Deaf Inmate Denied Accommodations: DC Corrections Must Pay

A US District judge recently ruled in favor of a Deaf inmate, William Pierce, who sued the District of Columbia Department of Corrections for failing to provide appropriate accommodations during his 60-day sentence. Pierce was not provided a qualified sign language interpreter for medical appointments and classes and was only allowed limited access to an outdated device (TTY/TDD) that allowed him to make phone calls. He was also put in solitary confinement after he signed a form without understanding what he was signing. The judge criticized the Department of Corrections for not conducting an intake assessment of Pierce’s needs before his incarceration. Hopefully, this ruling will lead to change that ensures Deaf prisoners have fair and access to sign language interpreters, videophones, email, and mental health services. It is time to stop considering the TTY/TDD a reasonable accommodation. Click here for the full story.

  1. Gigi Budzinski March 20, 2016

    To start off I’m a coda….. So I didn’t experience everything you did but close enough I cannot understand the staff yelling rules and there was no way for me to call my parents on the phone…. The police arrested me after my mom assulted me I called 911 but no interpreter ever…. I sat chained to a bench for 8hrs …evetually the case was dropped but I kept asking for a phone call and couldn’t… Milwaukee has no accommodations for the deaf…I’ve even been in their work release program and my dad had to hold a sign up that he was there for me….. They need to fix it and you sound like the right person to contact…….

  2. Jean-Pierre DErick Mbei July 28, 2017

    This is sad and traumatic. I just cannot fathom. That things like these still happen — and are common place in our Nation’s Capital is such a shameful paradox! I could be wrong. However, DPN paved the way to the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. Yet, we deaf people have still not truly benefited from the rightful legal and economic dividends of a legislation we helped enact. Maybe America’s Congress could still have passed this legislation, that is something we might never be able to mathematically prove. The fact remains that, without DPN, American — and ipso facto the world, yes the world because DPN had opened the eyes of the world, and ADA has helped to unlock legal barriers globally — may not have have had an ADA in 1990.

    Discrimination against deaf people continues to be so rampant, so widespread, so systematic and so systemic that, it is pervasive in the work place (both private and government), in public settings. In short, discrimination against deaf people is so ubiquitous that the ADA just looks like a tiger on paper.

    But just like we did with DPN, we deaf people must take ownership of the struggle. For DPN should never be considered an end. We must never sit, or stand by and expect others to lead in this fight — this Civil Rights fight. We must be assertive. We must never allow anyone to bully us. I know that it takes a great deal of resources to win a legal battle. But we will not win without the courage to say “No, enough is enough!” To win a war, you need to start it. And every single needs planning. And planning starts with the documentation of incidents methodically. No attorney is going to win a case without being provided solid and factual documentation.

    Employers discriminate against deaf people because they take us for granted. I have heard offensive comments like “Deaf people are naive…” Therefore, it is up to us to prove them wrong. Of course, not all employers should be faulted. The Blue Company I worked for in PA is one of the leading organizations that treat deaf people — their deaf employees decently. The company had an ADA role in HR, and this role (with the support of other great HR personnel) did a fantastic job. But such employers continue to be a minority.

    While I can — reluctantly understand that private organizations continue to treat deaf people like second or third class citizen or employees, it is totally shocking and unacceptable for any government entity in the US to still not get it, more than two decades after the the birth of the ADA.

    The ADA was supposed to be a check deposited in the general bank account of Americans with Disabilities. Sadly, our society gave deaf people an NSF check. And whenever a deaf person goes to the bank to collect their share of the funds, we are told that there is insufficient funds. We are denied reasonable accommodation. We are underpaid while doing the work that everyone else (our colleagues) does. We are denied promotion because, in this 21st Century, deaf people are still considered D+D = 2D. How can supposedly intelligent people stand on this 21st Century with heir feet, their bodies, while their mind remains locked in the 19th or 20th Century?

    Kudos to this deaf friend and all those who have supported and continue to support him. Let justice be served! Let me end by citing Dr. King:

    “Let freedom ring from the snow capped Rockies of Colorado!
    Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!
    But not only there; let freedom ring from the Stone Mountain of Georgia!
    Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain in Tennessee!
    Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill in Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
    And hen this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, [deaf and hearing — my addition], will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the [human — my addition] spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we [deaf people — my addition] are free at last!'”

    And let freedom ring for Deaf people in all the police cells and detention centers!
    Let freedom ring for Deaf people in Corporate America!
    Let freedom ring for Deaf people in every government agency!



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