Deaf, Hard Of Hearing Prisoners May Soon Receive Access To Hearing Aids, Interpreters And More

Andy Dahn
July 25, 2018 - 1:50 pm

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Advocates say the lives of certain prisoners in Illinois are set to drastically improve thanks to a landmark settlement.

"A lot of people who are in prison and don't have communication access are essentially in communication solitary confinement."

Rachel Weisberg, a Staff Attorney at Equip for Equality, said that's been the case for Illinois' deaf and hard of hearing prisoners, many of whom aren't given access to American Sign Language interpreters.

"For years, despite the requirements of the law, that just wasn't being done in the Illinois Department of Corrections," Weisberg said. "Some individuals who are deaf have been unable to understand medical appointments, mental health appointments, education classes and disciplinary hearings because they needed interpreters."

A 2011 lawsuit against the department has been settled in class action. It would give prisoners access to interpreters, hearing aids and communication specialists and alerts.

"If this agreement is fully implemented, it's going to create some very substantive and significant changes for the deaf and hard of hearing population," she said.

A fairness hearing, in which a judge must find that the settlement is fair, reasonable and adequate, will be held in Chicago on Thursday.

In a statement to WBBM, Howard Rosenblum with the National Association of the Deaf, said, in part, "state and federal prisons across the country have utterly failed deaf and hard of hearing prisoners...this settlement is a a breakthrough in Illinois."