The first HLA-Morris Chapter meeting of 2013 was opened by Pat Dobbs, president, who welcomed an audience of about 20 people. Assistive Listening Devices were available and captioning was provided by Colleen Platt, courtesy of NJ DDHH, for the (majority) hearing impaired audience. A few (normal hearing) professionals rounded out the meeting participants.
The guest speaker, Leo Greb,Esq., is an experienced attorney from Rockaway who was featured in the October 2012 issue of the HLAA magazine. Wearing hearing aids himself Mr. Greb understands the challenges of the court system and law for the deaf and hard of hearing, and takes every opportunity to make the experience easier.
In the first part of his talk, Mr. Greb reflected on his many years involvement with the hearing impaired community and the astonishing changes in the past 30-40 years. He got his start with being involved with the beginnings of NJ Relay. Working with the founder, Shelia Shuford, TTY relay phone services allowed the deaf and hard of hearing to use the telephone…..to the present time and the wide accessibility (and free!) captioned telephones! The prevalence of texting is another widespread technological advancement that is a huge boon to communication that is particularly advantageous for the hearing impaired….especially teenagers!
Another miracle is the cochlear implant – a marvel he has witnessed in a young grandson. It was noted that the inventor of the cochlear implant passed away a month ago at age 91. It is probably little known that the idea was sold to Motorola for $15,000 which of course does not reflect or recognize its value, considering its huge impact today.
In the courtroom, whether you are a litigant or defendant, you are entitled to whatever is necessary for you to hear and know what is going on during proceedings – be it captioning, Assistive Listening Devices or Sign Language. At the pleading, the judge will ask all parties if anyone has a disability. New Jersey will supply an attorney if necessary to ensure that the hearing disability is addressed. Bottom line, we are entitled to hear what is being said and towards that end, captioning, Assistive Listening Devices or sign language interpreters must be provided. NJ has a department to oversea these accommodations.
Mr. Greb talked about one particularly interesting court case that demonstrates the problems of communication for the deaf and hard of hearing. A hearing impaired individual was stopped for suspected drunk driving. The roadside test indicates whether or not you have alcohol in your system – not how much – but if you refuse to take the test, you automatically lose your license for 6 months. After this test was administered, the defendant was brought to the police station where a second test, to pinpoint the amount of alcohol, was requested (because state law specifies .08% and above as DUI).
The individual refused this test, stating that she had already submitted to a test on the roadside. Because of her hearing impairment, it was not clear to the defendant that the test was necessary to establish an accurate reading of the level –below which she might not be charged with DUI at all. It was the defendant’s refusal of the second test (when obviously the first test revealed some alcohol) that brought the defendant to court. This court case is really about miscommunication with an hearing impaired individual, and the need for police and procedures to address/correct this problem.
Mr. Greb pointed out that the legal consequences of the second test refusal is spelled out in 10 languages…..but nothing was provided for this hearing impaired individual that she could understand. If she understood what they were saying, there would have been no problem.
Today, when police stop you on the road, they are equipped with wide-lense video cameras and wearable microphones that capture all interactions. This is clearly helpful for attorneys and for all parties, and can help prevent some of these kinds of misunderstandings. [More than clearing up the he-said, she-said controversy, it would demonstrate that the defendant was not getting the necessary information that is assumed by the non-hearing impaired].
In response to a question, Mr. Greb talked about jury duty notices for the deaf and hearing impaired. Various strategies among audience members were discussed. The important thing is that the court know immediately about your impairment. Even if you want to serve on the jury (with necessary captioning/ interpreter, etc.), most likely your desire (right?) will be challenged by attorneys (for either side) anyway! Mr. Greb wondered aloud: if a jury is supposed to be representative of one’s peers, can a deaf litigant insist on a deaf juror?
Mr. Greb remarked about the many unserved groups of hearing impaired. One in particular he is concerned about are the many returning war veterans. Many people do not realize how loud and damaging gun-fire is….consider that one always wears ear protection at shooting ranges. Our group was urged to get involved with returning vets. It was noted by audience members that hearing aids are dispensed by the VA….and that hearing loss is actually the #1 disability among veterans.
Mr. Greb took questions from the audience. One of the questions was applying for reduced public transportation rates due to hearing loss as a disability…and being denied. Mr. Greb pointed out the grey area of determining who is deaf “enough”, and compared it to the blind who have more established criteria. Public transportation for the disabled is extremely important, and these denials should be challenged. It was pointed out that the ticket booths of the NYC subway system have the induction loop technology which with a t-coil, gives very clear speech.
Another question about the difficulty of hearing intercoms at the entrance of gated communities. Mr. Greb pointed out that this falls in the realm of private property where present laws cannot require public accommodations for the hearing impaired.
In answer to another question about not getting useable accommodations in public places (often the headsets are completely inadequate or don’t work), that one establish it as a “fact” – that you asked and were denied – and submit it to the state office in Trenton which monitors ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) cases.
One of the experienced (and notably persistent) advocates in the audience shared her recent experience with a travel show in New York City. She requested well in advance closed captioning for a scheduled event, reminding them also to announce it on the show website. It took filing a complaint with the NY ADA office to accomplish this successfully. All of us must be advocates, DO IT, ASK. Another person counseled persistence and patience – “it takes time”…….to build “ramps to our ears.”
Notes provided by Alice Glock.