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Deaf patient sues Cleveland Clinic for disability discrimination

Friday, November 13, 2015

Complaint alleges that Cleveland Clinic routinely failed to meets it obligation to provide a deaf patient an American Sign Language interpreter to ensure that he and his physicians could communicate effectively.

CLEVELAND, OHIO - Today, Charles Williams filed suit for disability discrimination against Cleveland Clinic-an internationally renowned health-care institution comprised of more than 3,200 physicians and scientists.

A long-time Cleveland Clinic patient, Mr. Williams is completely deaf and communicates primarily in American Sign Language (ASL), a distinct language from English with its own syntax and structure. He alleges that the Clinic has repeatedly failed to provide an ASL interpreter for his scheduled medical appointments, despite his and his wife's many attempts to call the Clinic's attention to its failure to provide an interpreter.

Mr. Williams alleges that he has endured numerous appointments without an interpreter where he could not communicate effectively with his physician, and vice versa, about the state of his health and what he should do to improve it. And, despite the urgent need for communication during medical emergencies, Mr. Williams faced the same deprivation when he checked into the Clinic's emergency department.

Mr. Williams further alleges that, even when interpreters have showed up, many of them proved to be unqualified. Some could not accurately interpret the communications between Mr. Williams and his physician, while others missed much of the appointment by arriving late. And on one occasion, the Clinic attempted to rely on video-remote-interpretation technology, but that attempt failed after the video froze many times.

As alleged in the complaint, by failing to ensure effective communication, the Cleveland Clinic has provided Mr. Williams a lower grade of medical care and has forced him to bear a disparate risk of medical mistreatment because he is deaf. He must concern himself not only with medical concerns, but also with any gaps in communication between him and his physician.

Subodh Chandra, Mr. Williams's lead counsel, said, "The Americans with Disabilities Act establishes the expectation that hospitals provide deaf patients a qualified interpreter to ensure effective communication. Mr. Williams now calls attention to the plight of deaf patients who, like him, are too often denied the opportunity to participate in their own medical care. He hopes that an institution like the Cleveland Clinic, with its reputation and resources, will embrace this suit as an opportunity to improve the sign-language-interpretation services it provides to all deaf patients."

The suit, captioned Williams v. The Cleveland Clinic Foundation was filed in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas. Subodh Chandra and Patrick Haney are Mr. Williams's counsel.

UPDATE 1/15/17: This matter has been resolved to our client's satisfaction.

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