Disability Law

Deaf inmate says prison violated ADA by not providing sign-language interpreters

A deaf inmate has filed a federal lawsuit against the Oregon Department of Corrections, contending that the state violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to provide him with a qualified sign-language interpreter.

David D. VanValkenburg, 48, says he was systematically excluded from full participation in intake interviews, classroom education and training, medical treatment and counseling sessions, among other activities, after he was imprisoned in 2000, the Oregonian reports.

Although VanValkenburg was able to communicate through written notes and inmate sign-language interpreters he trained himself, this fell far short of providing a qualified interpreter in American Sign Language, which is his primary language, his suit says. VanValkenburg also alleges that using inmate interpreters violated his privacy by providing them with confidential information.

Originally filed last month in state court in Multnomah County, it has now been moved to federal court in Portland.

A spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Justice declined to speak with the newspaper, saying that the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

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