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by o Monday, Mar. 20, 2006 at 1:48 AM


Westlake Ohio- Yesterday a group of over 30 Deaf &Deaf-Blind protesters and their supporters held a four-hour sit-in at a local doctor's office demanding that the doctor agree to provide sign language interpreting services for those who need them. The protest was the first ever of its kind in the country.

The Deaf &Deaf-Blind Committee on Human Rights (DDBCHR), a grassroots advocacy group based in North Olmsted, Ohio organized yesterday's protest. In the same way that civil rights groups held sit-ins at restaurants in the 1950's &60's to draw attention to the discrimination faced by African-Americans, DDBCHR's sit-in action yesterday hoped to bring attention to the fact that many doctors still refuse to provide sign language interpreters for Deaf and Deaf-Blind patients despite the fact they are required to do so by law.

Over the last year the group sent information to over 100 randomly selected doctors in Northeast Ohio about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and asked them to sign an agreement form stating the doctor would provide interpreters as required by law. One doctor DDBCHR contacted four times about signing the ADA Agreement was Dr. Solymos. This doctor, however, never responded to the group's request. So DDBCHR members decided to bring their request in person to Dr Solymos' office.

When the group arrived at the doctor's office with signs and banners displaying their demands, DDBCHR President, Ray Seal approached the front desk to ask to speak to the doctor but none of the staff opened the glass window to find out what he wanted. DDBCHR members then made a statement to the press about their demands and why they had come to protest.

"Our basic rights to communication and to healthcare are being violated" Sarah Messina, an 83-year old Deaf leader explained. "Every doctor takes a vow to 'do no harm'" but when a doctor refuses to provide interpreters for a Deaf or Deaf-Blind patient, serious harm or even death can result from miscommunication."

Doctor Solymos' office soon notified the police and half a dozen officers showed up asking the group to leave the premises immediately. DDBCHR leaders vowed that they would not leave until their demands were met.

Members then shared stories of how Deaf &Deaf-Blind people have received poor medical care when interpreting services have been denied. Judy Groner, a Deaf-Blind member of the group explained how a Deaf-Blind patient went in for surgery and was not provided an interpreter. The surgeon, having no communication with her patient mistakenly amputated the Deaf-Blind patient's leg! "We can no longer sit back and let our rights as Deaf and Deaf-Blind people and as human beings be violated!" Groner exclaimed. "We must fight for our rights!"

Kirby Smith, President &CEO of St. John West Shore Hospital stopped in at the protest and expressed his support for the group's issues saying he himself had family members with disabilities. Since Dr. Solymos' office leases space from St. John's Hospital, Kirby explained that he had no direct authority over the doctor's medical practice. He did say, however, that he would talk to the doctor's office to see if something could be worked out. DDBCHR leaders thanked Kirby for his support and invited him to become a member of their organization.

Throughout the day the protestors marched in a circle and chanted "What do we want? INTERPRETERS! When do we want them? NOW!" and "Doctors-should-DO-NO-HARM!" Despite the group's persistence, Doctor Solymos refused to meet with the protestors or even send one of her staff out to listen to the group's requests. At one point the doctor said she would meet with one person only- either the organization's director, Heather West who is hearing, or the group's president Ray Seal who is Deaf. As a Deaf and Deaf-Blind organization, Heather explained that she would not meet with the doctor without the group's Deaf president also representing the group. When the group explained that the President could not meet with the doctor without a hearing interpreter to communicate, the doctor still refused to allow more than one person in the office to meet with her.

West was outraged by the doctor's disrespect to the Deaf and Deaf-Blind Community. She explained, "Dr. Solymos was selected two years in a row as one of America's best doctors in the country by the Guide to America's Top Family Doctors. It is a disgrace that a leader in the nation's medical community cannot even give us enough respect to come out and talk with us about our concerns."

Later in the day group leaders decided to go into the doctor's back office to try to talk with her about DDBCHR's demands. Several were prepared to be arrested if necessary. Police, however, blocked the protestors from entering the office.

After four hours had passed, the group announced they would be leaving but would be back in two weeks with dozens more supporters and would continue to protest until their demands are met. "We're not giving up" said one Deaf leader DawnMarie Fucile, "we'll be back with triple the number of supporters and we will get what we want- our effective communications rights!"

The protest ended with the group holding hands in a circle and sharing a prayer lead by Sarah Messina, "We pray to God to help us…we have suffered long enough…please help us win this struggle for our basic rights to interpreters, to communication and to healthcare…amen!"

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (passed into law 16 years ago), doctors are required to provide effective communication to Deaf &Deaf-Blind patients to ensure safe and effective treatment. English is a second language for most Deaf and Deaf-Blind people while American Sign Language is their first language. Due to a poor educational system, the average Deaf adult, in fact, only reads and writes English at a third or fourth grade level. For Deaf and Deaf-Blind people with limited English proficiency, discussing serious medical issues with a doctor via written notes in English is therefore not considered effective communication. To ensure that Deaf and Deaf-Blind patients receive equal treatment to their hearing counterparts, doctors need to provide sign language interpreters when requested.

The DDBCHR, founded in 1998, is a grassroots organization working to educate and organize around issues of living wage jobs, housing, health care, education and communication for all deaf, hard of hearing and deaf-blind people. The group is made up of Deaf, Hard of Hearing, Deaf-Blind, and non-deaf supporters from Northeast Ohio. For more information about the organization contact them by TTY/Video Phone: 440-801-1948, Voice Phone: 440-801-1998, or Email

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