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DETROIT – The United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan has reached a resolution with Stepping Stones Counseling Center PLLC, a local therapy practice, regarding a disability discrimination complaint. The Complainant, who is deaf and whose primary language is American Sign Language (ASL), alleged the practice initially dismissed her as a patient and later failed to provide her with equal access to its services because of her need for ASL interpretation services, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Denying an individual the opportunity to participate in or benefit from services offered by a place of public accommodation, such as a counseling office, is one form of discrimination prohibited by the ADA. The ADA requires places of public accommodation to ensure effective communication with all individuals, regardless of any disabilities they may have, who seek to participate in or benefit from their services. With very limited exceptions, the ADA requires places of public accommodation to take necessary measures to ensure that communication with its customers is effective—this can include providing auxiliary aids and services such as certified ASL interpreters, at no cost to the customer.
“It is imperative that individuals with disabilities do not encounter unnecessary barriers to health care resources, especially mental health services,” said U.S. Attorney Dawn N. Ison. “Effective communication is necessary to provide a supportive and constructive counseling environment for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, and my office is committed to ensuring that such communication is provided as required by the law.”
Stepping Stones Counseling Center agreed to update its policies and training materials to ensure compliance with the ADA and to make a compensatory payment to the Complainant. In addition, the counseling center must train its staff on the ADA and develop and implement an anti-discrimination policy.
The investigation was led by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael El-Zein and Shannon Ackenhausen, of the Civil Rights Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The full and fair enforcement of the ADA is a priority of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The Civil Rights Unit was established in 2010, with the mission of prioritizing federal civil rights enforcement. For more information on the Office’s civil rights efforts, including a copy of the agreement, please visit https://www.justice.gov/usao-edmi/programs/civil-rights. Information about the Justice Department’s Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative to ensure that people who have disabilities, including those who are deaf or hard of hearing, have equal access to medical services is available at www.ada.gov/usao-agreements.htm.
Individuals who believe they have been subjected to discrimination or experienced a civil rights violation can submit a complaint with the U.S. Attorney’s Office by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (313) 226-9151. Complaints can also be submitted to the Civil Rights Division through its complaint portal.