Why This Deaf Woman Is Suing the Hospital Where She Plans to Give Birth

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A pregnant Florida woman who is deaf is suing her local hospital for refusing to provide her with an on-site sign-language interpreter in the delivery room.

Margaret Weiss, whose second child is due in late July, says that the translation service being offered by Bethesda Hospital East — that of a translator stationed at a remote location, being beamed in via video-conferencing technology — is not sufficient.

woman and her daughter

“It does add a level of anxiety for me because communication is so important,” Weiss, 30, of Boynton Beach, tells Yahoo Parenting through a telephone translator. “When I’m giving birth I can’t see everything that’s going on with a monitor. What if I have to change position? Or close my eyes? What if there are technical problems? That’s not effective communication.”

When Weiss gave birth to her first child, daughter Odelia, in 2014, she wanted to do so at Bethesda, which is about a mile and a half from her home. But when she learned there would be no interpreter, she went to West Boca Medical Center, 20 minutes away, because it did provide an interpreter. The situation became complicated, though, when Odelia had to spend more than two weeks in the NICU, and Weiss, who doesn’t drive, had to find rides there constantly.

“I don’t want that to happen again,” she says. “I’m definitely worried about it.”

According to the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), hospitals must provide effective means of communication for patients, family members, and hospital visitors who are deaf or hard of hearing. But what constitutes “effective,” note experts including Weiss’s attorney Clara Smit, is largely left open to interpretation.

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“The Department of Justice needs to come up with regulations that are much more specific,” Smit, a New Jersey–based attorney who has specialized in civil rights for the deaf for 25 years, tells Yahoo Parenting. In this case, she says, “Bethesda has really drawn a line in the sand.” The hospital’s stance has remained that its use of Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) is sufficient for Weiss, despite the shortcomings and possible glitches she and Smit have raised.

“There are problems with pixels, firewalls, freezing screens — so many limitations,” Smit notes, adding that it would particularly pose an issue with someone needing to communicate while in the throes of childbirth, when a live interpreter would be able to resort to all sorts of techniques, such as tactile interpreting (signing directly into a person’s hand so they could feel what’s being said) during intense moments when a woman’s eyes would likely be closed.

While the landscape has changed tremendously since Smit began practicing in this arena, and while “a lot of hospitals will provide live interpreters,” too many are now relying on VRI, she says — despite the fact that the technology required to make it an effective service has been slow in catching up.

deaf woman using sign language

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A spokesperson at Bethesda told Yahoo Parenting that the hospital had “no comment” and was not at liberty to speak about legal situations. Hospital attorney John Heffling did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Yahoo Parenting, but told the Palm Beach Post, “There is no overwhelming evidence that the (video equipment) is not going to provide effective communication.” He added, “Nowhere does it say [in ADA regulations] it is not effective or shall not be used. They are leaving it to the decision of the people who know best, and the people who know best are the people who are providing the medical care.”

The National Association for the Deaf, meanwhile, a national civil-rights organization, has a dedicated position statement regarding the use of VRI in hospitals. And it’s not exactly a glowing review.

“On-site interpreter services are more likely to result in effective communication than VRI services,” it says in part. “On-site interpreters have more physical flexibility, have greater access to visual and auditory cues and information present in the environment, do not encounter technology or equipment malfunctions, and can respond immediately to communication events as they arise. In short, on-site interpreter services are not subject to many of the limitations experienced by VRI services. NAD strongly believes that VRI services should be provided only if on-site interpreter services are unavailable.”

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Debra Pitkin, an attorney with NAD, tells Yahoo Parenting, “Unfortunately, the current trend shows that several hospitals believe that ‘effective’ means ‘just getting by’ or ‘some information.’ This does not comply with the laws, in our view.”

Weiss’s case is far from the first of its kind — pregnant patients in places from Miami to London have mounted similar legal fights — and many with other medical situations have sued hospitals for not providing sign-language interpreters as well. “We receive complaints all the time from all over the country about hospitals refusing to provide on-site interpreters — or any interpreter — for medical visits, including labor and delivery,” Pitkin notes. “Complaints about hospitals insisting on VRI use have spiked in the recent years. In fact, we have a lawsuit pending involving a woman who was given ineffective VRI service during her labor.”

woman holding baby

Weiss’s case, in fact, was at first added to an already ongoing one regarding a handful of deaf patients who objected to the use of VRI services at Bethesda. But because of her impending July 24 due date, Smit filed an emergency motion asking for a sped-up ruling; luckily, if a decision doesn’t come in time, the hospital has agreed it will provide a live interpreter.

