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Seattle Hospital Partners with Deaf Community

Last year, Northwest Hospital & Medical Center in Seattle Washington was sued by Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by discriminating against Deaf and hard of hearing patients.


Now that the lawsuit has concluded, the hospital decided to partner with the Deaf community. For several months, Northwest Hospital, DRA, 3 members from Seattle's Deaf, DeafBlind, and Hard of Hearing (DDBHH)community, and Abused Deaf Women's Advocacy Services (ADWAS) have worked together to improve the quality of service the hospital provides.


With the help of the Deaf community, the hospital will be focusing on improving their policies and procedures to communicate effectively with all patients and their families. All staff members will undergo training on how to interact properly with patients. And if they have any questions regarding accommodations and services, coordinators will be designated to answer and assist them.


The hospital will contract with the ‘Hearing, Speech & Deaf Center’ and other companies to provide interpreters and monitor their response times.


Meredith Weaver is the DRA's attorney that represented the lawsuit against Northwest Hospital. We reached out to her and some of the plaintiffs in the case to learn more about the events leading up to this partnership, as well as how these steps will positively affect the Deaf community.


My name is Meredith Weaver, and I'm an attorney with Disability Rights Advocates, located in Berkeley, California. Over the last year, we represented 3 individuals and a non-profit organization called Abused Deaf Women's Advocacy Services, to negotiate an agreement with Northwest Hospital & Medical Center to improve the hospital's policies and practices while providing effective communication to Deaf patients.

 The settlement agreement in this case should set an example for hospitals across the country on many best practices to meet Deaf patients communication needs. We hope that the results of this case encourage the Deaf community in Seattle and across the country to become familiar with their rights, and demand that health care providers meet their needs.  


My full language is ASL.  Before this new agreement with the NW hospital things were definitely different, my experience with them was not an easy one. There were several negative experiences but the most recent one was Fall 2015.  I had called the hospital to make an appointment during my pregnancy carrying twins -- we discussed and managed to get a schedule down and during that conversation I requested for interpreters to be arranged which they agreed to.  Three weeks later I showed up for my appointment and they didn’t have an interpreter scheduled.  The manager approached me saying that they expected me to bring my own interpreters. They presented me with two options:  reschedule and wait one month for my appointment or go to another clinic. I was frustrated.


What I’m hoping to see from these new changes is the hospital providing interpreters for those who need it at every scheduled appointment.  I want them to understand that it’s not our responsibility to bring our own interpreters -- it’s frustrating enough as it is to schedule something, get my kids ready and bring them to an appointment only to not have an effective means of communicating.  It’s not just my appointment, it’s theirs as well. So, i’m looking forward to them ensuring that interpreters are provided.  

Second, they will be monitoring and keeping track of how many deaf patients they receive -- it comes down to supply and demand.  This will allow them to determine how many interpreters they should have ready on call and their responsiveness.


Third, to not limit themselves by contracting with only one interpreting agency because by doing so it limits those of us that are in need of appointments and have different schedules conflicting with the interpreters they have available -- it puts them in a position to say “sorry, there are no interpreters available.”  By contracting with several agencies this problem will be alleviated. Here in Seattle we have a huge Deaf and deafblind community so it would be nice to have options and flexibility with scheduling interpreters when needed 24/7.


Many other hospitals around the country are in violation of the ADA as well. What do you think about this new partnership? Is this something you hope to see other hospitals incorporate?


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