National Association of the Deaf - NAD.org
Introducing you to our B-U-I-L-D-E-R-S!
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Camp Director: Jimel Wright
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Assistant Camp Director: Zoe Rodriguez
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Special Projects Coordinator: Tory Sampson
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PHOTO DESC: Jason is pointing fingers to the camera.
PHOTO DESC: Joseph is signing “what’s up” in front of a red background.
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PHOTO DESC: Natasha is smiling with her hand on her chin.
PHOTO DESC: Savannah is pointing towards the camera.
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PHOTO DESC: Roger is saying hello with his two arms up.
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PHOTO DESC: A headshot of Seth smiling.
Welcome to the NAD Youth Leadership Camp blog site for 2018! This year, we will explore the Prism of Possibilities. Endless possibilities. Influential leaders. Dynamic teamwork. This summer will bring out so many different possibilities. It all starts with you.
We, the Builders, are excited to start our summer with you!
Image Desc: The handshapes of “influence” is moving towards and through a triangle with motion waves, stars, sun and a moon.
Melvin Walker, President
Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf
333 Commerce Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
Dear President Melvin Walker:
The National Association of the Deaf (NAD), as the nation’s premier civil rights organization of, by and for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals issues this letter to the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) to demand that the RID act in furtherance of the right of people who are deaf and hard-of-hearing to equally effective communication. Specifically, the NAD requests that RID immediately issue a public apology and statement with respect to positions taken by its previous executive director, Anna Witter-Merithew, during her tenure with RID.
We understand that Ms. Witter-Merithew provided expert witness testimony in opposition to deaf people asserting civil rights in at least three cases known to us while she served as the Executive Director of RID: as the rebuttal expert for the hospital in the case of Priscilla Saunders v. Mayo Clinic, No. 13-cv-1972 (U.S. District Court of Minnesota, 2013); as the rebuttal expert for the hospital in the case of Durand et al. v. Fairview Health Services, No. 2015-cv-2012 (U.S. District Court of Minnesota, 2015); and as an expert witness for the prosecution in the criminal case of State of Tennessee v. Andrew Clayton Parker, No. CR6081 (White County Criminal Court, 2014). While her report in the criminal case of Parker is not available to us at the moment, we have her reports and testimony in the Saundersand Durandcases – and they are attached for your convenience.
A reading of these reports and testimony makes it clear that Ms. Witter-Merithew served as an expert on behalf of defendants alleged to have violated the civil rights of deaf people who require communication access through qualified sign language interpreters.
Priscilla Saunders is a deaf woman who was pregnant and sought qualified interpreters for when she would deliver the baby at the Mayo Clinic. She asserted in her complaint that she could not effectively communicate with the hospital’s staff interpreter and asked for other interpreters. The hospital allegedly kept using the staff interpreter anyway to communicate with her. Ms. Witter-Merithew provided an expert report on October 22, 2014 saying, “It would not be possible for the Mayo Clinic to satisfy the specific expectations and preferences of the plaintiffs in this matter for consistent provision of services by highly qualified interpreters with native ASL competence.”
Roger and Linda Durand are deaf parents who sued a hospital that was treating their adult hearing son and allegedly did not provide them with qualified interpreters except two times, both brief. The Durands asserted that, as a result of the lack of qualified interpreters, they did not understand that their son was dying. Ms. Witter-Merithew provided a June 29, 2016 expert report in which she opined, “It would likely not be possible to satisfy the specific expectations and preferences of the plaintiffs in this matter for consistent provision of services by highly qualified interpreters throughout the days leading up to Shaun Durand’s death.” Even more upsetting to the NAD is her statement in the report that “There is no evidence supporting the notion…that the inclusion of interpreters would have in anyway [sic] improved the level of understanding that apparently continues to elude Linda and Roger Durand.” She further stated that the deaf parents were at fault for not properly requesting interpreters: “They [sic] family is emphatic that requests were made, but often vague as to with who, when, how” and “The hands off approach of Linda and Roger Durand, which included a failure to self-advocate and ask for clarification when needed and when the opportunity existed contradicts the impact they now claim the lack of interpreters created.”
The NAD believes these comments to be harmful to the civil and linguistic rights of deaf and hard of hearing people. Moreover, what the NAD considers most disturbing is the timing of her reports and testimony. Her Saunders expert report is dated October 22, 2014, but she was prepared to testify until the case was settled in March 2015. Her Durand expert report is dated June 29, 2016, and her deposition was given on August 16, 2016. According to her Durand report, she was scheduled to provide expert testimony against the interests of a deaf person accused of a crime on July 8, 2016.
