Victory for Rights of Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Prisoners

Jan 14, 2016 | Articles and Publications

The life of a prisoner in the United States is certainly not desirable, but just like the rest of us Americans they are allowed their basic human rights. Unfortunately, there’s a disturbing pattern of mistreatment of deaf and hard-of-hearing prisoners in our country’s department of corrections facilities.

Last year the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs (WLC) and the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) were hard at work in Kentucky and Maryland fighting for the rights of deaf and hard-of-hearing inmates. On June 8, 2015 the two organizations announced that they had reached a settlement with both states, “concerning the proper treatment of deaf and hard-of-hearing prisoners”.

With these settlements, Kentucky and Maryland have joined the small group of states that are determined to make sure that the deaf and hard-of-hearing prisoners who live in their facilities have the same rights as their fellow inmates. Other states across the country, like Massachusetts, are experiencing lawsuits from deaf and hard-of-hearing inmates who claim they are living in ‘a prison within a prison’ because of the neglect they experience and lack of access to technology, sign language interpreters and more.

The recent settlements in Maryland and Kentucky ensure that that deaf and hard-of-hearing prisoners receive all of their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as well as other federal laws.

Now that these agreements have been made, the prisoners will have access to videophones, which will allow them to talk to people outside of the prison; visual notifications of oral announcements so they can be aware of essential announcements made by the prison staff; and access to sign language interpreters as well as other auxiliary aids and services.

The final part of the settlement states that the correctional facilities will implement the necessary policies, training, and monitoring to make sure that the prison officials are following the rules and making the changes that need to be made.

The NAD is hopeful that these cases will cause other states to move quickly to implement similar requirements in their correctional facilities and make way for much needed change. To learn more about these cases visit

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