—–

TOUCH POINTS

by Renée K. Walker

 

You may remember me describing here the troubles I have had getting doctors in my area to provide me interpreters. That fight continues, but I now have completed the first battle. Though I can’t speak of the specific circumstances or resolution, I can describe the process that I have been through now and that the process worked. At least for one incident, compliance to the ADA law and education to help those who come into this particular situation in the future has been met. That is what the advocacy process can do. We all need to learn the skills to advocate for ourselves, but at times, we need help to move the mountains before us.

 

The best way to begin is to call and ask for an appointment first. Once the organization has given you an appointment, tell them your specific communication needs that fall under ADA law for effective communication. This could be the CART system, which is where you have a typist who has been trained in medical or legal interpreting depending on your setting, or it could mean an ASL interpreter, or some other form of communication. If the office tells you that they don’t provide interpreters or your method of communication, try to remain calm and use the moment to educate the personnel regarding the ADA law. Explain that it is required by law and offer to provide the personnel with a copy of the law section that pertains to the situation. You can also direct them to the National Association for the Deaf’s (NAD) website at www.nad.org or the ADA website at www.ada.gov. Document your call and its contents in some way. If you use relay services, save the transcript. If you have a hearing person call for you, see if they will write a summary of the transcripts. In my state, the laws allow me to record conversations without the permission of the other party. That could be a possibility, but you have to check the laws of your state first. You do not want to be in violation. A written record is usually quite sufficient. Even if the office personnel stated they weren’t interested in the ADA information, mail them a copy anyway asking them to please look it over and seek legal advice if they wish. Respectfully ask them to consider your need. Call the office again after giving them a little time to do as you requested, documenting the phone call. Many times this opportunity to educate politely is all that is needed to help people to understand your needs and their responsibilities. Often, the personnel didn’t mean any disrespect. They just were unfamiliar with the law and had not had any prior experience with disabled persons needing communication assistance.

 

In the event that your needs are still not met, please don’t get discouraged and give up or go to an appointment using just a friend or relative who can communicate with you. The ADA law has been written to help you. There are reasons the ADA law stipulates using a qualified interpreter. Family and friends may not be able to translate the complex medical or legal concepts to the patient in an effective manner. Often times, emotional situations may be difficult for them to handle, and the family member or friend may resort to hiding some information. The love and concern is understandable and commendable, but it is not appropriate when the patient’s ability to make decisions regarding their health or legal issue is hindered. It is the patient’s right to decide the form of effective communication they need and want, but understanding why the ADA law was written is also important in helping the patient function on his own behalf.

 

Your next step should be to contact your state’s local advocacy agency or ADA attorney. The attorney assigned to you will then work with you to get the information regarding your complaint. If non-compliance is determined, the advocate will contact the organization and inform them of your complaint against them, providing the legal information that the organization needs to understand in order to best serve you. This may be enough to resolve your situation and help you get your communication needs met.

 

If not, you are not alone. Your advocate will help you with the next steps. If you wish to proceed, the advocate will file on your behalf a complaint to the Department of Justice (DOJ). You will provide input as to what you would like to receive from the organization that is in non-compliance, such as an appointment where an interpreter is provided to allow effective communication. Once the complaint is written, you will receive a copy and give final approval to allow the advocate to file the complaint with the DOJ. DOJ prefers to start off with using a third-party mediating company. This company provides people who are trained to remain objective and help the parties in a dispute come to an agreement. In this situation, they help the organization understand the need for compliance to the ADA and the best procedure to do that. They also help educate both parties in how to best meet the needs of the complainant (person filing the complaint). The mediation meeting takes place at a neutral place or using telephone conference or whatever method works best for the parties involved. Your advocate is with you throughout the process. You can decide if you want the advocate to speak for you or if you want to speak for yourself asking help from your advocate as needed. The process of mediation is not a court trial. It is an informal meeting for discussion. The mediator helps to keep the discussion flowing and working toward resolution. Either party can end the mediation process at any time. All conversation during the mediation is completely confidential, so you and the other parties can be open. You are not forced into anything, but you do have lots of support from your advocate and the mediator to help things run smoothly and professionally.

 

Hopefully, the mediation meeting will lead to a resolution plan. The plan itself may take several months or more for the respondent (the person you are filing the complaint against) to fully complete all aspects of the plan depending on the situation and the complexities involved. When all is complete, you will be notified. If you are to be given an appointment using effective communication, that will be part of the plan. You will be given the opportunity to arrange that appointment. The mediation process and your case will not be closed until you and your advocate agree that the plan has been completed as prescribed.

 

Should the mediation process fail, the DOJ will then take the case back and a federal trial may then be held. I am not familiar with that process yet, and hope I will never have to go that far. I would prefer that education and/or the mediation process would be enough to secure my rights to effective communication in medical and legal settings. From my experiences with the mediation process so far, I can see that it is highly effective, and the results are probably very successful in many cases.

 

Remember as you request for your needs to be met, that you are not only advocating for yourself, but you are also advocating for others who will follow you. If we all are more willing to use the resources available to us to enforce the ADA law, we can educate more organizations and make the lives of all disabled a little easier.

 

If you have comments about this topic, you may write a letter in braille or print to Renée Walker, 143 Williamson Drive, Macon, GA 31210; or you may email me at rkwalker@wynfieldca.org. You can also read and comment on my blog at http://www.deaf-blindhope.wordpress.com. You can also check me out at www.facebook.com/reneekwalker.

Advertisements