Anna Witter-Merithew was employed by the RID as its Executive Director from March 2015 to July 2017. The Saunders case immediately preceded her hire, and her report should have disqualified her from the executive director position. She continued to provide testimony and reports throughout her term on behalf of defendants sued for allegedly violating the civil rights of deaf people.
The NAD believes that Ms. Witter-Merithew’s statements on behalf of defendants against deaf people seeking access to equally effective communication is completely inconsistent with advocacy for the civil rights of deaf people and undermines interpreters as a profession. And, in the Durand case, she has done this while stating that she is the Executive Director of the RID.
The NAD considers unacceptable any statement by an interpreter acting as an expert witness in opposition to the assertion of critical civil rights of deaf people. Also unacceptable are any such statements made by the executive director of RID or any staff of the RID.
To rectify Ms. Witter-Merithew’s actions, the NAD demands that the RID make three public statements as follows:
- The RID will declare that it agrees with the NAD that the Code of Professional Conduct (CPC) needs to be updated to prohibit any interpreter from providing expert witness testimony or reports opposing the civil or linguistic rights of any deaf or hard of hearing person, and will expedite its committee work with the NAD to revamp the CPC;
- The RID will declare that it prohibits all of its staff and board members from making any statements or engaging in any conduct that is adverse to the civil or linguistic rights of any deaf or hard of hearing person; and
- The RID will disavow expert witness reports and testimony by RID staff and board members that are adverse to the civil and linguistic rights of deaf and hard of hearing persons, and declare that the RID renounces the reports and testimony given in the Saunders and Durand cases as well as any other similar cases.
The RID has an obligation to take these corrective steps with respect to the actions taken by its previous executive director, and these statements that NAD requests above are the minimum that the RID owes to both the deaf community and the interpreting community.
While the NAD and RID no longer have a partnership on certification, we have been engaged in a dialogue about the CPC and other areas of mutual interest. Given this situation, however, the NAD cannot engage in any further collaboration with the RID until such corrective actions are taken.
Howard A. Rosenblum
Chief Executive Officer
Enjoy President Melissa’s last video for the 2016-2018 term! She discusses the five priorities from 2016-2018, shares a quick update for some committees, and encourages you to join us in Hartford — it’s not too late!
Note: Originally published in the Fall 2017 NADmag Issue.
As long as there have been deaf and hard of hearing people, there have been interpreters. The dynamics between interpreters and deaf persons have always been complex and layered. Interpreters often have different roles: family members and strangers, teachers and students, employers and employees as well as co-workers, and friends and foes. While there have been divisions, there needs to be unity going forward if both deaf people and interpreters are to succeed in their respective goals. However, such unity must be carefully structured to ensure that deaf and hard of hearing persons are able to achieve their full potential without restrictions, limitations, or suppression. In short, there must be assurance that interpreters – like doctors bound by the Hippocratic Oath – must only do good and not harm deaf and hard of hearing individuals (often referred to as “first, do no harm”).
All respectable professions have a code of ethics or code of professional conduct, which is designed to foster accountability, responsibility, and trust so that consumers can put faith in the covered professionals. Certified sign language interpreters are expected to adhere to the NAD-RID Code of Professional Conduct (“CPC”), which contains seven tenets as follows: 1) confidentiality; 2) professional skills and knowledge; 3) appropriate conduct; 4) respect for consumer; 5) respect for colleagues, interns and students; 6) ethical business practices; and 7) professional development.
However, despite such provisions in the CPC, it has become apparent that there is a growing divide between the deaf and hard of hearing community and the interpreting profession. Such a divide has contributed to a large increase in distrust and suspicions between consumers and interpreters. Deaf and hard of hearing individuals contact the NAD often to express misgivings or complaints about interpreters and interpreter referral agencies. The concerns that have been shared were once about isolated issues but now have occurred with enough frequency to become recognizable patterns centering around six specific areas that need to be addressed. These six areas are as follows: public advocacy; self-promotion; employment competition; adverse expert witness testimony; and adverse consultations and business practices. The bottom line is that the CPC needs to be updated to address these concerns in a way to better safeguard against harm to consumers. This article is not intended to recommend specific provisions for each area to be included in the CPC, but seeks to prompt a discussion among the interpreting community, as well as the deaf and hard of hearing community, to examine what needs to be updated in the CPC.
