Jan 262010

The Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) will provide qualified sign language interpreters as required by federal law to deaf and hard-of-hearing persons using its programs and services across the state under a Settlement Agreement reached with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

An HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) investigation found that the State violated Federal discrimination laws when it failed to provide interpreters to deaf persons in critical situations, such as during child protective services investigations, and during treatment in State mental health facilities. Access to quality health care and social services programs are directly dependent on effective communication.

DCF employs approximately 14,000 persons statewide to deliver a variety of health and human services programs, including adoption, child and adult protective services, and Temporary Assistance for Need Families (TANF), as well as mental health and substance abuse treatment facilities and services. These programs and services are available to an estimated total state population of 3 million deaf or hard-of-hearing residents.

“State agencies have a legal obligation to ensure that qualified interpreters are available for effective communication with deaf or hard-of-hearing persons,” stated OCR Director Georgina Verdugo. “This is a strong, comprehensive agreement that will benefit individuals and families throughout Florida.”

The State agreed. “Florida’s Department of Children and Families is committed to becoming a state leader in the delivery of services to Floridians who are deaf and hard-of-hearing. With the assistance of the Florida Coordinating Council for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing, the Department can achieve this goal and make necessary improvements that will be successful and long-lasting,” said DCF Secretary George H. Sheldon.

A copy of the Settlement Agreement and OCR’s Letters of Findings can be found at http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/civilrights/activities/agreements/index.html. For more information about OCR’s civil rights enforcement activities, see http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/civilrights/activities/index.html. The OCR webpage also includes many resources on effective communication for deaf and hard of hearing persons at http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/civilrights/resources/specialtopics/hospitalcommunication/index.html.

– Thanks to NVRC and Press release from US Dept. of Health and Human Services 1/26/10.