Category Archives: Accommodations

Is the ADA “Worth It”? Hell, Yes.

I stumbled upon a blog post in the New York Times that claims that the ADA, by making it costlier to see patients with disabilities (specifically, deaf patients who need interpreters), will result in fewer and fewer doctors accepting patients with disabilities. The author specifically noted that Medicare only reimburses 15-25% of the interpreter fees. Basically, since the doctor is not ‘profiting’ off the deaf patient, the author assumes that the doctor will (and is able to) refuse to treat the patient. Upon these tenuous assumptions, the author asserts that the ADA has the unintended consequence of encouraging discrimination. The author is implicitly telling us that the ADA is not worth its cost.

Another thing that I found the comments quite fascinating. I practically had to shield my eyes from the vim and vitriol that the commenters spewed. Some asserted that the deaf patient should have been placated by communication via writing. If “these” deaf folks are not satisfied with writing, these commenters said that the patient should pay for his or her own interpreter. Others merely derided the ADA as expensive and useless. The underlying assertion of many conmenters is that providing interpreters for a deaf patient is unreasonable if the doctor does not profit per every visit. Of course, there was some useless prattle about what a burden people with disabilities are on society and blah, blah. On the other hand, there are some quite good comments who repeat some points that I am going to make.

First, the author assumes that the doctor may and will reject a deaf patient because of the costliness of the patient. Let me remind the author about two things: the Hippocratic oath and the ADA. Medical ethics recognize that doctors fulfill a public service. There’s a reason why the medical profession is so heavily regulated in comparison with, say, retail. Doctors provide an essential service for society – health care. One line of the modern Hippocratic oath applies: “[w]hatever houses I may visit, I will come for the benefit of the sick, remaining free of all intentional injustice…” Of course, the oath is not legally binding, but the oath outlines appropriate professional conduct. Denying access to a patient because of his or her status (deaf or otherwise disabled) should never be condoned or encouraged.

The author also assumes that the ADA allows a doctor to refuse service to deaf patient. Hello, Title III? Has the author even read the ADA? I think not. Title III prohibits all public accommodations (that’s you doctors) from denying access to people with disabilities (that’s you, deaf patients) unless it is an undue burden (not so much here). If a doctor tries to refuse service to d/Deaf patient because of his or her disability, that doctor is begging to be sued. Doctors may come up with contrived excuses. Such a practice, however, will inevitably lead to a near-total absence of medical service for d/Deaf patients. If all doctors (assuming, of course, they are big bad doctors who ignore their ethical duties) somehow got around the ADA and refused service to all deaf patients. No medical service! Why should d/Deaf folks bother with insurance then? Why should society bother funding Medicaid for d/Deaf folks then? Regardless of your stance towards health reform, most of us can agree that if we pay insurance (either ourselves or via taxes), we should get some degree of health care. In the infamous words of Homer Simpson, D’oh!

There’s also the argument that it is unreasonable for the doctor to shoulder the cost of interpreters. Such an argument assumes that the doctor should be able to profit from every single patient on every single visit. Um, no. Most doctors have more than one patient, and unless he or she has a disproportionate number of deaf patients, his or her practice should make an overall profit based on the rest of the patients. So, what’s the problem? The doctor can’t make an extra few hundred dollars? Cry me a river. If the doctor has a high number of d/Deaf patients (as in certain Rochester or Washington DC metro areas) then it would behoove him or her to staff a qualified interpreter. Doctors see people with medical problems, and guess what? People with disabilities can have medical problems too!

Many commenters argue that deaf patients should ‘mitigate’ the costs by communicating via notes or hiring their own interpreters. Putting the ADA aside, forcing d/Deaf patients to bear the costs (effort and/or monetary) is a terrible policy. First, it is not effective to communicate solely via written notes. Notes cannot capture the repartee, complexity and rapidity that spoken/signed language can . Second, we live in a society where discrimination based on disability is rampant – in employment, public accommodations and social context. Should society force an underemployed d/Deaf person to bear the financial costs of social discrimination? I would hope that we have evolved past that mindset.

The comments to this article rubbed me the wrong way. It seems to me that the current recession, the worst since the Great Depression, has brought out an ugly side of humanity. People’s total lack of compassion. I have been seeing more and more criticism of socially progressive policies such as affirmative action and inclusion of people with disabilities into mainstream society. A lot of the criticism is based on the me-me-me policy. If society (or doctor or school, or whatever) spends a bit of money accommodating a person with disability, then it takes away money from able-bodied persons. How these people stomp and yell about this injustice. These who label people with disabilities money-siphoners assume that non-disabled people somehow have a ‘moral right’ to society’s resources, and people with disabilities don’t. The dearth of compassion unnerves me – true inclusion seems impossible with that kind of mindset. Spare me the Darwinist argument. We, as a civilization, are supposed to evolve past the rough-and-tumble life of the jungle. The unfortunate thing is that people with disabilities are a lot more accommodating of people without disabilities than the other way around.