Marginalized groups often have to advocate for their rights, and allies are often needed and helpful. However, it is important for allies to respect the space needed for the marginalized to promote such advocacy. With the advent of the Internet, there has been an increase in public advocacy for the rights of deaf and hard of hearing people by interpreters. While such advocacy is well-intentioned, this publicity deprives deaf and hard of hearing individuals of the opportunity and space to assert their rights in a public forum. There are interpreters writing blogs on major media outlets and presenting themselves as the voice of the deaf and hard of hearing community. It is one thing for interpreters to advocate for improvements in interpreting, but that does not mean they should be advocating for the rights of deaf and hard of hearing people. The CPC, as it exists now, does not address how interpreters present themselves to the world on issues relating to advocacy on deaf rights.
All hard-working professionals seek to advance their livelihood through self-promotion in various ways. However, certain professions have ethical constraints on the nature and form of such self-promotion. For example, the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which most states adopt with some revisions as code of ethics for their licensed lawyers, has specific restrictions on how lawyers may communicate or advertise about their services, and how lawyers may solicit clients. Similarly, the American Medical Association’s Code of Medical Ethics contains some restrictions on advertising and publicity. These are examples that could guide a review of the CPC to determine if there should be provisions governing self-promotion. Anger and resentment has begun building within the deaf community when some interpreters engage in extravagant self-promotion including, but not limited to, videos going viral of the interpreters signing songs. Deaf and hard of hearing individuals have begun wondering why they are unemployed or underemployed while interpreters are gaining recognition and appearing to derive income from such promotions. Such conduct, if left uncontrolled, will contribute to the growing distrust and divide between the deaf community and interpreters.
The NAD has received too many reports of employment situations where deaf and hard of hearing persons are working and an interpreter is promoted from being their interpreter to become their supervisor or boss. Such a change affects the dynamics between deaf and hard of hearing people and the interpreters, and has led to resentment among the deaf and hard of hearing employees.
In addition, there has been competition between interpreters and deaf individuals in certain fields that have also caused such resentment. For example, when there are casting calls for deaf roles in theater or television or movies, interpreters have sometimes auditioned for such roles. Further, many interpreters have taken on jobs teaching ASL in schools and universities across the country, depriving deaf people of such opportunities.
While interpreters are certainly entitled to seek employment opportunities, deaf and hard of hearing individuals are experiencing abysmal rates of unemployment and underemployment. The CPC focuses primarily on how interpreters conduct themselves in the course of interpreting rather than governing how interpreters handle a wide variety of life situations that impact the trust of deaf and hard of hearing consumers.
Adverse Expert Witness Testimony
The NAD has also received alarming proof of interpreters who have testified in legal cases against the interests of the deaf and hard of hearing community. As a civil rights organization dedicated to advancing the rights of deaf and hard of hearing people, the NAD is appalled that any interpreter would provide testimony that sets back the civil rights of deaf and hard of hearing people. Even when interpreters thought they were merely providing information about their field of expertise in cases where they were retained by attorneys opposing the rights of deaf individuals, such interpreters’ testimony cause harm to those deaf individuals. Otherwise, the opposing attorneys would not have bothered to retain the interpreters for their testimony. The CPC should add strict guidelines that guards against any adverse expert witness testimony that may harm the civil rights of the deaf and hard of hearing community.
Adverse Consultations & Business Practices
Although the CPC was designed to govern the conduct of interpreters in the course of providing interpreting services, it has become apparent that the code should be expanded to cover all aspects of an interpreter’s profession. Not only should the CPC apply to adverse witness testimony, but it should also apply to any consultations that are adverse to the interests of deaf and hard of hearing individuals. Interpreters that advise hospitals, courts, businesses, schools and universities, and professionals should always influence them to ensure fully effective communication access. There are too many situations where interpreters engage in consultations either as individuals or on behalf of Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) or interpreter referral agencies, and advise entities to provide the bare minimum of services in the interest of saving costs and drawing in business for the interpreter or their agency.
Some interpreter agencies have secured exclusive contracts with specific businesses such as hospitals. The NAD has received numerous complaints from deaf individuals who have to go to these hospitals and are not able to effectively communicate through the interpreters that are provided by the interpreter agency holding the exclusive contract. When the deaf persons inform those hospitals that they require different interpreters to understand what is being discussed, the hospitals tend to respond that they cannot because of the exclusive contract. These problems have prompted the NAD to begin work on certification of interpreter referral agencies to establish best practices, but it is important to include in the CPC some language establishing parameters about interpreters working for agencies having exclusive contracts that end up hurting the deaf and hard of hearing community.