Until then, Weiss will remain dogged about her needs. “The use of VRI doesn’t match the situation,” she says. “It’s not appropriate.”

By Beth Greenfield

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As part of a Turkish ad campaign for Samsung’s new call center for people with hearing impairments, the company set up a stunt to show a deaf man he isn’t alone, BuzzFeed reported.

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With each stranger who signed something to him, Muaharrem grew more and more confused — and  then delighted — by the open communication.

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All for Muaharrem to have one day without barriers,” reads the text in the video below.

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h/t BuzzFeed

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A Thank You Letter to My Son's Disabilities

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Dear Deafness and 22q,

Yes, I’m talking to you, and I just want to say thank you. 

What’s that, you say? You think you heard me wrong? No, you heard correctly. I have thanks to give to you.

Deafness, you and I don’t always see eye-to-eye. When I ask my child if he’d heard a noise and he didn’t, I don’t particularly like you; I want him to hear everything. Intelligible speech took quite a while because of you, and I wasn’t the most patient of waiters. When I must repeat myself for what seems like the millionth time for my child to hear and understand me or he must repeat himself many times before being understood, you’re not my friend. Deafness, at times you lead to frustration on both parent and child. Oh, but my friend, you see, you’ve brought much good to us too, and you should also know about that.

10448219_10203193279805159_541244940599714020_n It’s because of you I truly treasure the speech my child has; it’s a gift not to be taken for granted. Because of you our paths have crossed with many wonderful people, many of whom have become lifelong friends who we would have never met had it not been for you. I’m talking about the audiologist who gave my child the gift of having wonder and amazement in his eyes as he heard a fan for the first time. I’m talking about the deaf infant teacher who helped our family begin this journey, about the teachers at the school for the deaf who have nurtured and encouraged the thirst and yearning for learning and knowledge that my child. I’m talking about the speech therapist who gave my child the gift of meaningful communication. I thank you for allowing these people to cross our paths. You see, Deafness, you’re a part of my child to be embraced, but you don’t define him, and with every negative you bring you also bring a positive. So again, for that I say thank you.

22q, don’t feel left out. I also have thanks to give to you. You’re a tricky one. You’re the one that has the power to make my eyes well up with tears, my knees tremble and my stomach churn with fear. With you there are so many unknowns. A higher risk of Parkinson’s disease, mental illnesses and so much more. I don’t like the unknown, and therefore I don’t always like you. It hasn’t always been rainbows and butterflies with you, but that’s OK. You see, just like Deafness you come with your own set of positives.

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This 'Let It Go' Music Video With a Twist Is the Mid-Winter Magic You Need Right Now

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An all-deaf cast and crew created this beautiful American Sign Language version of the popular song “Let It Go” from the Disney movie Frozen.

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The Best Trip to Target I've Ever Taken

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We’re out of food — a common experience when you live with teenagers, and they keep inviting friends over. It’s a near-daily experience. But the food levels in our house have become a bit tragically low, even for us.

So yesterday, I decided I should go buy lots of food. I keep saying I will, then never do because of this or that, but yesterday, I thought it could be different. That plan went south when I said out loud, “I’m going to go food shopping.”

“Shopping?” Maura piped up, sudden eagerness in her voice. She looked down at her feet.  “Oh! Shoes!”

*Sigh*

“Okay Maura, go find your shoes…”

She spent a good five minutes being way dramatic about finding shoes — or not being able to find shoes because despite the shoe rack in the entry and the shoe rack in the closet and the mats for shoes by the door and the space for shoes I made in her own closet — we can never find shoes. (Though to be honest, yesterday I couldn’t find one of my shoes either. It’s been a long summer.) So I asked the teens to help find shoes for their sister.

You know, it’s amazing how quickly they find stuff when it means I’ll take Maura with me… Hmm…

My “Great Stock Up on Everything” plan turned into “Run to Target, Grab Some Laundry Detergent and Enough Food to Get Us Through the Evening” plan, as I was already regretting taking Maura with me before even getting out the door.

We got to Target and glanced at the videos. I’d had hoped to find a copy of “Aladdin” (didn’t), and Maura ooo’ed and ahh’ed over all the brightly labeled choices while I cringed. I wasn’t sure we’d make it out of the aisle without a scene. She began to say, “I can’t… I can’t… ” which is her way of saying, “I can’t make a choice, there are too many options, I’m overwhelmed, I don’t know what I want, I’ll probably have a huge meltdown soon…”

But somehow… we got out of the aisle without a scene. Easily. I said, “Let’s keep looking,” and she said, “OK!” She did nab a “Frozen” sticker book on the way, in an attempt to get something. I said, “Hey, let’s look at it first… Oh… It’s stickers…” — Maura doesn’t care for stickers — “Let’s look at the coloring books instead,” I suggested, as I put the book back.

