf and hard of hearing people, however, were not able to understand much of the legislative activity because the state failed to caption the proceedings. As a result, the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) and disabled rights advocate Eddie I. Sierra of Miami are suing the State of Florida, the Florida House of Representatives, the Florida Senate, the Florida Channel and various other defendants for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The complaint was filed in Miami in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
In July 2017, Sierra sent both the House and Senate letters asking them to caption the proceedings in the 2018 legislative session. He never received a reply.
“I’ve been politically active for many years. I pay attention to issues impacting the elderly and people with disabilities,” Sierra said. “I haven’t been able to participate in the Florida legislative process for many years because the videos on the House and Senate website aren’t captioned. This year I said enough is enough. I’m tired of begging for my rights as an American and I decided to do something about it.”
According to Johns Hopkins, there are 48 million deaf and hard of hearing people in America. That means one in five Americans has hearing loss.
The NAD is the nation’s oldest civil rights organization dedicated to advocating for the rights of persons who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.
“When we were presented with the facts of this case, we knew that we had to be involved,” said NAD Chief Executive Officer Howard Rosenblum. “This case was especially shocking because Mr. Sierra and others in our community were being excluded from participation in the legislative process. Not only civil rights are being violated, but their basic rights as Americans are being violated. This had to be put to a stop.”
The NAD and Mr. Sierra are represented by Miami-based civil rights law firms J. Courtney Cunningham, PLLC, and Scott R. Dinin, P.A. They are joined by Stein & Vargas, LLP, a Washington, D.C. firm that specializes in fighting disability-based discrimination and Marc Charmatz, Esq. a senior attorney with the NAD.