To sum it up, the ADA should not be used as an excuse to discriminate. The ADA does establish an effective barrier against discrimination, in terms of medical service. The real problem is that people refuse to accept accommodations as a social duty that we all bear.


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Interview Accommodations

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I thought that I would share my accommodations experience during my interviews last fall. It was quite interesting to see how private law firms dealt with it, which gave me a great picture of what it would be like to work there.

It is important to note that what works for me, may not work for everyone (somehow, a lot of people have trouble with that idea). Since I do get fatigued easily when I am reading lips and listening hard, I chose to have an sign language interpreter with me for all of my interviews.  I felt that, in order to be a professional; I had to make sure I understood everything. It was also a good way for me to let the interviewer know that I was deaf, without turning it into a surprise. So, that in mind, my advice here is quite biased towards people who use sign language, but hopefully there are some tidbits in here for everyone.

Since there were two stages of the interview process, I will handle them separately.

On-Campus Interviews

Since all of the preliminary interviews were on-campus (they are called screening interviews), I was able to obtain a sign language interpreter through my school. I did a few things that were hel

  • Consistency – I liked to use the same interpreter for the majority of the interviews. I always like to build a relationship with an interpreter so I don’t need to tell him/her about my preferences all the time.
  • Age/Gender – I must admit, I’m picky. I strongly prefer young-ish female interpreters. I don’t like older interpreters because they give off a mommy-vibe. (I’ve been asked more than once if an older interpreter was my mother – aw-kward.)
  • Introductions – I always, always introduced my interpreters and how to “use” them at the beginning of the interviews. Many people have no clue of what to do. It stinks, but I felt like it was my responsibility to tell them what to do.
  • Be a HardAss – in terms of interpreters, I made it very clear to the agency that the interpreter had to (1) dress in a suit, preferably a dark suit; and (2) be 10 minutes early. I absolutely hate it when interpreters dress sloppily or arrive late, it reflects badly upon me. This is employment we are talking about, no fooling around here!

Call-backs

Callbacks were 2-3 hour-long interview at the law firm’s office. Usually you meet with several people from that law firm, partners, counsel, senior associates and junior associates. After I got invited back, I called or emailed the recruiting coordinator to set up an interview. When I talked to the recruiting coordinator, I also set up sign language interpreters through her or him.

  • Come Prepared – I don’t mean come prepared for the interview (although you should do that too!), but be prepared to refer the law firm to an interpreter agency. They have no clue what they are doing, so I think it’s fair to help them out. Since I am not orginially from the area that I interviewed at, I asked around about the best interpreting agency, and it worked out well for me. However, I have talked to other Deaf law students and some of them actually reserved the interpreters themselves. I didn’t do this, mostly because I didn’t have a strong preference or experience with the interpreters in the area. So, do what works for you.
  • Rinse and Repeat – I tried to approach call-backs in the same way that I approached my screening interviews – explaining the role of the interpreters, blah blah.
  • Transparency – I really tried to be transparent about what I wanted as a summer associate, accommodations-wise. Some may think this conversation may put off some employers, which is probably true. My take is that the employer should know what s/he is getting into. I would much rather work somewhere that knows what I want and is willing to meet my needs.  

Surprisingly, only one law firm tried to sneak out of paying for interpreter (I expected more would do that). In that situation, I mentioned the ADA, and poof, all of the protests dissolved. I guess its one good thing about looking for a job at larger law firms, they know their ADA obligations. 

ASL Interpreters vs. CART

Oh, how our lives are defined by these individuals! (interpreters and captionists, that is) They are the gatekeepers to our education and success. Scary, right? Oh, I could tell stories about bad interpreters and captionists until the cows go home, but I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’ll just look at the general pros and cons of both approaches (for me, at least). 

NOTE: I don’t include cued-speech or oral interpreters because I’ve never used them, so I can’t comment on them. This is not intended to be a comprehensive list of services out there for d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing folks. 
 
NOTE: I just added on a few things!
 
