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Deaf parent sues San Antonio ISD, claims school district didn’t provide interpreters

A deaf man whose son attends Tafolla Middle School has sued the San Antonio Independent School District, claiming he requested sign language interpreters for multiple parent-teacher conferences but was never provided them as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act and other laws.

Cleto Rodriguez — not to be confused with the local comedian of the same name — filed the suit last year in federal court in the Western District of Texas. He seeks unspecified damages, said his lawyer, Andrew Rozynski of Eisenberg & Baum in New York, a firm that works with clients who are deaf or hard of hearing.

My client hopes that this sends a message to all school districts that they not only have to accommodate their students, but the disabled parents of students who want to be involved in their child’s education,” Rozynski said. “It’s just as important.”   SAISD has denied the allegations.

Rodriguez, 44, is “profoundly deaf” and communicates primarily in American Sign Language, according to the suit. At the start of the 2016-2017 school year, his son’s grades began to drop and the boy was increasingly being disciplined at Tafolla Middle, the suit said. The boy said he was being bullied because his father and aunt were deaf and his teachers were failing to intervene, according to the suit.

The school called Rodriguez, the boy’s primary caretaker, for a conference, Rozynski said. Rodriguez took the call with the help of a government-subsidized video interpreter service, Rozynski said. Rodriguez told school staff he was deaf and would need an interpreter for the meeting, the suit said.

When Rodriguez arrived for the meeting, there was no interpreter, according to the suit. Rodriguez asked to reschedule, provided an interpreter agency’s business card and asked for an interpreter at all future conferences and parent events, the suit said.

The school called Rodriguez again several weeks later about his son’s behavioral problems, according to the suit. Rodriguez went again to the school for a meeting, and again there was no interpreter, but that time Rodriguez brought family along to translate, the suit said.

When Rodriguez’s mother asked why no interpreter was present, Tafolla staff said they couldn’t get one, according to the suit.

The school called Rodriguez for meetings four or five more times but never provided an interpreter, the suit states.

In denying the allegations in court documents, SAISD claimed Rodriguez “failed to engage in a good faith dialogue” to request aid before meetings or events he wanted to participate in and that he “would simply appear for an event or a meeting without first requesting an auxiliary aid or service.”

The district also said it offered unspecified assistance for Rodriguez to participate in some events or meetings, but Rodriguez refused the offers.

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RIT & NTID focusing on STEM careers for the deaf and hard of hearing

Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf is receiving a $1.6 million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation. It will use the grant to transform its DeafTEC Technical Education Center for deaf and hard-of-hearing students program into a resource center with a goal of placing deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals in highly skilled jobs in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.

The deaf and hard-of-hearing are underrepresented in those fields according to NTID president Gerry Buckley.

“All of us know that if you’re in one of those STEM careers, the potential is for you to have as much as 30 to 35 percent more in earnings potential,” he said.

Buckley also noted that the grant will also be used to focus on veterans, who after their military service, may be dealing with hearing loss.

“Through exposure to noise and environmental sounds lost a portion of their hearing, and now might have to make some adjustments in how they communicate and in how they prepare for employment, “he said.

Buckley says one of the reasons they’re focusing on STEM is because that’s where the growth opportunities are, and the deaf and hard-of-hearing should have an equal opportunity to participate in those careers. He says doing so will also create a more diverse workforce and increased acceptance of such individuals.

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Students learn sign language in school club

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UMITON – Brittney Rhodes encountered a deaf person at a local mall recently.

“She was trying to find the jewelry store,” Brittney said. Thanks to all she had learned in the American Sign Language Club (ASL) at Sumiton Middle School (SMS), Brittney was able to lend a hand. Not only did the student direct the young woman to the jewelry store, but she also served as an interpreter for the cashier.

“It felt good to help. I felt useful,” she said.

Rebbecca Odom, who is the staff interpreter for the deaf at SMS, leads the ASL club. When she first came to the school, there was a student in the fifth grade who was deaf. Several of the other students saw Odom signing and it interested them.

“They’d see me signing in class, and they wanted to learn,” she said. That’s when she decided to start the club.

That was three years ago. Currently, there are 35 students ranging from fifth grade through seventh grade who attend the meetings two mornings a week.

The club meets each Monday and Thursday. At the beginning of each year, the club starts off with basic finger spelling and signs. Next, they move on to simple sentences and phrases, according to Odom.

Now, the first part of their meetings is entirely silent. The students use only sign language with each other, according to Odom.

Odom had a good reason for learning to sign. Her middle daughter was born deaf. “We started signing with her about 18 years ago,” Odom remembered.

Her family lived in St. Louis at the time and Odom went to a two-year community college. She earned her degree in deaf communications. After her family moved to Alabama, Odom went on to get her bachelor’s degree in Human Communications from UAB.

