Thursday, April 28, 2011

Federal judge says lawsuit that accuses Georgia of discriminating against deaf and mentally ill people

From WSB-TV:

ATLANTA -- A federal judge has given the green light for a lawsuit that could be a major blow to Georgia's mental health system and cost taxpayers millions.

The lawsuit accuses the state of discriminating against deaf people who are also mentally ill.

“Financially, emotionally, mentally, it’s a strain on me,” Gale Belton told Channel 2’s Diana Davis.

Belton's daughter Renita is deaf and mentally ill. When Belton tried to get her counseling, she said it was a struggle.

“I had 10 providers to turn me down before I found one,” Belton said.

The state of Georgia has services and funding set aside for mentally ill Georgians without hearing disabilities, but almost nothing for people like Renita.

“Deaf individuals are left out in the cold and do not have the services that hearing people have,” lawyer James Radford Jr. said.

According to the lawsuit, Georgia lacks therapists and counselors who speak American Sign Language. Communication is usually through hand interpreters, but third-hand communication doesn’t work well when it comes to psychiatry.

“A lot of people, I think, just don’t understand how different the communication needs of deaf persons are,” Radford.

Since there are no group homes for the deaf mentally ill, Belton had to buy one for her daughter with her own money. Even with that home, she had trouble finding anyone trained to staff it.

“Deaf people are people too, and they have a right under the ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) to have the appropriate services,” Belton said.

Beltons lawyer's will meet with state officials in a few weeks to hammer out a program. If they don’t get what they want, a federal judge can order the state to make the changes.