The Benton County Sheriff's Department has agreed to improve the way it communicates with deaf and hard of hearing people.
The agreement is the result of a settlement of claims brought by Mary Cervantes, a deaf woman who contacted the police several times in 2007.
The settlement agreement between Ms. Cervantes, the Benton County Sheriff's Department, and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights will create a system for ensuring that the Sheriff's Department will provide qualified American Sign Language interpreters when needed to communicate effectively with deaf and hard of hearing members of the public.
The system involves identifying a pool of qualified interpreters who are willing to work on weekends and after regular business hours. When an interpreter is necessary, the Sheriff's Department will immediately contact the certified interpreters on its list. The list will be updated annually.
In addition, to increase the availability of qualified interpreters, the Sheriff's Department will offer a free training to local interpreters concerning Sheriff's Department procedures. This training is free and open to the public.
In 2007, Ms. Cervantes was the victim of an assault. Officers arrived at the scene but could not communicate effectively with Ms. Cervantes, whose primary language is American Sign Language. Ms. Cervantes' husband, who is not deaf, was asked to interpret for the officers on several occasions. However, Mr. Cervantes is not a qualified interpreter.
Ms. Cervantes is pleased with the outcome of her claims. "I am happy that the Benton County Sheriff's Department agreed to improve the way they communicate with deaf people," she said, "I hope what happened to me never happens to another deaf person again."
Ms. Cervantes is represented by the Minnesota Disability Law Center, a statewide project of the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis offering free legal assistance to people with disabilities throughout Minnesota. For more information, contact Emily Teplin, (612) 746-3739 (TTY dial 1-888-202-5005 x37592).
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