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Deaf People Fight To Be Heard - Lydia Callis

Deaf News: Lydia Callis, longtime advocate of Deaf Rights, won admirers as Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s sign-language.


NEW YORK CITY -- New York Times: Lydia Callis wanted to get her mother a gym membership for Christmas last year. When she called to arrange a consultation, she mentioned that her mom (who lives in Arizona) is Deaf and would need a sign-language interpreter for the session. The health club said it would not provide a signer. Ms. Callis who became an Internet sensation during Hurricane Sandy as Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s exuberant sign-language interpreter told the club that it was actually required by law to do so. Still it refused, and Ms. Callis, who was calling from Manhattan, gave up.

Last year was the 25th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act, and yet this kind of scenario plays out regularly for people who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing. While the broader culture has become accustomed to certain changes the law has engendered, particularly wheelchair access, the rights of the Deaf have frequently been misunderstood or simply disregarded.

Recently, however, a Deaf rights movement has begun to gain ground, particularly in New York.

One sign of this momentum has been a flurry of lawsuits. Last year, the city’s Department of Homeless Services settled a case that charged its shelters with failing to provide American Sign Language interpreters for Deaf residents, and a suit filed last summer in Westchester County claimed that two hospitals refused a Deaf couple’s requests for interpreters after the husband had a heart attack.

Another case involved Diana Williams, a Deaf woman from Staten Island who was arrested in 2011 and was denied a sign-language interpreter, as the federal law dictates. In October, the Police Department settled her lawsuit for $750,000. Her lawyers, from the Eisenberg & Baum Law Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing, said it was one of the biggest payouts of its kind.

“What’s disturbing about all these lawsuits is that the A.D.A. has been in effect for several decades,” Eric Baum, one of the firm’s founders, recently said. Mr. Baum said that his firm had litigated about 100 Deaf discrimination cases, roughly half in the New York metropolitan area, many dealing with a failure to provide interpreters. He was sitting in the Union Square office alongside the Law Center’s co-directors: Andrew Rozynski, a lawyer and fluent A.S.L. signer whose parents are deaf, and Sheryl Eisenberg-Michalowski, a Deaf rights liaison who was born Deaf...Read More.

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