(MIAMI, FLORIDA) June 21, 2018 – The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) has won the right to proceed in litigation against the State of Florida, the Florida Legislature and the radio and television network WFSU regarding the rights of persons with disabilities to participate in the political process. The defendants in the case filed a Motion to Dismiss which was rejected by the Court. The NAD, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization dedicated to advocating for the rights of deaf or hard of hearing people, and Miami-based disability rights advocate Eddie Sierra, sued the State of Florida and the Florida Legislature for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
The lawsuit focuses on the Legislature’s refusal to caption their legislative proceedings so that deaf or hard of hearing people can watch videos and other content on the Florida House and Florida Senate’s legislative websites. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), over 15% of the U.S. population over the age of 18 is deaf or hard of hearing. In July 2017, Eddie sent both the House and Senate letters asking them to caption the proceedings in the 2018 legislative session. He never received a reply.
The complaint was filed in Miami in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Judge Ursula Ungaro denied the motion to dismiss brought by the State of Florida, the Florida House of Representatives, the Florida Senate, the Florida Channel and various other defendants, in June 2018. The Defendants argued that they were not required to caption their legislative proceedings.
Judge Ungaro found that “plaintiffs are not seeking just any public information, but rather information that goes to the very heart of the democratic process: the text of legislative proceedings. Accordingly, their fundamental right to participate in the democratic process is implicated.”
“We are thrilled by this win,” said NAD Chief Executive Officer Howard Rosenblum. “We’ve said from the beginning that this case was particularly unjust because Eddie Sierra and others in our community were being excluded from participation in the legislative process. Their civil rights and basic rights as an American are being violated every day. We are looking forward to continuing the fight on behalf of all persons with disabilities.”
“In today’s society persons with disabilities are routinely slighted or completely ignored,” Eddie said. “Often times, it’s like we don’t exist. But we’ve had enough and won’t be denied our right to participate in the legislative process in this state.”
The NAD and Eddie 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.