“OK!”

Well, that was easy.

We looked at coloring books, which got a big “No” from her. However, the next aisle had composition books, and the girl loves those things and plucked a bright pink one off the shelf. I OK’d it — anything to keep her away from my paper.

After a brief stop in the laundry detergent aisle, we ended up in the school supply section –Maura has a thing for paper and pens; she will go around with notebooks and pens and scribble all day, so this all made sense. She glanced over everything, but I could tell that the busyness of the section was beginning to get to her. She became less cooperative. I tried steering her towards something and she yelled “No!” and ran. This was my cue to get her out of the section.

And then, we turned a corner.

And there were ALL the backpacks.

All the girly, pink and purple, princessy, sparkly, girl-powery backpacks.

I watched Maura glance at them all and suddenly, her eyes got wide and she gasped.

“Oh!”

It was a “Frozen” backpack.

A “Frozen” backpack that lights up.

A pink and purple “Frozen” backpack with sparkly sides that light up.

She wrestled her own personal Holy Grail off the rack and hugged it. I glanced at the price and breathed a sigh of relief. On sale for $14.99?  Done deal.

We raced through the food section with the happy girl pointing out every time that backpack blinked (as long as it’s moving, the lights twinkle… even sitting in the cart, it was twinkling) as I grabbed snacks and cereal and corn dogs. We negotiated over “orange” juice (some weird veggie juice blend) and got apple juice instead. I also steered her away from the “fruit and veggie” orange-colored popsicles and pointed to the regular popsicles below. Yes, I steered my child away from the healthier choices. She eats cherry tomatoes like candy and grapes until she’ll burst — we’ll be fine.

She then happily bypassed the clothing section — a first — so we could check out.

I noticed then that she got nervous in line. I looked at her and said, “Don’t worry, we’re still getting the backpack!” and she suddenly smiled. Yes, I can add “mind reader” to my resume now. She then handed me the backpack and did a happy dance. I put it on the belt as she jumped up and down in sheer total excitement. I chatted with her about how she could be happy, but maybe not this loudly. The nice man scanned it, put it in the bag for her and handed her the bag. She instantly cheered and “Woohoo!”ed, and the woman in the next lane smiled and agreed that the backpack was fantastic. The nice cashier man even loaded up the cart while I tried to contain Her Most Excitedness, who was still hopping about laughing.

There was one moment, where I thought, “Wow, this is still not age appropriate for her” and wondered about her being 30 and hopping about with happiness over a doll or backpack. But then I was all, “She’s happy, anyone who doesn’t like it can shove it…” and went on with life.

But we weren’t done. No, Maura spotted the restroom sign and did her potty dance (she only does this when there’s an audience… sigh…). There I am with a cart of stuff, and she wants to use the restroom. Then she spots Starbucks and wants to go to Starbucks as well. So I say, “Let’s put our stuff in the car, then come back inside, go potty and go to Starbucks.”

“OK!”

Um… OK…

I give that line again on our way out — first car, then potty, then Starbucks. She’s happily cooperative. She got it. She understood and helped me put stuff in the car without batting an eye.

So we went back in, went potty, then Starbucks.

When we got back in the car, she asked, “Home?”

Yes, we’re going home.

We’re going home after the most successful outing in recent memory. No meltdown, no staring from others, no crying from either of us. Sure, we had corn dogs and popcorn for dinner. The teenagers didn’t mind one bit. But this is why, even though it doesn’t always go this smoothly, I keep taking her places. Because she can do it. We can get through this. We’ll have our bad times, but we’ll have our awesome times as well. And hopefully, with practice, we’ll end up with more awesome times than not. Case in point — the first day of swimming lessons, she cried when I changed her after the lesson was over, but we pushed through it.  The next one, she fussed slightly then was fine. Last week? No fuss.

We can do this. Sure, the next outing may contain a meltdown, but we will get through it.

And by the way, Maura slept with her new backpack, then woke me up bright and early to show me her new backpack and is now wearing the new backpack. Because it is the Best Thing Ever to Have Been Purchased at Target Ever.

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This post originally appeared on Herding Cats. 

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