Odom has worked in the school system for 14 years. She loves it at SMS because she has an opportunity to do these clubs and that is awesome, according to Odom.

The ASL club is important because signing is considered another language. Once the students master signing, they are bilingual, according to Odom. “Being bilingual broadens the student’s horizon,” she said.

“Meeting people who are deaf and being able to communicate with them is something that not many people can do,” she said.

“People in the deaf community spend their entire lives struggling to learn how to communicate with us,” Odom said. It means the world to those who are deaf when someone tries to communicate with them in their language, according to Odom.

One of her students had grandparents who were deaf, and another student had a sibling that was deaf. Learning how to sign opened communications for those families, according to Odom.

Some of the students are better at signing than others because it’s like playing the guitar, it takes practice.

The signing club is also a service organization. The first year they raised money and bought signing books for the library. Last year they raised money to pay for a water fountain at the school.

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Girl who is deaf signs Carrie Underwood’s ‘The Champion’ — and crushes it

Savannah Dahan says Carrie Underwood is her favorite singer.

This version of a Carrie Underwood song may be even better than the original!

An 8-year-old girl who is deaf has earned raves for her performance signing along to Underwood’s song “The Champion,” which the country singer recorded with Ludacris.

Savannah Dahan from Frederick, Maryland, cites the Grammy-winning superstar as her favorite singer. In a heartwarming video, Savannah, who sometimes uses hearing aids, signs the lyrics while the music video plays in the background.

“She asked us to record her because she likes to see herself perform,” the girl’s father, Richard Dahan, told TODAY.

Savannah’s parents and her two siblings are also deaf.

“She was born with moderate/severe hearing loss,” Dahan said. “Because everyone is deaf in the family and uses ASL (American Sign Language) to communicate, she identifies herself as deaf. She uses hearing aids at times at school and home.”

That’s why Savannah has to go through a different process than most to hear music.

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2019 Session: Bill to improve mental health services for Deaf community advances

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – It may be difficult for many Arkansans to communicate their feelings when it comes to mental health.

Advocates say it’s even harder for those who are deaf or hard of hearing.

“The state is not meeting the needs of the deaf community,” said Kerry Ingram, a clinical therapist and school-based supervisor.

Ingram runs the state’s only specialized mental health program for the deaf community at the Arkansas School for the Deaf in Little Rock. Of the more than 60,000 deaf Arkansans, Ingram said less than 5,000 rely on these services. Legislation would try to make sure they meet these patients’ needs by establishing standards of care.

“It’s not a huge impact on our state to do something like this but if we don’t, we’re facing a lawsuit,” Ingram said.

More than a dozen states have been sued and lost, or threatened with a lawsuit for failing to provide adequate mental health services to the deaf community, like knowledgeable interpreters during counseling sessions.

“Best case scenario, if everyone actually paid for the interpreter, without training, the clinician doesn’t understand their culture, the language and may say or do things in the session and actually replicate trauma that the client is there to fix and work on,” Ingram said.

Ingram wrote House Bill 1471 based on other states’ settlements and agreements. It would require the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) to hire a deaf services coordinator to oversee mental health professionals and their services across the state.

Kelley Linck, the chief legislative and intergovernmental affairs officer for DHS, told lawmakers during the House Public Health Committee meeting Thursday that the coordinator position “is the one part of this bill that DHS does not like.”

Under the bill, the agency would also establish a certification process for these mental health providers. They could not deny access to services due to a client “having residual hearing ability or previous experience with another communication method.”

“We want Arkansas to be on the forefront of doing the right thing and not wait until we are sued,” said St. Rep. Charlene Fite, R-Van Buren, who is sponsoring the bill. “We don’t want to be penny wise and pound foolish. This will actually save the state money. It is long overdue, and Arkansas needs to get this right.” 

Ingram used an example from his program to explain the cost savings to the state. In the last three years, he said his office significantly decreased the amount of acute-care referrals, which saved the state about a million dollars. Ingram argues if this action alone could fund the deaf services coordinator for the next 10 to 15 years, she or he could find even more ways to save money across the state.

“Common sense says when you provide effective services, you’re saving money,” he said.

Fite estimated the coordinator would make between $70,000 and $100,000 depending on education and experience. She and Ingram said they also tried to add some cost-saving measures to the bill, like prioritizing telemedicine. 

The legislation cleared its first hurdle Thursday, after failing the first time it ran in committee. If it makes it to the governor’s desk, Arkansas would be the first state in the country to pass a bill like this.

In the end, Ingram hopes it makes Arkansans more mindful. He noted lawmakers decided the measure’s fate on a voice vote.

“So the deaf community in the room had no clue what the vote was or who voted for what,” he said.