Numerous deaf and hard of hearing individuals have spoken out vehemently against the misuse of VRI in hospitals. Yet, hospitals across the country are increasingly turning to VRI as their sole solution for communication access. Why are hospitals everywhere buying VRI services without being advised of needing a proper balance between in-person interpreting services and VRI services? VRI company representatives as a whole should be prohibited from advising hospitals that VRI is the solution for all communications with deaf individuals. While there are preliminary efforts to impede such false advertising for all such representatives, the CPC can immediately control the behavior of interpreters who work for those companies and engage in such false advertising.
Such consultations and business practices are often provided at the expense of effective communication for deaf and hard of hearing individuals, and ethical considerations for such consultations should be included in the CPC.
Time to Update the Code of Professional Conduct
Given the seriousness of these issues, we must work together to update the Code of Professional Conduct to address changes in the profession and society. The NAD is in communication with the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) to discuss these issues and determine how best to update the code to reflect optimal practices in today’s world. We cannot afford to wait any longer if we are ever to unify our communities and work together for everyone’s best interests.
(MIAMI, FLORIDA) June 21, 2018 – The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) has won the right to proceed in litigation against the State of Florida, the Florida Legislature and the radio and television network WFSU regarding the rights of persons with disabilities to participate in the political process. The defendants in the case filed a Motion to Dismiss which was rejected by the Court. The NAD, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization dedicated to advocating for the rights of deaf or hard of hearing people, and Miami-based disability rights advocate Eddie Sierra, sued the State of Florida and the Florida Legislature for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
The lawsuit focuses on the Legislature’s refusal to caption their legislative proceedings so that deaf or hard of hearing people can watch videos and other content on the Florida House and Florida Senate’s legislative websites. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), over 15% of the U.S. population over the age of 18 is deaf or hard of hearing. In July 2017, Eddie sent both the House and Senate letters asking them to caption the proceedings in the 2018 legislative session. He never received a reply.
The complaint was filed in Miami in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Judge Ursula Ungaro denied the motion to dismiss brought by the State of Florida, the Florida House of Representatives, the Florida Senate, the Florida Channel and various other defendants, in June 2018. The Defendants argued that they were not required to caption their legislative proceedings.
Judge Ungaro found that “plaintiffs are not seeking just any public information, but rather information that goes to the very heart of the democratic process: the text of legislative proceedings. Accordingly, their fundamental right to participate in the democratic process is implicated.”
“We are thrilled by this win,” said NAD Chief Executive Officer Howard Rosenblum. “We’ve said from the beginning that this case was particularly unjust because Eddie Sierra and others in our community were being excluded from participation in the legislative process. Their civil rights and basic rights as an American are being violated every day. We are looking forward to continuing the fight on behalf of all persons with disabilities.”
“In today’s society persons with disabilities are routinely slighted or completely ignored,” Eddie said. “Often times, it’s like we don’t exist. But we’ve had enough and won’t be denied our right to participate in the legislative process in this state.”
The NAD and Eddie are represented by Miami-based civil rights law firms J. Courtney Cunningham, PLLC, and Scott R. Dinin, P.A. They are joined by Stein & Vargas, LLP, a Washington, D.C. firm that specializes in fighting disability-based discrimination.
There are more than 80 schools for deaf and hard of hearing students in the United States, and many NAD members are alumni of these schools. Each school is valued and viewed as an invaluable resource for the residents of the respective states.
The search for and selection of a leader is one of the most challenging tasks for any school. The NAD seeks to support all states and their schools for the deaf in securing the best possible leaders of their programs to provide quality education to deaf and hard of hearing students.
With that aim, the NAD has created recommendations to help guide schools for the deaf and/or state departments of education that are seeking to search for and select new superintendents or school leaders. The goal of these recommendations is to support schools for the deaf in their search and selection process to find and hire the best possible candidates to take on leadership roles in their programs.
Every search process begins with the formation of a committee whether it is to actively search or to interview potential candidates or both. Given that schools for the deaf are viewed by the deaf community as part of their lives as well as the place where their future leaders currently are educated, members of the deaf community should be included in this search process. The NAD recommends that search committees be formed that include at least two representatives of the deaf community, particularly those that are alumni of the school or representatives of the state association of the deaf. It is also encouraged that the search committee membership reflects the diversity of the student population, including at least two individuals who are parents of deaf or hard of hearing students attending the school. One of these parents should also be deaf or hard of hearing. The majority of the search committee should be deaf or hard of hearing.
In addition, throughout the search process, the school should engage with the deaf and hard of hearing community in the state and provide them with updates on the progress with the search. It is encouraged that these updates be provided in all forms such as but not limited to mass emails, website postings, videos, and social media.
These two inclusive steps are essential to ensuring that the deaf and hard of hearing community feels invested and included in the search for the school’s next leader. To do otherwise is to exclude this community and may result in unnecessary tension.
