Settlement Aims to Ensure Deaf People Have Access to ASL Interpreters
The Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) recently announced that a settlement has been reached with the remaining defendants in two federal lawsuits against the operators of dozens of nursing homes and assisted living facilities for allegedly refusing to make American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter services available to deaf and hard-of-hearing residents.
The lawsuits were filed in 2015 based on evidence gathered by the FHJC in an eight-month testing investigation. Testers posing as relatives of deaf persons needing assisted living or nursing home care contacted facilities in the New York City region to inquire about housing and care for their deaf relatives.
Though denying the allegations, the defendants in the latest settlement agreed to pay $245,675 in damages and attorney’s fees to resolve the case. The settlement agreement also includes extensive injunctive relief, such as:
- Agreement not to refuse to admit prospective residents because they are deaf or hard of hearing, and not to refuse to provide a reasonable accommodation to obtain auxiliary services, including ASL interpreters, when appropriate for effective communication;
- Adoption of policies and procedures that will ensure deaf and hard-of-hearing people have access to ASL interpreters or other auxiliary services as needed to provide effective communication when appropriate;
- Training for key facility staff on the legal rights of deaf persons under fair housing and other civil rights laws as well as sensitivity issues and best practices for working with deaf and hard-of-hearing persons; and
- Agreement to maintain and make available specific records over several years for review by the FHJC to document efforts made to comply with the terms of the settlements.
The FHJC says that the settlements with all defendants in these cases ensures that deaf and hard-of-hearing people will have access to ASL services and other auxiliary aids and services as a reasonable accommodation in 61 nursing homes and 35 assisted living facilities in the New York City region. The settlement agreements reached with the defendants in these two cases also yielded a total monetary recovery of nearly $1.2 million in damages and attorney’s fees.
In a statement, FHJC President Robert Martin stated, “We are pleased with the outcomes in these cases. They demonstrate that, when fair housing laws are vigorously enforced, it is possible to create broad systemic changes within an industry and make housing opportunities available to populations that have been excluded or treated unfairly.”