Feds Join Disability Rights Florida's Effective Communication for Inmates Lawsuit

a row of different hearing aid devices

by Andy Jones
January 18, 2017

The Department of Justice filed a motion to intervene January 9 in a lawsuit filed by Disability Rights Florida against the state’s Department of Corrections, on behalf of hundreds of deaf and hard of hearing inmates.

“The ADA and Section 504 afford all people with disabilities, including prisoners, the right to fair treatment and effective communication,” said Vanita Gupta, head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, in a news release. “We believe our participation in this case will help to ensure a just outcome for all.”

Disability Rights Florida sued the agency in federal court in January 2016, contending that the DOC systematically fails to provide these inmates the means to effectively communicate, even during medical appointments and other particularly sensitive settings.

Specifically, the plaintiff alleges that the DOC regularly provides broken hearing aids, and other ineffective auxiliary aids, when it provides any at all.

Furthermore, they assert that the DOC regularly fails to hire qualified sign language interpreters.

“There are hundreds—if not thousands—of people with physical disabilities who are incarcerated in Florida,” said Randall C. Berg, Jr. of the Florida Justice Institute, who along with an attorney from Morgan and Morgan P.A. represents Disability Rights Florida in the suit, in a news release from when the lawsuit commenced. “Even though they are in prison, the law requires that they be properly accommodated so that they can have equal access to programs, services, and activities. But the Florida Department of Corrections is not following the law.”

The claims in the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, are brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

The DOJ motion can be read here

Disability Rights Washington and Disability Rights Florida are the designated protection and advocacy agencies in Washington and Florida, respectively, and are members of the National Disability Rights Network.