Under an agreement announced today by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing will be provided equal access to a nursing and rehabilitation facility in New York State and will be provided interpretation services when necessary for effective communication.

Ramapo Manor Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing (Ramapo) in Suffern, N.Y., and OCR entered into an agreement following an investigation of a disability discrimination complaint. OCR determined that Ramapo discriminated against a deaf patient on the basis of disability when it revoked the patient’s admission to its facility after learning that he would need interpreter services. OCR also found that Ramapo discriminated against the patient based on his disability when it denied his request for interpreter services. OCR’s investigation was conducted under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by recipients of federal financial assistance.

In the agreement, Ramapo will no longer exclude anyone from its program based on the person’s disability or need for an auxiliary aid or service, such as a sign language interpreter. Ramapo also agreed to provide auxiliary aids and services that are necessary for effective communication, assess and consult with patients to determine the appropriate auxiliary aid or service, provide notice of its nondiscrimination and auxiliary aids and services policies to patients and referring facilities, and develop a grievance procedure for patients to file complaints.

The OCR Director, Georgina Verdugo, noted that this case illustrates how basic the right to access can be: “It is important to ensure that entities that receive HHS funds not only provide the required aids and services to a patient with a disability in their care, but also, in the first instance, simply open the door to let that person in. Without that, the right to an equal opportunity to participate in federally funded programs means nothing.”

Individuals who believe that they have been discriminated against because of their race, color, national origin, disability, age, sex or religion by a health care or human services provider may file a complaint with OCR at: http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/civilrights/complaints/index.html.

A copy of the Settlement Agreement can be found at http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/civilrights/activities/agreements/index.html.

For additional resources on effective communication with persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, see http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/civilrights/resources/specialtopics/hospitalcommunication/index.html.

(Source: HHS Press Release)