ASL INTERPRETERS
 
PROS 
  • they are so much more personal. They can convey so much more emotion and substance. This might be a quirk of mine, but I really like to see who is talking during class and an interpreter can tell me who/where that student is. It makes me feel more included in the classroom
  • They are quicker. CART has up to 10 second delay and this proves to be difficult in the classroom. As some of you might know, law schools use ‘Socratic Method,’ which means that a professor randomly calls on students. A bit difficult to follow with a 2-to-10 second delay, no?
  • Looking at an interpreter’s face sure beats looking at a computer screen.
EDIT: in reponse to some comments, I examined the actual time delay for captionists. I realized that I am at fault for much of this delay. I can’t seem to focus on the computer screen for very long so I have a tendency to look away. This results in a bigger time lag for me than there actually is. I would say the actual delay is 1-5 seconds.
 
CONS
  • Interpreters can be downright unprofessional. I have had interpreters show up wearing sweats, stained shirts, and whatnot. It’s embarrassing for the Deaf client because, like it or not, the interpreter is a reflection on that Deaf person. Their behavior can be unprofessional as well – some interpreters tend to be know-it-alls and try to tell the client what to do. However, I do try to minimize this by hiring younger interpreters who seem less prone to this behavior. 
  • They are very public in the sense that everyone can see them. Sometimes, other students and some professors resent them because they “distract” students. I have been approached by some students, complaining about how ASL ‘is too distracting.’ I wish I could tell these people that their mumbling, general unawareness of how to handle d/Deaf people, shifting eyes and beards is quite ‘distracting’ for me. 🙂 
  • Since there is a chronic interpreter shortage almost everywhere, it can be tough finding qualified interpreters. 
  • It’s hard to take notes when you are watching an interpreter. Your eyes can only focus on one thing at a time. I still do it but I use a note-taker as a back-up. 
  • Many of them do not have the educational background to keep up with law school and they cannot handle the vocabulary. 
NOTE: ASL is a conceptual language, which means that it conveys ideas in signs that embody an idea, not necessarily words (as used in English) This means that it can be difficult to adapt to the terminology in law school because lawyers deal with subtle differences in phrasing that ASL cannot capture. I’ll be the first one to say that ASL is the ultimate language to express emotion and spatial concept. However, its weakness is distinguishing between similar concepts. For example, “purpose” and “intent” have the same sign, but subtle differences in written/spoken English.
 
CART (REAL-TIME CAPTIONING)
 
PROS
  • Vocabulary, vocabulary and some more vocabulary. As a law student, it is crucial that you learn how to express yourself as a lawyer. CART gives you a better feel of how to articulate your ideas. Before law school, I would never use the word “distinguish” or “reconcile” or even “adjudicate” but now, I feel confident handling these words because I have seen it in play. 
  • Transcripts are just a god-send during finals. Sometimes I will be looking at my notes and have no idea what I meant. I just go back to the transcript and “get it.” Also, I made a lot of friends by sending them my transcripts when they missed class. 🙂
  • Captionists tend to be very professional people. It also helps that you are not looking at them for hours on end. The lack of visual contact maintains the professional environment much better. 
  • if the particular captionist had worked in court as a stenographer, she/he is more equipped to handle the legal vocabulary that is thrown around willy-nilly  in law schools. 
  • CART gives you the freedom of slacking a bit. I can look away for a bit and daydream, then come back to the screen. Of course, this is a mixed blessing. 
  • It is more anonymous, especially in today’s law classrooms. Everyone has a computer so the captionist is just another face behind a computer. 
 CONS
  • Captionists are not as good at ‘hearing’ things as interpreters are. I cannot explain this phenomenon but captionists have more difficulties understanding what students say. It is the most irritating thing in the world to read (inaudible)(inaudible)
  • It’s more difficult for captionists to keep up with a fast speaker. Unfortunately,  most law professors are incredibly fast speakers. There is so much information and so little time. 
  • If the professor does not speak in complete sentences, the transcript can be difficult to read. Ever since we were children, we have been trained to read and write in complete sentences, however, spoken English does not work this way. It’s a jarring change because people’s brains (at least mine) are not used to reading sentence fragments. Of course, this really does depend on the professor. 
  • If you have some speech difficulties, like I do, it’s hard with CART. If you don’t know how to pronounce certain words, captionists are no help. With interpreters, you can sign to them and they will voice for you. (I’m too much of a control freak to do this most of the time). 
  • Imagine staring at a computer screen for hours on end….hurts right? 
  • Technology giveth and taketh away. Technical difficulties can really foul things up and cause you to lose a lot of information.
Well, that’s all I can think of right now. Feel free to add onto my list or comment. 
 
On a side note, I’m so happy to see that so many people have visited my site so far! Welcome and I hope you got something out of this blog!