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Support the Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse?

The Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse is committed to making information about civil rights lawsuits public, accessible, and free. If you use our--recently revamped--website and the posted documents and information, would you consider a donation? Our small but mighty team relies principally on grant funding and donations. Can you help?

Thank you!

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Learning from Civil Rights Lawsuits: A White Paper Series

Project: Effective Communication with Deaf, Hard of Hearing, Blind, and Low Vision Incarcerated People

By: Tessa Bialek, Managing Attorney, and Margo Schlanger, Director, Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse

July 7, 2022

This project proposes model policies for jails and prisons to serve the needs of deaf, hard of hearing, blind, and low vision people in their custody and to comply with federal anti-discrimination law. It also collects and makes available litigation documents and other materials relating to prisoners with communication disabilities, including: settlement agreements; judicial opinions; expert and monitor reports; and existing prison and jail ADA/disability policies.

Black and white photo of a prisoner signing to a videophone.

Photo: Annie Flanagan

Project Summary

Tens of thousands of people incarcerated in jails and prisons throughout the United States have one or more communication disabilities—that is, they are disabled in ways affecting communication.  This group includes people who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, and/or low vision.  Federal disability antidiscrimination law requires jails and prisons to avoid discrimination and ensure effective communication and equal access to services, programs, and activities.  Failure to meet these requirements is not just unlawful; it may have dire consequences.

The Clearinghouse Special Collection “Deaf or Blind in Jail/Prison”–available here–gathers cases addressing the needs of incarcerated people who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, and/or low vision.  

Our white paper, Effective Communication with Deaf, Hard of Hearing, Blind, and Low Vision Incarcerated People, draws lessons from the cases in that collection, as well as from interviews and workshops with advocates and experts in the field, to fill in the contours of federal disability antidiscrimination law in this area. What must jails and prisons do to comply with antidiscrimination law in the custody and treatment of prisoners with communication disabilities?  

The paper offers a detailed set of policy recommendations addressing everything from intake protocols and staff training to provision of medical devices, auxiliary aids and services, reasonable accommodations and modifications.  The model policies are intended as a template for correctional administrators, legislators, and advocates who are working to change jail and prison policy, and we have written them so that they can be easily copied, pasted, and refined them for a particular facility or system.

Project resources include: 

  • White Paper: Effective Communication with Deaf, Hard of Hearing, Blind, and Low Vision Incarcerated People (fully screen-readable regular size version and large print version
  • White Paper Executive Summary (fully screen-readable regular size version and large print version)
  • Deaf/Blind Project Google Drive Folder, here, containing:
    • The model policies in (unfootnoted) word processing format, to facilitate copying, pasting, and modifying to a particular system or facility.
    • Relevant DOC policies from states across the country, including all such policies referenced in the white paper (2022), and all available policies (2018). 

Publications/Resources

White Paper: Effective Communication with Deaf, Hard of Hearing, Blind, and Low Vision Incarcerated People

By: Tessa Bialek and Margo Schlanger

July 7, 2022

This version of the white paper is screen readable. A large print (but not screen readable) version of the white paper is available here.

This white paper draws lessons from cases brought by persons who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, or low vision in jails and prisons across the country seeking to enforce federal disability antidiscrimination law. Informed by court filings, judicial opinions, settlement agreements, and related resources, as well as interviews and workshops with advocates and experts, this paper proposes best practices for compliance with antidiscrimination law in the custody and treatment of prisoners with communication disability. The paper describes the relevant challenges and governing law, and offers a detailed set of policy recommendations intended as a template for jails and prisons.

The white paper project and related resources, including an executive summary in regular and large print and links to related cases, are here.


Executive Summary: Effective Communication with Deaf, Hard of Hearing, Blind, and Low Vision Incarcerated People

By: Tessa Bialek and Margo Schlanger

July 7, 2022

This is an executive summary of our White Paper: Effective Communication with Deaf, Hard of Hearing, Blind, and Low Vision Incarcerated People. It is screen-readable.

A large print (but not fully screen-readable) version of this executive summary is available here.

The white paper project, with links to the white paper in regular (screen-readable) and large print as well as related resources, is available here


Deaf/Blind Project Google Drive Folder

By: Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse

July 7, 2022

This is a Google Drive folder containing:

  • An unfootnoted version of the model policies in Part III of our white paper Effective Communication with Deaf, Hard of Hearing, Blind, and Low Vision Incarcerated People; this omits all the commentary and footnotes, for ease of copying, pasting, and adapting.
  • A comprehensive catalogue of state department of corrections disability-related policies as of 2018.
  • Select, relevant DOC policies from states across the country, including all such policies referenced in the white paper, up to date as of 2022.

(Note: The full Clearinghouse project page, including the white paper, is here.)


Webinar: Effective Communication with Deaf, Hard of Hearing, Blind, and Low Vision Incarcerated People

By: Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse

October 13, 2022

This is a recording of a Webinar: Effective Communication with Deaf, Hard of Hearing, Blind, and Low Vision Incarcerated People. The live Webinar took place on September 1, 2022 and featured Tessa Bialek (Clearinghouse Managing Attorney), Margo Schlanger (Clearinghouse Director), and Amy Robertson (Partner, Fox & Robertson).