Georgia must begin providing individuals who are deaf and developmentally disabled equal access to public services, a federal judge has ordered.
In a 26-page order, U.S. District Judge Richard Story gave the state five years to fully comply with his directives, which include maintaining an Office of Deaf Services with a full-time director and staffing six regional offices to assist the deaf in locations near their homes.
A year ago, Story found the state was violating the Americans with Disabilities Act in a lawsuit filed in 2010 by a woman and a man who had been unable to find therapeutic group homes with properly trained staff to care for them. Story, who had earlier granted the case class-action status, ordered the parties to enter mediation to find appropriate remedies.
When that failed, Story appointed an independent expert to serve as his monitor. The judge said he entered his June 18 order after receiving the monitor’s recommendations.
Atlanta lawyer Lee Parks, who represents the plaintiffs, called Story’s order “a bright new day for Georgia’s deaf citizens.”
“Deaf citizens were denied the ability to meaningfully communicate with mental health care professionals so they could be correctly diagnosed and treated,” Parks said Tuesday. “Georgia now has the opportunity, with the court’s continued assistance, to become a leader in providing deaf citizens quality public mental health care.”
The Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities “is reviewing the order and all aspects of the remedial process,” spokesman Matt Carrothers said. “The agency remains committed to the provision of high quality health care for individuals with developmental disabilities and behavioral health needs.”
Among Story’s directives to the agency:
- Hire a community service coordinator to oversee all services provided to persons who are deaf.
- Employ a sign-language coordinator to assist in the diagnosis and treatment of the deaf.
- Conduct a communications assessment of all agency clients who are deaf.
- Provide comprehensive residential services so deaf people with mental health issues can live in groups homes with American Sign Language-trained staff.
- Have under contract or employ, within three years, at least 15 people who are certified as mental health interpreters and provide sign-language services.
Story’s monitor, Roger Williams, director of deaf services for the South Carolina Department of Mental Health, will oversee implementation of the directives. He can “seek judicial intervention and direction, when necessary, to ensure compliance,” Story wrote.