SCHOOL LEADER CRITERIA
The needs of every school vary greatly based on numerous factors such as budgeting, infrastructure, state law, educational requirements, and the student population. The school leader should be trained in all aspects of administration and governance of a school and be able to oversee all employees and functions of the school. However, in addition to these required skills, the NAD believes that the search for a new school leader should include the following criteria: fluency in both American Sign Language (ASL) and English; knowledge about bilingual education; and the ability to engage effectively and directly with faculty, students, parents and the deaf community.
Fluency in both ASL and English will promote open and direct communication within the school community, as well as with the community at large. A bilingual leader will inspire all students and give them a role model for the acquisition of two languages for the furtherance of their education.
A working knowledge of bilingual education will better ensure strong implementation of the latest research and studies promoting best practices for education of deaf and hard of hearing students. The leader should also be able to accommodate students and parents from homes that speak other languages as well as students who benefit from and use spoken English.
In addition, we strongly urge schools to look within the deaf and hard of hearing community to locate their next school leader. Deaf and hard of hearing students deserve a strong role model in their school leader, and this is best accomplished if the leader is like them, deaf or hard of hearing. By including the deaf community in the search process, schools will better be able to identify any qualified candidates who are deaf or hard of hearing.
The NAD acknowledges that the task of selecting a school leader does not come easily. For this reason, the NAD stands ready to provide support to schools to find the best individual for the position.
What does the NAD Law and Advocacy center do other than sue? #AskHoward
Join me in my project on increasing interpreters of color by filling out the survey!
Who should provide interpreters? #AskHoward
The NAD Youth Strategy Team excited to announce a huge milestone — the NAD Youth Section (NADYS) has become an official section under the NAD!
The NAD’s new Policy Institute will be studying deaf and hard of hearing people’s accessibility experiences across a variety of categories. First up, live professional sporting events!
Do you watch live professional sporting events (such as football, basketball, hockey, and soccer) at sports venues? We need your input!
After a brief video montage of the visit, President Melissa shares a summary of the NAD Board meeting in Wisconsin. Enjoy the photo album and learn what other regions are up to:
Are you interested in joining the NAD Board? President Emeritus T. Alan Hurwitz encourages you to apply! #NAD2018 #NADboardAPPLY
The Florida Legislature concluded a session last month that made national headlines. The Florida House and Senate passed new gun control measures after the Parkland shootings and debated new sexual harassment rules spawned by allegations that resulted in the resignation of a powerful state senator in the midst of his gubernatorial campaign. This legislative activity was covered gavel-to-gavel on television and on the legislature’s websites.
Deaf and hard of hearing people, however, were not able to understand much of the legislative activity because the state failed to caption the proceedings. As a result, the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) and disabled rights advocate Eddie I. Sierra of Miami are suing the State of Florida, the Florida House of Representatives, the Florida Senate, the Florida Channel and various other defendants for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The complaint was filed in Miami in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
In July 2017, Sierra sent both the House and Senate letters asking them to caption the proceedings in the 2018 legislative session. He never received a reply.
“I’ve been politically active for many years. I pay attention to issues impacting the elderly and people with disabilities,” Sierra said. “I haven’t been able to participate in the Florida legislative process for many years because the videos on the House and Senate website aren’t captioned. This year I said enough is enough. I’m tired of begging for my rights as an American and I decided to do something about it.”
According to Johns Hopkins, there are 48 million deaf and hard of hearing people in America. That means one in five Americans has hearing loss.
The NAD is the nation’s oldest civil rights organization dedicated to advocating for the rights of persons who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.
“When we were presented with the facts of this case, we knew that we had to be involved,” said NAD Chief Executive Officer Howard Rosenblum. “This case was especially shocking because Mr. Sierra and others in our community were being excluded from participation in the legislative process. Not only civil rights are being violated, but their basic rights as Americans are being violated. This had to be put to a stop.”
The NAD and Mr. Sierra are represented by Miami-based civil rights law firms J. Courtney Cunningham, PLLC, and Scott R. Dinin, P.A. They are joined by Stein & Vargas, LLP, a Washington, D.C. firm that specializes in fighting disability-based discrimination and Marc Charmatz, Esq. a senior attorney with the NAD.
We’re excited to partner with Deaf In Government, National Deaf Education Conference, and RID Region I — amazing workshops are in the works for #NAD2018!
President Melissa shares a summary of the Deaf Grassroots Movement Rally, encourages you to submit a priority proposal, and is excited about the next Board meeting in Wisconsin.