Sunday, February 07, 2010

Alameda County Sheriff's Office settles dispute over treatment of deaf, hard of hearing

Alameda County Sheriff's Office settles dispute over treatment of deaf, hard of hearing

Sign-language interpretation and other services will be provided.

The Alameda County Sheriff's Office has agreed to provide sign-language interpretation and other services to deaf, hard-of-hearing or deaf-blind suspects, arrestees, inmates, victims, witnesses and visitors at the county's jails, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Tuesday.

The agreement settles a Justice Department investigation of the sheriff's office, which followed a complaint filed by a deaf and blind man after the sheriff's office failed to provide him with a tactile interpreter when he was arrested and during his two-day incarceration. In tactile interpreting, persons who are deaf and blind place their hands over the hands of the interpreter, in order to read signs through touch and movement.

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires public entities such as the sheriff's office to ensure effective communication with people with disabilities.

"Effective communication in law enforcement is critical to ensure all parties have equal access to the information regarding their rights," Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, said in a news release. "This agreement requires Alameda County's law enforcement officers to take the steps necessary to effectively communicate with individuals who are deaf-blind in their community."

The agreement, which applies to Santa Rita Jail in Dublin and the Glenn Dyer Jail in Oakland, requires the sheriff's office to:

# Establish nondiscriminatory policies for providing effective communication for people with communication disabilities, including provision of sign language interpreters.

# Post a notice of the policy in its waiting rooms.

# Train staff on the policies.

# Ensure that appropriate auxiliary aids and services, including qualified interpreters, and specifically tactile interpreters, are made available to all who are deaf, hard of hearing, or deaf-blind.

County Counsel Richard Winnie called the lawsuit productive because it allowed the county to evaluate practices to deal with more unique situations — such as the one that brought about the suit.

"The value of this lawsuit is it allowed us to review our policies in an effort to accommodate all circumstances," Winnie said. "This was a very good exercise."