Friday, February 20, 2009

Deaf Inc.

Joey Baer's vlog last year said it well when he mentioned the quote, "Think Globally, Act Locally." That is exactly our intention, to act locally, but we also want to share our experiences and information in the hopes that it would inspire others to share their experiences or to start up their own organization for the purpose of improving communication access.  Think globally would be us sharing our experiences and information, acting locally would be for those that want to act in their areas.

We are a newly formed start up non-profit organization with a mission to improve communication access for deaf and hard of hearing people in the Greater St. Louis area. We also strive to help empower deaf and hard of hearing people to be able to stand up for their rights when it comes to communication access.

The name of our organization is Deaf Empowerment Awareness Foundation, Inc, with the dba (doing business as) of Deaf Inc.  We have received 501(c)(3) recognition from the IRS as well.  While our primary focus is in the Greater St. Louis area, we still want to share the information to the public, with the hopes that people outside of the Greater St. Louis area area will either share their experiences or take the incentive to form a similar organization of their own for their areas.

Deaf Inc. was formed after hearing so many stories of deaf people being denied communication access in our area, and the straw that broke the camel's back was actually this story.

A deaf man, who also had a deaf wife and deaf daughter and a deaf son that passed away years ago due to AIDs related complications.  When that son was going through the last stages of his life, he was provided an interpreter every step of the way and this was over ten years ago.

Fast forward a little over 5 years later, this deaf man developed health problems that started out with cancer and he underwent a treatment process that allowed him to basically beat the cancer that he had.  A couple years later, he had developed other health related problems and this was the beginning of where he was being denied interpreters. To make a long story shorter, there was an occasion where he had an emergency that required surgery and he did not have an interpreter during this process.  His daughter, who is also deaf, (actually hard of hearing, but her pride in the deaf world causes her to call herself deaf) spoke with the hospital staff after his surgery to make sure he had an interpreter when he woke up after his surgery. This was in the wee hours into the late night or early morning so she and her mom went home to get some sleep.

She returned a few hours later to find her father's wrists strapped onto the bed and he was fingerspelling over and over the words, "help me".  This daughter was horrified to see this and she practically had to beg the hospital staff to take off those restraints.  

Upon finding out this story, you can imagine that I got quite pissed off, because this was exactly the equivalency of putting tape over a hearing person's mouth to shut him up.  Her father was only confused after waking up after surgery, which is easily understood because he still did not know what was happening and why, simply because he was not provided an interpreter so he resorted to trying to communicate with the staff using his primary language, ASL. And they resorted to tying his hands on the bed.  That is a very severe violation against a deaf person!!!!

Upon getting out of the hospital, he learned that he could file a complaint with the Department of Justice (DoJ), which was exactly what he did.  What was unfortunate is that the DoJ has a huge pile of complaints which took them a long time to respond to the complaint that was filed.

It was nearly a year later where this deaf man developed more complications that caused him to go back to the hospital where he was continued to be denied interpreters.  While the deaf wife and daughter did not know what was going on as they were seeing that he was being transported somewhere else. So they started writing back and forth on paper with the hospital staff, where the wife wrote "but he has no cancer, why is this happening?"  The nurses was horrified upon reading this and explained that her husband was actually dying of cancer and that he was very near his death, which was why they were transferring him to a hospice to die. He passed away two days later.

This man did not die peacefully, if the hospital have provided interpreters since day one, the mother and daughter would have known that the cancer came back, they would have known that his death was coming and could have prepared for it. They could have prepared for him to die peacefully at his own home around his beloved family, friends, and pets. But that did not happen.  

After the man died, the DoJ sent a saying that they would like permission to look into this case further.  The daughter wrote back to them asking if she could take over for her father as he had passed away and wanted this case to continue, which the DoJ said was ok.  Then the DoJ set up a mediation session between this wife and daughter and the hospital.  All the wife and daughter wanted was for the hospital to implement the same items that were issued in previous consent decrees issued by the DoJ for similar complaints in the past and in addition, to have their legal fees paid for by the hospital.  They did not want extra money, they just wanted to make sure that this hospital does not do this again to another deaf person.  

The shocker is that this hospital completely denied everything and say that they did absolutely nothing wrong.  The mediation failed miserably, which has caused the DoJ to accept the case for further investigation and it is still pending right now. The bottom line here is that communication access has severely deteriorated over the years in this area and something needs to be done about it.

While we think the DoJ is doing a very good thing, but we also feel that more can be accomplished as well which is why Deaf Inc. was formed. We look forward to sharing our experiences with the readers and strongly encourage that the readers share their experiences with us. Knowledge is power and the more we all know, the more we call be effective.

While the above story is related to interpreting, it is vital to make you all aware that we are not focussing solely on ASL, but that we want to work with all communication modes, which includes people that use CIs, people that become late-deafened, etc.  That being the case, we respectfully request that there is no bashing of specific people when it comes to the comments section of the blog and upcoming postings.

We also encourage you to share your stories of being denied communication access so that more people can realize how severe the problem is with communication access across this country and worldwide is.