Department of Justice Seal




FRIDAY, JUNE 26, 1998

(202) 616-2765

TDD (202) 514-1888


WASHINGTON, D.C. Thirty two Connecticut hospitals will now provide sign language interpreters for patients who are deaf or hard of hearing, in an innovative agreement reached today with the Justice Department and the Connecticut Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities (P&A).

The agreement, filed today in U.S. District Court in Hartford, Connecticut, resolves a class action lawsuit that alleged that hospitals in Connecticut were violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by not providing sign language interpreters.

"People with disabilities have an equal right to health care something that is impossible without effective communication," said Bill Lann Lee, Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. "These hospitals should be commended for their efforts."

Under the proposal, the hospitals will:

set up a state wide, on call system to provide qualified sign language and oral interpreters, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, through Family Services Woodfield, a non profit agency based in Bridgeport, Connecticut;

provide telecommunication devices (TTD's) that enable persons who are deaf or hard of hearing to use public telephones throughout the hospitals and, when requested, in patient rooms;

install visual alarms where audible alarms are already provided;

train employees and volunteers about issues relating to communication with persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, with special training for Emergency Department personnel, psychiatric personnel, and social workers, and other key personnel;

post signs stating that the hospital will provide sign language interpreters and other auxiliary aids and services, free of charge, to persons who are deaf or hard of hearing;

offer training to all affiliated physicians;

designate an Information Office and Program Administrators to implement all aspects of the agreement and to provide information to the public; and,

fourteen of the participating hospitals have agreed to pay $333,000 in compensation to persons who are deaf or hard of hearing and to non disabled people who were affected by the hospitals' failure to provide effective communication in the past, and $20,000 in attorney fees to P&A.

"This state wide system to provide sign language and oral interpreters which is the first of its kind in the country will enable doctors, nurses, and other health care personnel to communicate effectively with deaf patients or deaf family members or companions of hearing patients," said Stephen C. Robinson, U.S. Attorney in Connecticut. "This effort is crucial to ensuring that persons who are deaf or hard of hearing are diagnosed accurately and receive appropriate medical care."

The proposed agreement, if approved by the Court, will resolve a class action suit originally brought by P&A against ten hospitals for failing to provide sign language interpreters for patients or patients' family members who are deaf or hard of hearing. The Department of Justice intervened in the suit, and twenty two other hospitals voluntarily intervened as defendants in order to participate in the shared system providing sign language interpreters and to avoid any future liability.

The Department recently resolved another suit in which it had intervened against Maine Medical Center of Bangor, Maine. Under that agreement, adopted by a federal court in May, Maine Medical Center will provide sign language and oral interpreters and other aids necessary for effective communication with deaf or hard of hearing persons interacting with hospital personnel.

"If doctors cannot communicate with their patients, the patients cannot get the health care that they need," added Mr. Lee.

The ADA prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities. Specifically, it prohibits health care providers, both private and public, from refusing or failing to provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services, including qualified sign language and oral interpreters, when necessary to ensure effective communication with persons with disabilities.

Before approving the settlement, the Court will order the parties to provide notice to the class, and will hold a hearing at which class members can support or object to the proposal.

Those interested in finding out more about the law can access the Department's ADA Home Page on the World Wide Web at or call the ADA Information Line at (800) 514 0301 (voice) or (800) 514 0383 (TDD).

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