New Decree on Hospital Access to Interpreters

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Less Stress = Better Health: Good news from the Department of Justice. Laurel Regional Hospital in Maryland just signed a consent decree in which it agreed to comply with the ADA by providing interpreters to all patients and their families or companions. The hospital was sued by a group of Deaf people whose interpreting requests were not accommodated.

The decree mandates that the hospital be responsible for the quality of video relay interpreting (VRI), including equipment and connections. It also gives Deaf patients the right to request an on-site interpreter over VRI. No longer will the hospital be able to get away with making Deaf patients, who are lying down, strain their necks and eyes in order to watch the VRI on the screen. Patients will be able to have on-site interpreters who can move around and position themselves where the patients can see them best.

Making communication accessible for Deaf people needs to be a priority for hospitals everywhere. Considering how vulnerable and stressed many people already are when they or their family members have to go to the hospital, there is absolutely no excuse for adding more emotional distress to their situation by refusing to provide appropriate interpreters. It can be a very traumatic experience to be confused and upset about what is happening in the hospital. Not being able to get clear answers from medical professionals because of communication issues puts Deaf patients in a terrible position to make informed judgments about their treatment. There can be long-lasting emotional effects from these kinds of situations, including increased anxiety and depression and acute stress disorder.

We are hopeful this this consent decree will have positive effects on interpreting access in hospitals all over the country. At the very least, it is a wake-up call for hospitals to respect Deaf patients’ rights to accessible and fair communication.

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