Highlights of NAD Law and Advocacy Center in Court

Captioning for Access

Making sound visible . . .

The NAD Law and Advocacy Center strongly advocates for captioning of all audio and audiovisual information and material, regardless of distribution method.

Complaint filed in August 2006 in federal court alleging failure to ensure access to deaf and hard of hearing Washington Redskins fans during home games at the FedEx Field stadium.  After the complaint was filed, the defendants began to provide real-time captions on large displays located on the field’s 50-yard lines.  Plaintiffs opposed the defendants’ request to dismiss the case and, at the same time, requested the court to decide the case in favor of plaintiffs.  On September 30, 2008, the court held that the ADA requires the Washington Redskins “to provide deaf and hard of hearing fans equal access to the aural information broadcast over the stadium bowl public address system at FedEx Field, which includes music with lyrics, play information, advertisements, referee calls, safety/emergency information, and other announcements.”  This victory is the first of its kind for a stadium, arena, or other large venue.  The defendants filed an appeal and plaintiffs filed a cross-appeal. This matter is now pending a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. See Feldman v. Pro Football, Inc., 579 F. Supp. 2d 697 (D. Md. 2008).


A bright future . . .

The right to a free, appropriate public education remains unrealized by many children who are deaf or hard of hearing.  Direct and uninhibited language and communication access to the curriculum, and all facets of the schooling experience are essential for a deaf or hard of hearing child to achieve equality of opportunity and an appropriate education.

In what is believed to be the largest special education settlement in history, the NAD Law and Advocacy Center, along with co-counsel, represented two children who were placed in a classroom for children with mental retardation simply because they were deaf.  In a lawsuit that raised important issues – including the constitutionality of federal statutes – the case was settled just hours after attorneys argued the case in Montgomery, Alabama.  These two children now have a second chance – to receive whatever education they need through the age of 25 and a settlement that will provide a yearly stipend for life.  F.M. and L.G. v. Barbour County Board of Education (1999).


Qualified for the job . . .

Since its inception in 1880 and early achievement securing the right to federal civil service employment, the NAD has continuously sought to increase employment opportunities for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.  The NAD Law and Advocacy Center has taken on some of the country’s largest employers – and won.

For example, the NAD Law and Advocacy Center and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) obtained a settlement that allows a qualified individual who is deaf to drive a forklift for General Electric Co.   The employer originally did not believe that deaf individuals could be qualified to operate forklifts.  Working together, the NAD Law and Advocacy Center and the EEOC identified experts and numerous deaf individuals who have successfully operated forklifts.  The company agreed to train and transfer the employee to a material handler position operating a forklift.  EEOC v. General Electric Co. (1997).

Health Care

A matter of life or death . . .

The NAD Law and Advocacy Center leads the nation in challenging the most life-threatening form of discrimination against deaf or hard of hearing individuals – discrimination by health care and mental health service providers.  Across the United States, in large hospitals and private doctors’ offices, we continues to advocate for equal access to health care.

When a toddler in Pennsylvania was denied medical care by a doctor’s office because his parents had requested a sign language interpreter, we joined forces with the Disabilities Law Project.  After prevailing on all counts on a motion filed by the defense, the lawsuit was settled.  The doctors’ office now offers interpreters and assistive listening devices.  Equally important, the practice agreed to provide medical care to the child.  See Majocha v. Turner, 166 F. Supp. 2d 316 (W.D. Pa. 2001).

In Maine, a woman was referred for anger management sessions when she became upset over a hospital’s refusal to provide auxiliary aids and services in its psychiatric facility.  In a bitter irony, the hospital refused to provide auxiliary aids and services for the anger management sessions.  The NAD Law and Advocacy Center worked with local counsel and the U.S. Department of Justice to achieve a comprehensive model hospital policy to ensure effective communication with people who are deaf or hard of hearing that has been adopted by hospitals throughout the United States.  Consent Decree:  DeVinney v. Main Medical Center(1998).


Protecting the most fundamental rights . . .

The NAD Law and Advocacy Center has vigorously addressed discrimination by courts in numerous lawsuits alleging that judges and court systems denied access to criminal and civil litigants who were deaf or hard of hearing.  Three lawsuits resulted in states actually rewriting state law to protect against discrimination based on disability in the courtroom.  Other cases resulted in policy changes at a statewide-systemic level.

The NAD Law and Advocacy Center and Clara Smit, Esq., took on the State of New Jersey’s 536 municipal courts.  Settled in 2001, the case focused a spotlight on the real life experiences of deaf citizens who try to access the court system.  One plaintiff sought to file a harassment complaint against a neighbor.  The complaint alleged that the woman was turned away four times due to the court’s failure to provide an interpreter.  On her fourth attempt to access justice, the court asked the accused’s sister to interpret for the victim.  The settlement included the adoption of a policy to guard against such experiences, training for the municipal court judges, and damages for each of the plaintiffs.  See DeRosa v. Borough of South Plainfield.

We also continue to highlight the need for equal treatment in law enforcement through cases against police departments, law enforcement agencies, and detention centers.

When a Texas student was arrested and interpreters were not provided, the NAD Law and Advocacy Center filed suit along with a local advocacy group.  At the same time, we agreed to represent another Texas man who was arrested and jailed without any opportunity to communicate his need for life-sustaining medication.  Again, suit was filed.  We sought the involvement of the U.S. Department of Justice.  Both cases were settled for damages, the adoption of new policies to ensure that people who are deaf and hard of hearing have equal access to critical information relating to their interactions with law enforcement, and the institution of training programs for law enforcement officers on the requirements of federal and state laws against discrimination based on disability.  See Settlement Agreement between Rashad Gordon and Harris County, Texas. See also Settlement Agreement between the U.S. Department of Justice, Rashad Gordon, Michael Edwards, and the City of Houston, Texas. These settlement agreements are considered models for police, city jail, and municipal courts providing effective communication with people who are deaf or hard of hearing.


Access to the telephone network . . .

Many older deaf and hard of hearing Americans remember relying on their families, friends, or neighbors to make a simple phone call.  Today, deaf and hard of hearing people are empowered by having more accessible telephone products and services.  In the last 20 years, a wide range of voice, text, and video relay services and technologies have also been developed that enable consumer choice of language and mode of communication to access the telephone network.

The NAD Law and Advocacy Center joined as co-counsel in 2008 on appeal of employment discrimination case alleging refusal to hire because of deafness.  This case raised an issue of first impression:  whether a statement made through a telecommunications relay service constitutes inadmissible hearsay.  Presented oral argument before the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals which reversed the decision of the lower court and remanded the case for trial.  Defendants filed for reconsideration, which was denied. Germano v. International Profit Association, 544 F.3d 798 (7th Cir. 2008).